Charles H. MacNider Museum


Mason City, IA




the Charles H. MacNider Museum and Richard Leet, together, in their 33rd year.


When the Museum opened, over thirty-two years ago, with its first exhibition, "A Look at American Landscapes," which included important paintings loaned by major museums from all over the country (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Chicago Art Institute; Whitney Museum of Art, NY; The Detroit Institute of Arts; etc.), it owned seven pictures constituting a brand new permanent collection and was working in an 8,000 square foot facility. Now the MacNider owns close to 1,000 works of art valued in the millions of dollars, has an expanded facility of 21,300 square feet, has an established endowment fund; and is working with a newly created (1996), public, MacNider Art Museum Foundation to ensure a secure future for its operations, programs, and services.

The museum rapidly developed a comprehensive arts center program including the building of the permanent collection, and the staging of temporary exhibitions, classes, film showings, guided tours, concerts, festivals, openings, lectures, etc.... all the activities one expects to find at an established and thriving institution of this type. It has continued down this ambitious path achieving considerable public and professional recognition along the way.

In 1986, the museum was named a recipient of the Iowa Award for Distinguished Service by Gov. Terry Branstad. In 1990, it received an Outstanding Achievement in the Arts Award from the Iowa Arts Council, and, also in 1990, a Puppeteers of America Award for contributions to the art of puppetry and the preservation of the legacy of Bil Baird.(2) It was just reaccredited (for the third time) in 1998 by the American Association of Museums.

The museum, located in a relatively small community with a population of only 29,000, averages around a 30,000 (plus or minus 2,000) visitor/participation count annually, and holds approximately 70 some classes while providing over a 100 tours each year. Its total attendance figure since opening is approaching the one-million mark.

By 1969, both its mission and collection focus had jelled into a formal statement that has served as the bedrock for planning and implementation. The mission is summarized as follows: "The primary function of the museum is to provide experience in art, to help people learn about the arts, artists, themselves, and about the world in which they live."(3) The Statement of Purpose in regarding the collection says that the intention is to form a comprehensive holding of American art, including the best possible examples of the various periods, styles, and artists, with a representative sampling of works by artists of Iowa and the Midwest.

Thomas Hart Benton, Spring Tryout, 1944, oil and egg tempera, 30 x 40 1/2 inches

collection of the MacNider Museum, Mason City, Iowa

Started with the gift in July, 1965 of a fine oil painting by the early 20th century modernist, Arthur Dove, the collection though still small, has become a "little jewel" of American art. It contains fine examples of work by some of the best known American artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Art produced by the likes of Dove, Thomas Hart Benton, John Matin, A. T. Bricher, Stephen deStaebler, Jasper Cropsey, Grant Wood, George Bellows, Henriette Wyeth, Nathan Oliveira, John Sloan, Maricio Lasansky, Morris Graves, Maria Martinet, G. P. A. Healey, Jack Levine, Toshiko Takeazu, Paul Soldner, Philip Guston, Sam Francis, Aaron Bohrod, and many others grace the galleries. There are wonderful examples of oils, watercolors, prints, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, and photography.

A special sub-division of the collection (shown in special galleries) is the largest holding of the work of the late, famous puppeteer, Bil Baird. Baird, another of Mason City's favorite sons, rose to stellar career heights working out of New York City until his death in 1987. His multidisciplined art made him one of the foremost puppeteers in the country and in the world for a quarter of a century. Now he and his accomplishments are remembered in perpetuity in the "Bil Baird: World of Puppets" at the MacNider in the city Bil always called his "favorite home town." Probably best known to the American public are Bil's puppets from the "Goat Herd Scene" in the movie "The Sound of Music."

Bil Baird Marionettes "Birdie" and "Snarky Parker"

collection of the MacNider Museum, Mason City, Iowa

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 9/20/10

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