Janet Gwendolyn Smith Art

phyllis wiener

Phyllis Wiener (1921-2013) Iowa, Minnesota
Known for:  abstraction, landscape and figure painting

She created, worked and exhibited under the following last names during her lifetime: Downs (1939-1961) Ames (1962-1968) and Wiener (1971-present).

Phyllis Wiener is one of the first women artists to embrace the abstract* art movement in Minnesota.  She is 85 and remains active in the Minnesota and American art community. Wiener took a night class with Grant Wood at University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, 1940;; and also has studied with Russell Green at Stephens College at Columbia, Missouri, 1944-1945; Cameron Booth at University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, 1950-1953 & 1960-1962; and the Instituto Allende, San Miguel de Allende*, Guanajuato, Mexico, 1961.

Wiener's father had no artistic background, but encouraged her to draw because he enjoyed her pictures.  Many of her schoolteachers encouraged her artwork.  Reflecting on her art career the approval received kept her creating more art.  She remembers always being in the company of artists, people who enjoy art, and maintained a lifestyle influenced by art and artist goals.

Wiener's work first started with landscape painting.  Then she moved to figures like most child artist's drawing people. "It seems to me that there is something very primeval about the desire of the human being to make representations of other human beings, and to spend their time looking at statues, etc."  Since a child's first visions are of their parents bending over them and smiling, this influences every young artist, if only on a subconscious level.

Her first group exhibition was in Boulder, CO with the Boulder Artist's Guild in 1941.  By 1944 her art had reached all regions of the United States. Then from 1954-1959 the American Federations of Arts Traveling Exhibitions included her artwork.  Under the U.S. State Department in 1962, her paintings were in a group exhibition that toured with the Art in Embassy Program*, American Embassies of Europe providing international exposure.  Her artwork was exhibited at the American Embassy in Papua, New Guinea by the U.S. State Department in 1997.

The Man in a White Suit (oil 1973) and Subway Riders (oil 1969) are her figure work with style stripped away exposing naturalism.  These pictures show the influence of modern choreography with her figures moving against each other on the canvas.  Landscapes became a series The Beautiful Florida Keys.  This series shows bright light flattening land and water into optical shapes.  This vision of Florida's light shows a universal landscape as expressed in the 1970s with Colors of the Coast (oil 1972) and In Two Months Now (oil 1973).

"I have no problem with being called a formalist.  Abstract forms can be positively thrilling to me.  Sometimes they are difficult to bring alive; that is the challenge of abstract art." _Phyllis Wiener.

Wiener creative works are dynamic, bold, colorful, and full of expression. Six Times Blue (acrylic 1981), Hallelujah Rags, (acrylic 1981), French Gifts (acrylic 1981), Double Red (acrylic 1981) and Double Blue (acrylic 1981) were inspired by daughter Amy, a clothing designer.

Her art career encompasses teaching art at the Walker Art Center; University of Minnesota at Minneapolis in the Extension Division; General College, Minnetonka Art Center at Minnetonka; Normandale Jr. College at Edina; and the College of St. Catherine at St. Paul.

After moving to Minnesota in 1950, she joined Artist's Equity, a national group with chapters in many cities.  Artist's Equity was a national organization with annual conventions in New York City.  This organization gave a voice to the artist and the profession.  It provided the opportunity to artists to meet, collaborate and define themselves as business owners.

Wiener is a charter member in 1982 of Women's Art Registry of Minnesota* (WARM),  a vibrant and regional woman's art movement mobilized by women artists expressing themselves in many materials.  WARM held itself to high creative and productive standards exhibiting regionally.  The WARM publication produced in 1984 for "A Landmark Exhibition" captures the artist's biographies, photographs of their work and WARM's historic information. 

