Quotes from “Arts and Parks”: Folwell on Museums

Thanks to everyone who turned out Saturday morning at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to listen to my thoughts on the people who created parks and a fine art society in Minneapolis in 1883. Special thanks to those who purchased a copy of City of Parks afterwards and introduced themselves. Thanks too to Janice Lurie and Susan Jacobsen for inviting me to speak and hosting the event. I want to remind everyone that all proceeds from the purchase of the book go to the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

Quite a few of those who attended asked where they could find some of the quotes I used in my presentation, so I promised I would post them here. The most requested, especially from those who work with arts organizations, was William Watts Folwell’s remarks as reported in the Minneapolis Tribune at the laying of the cornerstone of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1913. I’ve provided an excerpt of his remarks from the July 31, 1913 issue of the newspaper, as well as quotes from Charles Loring and Horace Cleveland from earlier times as noted — most of which have appeared in other posts here over the years.

Minneapolis Tribune headline July 31, 1913

Folwell’s remarks included these observations on his hopes for the Institute:

The primary function of the institution will naturally be exhibition of works of art. I trust it will be the governing principle from the start that no inferior works shall ever have a place. Better bare walls and empty galleries than bad art. A single truly great and meritorious work is worth more in every way than a whole museum full of the common and ordinary. A few such works might make Minneapolis a Mecca for art lovers. Gift horses should be carefully looked in the mouth. I am almost ready to say that none should be received. Let benefactors give cash.

“The museum should appreciate and encourage the artistic side of all structures, public, domestic and industrial, and of all furnishings and appliances. ‘Decorative art’ should never be a term of disparagement here. Men have the right to live amid beautiful surroundings and to handle truly artistic implements.”
– William Watts Folwell, as reported in the Minneapolis Tribune, July 31, 1913.

Folwell was not one to mince words. It is noteworthy, especially considering his comments on decorative arts, that one of the influential people in the creation of the Society of Fine Arts and the Institute was interior designer and furniture maker John Scott Bradstreet. You can read much more about him here.

Other quotes from Horace William Shaler Cleveland:

“Regard it as your sacred duty to preserve this gift which the wealth of the world could not purchase, and transmit it as a heritage of beauty to your successors forever.”
–H.W.S. Cleveland, 1872

“If you have faith in the future greatness of your city, do not shrink from securing while you may such areas as will be adequate to the wants of such a city…Look forward for a century, to the time when the city has a population of a million, and think what will be their wants. They will have wealth enough to purchase all that money can buy, but all their wealth cannot purchase a lost opportunity, or restore natural features of grandeur and beauty, which would then possess priceless value, and which you can preserve for them if you will but say the word and save them from the destruction which certainly awaits them if you fail to utter it.”
— H.W.S. Cleveland, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, presented June 2, 1883  to the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners.

“The Mississippi River is not only the grand natural feature which gives character to your city and constitutes the main spring of prosperity, but it is the object of vital interest and center of attraction to intelligent visitors from every quarter of the globe, who associate such ideas of grandeur with its name as no human creation can excite. It is due therefore, to the sentiments of the civilized world, and equally in recognition of your own sense of the blessings it confers upon you, that it should be placed in a setting worthy of so priceless a jewel.”
– H.W.S. Cleveland, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis

“No city was ever better adapted by nature to be made a gem of beauty.”
— H.W.S. Cleveland to William Folwell, October 22, 1890, Folwell Papers, Minnesota Historical Society

“I have been trying hard all winter to save the river banks and have had some of the best men for backers, but Satan has beaten us.”
– H.W.S. Cleveland to Frederick Law Olmsted on his efforts to have the banks of the Mississippi River preserved as parkland, June 13, 1889, Library of Congress.

The west bank of the Mississippi River Gorge from Riverside Park near Franklin Avenue to Minnehaha Park was not acquired as parkland until after Cleveland died.

“There does not seem to be another such place as Minneapolis for its constant demands upon the time of its citizens. Everyday there is something that must be done. I suppose, perhaps, this may be why we are a great city.”
– Charles Loring in a letter to William Windom, September 27, 1890, Minnesota Historical Society

It is worth noting that Loring was the president of the Minnesota Horticultural Society, vice president of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, president of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, president of the Minneapolis Improvement Association, and an officer in the Athenaeum and the Board of Trade. It could be said that he alone was one of the reasons Minneapolis was a great city.

Finally, the newspapers were active supporters of arts and parks through most of the history of Minneapolis. I pulled this quote from an editorial in the Minneapolis Tribune:

“While looking after the useful and necessary, let us not forget the beautiful.”
Minneapolis Tribune, June 30, 1872

Words we could all live by.

David C. Smith


4 comments so far



    • David C. Smith on

      Glad to have you following, Joan. I hope to scan and post the Tower art work you sent later this week. Keep following. I’m happy if this blog keeps people connected to their favorite Minneapolis parks, even if they can’t visit them regularly anymore.

  2. Tom Balcom on

    David – I’m sorry I missed your presentation last Saturday, but as I mentioned I had a good local history excuse. Anders Christensen and Kathy Kullberg gave a great tour that morning of the Wedge neighborhood, focusing on T. P. Healy houses and those of a few other architects of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. John Bradstreet’s name and works were mentioned numerous times.

    It would be fascinating to know who were the members of the secret Skylight society/group.

    I don’t know if you knew this, but Bradstreet and H. W. Jones shared another commonality besides being on the Park Board together for several years. Jones also had a serious auto accident in 1907. While he was driving to his lake home on Lake Minnetonka, “…a blown tire caused a jolting action that threw the architect from his car. Harry suffered severe head trauma and skull fracture – the latter being an often fatal wound at the time. He lapsed into a coma and was hospitalized for weeks.” (from Liz Vandams’ biography of Harry Wild Jones, p. 64). Later that year, Harry and his wife went on an around-the-world cruise to recuperate from his accident. On the first leg of the journey, the Joneses visited Japan and were accompanied by then Secretary of War, William Howard Taft.

    As I mentioned to you at the Linden Hills meeting, there are two tribute letters in Liz Vandam’s book (pp. 76-77) sent to Jones regarding the Lakewood Chapel. I really like the letter from Washburn Orphanage Superintendent Charles Faulkner, comparing and contrasting the chapel with Jones’ redesign of the entrance to the Nicollet Ball Park. Jones had designed the ‘Washburn Orphanage Superintendent’s Cottage’ for Faulkner in 1903. Thankfully, that house still stands today on the SW quadrant hill above the intersection at 50th and Nicollet.

    I hope you’ll be doing your Arts and Parks talk again.

    Tom Balcom

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks, Tom. There are so many people around, yourself included, who present excellent historical info. Glad you missed my talk for good historical reasons! Good info on Jones, too. Thanks. I hope to add a bit to what’s known of Jones, as it relates to parks, in the near future. One of many, many subjects worth more investigation.

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