Originally published in North Plains Today, Volume 2, No. 5, May 1970
The South Dakota Memorial Art Center
Ribbon Cutting - May 31
Dedicated to Dakota pioneers
Rising from what was a hillside cow pasture on a Brookings farm in the late 1800's is the sparkling new South Dakota Memorial Art Center.
Its white quartz exterior glistens in the sun like a beacon signaling the cultural explosion that thundered across the Dakota Prairies in the 1960's.
On Sunday afternoon, May 31, the center will be dedicated and opened to the public, culminating the hopes and dreams of interested Dakotans for over 20 years. Activities will begin at 2 p.m. with a concert by the White River High School Band. Dignitaries will be on hand for the dedication ceremonies at 3 p.m. in the auditorium. The 4 p.m. ribbon cutting ceremony at the Memorial Art Center will open the facility for public viewing.
The art center, the only structure built exclusively for art in the state, is dedicated to the pioneers whose hard work and determination smoothed the rough edges of a prairie wilderness less than 100 years ago. Built at a cost of $500,000, no state funds were required. It is a building made possible by the growing interest in art in all its forms. Citizens over the years contributed over $330,000. This along with a federal grant of $166,000 made the structure possible.
The featured exhibit in this prairie art center will be — appropriately — the famous Harvey Dunn Collection, which contains paintings of a variety of scenes of early South Dakota life. Dunn painted the majesty of simple things like wooden plows and water pumps and waving prairie grasses.
Born near Manchester in east central South Dakota on a barren homestead bisected by buffalo and Indian trails, young Dunn grew to manhood watching a thousand sunsets and imprinting in his mind those then common scenes of early pioneer life. He came to appreciate the grandeur of the Dakota sky, and nearly all of his paintings reflect his awe of that prairie phenomenon.
As a lad of 17, he came to Brookings to attend South Dakota State University. Art came naturally for Dunn, and his talent was discovered by discerning Ada Caldwell of the art department. She advised him to attend an art school in Chicago for further training.
Much to his father's chagrin, he left life on the prairie for the world of illustrations in the slick magazines of the day published in Chicago and New York. He became successful as an illustrator and was later able to finance almost annual trips back to his homeland where he sketched out future paintings of South Dakota life.
"It is a paradox perhaps that the further away I get from those pioneer days the closer I am to then..." Dunn once said. He had a love of prairie beauty nurtured by visual observation. He knew that the love of beauty was innate in human nature, but he also realized that in pioneer life this aesthetic expression and appreciation of beauty is held in abeyance because of the harshness of the wilderness and the simple need to survive.
Dunn took brush in hand to paint for those thousands of unnamed pioneers the beauty of their existence. He is the dirt-farming pioneer of the Dakotas what Remington and Russell are to the rancher, the cowboy and the Indian warrior.
And it is the work by a great prairie artist which will be the permanent collection within this center dedicated to those subjects of Dunn's paintings — the pioneers.
South Dakota Federation of Women's Club and E.H. Sexauer: 21 years of dreaming and drive
The idea for an art center was originated by members of the South Dakota Federation of Women's Club in 1949. The clubs decided to undertake a fundraising effort to finance their dream. A vote of the membership selected the SDSU campus as the logical setting for an art center in South Dakota.
Legislative permission to build on state property was granted and a promise in law was made to start and maintain the building once it became a reality.
A goal of $300,000 was set and the fundraising effort began. Later, in the mid-1960s, the club sought the help of South Dakota State University to complete the fundraising effort. H.M. Briggs, president of SDSU, asked prominent and respected Brookings businessman, E.H. Sexauer, to head a state-wide committee of interested persons to raise the additional funds needed to bring the campaign to a close. Sexauer felt the project had merit and accepted the assignment. But by then the building cost and inflation dictated that the committee raise its sights to a goal of $500,000. Until that time, the most anyone had ever raised in South Dakota for a capital gifts campaign was $200,000. Sexauer's responsibility seemed next to impossible.