 The WARM gallery was established in 1976 based on the need for exhibition opportunities, defining the role for Minnesota women artists and celebrating women's cultural contributions.  There are two associate groups linked with the WARM gallery.  WARM produced many events other than exhibitions and published the WARM Journal, a quarterly edited by Phyllis Wiener for five years.  The publication became nationally recognized in the women's movement.  The journal's voice was respected nationally in the art community being devoted to the feminist movement in the arts.

Since the turn of the millennium, Wiener has exhibited in 7 group exhibitions and 8 solo exhibitions.  From previous years many group shows are credited to her including: Walker Art Center, 6 exhibitions and 3 awards; Denver Art Museum, 3 exhibitions, one award; Minnesota State Fair, St Paul, 16 exhibitions and 7 Awards; US Embassy, Papua, New Guinea; Pennsylvania Academy of Fines Arts; U.S. State Department Traveling Exhibitions-European Embassies; Butler Art Institute, Youngstown, OH, and the American Federation of the Arts traveling exhibitions and many more to numerous to note here.  She was nominated for a Ford Foundation Fellowship in 1958 and 1959.  In 2006 she was nominated for a McKnight Foundation grant.

The artist's greatest influence was Cameron Booth. " Cameron Booth taught me about painting. I had many painting instructors, but Cam Booth knew, and taught me, Abstract Expressionist ideas.  It was the way I came into painting." Quoted from A Retrospective Exhibition Phyllis Ames Wiener, © 1981 Phyllis Ames Wiener.

Wiener's art was created, and then signed with her different last names throughout her life, since American women assumed their husbands last name during this era.  This occurrence is common with women artists and if not documented will cause confusion in their lifetime body of work. Her maiden name is Zager with no art created under this name. She created, worked and exhibited under the following last names during these years: Downs (1939-1961), Ames (1962-1968) and Wiener (1971-present).

Wiener's first home art studio was created by the necessity to care for and raise her four children.  This home studio provided her with 3-4 hours throughout the day to paint.  This blend of housewifery and painting created four children, four grandchildren, five great grandchildren and hundreds of paintings to her credit.  She attributes continued success to the exchange with other artists and organizations allowing the flow of ideas, impressions and mutual support.  In 2007 she remains active in the Minnesota art community, and continues to express herself through her art with new production. Some artists retire reflecting on past work.  Wiener never stops painting.  She exhibits and sells her work providing a role model for today's artists.                                     

Family is important to the artist. Her four children today continue work in the arts.  Gareth Downs, her son taught history at Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania.  He is a jazz musician and composer, now retired and living in Minneapolis.  Her daughters, Allison and Amy Downs live in Centralia, Washington where they work as designers of hats, coats and websites.  Daughter, Barbara Hodne, teaches English Literature at the University of Minnesota.
Wiener blended her love of family, a traditional woman's role and the untraditional role of American art with great success that continues today.

Wiener's art is held in private, public and corporate collections internationally.  Wiener continues to draw in her sketchbooks everyday, creating ideas for paintings.  She has over 39 national solo exhibitions to her credit in NY, IL, WI, IN and MN from 1951-2007.

