As a journalism student at Winona State University, one of my first assignments was to interview one of the coordinators at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. As I listened to her rattle off the names of the famous artists who were featured at the museum—Monet, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Renoir, van Gogh—my jaw almost dropped to the floor. I couldn’t believe that the artists I awed over in famous galleries in Europe also had pieces in the small town of Winona. I quickly learned not to underestimate this town—it is full of hidden gems and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum is definitely one of them.
The museum opened in 2006 with the purpose of showcasing exhibits that explored the continuing and historic relationship between humans and water. After adding an expansion gallery and educational room in 2009, the museum is now home to four major art collections.
The Burrichter/Kierlin Marine Art Collection is one of the largest private collections of marine art in North America. The 450-piece assemblage features traditional marine paintings and artifacts, including oil paintings, watercolors, and three-dimensional objects from a range of countries and periods. One highlight of this exhibit includes Paul Cézanne’s “La Riviére,” which was added last year.
The Leo Smith Folk Art Collection contains more than 400 pieces of wood-carved, hand-painted sculptures that express the spirit of small town river life. Each piece in the collection was created by a husband and wife duo—Leo Smith III, who makes the pieces, and Marilyn Smith, who paints them.
In the expansion gallery you will find Hudson River school works as well as the creations of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and modern masters, including one of Vincent van Gogh’s first oil paintings, “The Beach of Scheveningen.”
The museum’s permanent collection features historic marine art, artifacts, and objects, which range from a large, stained glass window to personal letters from Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, a British naval commander, to his wife.
New exhibits are installed approximately every six weeks, as the museum only has around 20 to 25 percent of its total inventory on display at any given time. This month, check out Birds of America: Rare Prints by John James Audubon (through August 18), a rare series of books depicting approximately 500 regularly occurring bird species; Lighthouses and Legends (through October 19), featuring artwork and stories related to seafaring life; or Craig Blacklock’s Lake Superior (through September 30), which is composed of large format photographs.
This month is an ideal time to visit not only because it is Minnesota Museums Month, but also because the warm weather means you can enjoy the museum’s garden, which is made up of more than 60,000 native species of trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses.
So walk through the galleries, soak up the river view from one of the tables outside, and experience one of the gems of this small river town—it won’t be long before you realize why great art is inspired by water.
Address & hours: 800 Riverview Drive, Winona, 507-474-6626; open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: ages 4 and younger free, students $3, adults and seniors $6, students admitted free on Tuesdays.