He plunged into his new job with enthusiasm. His business duties had to be left to others while he beat the campaign trail searching for gifts large and small. Weekly meetings were conducted by Sexauer, then nearly 80 years of age. Sexauer traveled at his own expense thousands of miles in state and out seeking help. when other volunteer workers became discouraged, he came up with new ideas and new enthusiasm and the fund drive gradually crept to its goal.
Construction began in the fall of 1969, thanks largely to the efforts of one man — Sexauer.
50,000 individuals had a part
Nearly 2,000 gifts were received ranging in size from a few dimes donated by a group of rural school children to several thousand dollars from businesses and individuals who caught Sexauer's spirit for the project.
It is difficult to estimate the number of persons who actually participated in giving since one gift might represent the combined efforts of large groups such as a garden club or home extension club. It is estimated that perhaps 50,000 individuals had a part in making the Art Center possible.
The drive received a big boost from the SDSU Faculty Women's Club project of selling Dunn prints. Nearly $30,000 was made available for the center with proceeds from this project.
To supplement the $13,000 made available by the state for 1970-71 fiscal year operations, the Art Center Board of Trustees is initiating a fundraising effort to help with special center projects and programs each year. A South Dakota Memorial Art Center Foundation is being established to comply with Internal Revenue Service tax exemption requirements. However, until the Foundation is organized, gifts to the center remain as tax exemptions since the center is part of a public institution.
Gifts of cash or art are sought by the Board of Trustees and are needed to assist in bringing special exhibitions to the center and for other projects. Although art objects are sought, they will be screened by a committee of artists to ensure that they are of a quality worthy of display in the center. All works of art cannot be accepted because of limited storage space in the building.
In addition to gifts from interested individuals, the art center will also realize some income from the sale of art items at a sales counter within the center.
The building: a unique structure
The art center building is a unique structure that required the solving of special engineering problems not normally encountered. One of the reasons for a new art center was that the Harvey Dunn collection was deteriorating because of the lack of display area in a building with air-conditioning and humidity controls.
The new building uses a complicated system of air and humidity controls which will ensure a long life for all works of art displayed there.
The exterior of the building is a series of curved panels of white quartz-concrete aggregate. Inside are six galleries, a 150-seat auditorium with a unique "thrust" stage, three studios, an art library and the necessary office and storage are for such a center.
Galleries within the center will feature floor-to-ceiling carpeting which at first glance might appear to be an extravagant extra. Carpets on the walls as well as the floors is a relatively new practice in art centers and serve an important function.
The carpet color and texture complement the works of art on display, but even more important, the carpet hides unsightly nail holes left over after one picture has been taken down and another put in its place. Plastered or papered walls would soon become pock-marked from the variety of hangings that the walls will support over a period of years.
Special attention has been given to the use, placement and types of lighting in the galleries. The center is windowless to make temperature and lighting easier to control and also to save on all display space.
A very unique feature of special interest to women will be the Marghab Gallery, which will house a one-of-its-kind collection of the world-famous Marghab linens. Some of the pieces are now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Vera Way Marghab, a Watertown native and former concert pianist, is the creator and owner of Marghab, Inc., with offices in New York and Madeira off the coast of Spain. It is there that the fine linen items are embroidered by island women from designs created by Mrs. Marghab. Only the most expert and experienced embroiderers on the island are given Marghab work.
The linen is commonly found on the tables and in the palaces and homes of kings and presidents. Mrs. Marghab's entire collection will have a permanent home in the center.
Her work so caught the fancy of the SDSU Faculty Women's Club that they agreed to help furnish the Marghab Gallery. Special display cabinets have been designed and built. The wood in the cabinets is rosewood from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Mrs. Marghab is so enthusiastic about the gallery that she is having a special carpet woven and has personally searched out special paints for the walls. A New York craftsman came to Brookings to personally supervise the staining of the display cabinets. Considerable engineering research was necessary before arriving at the types and placement of lights in the gallery since linen reacts to long exposure to most types of lighting.
The Marghab Gallery will not be ready for the grand opening on May 31, but will probably open in the fall.
