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Updated Tweed reopens its doors

A new art exhibit at the Tweed features paintings by Two Harbors native Jeffrey T. Larson called "Domestic Space". The foreground painting is titled "Sophia Rose". Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Guests, artists and staff gather at the Tweed Museum on the UMD campus before aThursday morning press conference where a $1.5 million upgrade to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at the museum were announced. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 2

The reopening of the Tweed Museum of Art brought to light many things on Thursday — not the least of which were the radiant paintings of Jeffrey T. Larson and the inside story of what it takes to preserve an art collection.

"I'm just flattered and honored," said Larson, a 54-year-old painter born in Two Harbors, raised in the Twin Cities and now residing on the Brule River in northwest Wisconsin with his family. "I've never shone in Duluth before."

No matter how current the subject matter, Larson's oil paintings harken to another time — having trained in a style called classical realism that traces back 500 years. Throughout that time, realists have passed down meticulous techniques and careful observations to their apprentices, all the while elevating ordinary scenes of workers and still lifes — or in Larson's case women hanging sheets to dry on a line — to breathtaking appeal.

How works such as Larson's are displayed and stored is the story of why the Tweed was experiencing a reopening in the first place.

Closed in January, the museum underwent a $1.5 million update of the 58-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth museum's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

"The biggest threat to artwork is a volatile environment," Director Ken Bloom told an assembled crowd. "It doesn't like heat, excessive cold or humidity. It likes no change at all."

The original unit was overdue for an update and the dean of the University of Minnesota Duluth's School of Fine Arts, Bill Payne, spent several years marshalling the resources to get it done. In the end, the state and the university shared the costs.

"This is a huge step forward for the museum," Payne said, adding that closing the museum for roughly six months was a tricky process.

For starters, the work wasn't "sexy," both Payne and Bloom said. Rather, it took place behind the walls, under the floors and above the ceilings.

For it to happen, the museum needed to be emptied of its works. More than 2,000 objects on display were put into a spare Tweed vault, meaning each piece had to be packaged with care for storage while the main vault and museum were under construction.

"These are the treasures we have in our community," Payne said.

The end result is a museum that will be kept at 45 percent humidity and 68 degrees.

"Preserving these collections for future generations," Bloom said, "is the most important thing we do."