Sonya Clark

Sonya Clark (b. 1967, Washington, D.C.)
Triangle Trade, 2011
Thread on canvas
60 x 70 inches
Purchase, Acquisition Fund

Sonya Clark

Triangle Trade is a term used to describe the slave labor and manufacturing network between Western African and Colonial America during the 16th-19th centuries since these trade routes shuttled among three different regions. Slaves were brought to Caribbean plantations who then harvested produce, like cotton and sugar, which was then shipped to Colonial America, where profits were used to produce additional manufactured goods that would be sent back to Africa to trade for more slave labor. This soft chain of cotton fibers, meant to resemble braided hair, has been meticulously stitched into and over the surface of this massive canvas. Clark gives the ephemeral quality of hair braiding a certain permanence; by weaving material and history into the canvas she repeatedly redraws the trade routes that maintained the New World slave economy for centuries. The work is an important recent acquisition for the M—for its engagement with issues of migration, slavery, and African American history—and issues of how craft and fine art coalesce. Conversations about gender, fashion, abstraction are also potent in this work.

Sonya Clark is Department Chair of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. She holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BA in Psychology from Amherst College. Her work has been exhibited in over 250 museums and galleries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, and throughout the USA, including three significant pieces that were included in the M’s 2016 exhibition Material Mythologies. She has received awards and fellowships from such prestigious institutions as Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, and most recently as a United States Artist Fellow. She serves on the board of the American Craft Council in Minneapolis.

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Sonya Clark

George Morrison

George Morrison

George Morrison was a distinguished Ojibwe modernist from Minnesota whose paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures form a remarkable group within the collection of the Minnesota Museum of American Art. Collected primarily from the artist and his former wife, Hazel Belvo, the 78 works in the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s collection make up the largest and most comprehensive picture available of Morrison’s six decades of multi-faceted work. The Minnesota Museum of American Art’s 1990 Morrison retrospective, Standing in the Northern Lights, has been the only survey to date of this unique artist’s entire oeuvre from the 1940s through his death in 2000. His work also exists in the collections of the Heard Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Walker Art Center, and Whitney Museum of American Art.

Raised in Chippewa City, Minnesota, a rural fishing village on the north shore of Lake Superior, Morrison spoke his Native language until he began boarding school. During a year-long recovery from hip surgery in his youth, Morrison took up reading, drawing, and carving, and was supported subsequently by appreciative teachers. He graduated from Grand Marais High School in 1938, the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design) in 1943, and New York’s Art Students League in 1946, after which he participated actively in the downtown art scene, where his emergent abstractions garnered positive critical attention in the New York Times and other publications. Both he and his friend, Willem de Kooning, had their first solo shows in Manhattan in 1948. Morrison had 12 one-person shows in New York between 1948 and 1960.

As a Fulbright scholar, he studied and worked in Paris and Aix-en-Provence in 1952 and 1953, producing abstract art that synthesized expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. Through the 1950s, Morrison was active as a teacher and exhibiting artist in New York and Provincetown, and his geometric and gestural abstractions were in dozens of group shows across the United States. After teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1963 to 1970, Morrison taught studio art and American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. Despite numerous health problems, he was prolific in the 1980s and 1990s, receiving several important public commissions. In 1997 his large sculpture, Red Totem (1980), was exhibited at the White House, and in 1999 he received the first Master Artist Award in the Eiteljorg Museum’s Fellowship for Native American Fine Art.

