Tens of thousands of people have made their way through the Wright County Government Center over the last 60 years and may have no idea that an iconic sculpture from one of Minnesota’s most renowned artists that is part of Wright’s County’s history has been greeting visitors.
In 1959, Wright County had outgrown its existing county courthouse and replaced the towered structure that served as county government center, court, and jail with a new facility. The county board commissioned sculptor Katherine Nash to create a unique piece of art to serve as a centerpiece of the new facility.
Nash created a piece entitled “Wright County Landscape” – a 20-foot long and 15-foot high bronze and brass sculpture. The description of the artwork on a plaque (that has since gone missing) said, “The sculpture is the center of interest for the courthouse and expresses the beauty of Wright County. It is an identifying symbol for the county in the same way the tower of the old courthouse was an identifying symbol. It depicts the Wright County Landscape with its lakes and rivers, its fields, grasses and trees and was created with the design of the building. The glass enclosed lobby is a showcase where the sculpture may be viewed from within or without.”
Wright County Landscape recently found a new home inside the new Wright County Government Center on the north wall of the first floor lobby in between the entry doors and the elevators. In addition, on the third floor of the new Government Center is another of Nash’s designs, but the history of that piece – including its title – is much more difficult to accurately trace than the centerpiece Wright County Landscape sculpture.
The smaller piece was initially commissioned for Buffalo National Bank, which was later sold to Wells Fargo. At the time of the sale, Buffalo National Bank President John Lundsten donated the sculpture to the Buffalo Library. Years later when the library was undergoing renovation, it was brought to the Government Center to join the other Nash-commissioned piece – where both remained until being moved to their new locations north of Buffalo.
So who was Katherine Nash? Her story is worth noting because of the contributions she made to the Minnesota art scene and her role as a woman who had to carve her own path to artistic notoriety.
Nash, who was born Katherine Flink in 1910, was a trailblazer for women in the art world. Nash moved with her husband to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she became a professor at the University of Nebraska and taught metal sculpture – including courses on welding, foundry and jewelry-making. The couple returned to Minnesota and Katherine became the director of the University Art Gallery (now the Weisman Museum) in 1957. From 1961-74, Nash was the only female art professor at the U of M, advancing her way through a male-dominated field of academics.
In 1979, the university renamed the West Bank Union Gallery the Katherine E. Nash Gallery – the flagship gallery at the Regis Center for Art at the University of Minnesota. The honor was a testament to her accomplishments and achievements in empowering young women to follow her into the world of art instruction. Currently almost half of the art faculty at the University of Minnesota are women.
Nash’s willingness to explore artistic possibilities made her an early pioneer in the field of computer drawing and co-authored a book on the subject with Richard Williams of the University of New Mexico in 1970 – at a time when computers were viewed as near-science fiction to the average person.
Nash retired from the U of M in 1976 and passed away in 1982 – establishing a legacy that has cemented her place and the state and national art communities. She was known for her innovation and artistic flair and leaving her works to the eye of the beholder to see the message she was imparting through her art.
The next time your travels bring you to the new Government Center, take a moment to stop and take in Wright County Landscape in the main floor lobby and the smaller piece on the third floor that can be viewed from a much closer distance. Nash may be gone, but her enduring artistic legacy remains alive and well in the Government Center for current and future generations to enjoy and be inspired by.