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Once at MIA: A man and his mountain

The art gallery in T.B. Walker's Minneapolis home, at Eighth Street and Hennepin Avenue, in 1905.

The art gallery in T.B. Walker’s Minneapolis home, at Eighth Street and Hennepin Avenue, in 1905. Photo from Hennepin County Library.

It’s now one of the MIA’s most beloved artworks: Jade Mountain Illustrating the Gathering of Scholars at the Lanting Pavilion, carved in 1784. But a hundred years ago the 640-pound sculpture was used as a table centerpiece. You could do this if you were T.B. Walker, this was your table, and you owned the jade mountain. Bon apetit!

Walker, of course, also owned all those paintings hung salon style on the wall. The timber baron had enough art and curiosities to start a museum—two, actually—ranging from Old Masters (many of them fake, as it turned out) to Chinese jades to the death mask of Abraham Lincoln.

But before the MIA was built in 1915, or the Walker Art Center in 1927, he began Minnesota’s first real art gallery in his own home at 803 Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. There were 14 rooms full of art, including a salon just for jade. He liked living among his art, and he wasn’t one to wander: Part of the reason he didn’t just bring his collection to the MIA when it opened is that he felt the museum was too far from downtown.

The mountain, along with 25 of Walker’s other jade pieces, eventually came to the MIA as the Walker Art Center turned exclusively to modern and contemporary art and sold off their namesake’s older works. But last year, the mountain returned to its Lowry Hill digs for the Walker’s 75th anniversary celebration—today it goes back on display at the MIA.

Watch for more Once at MIA flashbacks every Monday at MIA Stories.