Cumulated Landscape belongs to a series of large, impressive objects that have found a wide and welcoming audience. In the mid-1960s, while summering on the Atlantic shore at Provincetown, Morrison began making monumental collages with driftwood (“found objects”) that were unique and yet reflected his friendship with the sculptor Louise Nevelson. Gridded like Adolph Gottlieb’s “pictographs,” these award-winning sculptures were widely collected by museums, corporations, and private individuals, and Morrison extrapolated them further in numerous exhibitions of drawings, rubbings, and lithographs. The critical reception of these compelling constructions was both swift and positive. New England Landscape II (1967), which is four feet high and almost ten feet wide, took the Grand Award in 1968 at the Fourth Invitational Exhibition of Indian Arts and Crafts, sponsored by the Center for Arts of Indian America in Washington, D.C. Morrison’s success in that invitational is noteworthy, since early in his career he was rebuffed in his efforts to show his work in juried exhibitions of American Indian art because it wasn’t Indian in style, and so before the late 1970s he was rarely included in such shows. New England Landscape II was quickly acquired by the Amon Carter Museum, where it has long been a visitor favorite.

Cumulated Landscape typifies the first phase of Morrison’s collage production: weathered wood is puzzled together in a quasi-cubist fashion, geometry and an insistent linearity are softened by a few curved shapes that bespeak organic vitality, and texture/tactility emphasizes tangibility. But each collage in the series has its own personality. Unlike New England Landscape II—which is ragged, rough, and warm, with a few polychrome accents—Cumulated Landscape’s individual parts all are neatly joined together in a tight, mostly rectilinear composition and its palette is more variable: shades of brown interplay with grays, greens, blues, and whites. Stressing order and clarity, but tolerating quirky anomalies of form and design, Cumulated Landscape characterizes the series in its dynamic balance of part and whole.

The pleasing play of light and dark across the surface of Cumulated Landscape suggests chiaroscuro, reminding us that Morrison described the collages as “paintings in wood.” Although freely invented, they are, he explained, “derived from nature, based on landscape.” According to Morrison, the driftwood used in Cumulated Landscape “gives a sense of history—wood that has a connection to the earth, yet has come from the water.” Although they originated on the East Coast, he acknowledged that the collages “may have been inspired subconsciously by the rock formations of the North Shore.”[1] Thus Cumulated Landscape, a touchstone of modern art, symbolizes the whole of Morrison’s career, in which memories of specific places are internalized and realized in a visual language based on mastery of the paradigms of the international avant-garde.

Even before finishing art school Morrison had already won awards and prizes for regionalist landscapes, realistic portraits, and mysterious still lifes, and was fully engaged in the modernist enterprise.[2] His small painting, Dream of Calamity (1945), a response to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was au courant in terms of international style and shown in the first biennial exhibition at the Walker Art Center in 1947. By that time Morrison was making what the critic Lawrence Alloway called “biomorphic abstractions” (poetic, visual analogs for a variety of forms in nature) that extended the works of André Masson and Joan Miró. In 1947 he was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting. By 1950 he was showing delicate, cryptic, organic abstractions that belong to the surrealist phase of emergent abstract expressionism (cf. Mark Rothko’s “multiforms”). A quasi-constructivist phase of geometric abstractions of landscapes and urbanscapes in the mid-1950s was well received and collected by such institutions as the Seattle Art Museum and the Whitney. From the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, he made sophisticated abstractions that synthesized late impressionism, “action painting,” and tachism, the European counterpart of abstract expressionismThe Minnesota Museum of American Art has outstanding examples from virtually all of these phases in Morrison’s long career, including Pennsylvania Tryptich (1964), notable for its admixture of the action and color field styles of the New York school.  

After he retired from teaching in 1983, Morrison worked for 17 years from his studio/home on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, along the north shore of Lake Superior, near to the place he was born and raised. “From this vantage point he pursued, like a Zen master, the paradoxically tangible yet ineffable truth of nature in a series of paintings and collages of varying scale that seek not to picture the visible but to offer an abstract equivalent for the artist’s aesthetic response to land, water, and sky.”[3] The “Red Rock Variations” and the “Horizon Series” include masterful paintings and works on paper whose surfaces range from telluric and thickly impasted to evanescent and transitory. Many of them rely on automatic drawing and frottage and refer yet again to the biomorphic shapes of abstract surrealism. Spatially complex, diverse but unified, and sometimes pictographic, these later works are intriguing and memorable.