The Center will differ from an "art museum" in that very few paintings will be on permanent display with the exception of the Harvey Dunn and Marghab collections. Most of the gallery space will be the backdrop for a variety of art that will come to the center as traveling exhibits. A visit to the Center several times a year will result for the viewer in new experiences in art. The Center will "live and breathe" in the sense that its displays will be changed periodically and will not be placed and forgotten.
The director of the center, William Landwehr, an accomplished artist, has already contracted traveling exhibits for the remainder of this year and into 1971. He says that the most worthwhile traveling exhibits are booked up for several years in advance. He is presently arranging exhibits for the 1972 and 1973 exhibition seasons. Landwehr is seeking to bring in a variety of art to South Dakotans and not limit his exhibition selections to any one form or style of art.
The Harvey Dunn display for the opening will include paintings borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and from private collectors. This exhibit will run through July 12.
Lithograph, etchings and sculptures by British artist Henry Moore will be on display from July 19 through August 16. The Civic Fine Arts Association of Sioux Falls aided the Art Center in organizing the exhibits of works by this artist, who Landwehr describes as "an important contemporary sculptor."
Plastic sculptures and paintings on plastic will be exhibited from August 28 through September 18. The “Plastic Five” includes works by five artists scattered throughout the country who work primarily with plastic.
"The Great Poster Trip,” which features about 100 original posters depicting the rock scene in California, will be shown from September 20 through October 11.
West Coast artists will be featured in "Art in a Box," from September 20 through October 20. The display is a series of small three-dimensional box-like constructions.
Running October 19 through November 8 is a unique exhibit, the "Third International Miniature Print Exhibition." It features 180 original prints two inches square or smaller.
Concurrently there will also be an exhibit of sculptures and drawings by James Howard, chairman of the art department at Jamestown College, Jamestown, N. D.
Art done by members of art departments of South Dakota colleges and universities will be displayed from November 14 through December 4.
A series of prints with a Biblical theme, the "Miserere" by George Rouald, will be shown December 6 through 27.
Running January 3 through 24 will be "Children from Many Lands Illustrate Grimm's Fairy Tales" and a group of paintings and prints by Robert Russell who is on the art faculty of Kansas State College.
Art done by students in South Dakota colleges and universities will be exhibited from January 31 through February 22. Students will submit entries for judging, according to Landwehr.
A series of photographs by Eadweard Muybridge, described by Landwehr as "a pioneer in photography," will be shown from February 23 through March 19.
"Great Plains Art Association Exhibit," which will include prints, paintings and drawings by North and South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma artists, will be displayed during March.
Scheduled for March 21 through April 15 is an exhibit of paintings, drawings and prints by Robert A. Nelson, chairman of the art department at the University of North Dakota.
Nation ally known artists who have used the comic strips as inspiration for imagery in their work, painting and sculpture will be featured in "The Spirit of the Comics," from April 18 through May 9.
"American Painters of the 19th Century" is slated for April 21 through May 18. The display includes 20 to 25 traditional paintings.
Small paintings done by American artists, which, according to Landwehr, are suitable for purchase by museums, will be exhibited from May 9 through May 30.
The Art Center and the University of North Dakota art department are co-sponsoring the "Fourteenth North Dakota Annual National Print and Drawing Exhibition," which is open to artists in the United States. The Exhibition, which will be judged, runs simultaneously with the former.
Many of the items on permanent display or as traveling exhibits will have a considerable monetary value. These would not be available to South Dakotans had not a building of special design been available to house the creations. Many times it will be necessary to hire armed guards to protect the paintings from possible theft and vandalism.
In addition to displays of art in all its forms, the center also hopes to eventually sponsor art classes and workshops for both adults and children.
Board of Trustees members
Art Center board members are Mrs. Jeannette Lusk, Huron, president; Josiah Baird, professor and head of the art department of SDSU; Mrs. John Bibby and Elmer Sexauer, Brookings; Dona Brown, Huron; Mrs. Charles Burke, Pierre; Mrs. Charolotte Carver, Sioux Falls; Vern Laustsen, Aberdeen; John Lowrie, Watertown; Mrs. Hubert Magen, Waubay, and Madeline Ritz, Walnut Creek, California.