Minnesota Artists

Each making art in a different way, the artists featured here all added something to the story of Minnesota.

Idea One: Warren MacKenzie: Beauty in Everyday Life

Warren MacKenzie
American, born 1924
Double-lipped bowl, 1998
Stoneware with shino glaze
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Anonymous gift

Picasso was one of the first artists to create sculpture by adding objects together in a process called assemblage. Try to identify the “found” objects he assembled in this monkey.
Creating pottery for people to use every day in their homes is what Minnesota’s foremost potter, Warren MacKenzie, enjoys doing. As a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, MacKenzie became interested in traditional folk pottery from around the world, especially Japanese mingei pottery. An apprenticeship with the potter Bernard Leach in England sharpened that interest and gave MacKenzie enough experience to set up his own studio. In the mid-1950s he and his wife, Alix, returned to the United States and settled in Minnesota. They started a pottery studio in the town of Stillwater, where MacKenzie worked until his death in December, 2018. He is internationally known, and his work is much admired in Japan.

MacKenzie wants his ceramic wares to be functional: platters and bowls to hold food; teapots, mugs, and cups to hold drinks; covered jars and boxes to store things; and vases to display flowers. But he also crafts them to be pleasing to look at and to touch. First he shapes the clay into basic forms on a potter’s wheel. Then he may add decoration like the clasps that pinch the lips of this bowl together, or embellish the pot by carving and smoothing the clay, or attach a sturdy handle or a graceful spout. Often he applies glazes of various colors. Each step in creating the pottery affects how it appears to the eye, feels in the hand, and functions in the home.

MacKenzie has inspired generations of potters through teaching ceramics at the University of Minnesota. Many of his students carry on the tradition of making pottery that is both beautiful and functional. In this way, Warren MacKenzie continues to add beauty to the everyday life of people in Minnesota, the Midwest, and the world.

Warren MacKenzie,
Lidded jar 1970s,
glazed stoneware,
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
gift of Rev. Richard L. Hillstrom


Warren MacKenzie,
Large plate, 1997,
glazed stoneware,
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund

MacKenzie uses various glazes for different effects, such as the bright splashes of color on this simple platter.

Warren MacKenzie,
Vase, 1960-70,
Minneapolis Institute of Art

By cutting vertical strips of clay from this vase, MacKenzie created linear decoration.

Idea Two: Purcell and Elmslie: Prairie School Partners

William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie
American, 1880-1965 and 1869-1952
Purcell-Cutts House, 1913
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Bequest of Anson Cutts, Jr.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some American architects tried a new way of designing, inspired by the natural world. They thought a building should be in harmony with its surroundings and suit the needs of the people who would use it. And it should have a unified look, outside and in; sometimes they even designed the furniture. This kind of architecture, now called the Prairie School style, was especially popular in the Midwest.

The architects William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie were partners. Working together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, they designed some of the best Prairie School buildings in the country. An outstanding example is the Edna S. Purcell house (now the Purcell-Cutts house), located in a Minneapolis neighborhood near Lake of the Isles. It was built in 1913 as a home for Purcell and his family.

The Purcell house has typical features of Prairie School architecture: an overhanging, almost flat roof; a central chimney; bands of windows that let in lots of light; natural building materials; and earthen colors. Purcell planned interesting open spaces so that rooms could serve many functions and be suitable for modern living. Elmslie designed complex nature-based details and furnishings, creating unified decoration for the house. Sadly, the Purcells left Minneapolis after spending only a few years in their new home.

Model of the Edna S. Purcell house (now the Purcell-Cutts House),
designed by Purcell and Elmslie in 1913.
Maple, Plexiglas, nylon screen.
Made by David Swanson, Construct Studios, 1997.
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
gift of funds from Kenneth and Judy Dayton

The horizontal lines of the flat roof and rows of windows recall the prairie landscape for which Prairie School architecture is named.

Designed by William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie,
Ceiling light fixture, 1913. Glass, zinc.
Made by Mosaic Art Shops (E. L. Sharretts).
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
bequest of Anson Cutts, Jr.

This decorative light fixture hung in the back porch of the Purcell-Cutts House. It tied in with other stained-glass features in the home.

Purcell and Elmslie,
Side chair, about 1914.
Pine, oak, birch, horsehair upholstery.
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
gift of Susan Decker Barrows

This decorative light fixture hung in the back porch of the Purcell-Cutts House. It tied in with other stained-glass features in the home.

Idea Three: Tom Arndt: Visual Stories

Thomas F. Arndt
American, born 1944
Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, 1976
Gelatin silver print
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Gift of First Banks


Since the early 1970s, the photographer Tom Arndt has repeatedly focused his camera lens on Minnesota, his native state. Known as a documentary, or street, photographer, Arndt works in public places, taking candid pictures of ordinary people going about their daily lives. However, his black-and-white photographs are more than just records of who was where, and when. They are visual stories of real people, places, and times, capturing carefully selected moments of human experience.

Arndt’s photographs are honest images of everyday life. For this Minnesota State Fair scene, he did not ask anyone to pose, or wait for people to notice him and his camera. The group in front, the children to the left, and the security guard at the right are all casually living this particular moment of their lives. Arndt captured their experience, what was happening in that place at that time, and as viewers we can imagine ourselves there. We can hear the hum of the carnival in the background, smell the aromas from the food stands, and see the bright blinking lights.

His work as a photographer has taken Arndt beyond Minnesota and around the country. In the 1980s he recorded the presidential campaign of Walter Mondale and later on directed his attention to Chicago’s midwestern city life. Today, Arndt continues to document Minnesota, going every year to the Minnesota State Fair, one of his favorite places to take pictures.