In its linear division of a richly wrought surface, Untitled (Lake Superior) recalls the “White Paintings” (which date from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s). But its insistent horizontality, ostensible subject matter (the sublime, febrile beauty of the superior lake), visionary expressionist palette, and thematic structure—land, water, horizon line, sky—link it to the “Red Rock Variations” and the celebrated “Horizon Series.” Morrison’s recurrent horizon line, usually a quarter of the way down from the top of the picture support, first appears in the 1940s. Like the thin strip Barnet Newman called a “zip,” Morrison’s horizon line is simultaneously a critical formal element, a symbol, and the artist’s logo. The persistence of the horizon line in his work establishes a dialogue between phenomenon and noumenon as a leitmotif of his mature aesthetic: the horizon is frequently visible from the shore, but we cannot, in fact, ever go there. It is thus a concept, not a destination. Indeed, in the same breath the artist spoke of the “wind—that phenomenon of nature we can’t even see” and the “enigma of the horizon.”[4] And yet, the scumbled layers of scintillating pigment produce a sensuous palimpsest, reinforcing the fact that the painting is a physical object, here and now.

The irregular red “cloud” that drifts, floats, and/or evolves diagonally through the strata of the painting from lower left to upper center-right links Untitled (Lake Superior) iconographically with Morrison’s images of Manido-Gree-Shi-Gance, or Spirit Little Cedar Tree. This is a white cedar that seems to defy nature by growing out of a rock perched high above the lakeshore on land owned by the Grand Portage Band of Ojibwe. At least 300 years old and sometimes called the Witch Tree, Manido-Gree-Shi-Gance is believed by many to have healing powers and is regarded as sacred by both Native and non-Native people. Indeed, Morrison and his former wife, the artist Hazel Belvo, helped raise funds to preserve and protect the tree. The significance of this miraculous tree for Morrison is reflected in the fact that he investigated/represented its image on at least eight other occasions, including his stunning acrylic painting, Witch Tree (1981), in the collection of General Mills. Morrison was interested in magic (as an indigenous medicinal practice) and the magic of nature, which would explain part of his attraction to the fierce beauty of the tree. But like the Grand Portage Ojibwe Indians, including the artist himself, Manido-Gree-Shi-Gance is a weathered but dignified survivor. Surely he understood and appreciated this aspect, as well.

Essay by W. Jackson Rushing III University of Oklahoma

George Morrison (1919-2000) Cube, 1988
11 ¾ x 11 ¾ x 11 ¾ inches
Sylvia Brown, Dr. Wolfgang Zeman, and Renato and Giorgio Marmont Fund Purchase


[1] Quotations from George Morrison and Margot Fortunato Galt, Turning the Feather Around: My Life in Art (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1998), 128.

[2] In 1943 Morrison received a Ribbon Award at the Minnesota State Fair, the Vanderlip Traveling Scholarship from the Minnesota School of Art, and the Bernays Scholarship at the Art Students League in New York City.

[3] W. Jackson Rushing III, “Modern Spirits: The Legacy of Allan Houser and George Morrison,” in Essays on Native Modernism: Complexity and Contradiction in American Indian Art (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of the American Indian, 2006), 57.

[4] Ibid., 175.

Frederick D. Jones

Frederick D. Jones

As a mid-twentieth century African American artist of Chicago, Illinois, Frederick D. Jones, Jr., is often overlooked under the large shadow of the New York Harlem Renaissance. In his painting July 7, it is clear that Jones was participating in and responding to the significant African American art tradition that was developing in Chicago. Little is known about the specifics of Jones’s life and art, but it is evident in this painting that spirituality, surrealism, and African abstraction were strong influences on his work.

