Tucked between barge loading areas on the banks of the Mississippi River in Winona is the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Filled with the art of Picasso, Monet and O’Keeffe, among many others, the museum is a hidden gem in southeast Minnesota.
There is a specific distinction the museum makes between maritime art and marine art. Executive Director Andrew Maus explains, “Maritime means ‘of the sea’ and marine means ‘water.’ We’re very intentional in using the word marine instead of maritime; it includes rivers, lakes, environment around marine art, the culture of the river. All those things inspired what we do.”
And the museum does a whole lot. The collection galleries are dedicated to traditional marine art, Hudson River School, Impressionism, Realism, Modernism and Contemporary works. There are also three gallery spaces for temporary exhibitions, like the upcoming Mississippi River series.
The museum was started to fill a need for a home for a significantly-sized and important collection of maritime paintings and objects, explains Maus. That’s when they made the choice to focus on marine art, not simply maritime. “Today we have, I believe, one of the best Hudson River School collections in the Midwest,” Maus says.
The Hudson River School has its own gallery space in the museum. The first true art movement in the United States, Hudson River School paintings use landscapes as metaphors for natural, cultural and religious themes.
One of the museum’s most significant pieces, Washington Crossing the Delaware, is located in the Hudson River School collection and embodies the use of painting as metaphor—Washington was not literally accompanied by the multitude of people in the boat. Rather, the piece portrays the journey of early America and all the people and cultures involved.
The focus on marine art is intentionally inclusive. Maus explains, “In the European collections we really only [show] one sort of rigidly maritime painting in the whole 30 or so paintings that are in that space. What we really have is a fantastic impressionist European romantic and European modern collection with Picasso, Van Gogh and everything that people would really love to see.”
The museum is an unexpected wonder. Maus says people come and expect to see a Picasso print, not a Picasso painting (the museum is home to Picasso’s Seated Man). The same can be said for Monet, O’Keeffe or any number of artists that grace the museum’s collections. “We believe very strongly that great art experiences are for everyone,” says Maus. “And we love the fact that we’re in an unexpected location in rural America.”
Featuring around 10 exhibitions every year, the museum is extremely dynamic. This makes is a great place to visit again and again to see just how deep the well of marine art runs.