The MIA hails the RNC

Bullion Flag
Bullion flag for the White House, Kennedy-Johnson administration, 1961-63, embroidered fabric with gold and silver bullion fringe, private collection.
Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts

MIA curator Dennis Jon said the Republican National Convention's arrival in the Twin Cities gives the museum an opportunity to highlight items in its permanent collection that reflect the American presidency.

"Court Jester" by Diana Walker
Diana Walker, American, born 1942, Court Jester (Queen Elizabeth II and Ronald Reagan, San Francisco), 1983, color coupler print, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts

While the MIA hopes the exhibition will draw in thousands of Republicans in the first week of September, he's quick to point out that the theme and artwork would be no different if the Twin Cities were hosting the Democratic National Convention.

"This is a non-partisan display," Jon said. "We wanted to really focus on the presidency as an institution - and on the individual presidents that have held that office over the years, but we're not focusing on republican, democratic, wig or any other party that may be in existence."

The exhibition, which will run August 2 through September 21, brings together artwork and objects from several different collections: paintings, sculpture, photography, and decorative arts to name a few. It also relies heavily on the private collection of former MIA trustee Kim Anderson.

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Delegate pin
Delegate pin, Republican National Convention, late 19th century, made by Mermod Jaccard and Co., St. Louis (1845-1905), gold and enamel, private collection.
Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Anderson, once a Republican, and now an Independent, said his personal interest in presidential memorabilia began with a letter.

Back in college, Anderson wrote President Lyndon Johnson, slamming him on his leadership in the Vietnam War. Johnson's press secretary replied, and he offered Anderson an internship at the White House.

While Anderson didn't end up taking the internship, he did go to the White House for an interview.

JFK Christmas card
Christmas card signed by John F. Kennedy, November 1963, paper, private collection.
Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts

"And [I] immediately became fascinated with the presidency," he said. "How small the presidency really was in terms of the building, the structre, the staff, how insular it was, but at the same time how human it was."

Anderson has an extensive collection of convention pins and badges, as well as a Presidential flag trimmed in gold bullion, and a hand signed Christmas Card from John and Jacqueline Kennedy.

"I'm still terribly proud to be an American, and I still think we have a fabulous country, and I think we have wonderful history and wonderful tradition," Anderson said. "In my case when I see these things, it's giving me the opportunity to touch and be around history, to look at it from a more intimate perspective than just reading about it in books."

Mondale print
Thomas F. Arndt, American, born 1944, Mondale, Elmore, Minnesota, 1984. Gelatin silver print.
Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Anderson said he worries that people today are less aware of their country's history, and that it's up to museums like the MIA to become historical repositories.

For co-curator Jennifer Komar Olivarez, the exhibition is also an opportunity to reconnect with Minnesota's own links to the presidency.

She points to a black and white photograph taken by Tom Arndt in 1984 as he followed presidential candidate Walter Mondale back to his home town of Elmore, Minn.

"And so there's this big banner behind him that says 'Elmore welcomes Fritz home,' and he's reaching his arm out to somebody who's right next to the photographer, who's photo documenting this event," explained Komar-Olivarez. "There are women on both sides, these sort of Minnesota middle-aged women who are all smiles. It's this amazing connection between Walter Mondale and his constituency in his home town."

Also on display is a bust of George Washington, which for many years sat in the obelisk-shaped Foshay Tower, Minneapolis' architectural homage to President Washington.

As for a president, however, Minnesota has yet to see one of its own take up residency in the White House.