The title of the work and the symbols within it, especially the date on the torn calendar page to the right, highlight July 7 as an important key to this painting. The main figure, a beautiful veiled woman, sits in a chair by an open window in a fairly rundown room. Outside her window, in front of a gleaming church façade, a man serenades her with a harmonica, possibly trying to woo her.  Between them on the windowsill sits a pink rose and three playing cards; one is the ace of hearts, another the queen of hearts, and the last is turned face down as if waiting to be revealed. These symbols seem to communicate that this painting was meant to record a significant moment in the courtship of this couple, perhaps their engagement or marriage.

In the years prior to 1958, Jones studied at Clark College in Atlanta and worked part time as a janitor for Coca-Cola. His life changed course when the company’s chairman sponsored him to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, after finding a sketchbook that Jones had left by accident in the chairman’s office.[1] The Art Institute gave Jones the guidance he needed to develop into a confident artist. Upon graduation, he became the Assistant Director of the Chicago South Side Community Center (SSCC), which cultivated the life force of the Chicago African American arts scene. Jones described the SSCC as a place where “you met people who were polished in their art and … were learning and building a type of art that was significant to the art center … and we learned it from each other.”[2]

Jones’s art reflects his friendships with artists such as Eldzier Cortor, another artist working at the SSCC whose figures share Jones’s African abstraction, and Hughie Lee-Smith, an artist Jones met in the Navy who was involved in the American Surrealist movement.[3] July 7 contains evidence of both of these styles within its composition. The figure of the woman is composed of elongated cylindrical shapes that curve dreamily from the bottom of the scene almost to the top of the frame. Jones has dressed her in a vibrant purple skirt and a white veil, and set her in front of a deep red, draping cloth that brings to mind heavenly icons of the Virgin Mary. Her head is perched atop an impossibly long neck, typical of his female figures, with a facial expression that is vacant and masklike—in keeping with what he called his “African Mark,” a term that refers to the elements of his style that suggest an African aesthetic.[4] The curving motion of her body and the fantastic color throughout the painting sweep the viewer’s gaze through the window and into the dreamy nighttime landscape. A lace curtain is strung across the window and almost magically blends into the midnight sky, creating a hazy transition from inside to outside space. Jones’s figural abstraction and spatial disorientation point to African stylistic influence and surrealist compositional constructs.

July 7 is an extremely informative painting, filled with signs and stylistic assemblages that tell a story of courtship. Carefully placed symbols work together to describe a romantic encounter cloaked with a veil of Christian spirituality and African representation, and to create art that was current and relevant to the African American community of artists in 1950s Chicago.

Essay by Megan Williams, Carleton College, Class of 2011

Frederick D. Jones, Jr. (1914–2004)
July 7, 1958
Oil on canvas
29½ x 24½ inches
Elinor Brodie Fund Purchase, 92.01.01


[1] James Prigoff and Robin J. Dunitz, Walls of Heritage, Walls of Pride: African American Murals (San Francisco: Pomegranate, 2000), 254.

[2] Frederick D. Jones, interview by Arlene E. Williams, Nov. 8–10, 1988, transcript, African-American Artists in Chicago oral history project, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[3] Ramon B. Price, Two Black Artists of the FDR Era: Marion Perkins, Frederick D. Jones (Chicago:  DuSable Museum of African American History, 1990), v.

[4] Ibid., iii.

Wing Young Huie

Wing Young Huie (1955–)
Death Valley, Nevada, 2001–2002
40 x 57½ inches
Acquisition Fund Purchase

Wing Young Huie

When you look at a photograph by Wing Young Huie, especially one made during his nine-month North American road trip in 2001, you must be aware of both the man operating the camera when the exposure was made and the person viewing the photograph—you—in the present moment. Huie photographs to comment on experience and creates images that acknowledge and affirm numerous biases.

