MOORHEAD — The smaller rooms on the second floor of the Rourke Art Gallery + Museum in downtown Moorhead allow for smaller exhibits, but not necessarily less significant shows.
Currently on display are works by the first four artists to show with the institution 61 years ago: Cyrus Running, Charles Beck, Philip Thompson and Robert Nelson.
The Running display, in particular, stands out. Having died in 1976, shortly after he retired from Concordia College, his work doesn’t get shown often. But a look at his prints, paintings and drawings on display, viewers can see how he was one of the most influential artists of the area, particularly leaving a mark on former students Beck and Rourke founder, James O’Rourke.
“More than once Jim expressed a worry that Concordia students would think the Running Gallery was named after some southern Minnesota turkey farmer,” says Jonathan Rutter, executive director and curator at the Rourke.
Concordia’s gallery was dedicated to Running in 1974, two years after he retired.
Rutter says just looking at Running’s students in his 32 years of teaching at the school is a testament to his impact on artists from the region. The list includes notables like O’Rourke’s brother, Orland — who also help found the Rourke as well as Philip and Joy Thompson, Abner Jonas, Frank Samson, Terrance Larson, Kathleen Ristinen, James Verdoorn, Walter Piehl, Geri Burkhart, Jon Carlander and Duane Mickelson, who would later teach at Concordia.
Not all were as visibly influenced by their teacher. A Running painting in the show, “First Snow,” shows a farm scene with the roofs all frosty white. All of the building surfaces are flat, with slight shading to illustrate the overhang of the angled roof. A stand of trees are represented by simple, strong, black lines.
“There’s a tendency to simplify forms,” says Rutter, referring to Running’s work. “We’re able to understand a couple of rectangles as a barn and a couple of more rectangles to be a farmstead.”
That lesson follows through to Beck’s own depictions of farmsteads, looking at the sides of the structures, not the fronts. In his iconic “Early Snow,” a red barn with a snowy roof is shielded by a row of bare, black trees.
“One of the nice things about all three of them is that they were conscious of where they lived,” says Barbara Glasrud, who taught with Running starting in 1961. “If they lived in the mountains, their work would be different.”
O’Rourke also often visited farms in his woodcuts, like “The Valley,” but he was more interested in the architecture, Rutter says, and would position houses straight on to feature embellishments and details.
His trees were also strong, black shapes, but less rigid than his peers.
O'Rourke's works are on display in the museum's reading room.
O’Rourke also drew influence from trips to Europe and often depicted castles and cathedrals in woodcuts. His pitched rooftops in “Nürnberg” and “Nürnberg City Walls” are evocative of Running’s textured lines in his pen and ink drawing, “The New Jerusalem.”
“Jim’s line quality differs from Cy’s,” Rutter says. “It almost has an art nouveau characteristic; it meanders and undulates.”
O’Rourke was also notably inspired by turn-of-the-20th-century English illustrators Aubrey Beardsley and Sir William Nicholson.
Even how Running laid out his work, with strong horizontal or vertical formats, is echoed by Beck, who often featured the western Minnesota horizon (“Early Evening”), and O’Rourke, who reached high with church spires (“Meissen”) and windmills (“Red River Farm 1969”).
“I think he had a great impact on both of them,” Glasrud says.
Rutter suggests this was a result of Running’s pictorial design course, incorporating illustration and graphic design.
Running and Beck would both work as sign painters, and O’Rourke did graphic design work at the gallery, from creating brochures and other print material to his painstaking approach to laying out and addressing envelopes.
A collection of O’Rourke’s architectural prints will tour the Lake Agassiz Regional Library system starting at Breckenridge Public Library from April 1 to May 16. It will then move to Detroit Lakes Public Library from May 18 to June 28, and finally come close to home at the Moorhead Public Library from June 29 to Aug. 10.
The Rourke is currently working with the generous support of Fargo artist Mark Strand to restore a large Running mural that the school donated to the museum