Park Board looks to make $50,000 from donated artwork

A statue set donated in 1955 for placement in the Rose Garden has been in storage ever since

Five little-known sculptures tucked away since a family donated them to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board more than a half-century ago might soon see the light of day.

The cash-strapped board has been looking into a variety of new ways, large and small, to boost its revenue and earlier this summer discussed the possibility of selling the Greek-themed marble artwork set for $50,000. The income would be put toward maintaining the park’s existing artwork.

Iron-ore entrepreneur Russell M. Bennett commissioned the works — a sculpted table and the busts of two Pan characters and two satyrs — in 1913. Local sculptor Charles Brioschi created the plaster molds for the table and the six-foot figures, which were carved in Italy and delivered in 1919 after WWI delays. Bennett displayed the figures at his home in Deephaven, Minn.

Years after his death, the Bennett family donated the artwork to the Park Board. The hope was that they would be placed in the Lyndale Park Rose Garden or a similar setting.   

“He just loved the parks,” said Bennett’s great granddaughter Robin Schoenwetter, of Plymouth, Minn. “He was very philanthropically inclined and always appreciated parks and wide open spaces.”

But the Park Board was never able to find a suitable location for the donation and the sculptures spent the next 55 years in storage, where they still are today. Park Board General Manager Mike Schmidt recalled first seeing them as a new employee in 1980 during a tour of the organization’s facilities. The artwork caught his interest right away, but discussions of what to do with it never gained traction.

 “We have this asset,” Schmidt said. “However, it concerns me in that it is in storage, it is delicate, very few people within the organization are aware of it, and what do we want to do with it?”

Because the sculptures are fragile and the theme doesn’t fit within any of the city’s parks, the best option, Schmidt said, is to sell them and use the money to keep up existing artwork within the system. The sculptures have dirt and water stains on their surfaces, but could be cleaned, according to a Park Board maintenance report. One of the Pan figures has a chipped ear, but the broken piece was retained.

Mary Altman, director of the Minneapolis Arts Commission, said she reviewed photos of the work and agreed that it wouldn’t work as a display in the city.

“We don’t have a Pan park,” Altman said. “So if you compare it to other statuaries that the Park Board has, most of the statues have some significance to Minneapolis, or it was immigrant-donated art that celebrates their connection to the city. This doesn’t seem to have the same kind of relevance that the other work does.”

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts also reviewed the artwork, but was not interested in displaying it.

Schmidt has been working with a broker to set the price. The proposed $50,000 price tag is purely an estimate and in terms of the board’s roughly $50 million annual operating budget, it’s small change.

“In a monetary sense this is no big deal,” Schmidt said. “But on the other hand we have a gift that is just sitting there and if it has a $10,000 value or a $100,000 value, if something happens to it, it has no value and a piece of art has been lost forever. That’s really what’s driving this.”

Park Board commissioners at a meeting in July had different thoughts on what should be done with the work.

Commissioner Jon Olson (District 2) said he felt uneasy about selling a donation. Schmidt said under the board’s gift policy, it could do whatever it chooses with the art.

Commissioner Brad Bourn (District 6) said he thought the board should work harder to find a spot to display it, even temporarily, to increase its value. Schmidt said those avenues have been exhausted.

Board members also expressed concerns about whether the family approved of selling the sculptures. Schmidt said gaining that approval was a priority. The Bennett family has no qualms about the art finding a home elsewhere.

“The Bennett family supports the Park Board’s decision to sell the statues,” Schoenwetter said. “Times have changed since my great grandfather was alive and I guess it’s our hope that the Park Board will beautify the parks with the proceeds from the sale in whatever manner they see fit.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]