Selected public and corporate collections of Wiener's work:
3M Company, St. Paul, MN
American Association of University Women
Art Center of Minnetonka, Wayzata, MN
Augsburg College, Minnesota, MN (Padillo Collection)
Briggs and Morgan Law Firm, Minneapolis, MN
Bucks County Community College, Newtown, PA
Cardiac Surgical Associates, San Antonio, TX
Cathedral Church of St. Mark, Minneapolis, MN
Child Psychiatry Dept University of Minnesota, MN
Concordia College, St. Paul, MN
College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN
College of St. Theresa, Winona, MN
Curtin and Mahoney Law Firm, Minneapolis, MN
Dorsey, Windhorst, Hannaford Law Firm, Minneapolis, MN
Downers Grove Public Library, Downers Grove, IL
Employers Mutual Insurance of Wausau, WI
Federal Land Bank, St. Paul, MN
First National Bank, Lincoln, NE
First Bank Systems, Minneapolis, MN
First National Bank of Blue Earth, MI
First National Bank of Minneapolis, MN (International Division)
First Southdale Bank, Edina, MN
Franciscan Hospitals, Rock Island, IL
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Grand Rapids Art Center, Grand Rapids, MI
Hennepin County Hospitals, Minneapolis, MN
Hodne, Stageborg, Architects and Planners, Minneapolis, MN
Hutchinson Technology, Hutchinson, MN
IDS Properties, Minneapolis, MN
Interdistrict Downtown School, Minneapolis, MN
Katz, McAndrews, Durkee & Telleere, Rock Island, IL
Knutson Companies, Inc, Minneapolis, MN
Leonard, Street & Deinard Law Firm, Minneapolis, MN
Lindquist and Vennum Law Firm, Minneapolis, MN
Lutheran Brotherhood, Minneapolis, MN
Macalaster College, St. Paul, MN
Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ
Medtronic Corporation, Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN
Minneapolis Inter District School, MN
Minnesota Gas Company, Minneapolis, MN
Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN
Minnesota State Historical Society, St. Paul, MN
Museum of Kuopio, Kuopio, Finland
National Bank of Commerce, Lincoln, NE
NBC Center, Lincoln, NE
Normandale College, Bloomington, MN
North American Life Insurance, Minneapolis, MN
Northwestern Bank, Rochester, MN
Pillsbury World Headquarters, Minneapolis, MN
QWEST (previously Northwestern Bell Telephone Co) Omaha, NE
Temple Aaron, St. Paul, MN
Total Petroleum Co, Denver, CO
Walker Art Center, MN
Weisman Museum at University of Minnesota, MN
Wilson Library, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Wells Fargo Bank, Minneapolis, MN

Selected Solo Exhibitions:
2006 Unitarian Society, Minneapolis, MN
2004 Howard Conn Fine Arts Center, Minneapolis, MN
2004 Mr. Helskini, Fish creek, Door County, WI
2004, 1995 Phipps Art Center, Hudson, WI
2003 Minneapolis Women's Club, MN
2001, 1986, 1974 College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN
2000, 1993 Dorothy Berge Contemporary Art, Stillwater, MN
1998 Roth Fine Arts, Minneapolis, MN
1998 Owatonna Art Center, MN
1995 Phipps Fine Art Center, Hudson, WI
1995 University of Minnesota, Rochester, MN
1993 Macalaster College, St. Paul, MN
2005, 1992, 1980 Art Center of Minnetonka, Wayzata, MN
1992 University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse
1990, 1985, 1980 Suzanne Kohn Gallery, St. Paul, MN
1988, 1986, 1983 Pindar,Gallery, New York, NY
1984 Kiehle Gallery, St. Cloud State University, MN
1982 Tweed Museum, Duluth, MN, Retrospective 1965-1981
1981 Katherine Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
1980 Phyllis Needleman Gallery, Chicago, IL
1979 College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, MN
1978 Groveland Gallery, Minneapolis, MN
1971 College of St. Theresa, Winona, MN
1967 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
1956, 1951 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
1952 Fort Wayne Museum, Fort Wayne, IN