Thomas F. Arndt, M
ondale at Rally, St. Paul, 1984,
gelatin silver print,
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
gift of David and Mary Parker

Arndt’s photographs of the presidential campaign of Minnesotan Walter Mondale are informal and relaxed.

Thomas F. Arndt,
Wrestling Fan, Minneapolis Auditorium, 1974,
gelatin silver print,
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
gift of the artist

Capturing a telling moment on film is the documentary photographer’s goal. Arndt snapped this image when a wrestling fan’s excitement peaked.

Thomas F. Arndt, Vendor,
Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, 1974,
gelatin silver print,
Minneapolis Institute of Art, gift of the artist

Arndt caught this woman’s faraway expression and her sense of isolation in the fair stand where she works.

Idea Four: Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) or Dakhóta: Trade and Tradition

Dance blanket, 1840-50
Wool, silk, beads
Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Robert J. Ulrich Works of Art Purchase Fund

The circular beaded motif in the center of the dance blanket comes from traditional Native American floral designs.
In the mid-1800s, Anishinaabe (Ojibwe)and Dakhóta were still the main inhabitants of the land that would soon become the state of Minnesota. Skilled artisans, they adorned many belongings with designs and patterns drawn from the landscape around them. European-American settlers moving westward across the continent traded goods such as cloth and beads with the Native and also brought examples of arts like quilting. Anishinaabe (Ojibwe)and Dakhóta quickly blended the new materials and techniques with their own artistic traditions.

This blanket is made of wool cloth, beads, and silk ribbon, all obtained through the fur trade. It was created by an artist (or possibly several artists) expert in needlework, who decorated the cloth with meticulous beadwork and ribbonwork. You can see the influence of European-American quilting in the ribbonwork designs appliquéd along the blanket’s edge. Appliqué (ap-luh-KAY) refers to sewing separate pieces of fabric decoration onto a larger cloth.

The blanket was made by one or more people of the Anishinabe (Ojibwe) and Dakota communities. Its history can be traced to some of the region’s early fur traders, the prominent LaFramboise (la’fram’bwaz) family. According to family lore, the blanket was owned by Jane Dickson LaFramboise, a woman of Anishinabe/Dakota descent whose father had a good relationship with the Dakota. Jane’s husband, Joseph LaFramboise, had established one of the first trading posts in what would later be Minnesota. It is said the blanket was used at their marriage in 1845.

Anishinabe (Ojibwe),
Bandolier bag, 1890-1910,
cotton, beads,
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
The Frances M. Norbeck Fund


Idea Five: Alexis Jean Fournier: The Local Scene

Alexis Jean Fournier
American, 1865-1948
Farnham’s Mill at St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis, 1888
Oil on canvas
Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Julia B. Bigelow Fund

In this painting by Fournier, Farnham’s Mill is to the left of the Stone Arch Bridge. At the far left is the Pillsbury A mill.
Working as a sign and stage scenery painter gave Alexis Jean Fournier the practice he needed to build a career as an artist. Toting his paints, brushes, and canvas he searched the city and countryside for subjects, painting outdoors with the scene before his eyes. By 1886 Fournier had achieved his goal of becoming a self-employed landscape painter with a studio on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. There he attracted patrons such as James J. Hill, the wealthy St. Paul railroad and lumber entrepreneur, who supported Fournier’s work.

In the summer of 1888, the young Minnesota artist painted a series of six views of Minneapolis, including Farnham’s Mill at St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis. This picture shows one of the earliest (and longest running) sawmills in Minneapolis, built on the west side of Hennepin Island next to St. Anthony Falls. Located on the Mississippi River between the towns of Minneapolis and St. Anthony, the falls made this area a thriving center of industrial activity in the 19th century. Mills for producing lumber and flour lined both riverbanks, with the powerful falls supplying inexpensive energy to run them. For fifty years, beginning in 1880, Minneapolis was known as the flour-milling capital of the world.

With great attention to detail, Fournier created an accurate view of the mill and the young city beyond. This thorough record of the local scene includes the tower of the Exposition Building (behind and to the left of the mill), which had opened two years earlier, in 1886 (it was later torn down). Fournier’s paintings capture the growth of Minneapolis and preserve a historical view of other locations in Minnesota. Through them we can step back in time.

Alexis Jean Fournier,
Mill Pond at Minneapolis, 1888,
oil on canvas,
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
The John R. Van Derlip Fund
The Julia B. Bigelow Fund

Another of Fournier’s six views of Minneapolis from the summer of 1888 pictures Lowry Hill in Minneapolis.

Alexis Jean Fournier,
Lowry Hill, Minneapolis, 1888,
oil on canvas,
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
The Julia B. Bigelow Fund

In a later painting, Fournier depicted the natural beauty of Minnehaha Creek.

Related Activities

Inspiration All Around Us

Think about how the place where you live influences you. What can you do, see, or experience because of where you live? How might this be different if you lived somewhere else in the world? List things that are unique about your neighborhood, town, state, or country. Create an artwork inspired by your list.

More from Minnesota

Use the search feature of [Mia’s website] to discover works of art by more Minnesota artists. Or visit the museum to explore a whole gallery of art that helps tell the story of the state’s early history.

Prairie School Tour

Take a virtual tour of the Purcell-Cutts House to see its rooms and view historical photographs. Then tour other Prairie School buildings around the state of Minnesota. by visiting the [Unified Vision: The Architecture and Design of the Prairie School online resource] .