The Artwork of the Ah-Gwah-Ching Center
At the turn of the 20th century, the United States faced a serious health epidemic: tuberculosis, which at the time had no cure, ravaged populations both in the United States and throughout Europe. While scientists worked hard to develop a medication to eradicate the disease, the best-known treatment at the time was to take in as much fresh air as possible.
As a small town located in the pristine Minnesota wilderness, along the banks of Leech Lake, Walker was a perfect location for a tuberculosis treatment center. The Ah-Gwah-Ching Center was constructed in 1907, just 11 years after the town itself was founded by Patrick McGarry. It quickly became known for its excellence in treating patients and for adopting new procedures. At its peak in 1927, the Center housed 300 tuberculosis patients.
However, as more effective treatments for tuberculosis were developed, the need for the Center dwindled, and other uses were found for the now-empty buildings. Perhaps the most interesting use had to do with the Great Depression.
As part of the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration initiated the Federal Art Project to ensure that the nation’s artistic and cultural history would continue to thrive in the midst of the Depression. The program established over 100 community art centers throughout the country and commissioned thousands of artists to create works of art to display in these centers for everyone to enjoy.
The Ah-Gwah-Ching Center was selected as one of the community art centers established by the Art Project. In fact, the collection of watercolor paintings, wooden sculptures, lithographs, and other forms of artwork that was featured at Ah-Gwah-Ching was the largest of all of the community art centers established by the project.
Many of the pieces of art that were included in Ah-Gwah-Ching’s collection can be viewed via the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society. We’ve picked out a few selections to feature here.
Title: Ah-Gwah-Ching Farm
Artist: Arthur Kerrick
This painting provides a glimpse of what the Ah-Gwah-Ching Center might have looked like in 1940. As you can see, the Center not only provided a residence for its patients but also provided opportunities for them to support the center and spend some time working outdoors. In addition to the farm and dairy herd, the Center featured its own post office, railroad station, and newspaper. The artist, Arthur Kerrick, was a native of Park Rapids, MN and went on to teach at the Walker Art Center School and found the Minnetonka Art Center.
Title: Absolutely Obsolete
Artist: Bob Brown
Bob Brown is a well-known figure of Depression-era art; his works have been exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Minnesota State Fair, and the Corcoran Art Gallery.
Artist: Henry Holmstrom
A Swedish immigrant to Minnesota, Henry Holmstrom’s artwork celebrates everyday life around the midwest. You can find one of his original paintings in the Marshall, MN post office!
To view more images from the Ah-Gwah-Ching Center, visit the Minnesota Historical Society Online Archive.