Evident throughout his work is the artist’s own experience as a self-perceived outsider during his Duluth, Minnesota, childhood. As the only child in his family not born in China, and one whose parents owned an enduring landmark restaurant, Huie knew he was extraordinary in the context of that rugged port city. Very few people looked like him; very few families were as “foreign” as the Huies.  Growing up under these conditions sensitized him to the experience of the outsider, though Huie was also aware that he was officially, by birthright and by cultural immersion, as American as any of his classmates. His “ethnocentric filter,” the term Huie uses to explain his subjective take on the world, was as white as Paul Bunyan’s.[1]

Huie’s early training as a journalist gave him a base for understanding the importance of conveying stories and, especially, personal narratives. From his earliest public exhibitions and their attendant publications to his most recent project (University Avenue, for which he photographed individuals holding chalkboards on which they had written a few words about their aspirations), he has used text to enhance and clarify the lives he records.

In 1981 Huie participated in a summer workshop led by the well-known American photographic artist Garry Winogrand (1928–1984), held by Film in the Cities/Lightworks in Saint Paul. That experience charged him with awareness of the photographic image itself, and the balancing act in which form and content contribute equally to the photograph’s meaning.  Winogrand helped Huie connect the outsider narrative—the journalist’s self-effacing, allegedly objective stance—with a more personally driven notion of the photograph as a symbolic container of intention.

In 2001 Huie set out on an extended driving trip with his wife, Tara, following the example of another great American road trip photographer, Robert Frank (himself an outsider, having grown up in Switzerland), some 50 years earlier. The couple drove west out of Minnesota and ultimately visited thirty-nine states, including Hawaii, to observe and record the panoply of American ethnic diversity. Throughout, Huie observed Frank’s principle that “it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph,” interpreting it to mean that whenever he felt himself, his history, or his ethno-genetic makeup coming to the fore a photograph should be made.[2] Huie’s family history was not his only bias; his views were also colored by being a man entering middle age, a tourist suffering culture shock, and half of a newly married couple encountering the pleasures and befuddlements of modern America. Most often, though, the photographic reaction Frank described was triggered by encounters with Chinese American culture. The photographs published in Looking for Asian America: An Ethnocentric Tour by Wing Young Huie encapsulate the range of Huie’s self-encounters.  The Minnesota Museum of American Art debuted the full exhibition sequence of these works three years earlier in the one-person show Nine Months in America: An Ethnocentric Tour.[3]

Death Valley, Nevada, the photograph of a young, Asian-looking girl on the edge of what seems like the end of a trail, has several subtexts. First of these is the issue of Japanese and Chinese “coolie” labor building the railroads, aiding and abetting the cause of American expansionism and making the frontier safe for capitalism. Second is the enduring tradition of poses in front of grand landscapes and of facial expressions worn during such moments. And third is the sanitizing of the scenic: the rocks the girl poses on are fabricated chunks assembled at the edge of a roadside pullout, a “scenic overlook” that may even have directions for pointing one’s camera or an explanatory panel to rationalize and objectify the daunting expanse of sere hills rolling off behind the child. Huie’s explanation, in the form of this photograph, offers far more questions than answers. Viewers must locate themselves in this terrain; the ethnocentric filter that Huie uses to make his photographs is also one each viewer must acknowledge in his or her own sightlines.

Essay by George Slade, Independent Curator


[1] Euan Kerr, “Wing Young Huie Searches for Asian America,” MPR News (Nov. 16, 2007),

[2] Robert Frank, “A Statement …,” in Tom Maloney, ed., U. S. Camera 1958 (New York: U. S. Camera Publishing, 1957), 115.

[3] Wing Young Huie, Anita Gonzalez, and Frank H. Wu, Looking for Asian America:  An Ethnocentric Tour by Wing Young Huie (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).  The MMAA acquired a complete set of prints at the time of the exhibition.

[4] As recorded by one of Henri’s students in an appendix to Bennard B. Perlman, Robert Henri: His Life and Art (New York: Dover, 1991), 139.

