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Minnesota Marine Art Museum: A Treasure Trove of Historic Masterworks


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Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Winona, MAMM
The Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Photo courtesy of MMAM.

The commonly held belief that great art only comes to big cities is a pervasive one, often dominating the conversation nationally and locally. While Minneapolis museums like the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker, and the Weisman all have undeniably high-quality collections at their disposal, they are far from the be-all-end-all in local arts.

Located in the southeastern city of Winona, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum has acquired one of the most unexpectedly diverse art collections in the Midwest. Featuring works ranging from the Impressionist movement to modernist and contemporary folk art, MMAM works to continuously expand the definition of marine art while allowing the common thread to establish a powerful connection between its varied works.

Founded in July of 2006, the riverside museum’s goal was to transform Winona into a viable destination for arts and culture while simultaneously expanding the city’s educational focus. Initially acquiring mainly traditional paintings and regional folk art, the museum continued to expand its collections to more than 1,100 works to include highly valuable paintings from notable artists such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Georgia O’Keefe, among others.

Local art collectors Bob Kierlin and Mary Burrichter have worked closely with the museum’s curator of collections and executive director to create a collection that is unexpectedly expansive for a small town museum. Early last year, the husband-and-wife team acquired Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” for MMAM, a work that until recently had been on loan to the White House.

And what’s behind the focus on marine art? MMAM Assistant Operations Manager Dave Casey cites the state’s motto as an obvious inspiration.

“Water is constantly present in our lives in Minnesota . . . and is something that all Minnesotans celebrate,” says Casey. “Marine art traditionally features seascapes, ships, and generally ocean scenes. However, we have expanded the definition of marine art to include anything pertaining to water. This definition can be very literal in our artwork, but also very subtle at times.”

In addition to its impressive collection of masterworks, the museum makes a concerted effort to benefit the public through educational programming for all ages. Through partnerships with local schools, colleges, and other arts organizations, the museum brings its programs to locations throughout the state.

MMAM’s tenth anniversary year will bring a new wave of temporary collections to the museum. Opening in March, “150 Years of Marine Art” is perhaps a more traditional look at over a century’s worth of marine art, and “River Perspectives: Paintings by Tom Maakestad and Don Schmidlapp” features river scenes by local artists. Casey is most excited about “Ink and Water: Sailors’ Tattoos,” which opens in August. It examines the history of this very specific kind of body art.

“This exhibit could not be further from the traditional definition of marine art,” he says. “However, it explores an art form that is heavily influenced by and reflects the importance of water to the artists and the recipients.” Casey also revealed that two historic works will join the museum’s permanent collections at unspecified times later this year.

While MMAM’s quality has gained an unusual amount of national recognition for a museum of its size, its success is also proof of Minnesotans’ value for arts programming and support of local artistic ventures. The majority of its nearly 30,000 yearly visitors are local, indicating a growing belief that smaller cities have something to offer that large metropolises cannot.

“The continued growth, both in the Museum’s collections and the number of visitors, over the last ten years has shown that there is an audience for this type artwork in smaller cities,” says Casey. “Not only do the residents of smaller towns and rural areas want to experience fine art, but city dwellers are happy to leave the city for a while to experience fine art while perhaps exploring a new and unknown area to them.”

Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 800 Riverview Dr., Winona, 507-474-6626, mmam.org

Learn more about Winona and start planning your trip to visit MMAM’s tenth anniversary collections.

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