Selected Group Shows
2005 Miller Art Museum, Sturgeion Bay, MN "The Mengert Art Collection"
2005 Minnetonka Art Center, Wayzata, MN "Biennial Exhibition 2005"
2005 Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN "Selected Abstract Works"
2004 Rochester Art Center, Rochester, MN "Abstract Art in Minnesota"
2004 Fairfield Art Museum Shop, Sturgeon Bay, WI
2003 Groveland Gallery Minneapolis, MN, Anniversary Show
1998 Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN "Women in Weisman Collection"
1997 3M Company, St. Paul, MN "Art in Corporate Climate"
1997 U.S. State Department, U.S. Embassy, Papua, New Guinea
1996 Edina Arts Center, Edina, MN "Street Scenes"
1992 A.I.R. Gallery, New York City, NY "December Invitational"
1991 Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN "Permanent Collection"
1991 Katherine Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis "12th Juried Exhibition"
1990 A.I.R. Gallery, New York City, NY, "Six Artists"
1988 Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN "Artists Look Back" travel to Modena,Italy
1988 Katherine Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis "WARM in Summer"
1988, 1987, 1985, 1984 Pindar Gallery, New York City, NY, "Gallery Group"
1987 ARC Gallery, Chicago, IL
1984 Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN "WARM: A Landmark Exhibition"
1982, 1981 Phyllis Needleman Gallery, Chicago, IL "Gallery Artists"
1981 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, "Five Painters"
1981 Pillsbury World Headquarters, Minneapolis, MN "Challenge of the Land"
1979 Macalester College Art Gallery, St. Paul, MN, "The Figure"
1976 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, "State of the Art: Art of the State"
1965 Butler Art Institute, Youngstown, OH, "Midyear Annual"
1964 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN "Walker Biennials"
1964 Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Philadelphia, PA "Annual"
1963 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, "Biennials"
1962 U.S. State Department Traveling Exhibit, European Embassies
1960 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN "Sixteen Minnesota Artists"
1959, 1954 American Federation of Arts Traveling Exhibits, 1954-1955 and 1958-1959

Other professional activities:
2004 Stage Set for Isadoora Theater Company, Sturgeon Bay, WI
2002 Juror for Art League Awards, Sturgeon Bay, WI
2000 Juror for Art Fete 2000 Burns Art Center, MN
1996 Juror for Wisconsin Arts West, Phillips Library, Eau Claire, WI
1991-1993 Member Board of Directors, Women's Art Registry of Minnesota, Minneapolis
1990 Juror for 79th Fine Arts Exhibition, Minnesota State Fair
1990 Juror for Five State Exhibition, Art Center of Minnetonka, MN
1990-2000 Member of National Book Critics Circle
1989-1990 Juror for Artists' Panel on Exhibitions, Women's Art Registry of Minnesota, MN
1989 Artists & Critics Workshop with Robert Storr, Center for Arts Criticism, St. Paul, MN
1988 Art Writers & Editors Workshop with Peter Plagens, Center for Arts Criticism, St. Paul, MN
1988 Juror for Arrowhead Show, Duluth Art Institute
1987 Critics Workshop with Barbara Rose & Franz Schulze, Center for Arts Criticism, St. Paul, MN
1985 Juror for Anniversary Exhibition elected by Minnesota Artist, Minnesota Artists Exhibition program, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
1984-1998 Book Reviewer, Minneapolis Star Tribune
1983-1987 Columnist, Artpaper
1983-1988 Editor, WARM Journal, Woman's Art Registry of Minneapolis, MN
1982-1990 Member of the collective, WARM Gallery, Minneapolis, MN
1980 Individual Artist Project Grant, Minnesota State Arts Board
1978-1981 Appointed to the Advisory Panel, Minnesota State Arts Board
1976-1978 Elected Member of selection panel, Minnesota Artists' Exhibition Program,
                  Minneapolis Institute of Arts
1962-1974 Instructor, Art Dept, University of Minnesota, Extension Division
1960-1966 Instructor, Oil painting, Walker Art Center
1950-1958 Member, Artists' Equity, Minnesota Chapter

