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The Community Collection

What’s the distinction between fiction and fraud?

Dr Ellen Weise has written a brief history of the Community Collection (a work in progress) which outlines the collection’s origins and begins to explore the evolving strategy for its growth and interpretation. The collection continues to grow, as will its history, I suspect. Here are some links to fragments of that story elsewhere in the blog:

  • “One Score and Then: a brief history of the Community Collection” by Ellen Weise, PhD can be found here.
  • Another entry delves into the rationale for the collection’s existence and the peculiar methods of its particular madness.
  • And on that last point, we once tried to bring a New York art critic into the mix — someone born in Fargo — but failed to interest him in our little endeavor. It was still a worthwhile effort: I learned a lot.

With that introduction, please feel free to use the site’s search engine to locate the more than two hundred and fifty individual entries, piece by piece. Use the search terms “Landscapes & Livestock”, an offhand observation made by someone during the Centennial exhibit in 2012: “Damn! It’s just a room full of landscapes and livestock.” Here, then, is a breakdown of what you may find in each entry:


The entry format for the Community Collection database has evolved, because some of what it records is fact, but much of it is fiction used to strengthen the narrative. Consider the entry for Prof Wilhelm Reinhardt’s portrait:

KNOX, Susan Ricker [1874-1959]

Gentleman in Spectacles / Portrait of Dr Wilhelm Reinhardt


oil on canvas / 14.25 inches by 10.25 inches

Wilhelm August Karl Ernst Reinhardt, first president of the Northwest Iowa Normal School, was born in Hildesheim, Germany, in 1874 and received his doctorate from Göttingen University at the age of twenty-seven. His emigration to North America in 1904—facilitated by family already living  in St. Louis and the German exhibit at the World’s Fair that year—brought him to a faculty position at Washington University. He taught history there for ten years until his appointment as first president of the new Normal College at Agincourt, Iowa. Susan Ricker Knox’s portrait, commissioned by the college Board of Trustees as part of his investiture in the Fall of 1915, hung in the Board Room until it was put on permanent loan to the Community Collection in 1970—a place where more can enjoy it.

Susan Ricker Knox was born in New Hampshire and evidenced artistic ability from an early age. At the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia and the Cooper Union in Brooklyn, she studied with Howard Pyle and Douglas Volk, and continued her education in Spain, Italy, Paris and London. With studios in both New York City and York Harbor, Maine, Knox specialized in portraits, especially of mothers and children. One critic noted: “Her special attention to the sitter’s character, or the spiritual, was a trademark of her work.” It’s not known whether Professor Reinhardt sat for this portrait in Iowa, New York or some intermediate point or whether she may have worked form a photograph.

The portrait was restored by Anthony Moore Paintings Conservation in 2008.

As one of the more fully developed entries, there is a wide variety of information here. Without actually telling the reader what they can “take to the bank”, I’ve crafted a sort of graphic code which, hopefully, won’t get in the way.

  • The artist Susan Ricker Knox is an actual historical figure; her dates are accurate (or as accurate as the internet has been willing to provide). Alternate spellings or variations in a name are so identified. Were Knox an invented person, as some of the artists are—particularly when artworks are unsigned but could still be useful to enrich the narrative—her name would have appeared in bold italics.
  • Works sometimes arrived with a title accompanying or attached to the piece: prints are often titled in pencil on the front; paintings, sometimes on the reverse. If the title were given, it appears in “quotes”; if we’ve invented one, without quotes, as it appears here. The subject of Ricker’s portrait remains unidentified, sadly, but that omission allowed us to repurpose the portrait to enhance the story of a local institution.
  • A date for its creation has sometimes been provided, but in this case we’ve bracketed it (i.e., guessed) based here on the style of clothing. Again, italics indicate the date has been manufactured—admittedly a subtle distinction.
  • The medium and size are accurate, determined from the piece itself and true. As in genuflection, height precedes width.
  • The story of the subject and/or of the artist we’ve left uncoded, so that formatting does not get in the way of narrative. In this case, Dr. Wilhelm A.K.E. Reinhardt is an invented character for the Northwest Iowa Normal School story. Ms Knox’s information, however, is as truthful as limited research can make it.
  • REMEMBER: Italicized information is fictional, ambiguous, or uncertain. When that graphic convention gets in the way, we’ll reconsider.

Many of the early entries were more fully developed as parts of contributing stories. In the case of living artists, we’ve alerted them to their inclusion here and honored any reservation on their part. I must confess to increasing laziness in that score lately, with the intent to come back later. But, as they say on Broadway, “I don’t care what you think about my performance, as long as you spell my name right.”

Suffice to say, a piece of art is included here because we think it’s good, i.e., worth looking at. Or does it simply suffice?

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