Mike Lynch

Mike Lynch (1938–)
Elevator—29th and Harriet, 1988
Oil on linen
53 x 80 inches
Acquisition Fund Purchase

Mike Lynch

One of the most striking things about Minnesota artist Mike Lynch’s Elevator—29th and Harriet is the painting’s size compared to the rest of Lynch’s work, which often is no bigger than a standard sheet of 8.5 x 11 inch paper. At an unusual 53 x 80 inches, the striking expansiveness of the scene is emphasized, calling to mind experiences of being surrounded at once with both vast emptiness and monumental industrial buildings. This is one quality that is present throughout the majority of Lynch’s paintings both large and small, such as Marine Oil Company (1985) and Pioneer Elevator (1985). The amount of space given to the sky, rather than the actual subject, conveys a sense of large-scale isolation and loneliness while still being stunningly beautiful. The delicate purple tinted sky, its color reflecting off the snow, is something all Minnesota residents are familiar with, but this scene is somewhat mysterious. The snow is pristine and unplowed, allowing the vegetation from the previous season to peek through in the ditches. This untouched quality suggests abandonment, and a feeling somewhat akin to nostalgia, as a once productive and prosperous grain elevator stands empty and uninhabited.

These feelings are not uncommon in Lynch’s work. Most of his paintings are created at dusk or nightfall, and he often works in his car if the weather is not cooperating. According to Lynch, “things simplify at night” and the most banal scene can be rendered magical.[1] He effectively captures that sense of magic in his paintings, when it would be almost impossible to do so with photography. His urban scenes often focus on buildings that are soon to be demolished, giving them that abandoned, mysterious quality.

A thoroughly Minnesota artist, Lynch has gone so far as to incorporate the colorful ore from the Iron Range when mixing his paints. He was born in Hibbing and has resided in the state for most of his life, after brief periods in Amsterdam and San Francisco. He also received much of his education in Minnesota, studying with Birney Quick at the Grand Marais Art Colony and with Eric Austen Erickson at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design).[2] His work is owned by museums and corporations such as the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, as well as the Minnesota Department of Revenue, which commissioned the massive 10 x 18 foot painting of the St. Paul skyline for the lobby of its building on St. Paul’s Robert Street. A widely acclaimed artist, he was awarded McKnight Foundation fellowships in 1983, 1987, and 1996. In 2003 the McKnight Foundation named him a Distinguished Artist, and he joined the ranks of five other artists who had received the award by that time.

Rooted in American regionalism of the 1920s and 1930s, Lynch acknowledges the dilemmas he faces as a realist painter. In a journal entry dated September 20, 1994, he wrote:

“There’s a mathematics and logic to [a picture] which must be apprehended intuitively, as in how to simplify, how to represent.…There’s always a degree of failure or imperfection, i.e., the reality is always greater than the representation. What then is the picture’s value? Its value is that it brings the viewer an opportunity to see the scene divested of its physical presence; like at a movie, we participate one step removed.”[3]

“An opportunity to see the scene divested of its physical presence” is an accurate way to describe the work of an artist. Throughout Lynch’s career, audiences have been presented with landscapes that eschew the harsh illuminating aspects of daylight. Instead, the audience is given rare glimpses of overlooked areas in urban and rural parts of Minnesota. The portrayal of these places during the quiet and calm of night does exactly what Lynch writes. We see the scene not as we normally would during the day—surrounded by traffic, with the imagined ambient noises—but almost as a form of urban portraiture, stripped of all the extras, removed from its “physical presence.” Lynch presents his scenes as a portraitist would introduce his or her sitter, with flattering light and colors to render even the most homely and aged subject stunningly beautiful and pure.

Essay by Anna K. Johnson, Gustavus Adolphus College, Class of 2012

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[1] Sylvia Lindman and Gayle Thorsen, eds., Mike Lynch: 2003 Distinguished Artist (Minneapolis: McKnight Foundation, 2003), 9,

[2] Nigel Hatton, “Painter Mike Lynch Wins McKnight Award,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 30, 2003; “Lynch, Mike,” Groveland Gallery website,

[3] Lindman and Thorsen, 2003 Distinguished Artist, 32.