Art and Architecture of Mill City Museum
Originally designed by Austrian engineer William de la Barre and declared the world's largest flour mill after its completion in 1880, the structure housing Mill City Museum is a National Historic Landmark. Known as the Washburn A Mill, it was nearly destroyed by fire in 1991.
After the City of Minneapolis, working through the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, cleaned up the rubble and fortified the mill's charred walls, the Minnesota Historical Society announced plans to construct a milling museum and education center within the ruins.
Faced with the challenge of preserving the ruins of this historically significant site while building a modern museum, the Society turned to Thomas Meyer, principal of Minneapolis architectural firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. Meyer developed a concept that melded the historic integrity of the mill structures with modern components. Construction on the museum began in March 2001.
When possible, Meyer's design has left intact many features of the original mill, including flour bins, milling machinery, the engine house, rail corridor and a wheat house. He also has used limestone, brick, concrete and steel within the museum to emphasize its industrial origins.
Among the new architectural features is an eight-story glass façade overlooking the Mississippi River. True-to-scale graphics of the milling machines are featured on the glass façade to give visitors an idea of how massive the milling operation was. The facade forms a reflective backdrop for the courtyard a 100-by-100 foot outdoor area with weathered masonry walls, that was created by the 1991 fire. Ruins of the historic mill are showcased in the courtyard through significant excavation efforts.
Woven throughout Mill City Museum and its exhibits are unique works by the following local and regional artists:
Glass window in Rail Corridor
BETWEEN NOW AND THEN, MINNESOTA 2003 JoAnn Verburg St. Paul, Minnesota
St Anthony Falls, long considered a sacred place, is a the only waterfall on The Mississippi River. Our Twin Cities –Minneapolis and St. Paul—were created here as the result of a great collage of forces: the spiritual regard for this location on the part of the Dakota and Ojibwa people, the power and energy of falling water, the strength and intelligence of immigrants, new possibilities of movement via the railroad, discoveries in the technology of milling, innovations in growing wheat, giant expanses of open fields, and long summer days of sunshine.
BETWEEN NOW AND THEN, MINNESOTA is a 14’ x 25’collage made of glass, photographs, steel and cement. As you view this artwork, you are standing where trains used to pass through the building. This artwork invited you to look out through images of wheat, water, tree, and sky, and from this sacred and historic location, contemplate the ever-changing present we are creating together.
Marine-on-St. Croix, Minn.
Landscape artist Tom Maakestad painted a panoramic image of a wheat field and sky to serve as the backdrop for a late-19th century traction engine, a major fixture in the Harvesting Wheat exhibit. The artwork has been enlarged to 10x20 feet to provide context and suggest the vastness of the wheat growing fields in Minnesota.
St. Paul, Minn.
For Mill City Museum's Promoting Mill Products exhibit, scenic painter and muralist Kim Lawler produced a 15-foot, freestanding Bisquick Box with an image of the packaging as seen in 1931 on one side and 1981 on the opposite side. Visitors can step inside the box to take in TV and radio commercials from the past and present. Lawler also produced a 6-foot stack of pancakes for a hands-on activity area where children are encouraged to design their own mill product packaging.
In addition, Lawler designed a three-columned, freestanding structure for the Wheat Emporium, an exhibit that explores how wheat imagery has been used as a potent symbol throughout the ages. Topped with a copper wheat structure, each column is actually a case that displays everyday objects, such as paintings, currency, clothing and dishware that incorporate wheat as a decorative motif.
St. Paul, Minn.
A textile artist and accomplished designer and seamstress, Kathleen Richert produced fabric and felt sculptures of food to be used on the harvest table in the Harvesting Wheat exhibit. Set to look like a table used by threshing crews, Richert's sculptures demonstrate the immense quantity of food needed to sustain the crews. Visitors can sit down at the table and connect with farmers of the past and present.
Paul Wrench and Becky Schurmann
Through sculpture, husband-and-wife team Paul Wrench and Becky Schurmann brought characters introduced throughout Mill City Museum to life. Both working artists, Wrench and Schurmann hand-carved 13 figures from salvaged timber from Humboldt Mill, a neighboring mill of the Washburn A Mill. Carved from white pine, they have been stained and finished and some still contain old nails.
Each sculpture represents individuals integral to the milling empire in the late-19th century. The sculptures include William de la Barre, an Austrian engineer who designed Washburn A Mill; Jean Spielman, a labor organizer; Mary Dodge Woodward, an author; as well as laborers and other prominent figures.