Artist selected bibliography includes group published catalogues, solo published catalogues, and news articles about Wiener, published information includes, but are not limited to:
51st Annual Exhibition - 1945 & 1946 Catalogue, The Denver Art Museum © The Denver Art Museum;
Paintings and Drawings by Phyllis Downs at Walker Art Center ©1956 Walker Art Center ;
Walker Art Center Biennial©1958 Walker Art Center;
Walker Art Center © 1960 Walker Art Center;
Phyllis Ames: Recent Painting, © 1966 The Minneapolis Institute of Arts;
World of Who's Who of Women
American Artists of Renown
Dictionary of International Biography
Who's Who in the Midwest
A Retrospective Exhibition Phyllis Ames Wiener Nov 16-Dec 11, 1981 © 1981 Katherine Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, MN, Tweed Museum, Duluth, MN, July 11-Aug 8, 1982
WARM A Landmark Exhibition © WARM 1984 by WARM, Woman's Art Registry of Minnesota
Phyllis Wiener Paintings © 1984 Kalliope, A Journal, Jacksonville, FL (cover)
Phyllis Wiener Feature Article © 1984 St. Paul Dispatch, Sept 16, Katherine Lanpher
Once in a Blue Moon  © 1985 Artpaper, September, Elanor Heartney
Maps of the Mind © 1985 Mpls/S.t Paul Magazine, December, Nancy Roth
Artist Who Came in from the Cold © 1986 Minnesota Monthly, January, Margot Kriel Galt
Phyllis Ames Wiener at WARM Gallery © 1986 New Art Examiner, March, Mason Riddle
Ghost Maps at Pindar Gallery © 1987 WARM Journal, Vol 8, no 1, Mary Logue
Short Reviews © 1987 Woman Artists News, G. B. Short
48th Arrowhead Biennial Exhibition © 1988 Duluth Art Institute
Artists Look Back © 1988 Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN, Rob Silberman
News Makers Phyllis Wiener © 1991 Minnesota's Women's Press
Phyllis Wiener Portrait of an Artist © 1993 St. Paul Pioneer Press, Diane Hellickson
Excitement of Vision Phyllis Wiener A Retrospective Exhibition © 1993 Macalester Galleries
Who's Who in American Art 1996-Current Date
Phyllis Wiener © 1996 Street Scenes, catalogue, Douglas Hanson
In The Galleries © 1998 Star Tribune Minneapolis, Nov 21, Doug Hanson
Exhibition of Abstract Art© 1999 Dorothy Berge Gallery of Contemporary Art
Collection: Hennepin County Hospitals © 1999 Hennepin County Hospitals
A Shared Legacy Paintings by Mary Abbott & Phyllis Wiener © 2001 Catherine G. Murphy Gallery, essay by Ann Christenson
Who's Who in America, 2003-Current Date
Phyllis Wiener - Artist ©2003 Phyllis Wiener; Abstract Painting in Minnesota: Selected Works, 1930 to the Present © 2004 Burton and Judy Onofrio Gallery
Howard Conn Fine Arts Artist's Statement© 2004 Phyllis Wiener;
Driven to Abstraction © 2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press by Matt Peiken

The artist's letters of recommendation for the McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist Award include: Doug Hanson, Art Critic, Paris; Pat Bratnober Saunders, Artist; Kathleen M. Daniels, Director, Catherine G. Murphy Gallery, The College of St. Catherine, Minnesota. Each letter punctuated the treasures created by the artist and her influence in the American art community. Paris art critic, Doug Hanson compared her work to Henri Matisse for her "ease, lyricism and confidence of her approach - not to mention her attraction to forms that resemble cut-outs."

Author Notes:
The author reviewed  "Cleopatra's Barge" acrylic 1980, "Blue Loop I" acrylic 1980, and "Blue Loop II" acrylic 1980 held in the QWEST Corporate Collection in Omaha, Nebraska painted by Phyllis Wiener.  This article is based upon the artist's biographical resume, published catalogues and personal telephone interviews with the artist.  The collaboration with Wiener was a joyful journey through her life and art.  The conversations were enlightening about women artists in Minnesota articulating American culture through art.  The Women's Art Registry of Minnesota (WARM) created their space in the community.  This required vision and the courage of all the WARM artists. WARM persevered because of their vision.  All artists through fundraising, volunteering and committing to creative excellence, sustained this vision. The artists remain individuals creating and exhibiting with the support of the registry. The WARM example is a road map for other cooperatives, galleries, art organizations and artists.

Copyright September 2006 Janet G. Smith
Submitted by Janet G. Smith, art consultant, art historian, art authenticator and independent curator.    


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