WSU receives largest financial donation in its history

Mitchell Prosser, news reporter

Winona State University received the largest financial donation in its history on Feb. 1, 2021.

The $5 million donation came from late alum Maynard “Mo” Weber, according to Winona State President Scott Olson.

“Winona meant a lot to Mo, and it was evident we were still in his heart 60 years after his graduation,” Olson said.

Olson said Weber referred to Winona State as the “Harvard of the Midwest” and thought the university was located in the perfect area.

Weber graduated from Winona State in the 1950’s and had a unique bond with the the school’s art program due to his father’s artwork.

“His father, Max Weber, is one of the most famous Cubist painters alongside famous artist like Picasso,” Olson said.

After his father’s death, Weber inherited the family estate, which included a number of his paintings.

When Weber passed away, he donated more than $5 million, nine paintings and one of his father’s sculptures to Winona State.

$2 million of the donation is going to the art department to fund preexisting scholarships.

$1.5 million will fund the creation of the Larid Norton Art Gallery.

$1.3 million will fund a new university baseball scholarship.

Olson said he was overwhelmed with emotion when he received the news of Weber’s donation.

“My first emotion was sadness. I had gotten to know Mo over the years, and I would have rather had Mo than the art and the money,” Olson said.  “We knew Mo loved us, I had gone out to visit him a number of times, but we didn’t know that he loved us to this extent.”

Olson also said he likes to think the university means a lot to current students as well and hopes that that liking grows over time after they move on.

While Weber loved art, he also loved baseball, Olson said.

“Mo loved art, but he also loved baseball, [so] while a large sum of the money is going towards the furthering of art on campus and in our community, there is still a part of that donation that is going to baseball,” Olson said. “Like a lot of people that give to things that mattered most to them in their lives, Maynard “Mo” Weber’s gift reflected what he valued.”

Winona State students will benefit financially from the scholarships Weber helped fund, but they will also benefit from the money Weber donated to the art galleries.

A large amount of the money will fund the creation of the Laird Norton Center for Art and Design, an art gallery located on Fifth and Johnson street in downtown Winona.

It will allow students a chance to attend a state-of-the-art gallery right on campus, Olson said.

Olson said Laird Norton lies between Winona State’s campus and the downtown area, and Weber’s donation will allow the gallery to grow and “act like a bridge” to connect downtown to campus.

Roger Boulay, an associate professor of art who also oversees the university’s art department, said Weber’s donation will “impact the future of art in Winona”.

“This donation provided by Mo is transformational, for the art department and the future of art in Winona,” Boulay said. “We hope to host events with local businesses and the historical society of Winona at Laird Norton, to showcase everything our town has to offer.”

Boulay also said Larid Norton is going to be the new home of the Art and Design Department, which is currently located in Watkins Hall on the university’s main campus.

Boulay said the department will then have classrooms along with a practical gallery space that students can access.

Watkins Hall currently has a small gallery space, but it is outdated, according to Boulay.

“The plan for the gallery currently is to have one side feature our permenant collection and then one side feature our student and faculty’s works,” Olson said.

Adrian Barr, head of the Art and Design program, said the donation is revolutionary for his department.

“Not only does this donation allow students in our department to receive scholarships, it also exposes them and gives them a marvelous teaching tool of being in a state-of-the-art gallery,” Barr said.

“This new art gallery is going to have a profound impact on how we teach. Students will be able to interact with works and gain the skills they need to work with valuable art pieces, in an industry-standard gallery,” Barr said. “This gallery being in the heart of downtown Winona by the library will allow more foot traffic to see what our students are doing in our department.”

Students will be allowed to collaborate at Larid Norton and showcase their artworks there, Barr said.

Olson and Barr discussed the art scene in Winona as well and what its development means for current students and prospective students.

“Winona is unique, we have things that Rochester and Minneapolis don’t have when it comes to art,” Olson said. “Art in this town is not limited to visual pieces of work; we have the yearly  Shakespeare festival and a professional film festival. A lot of music festivals also chose Winona as their home.”

Barr said the art scene has exploded in Winona over the past ten years, from the Marine Art Museum to the gallery in Watkins Hall.

Boulay believes art is central to assisting students navigate their career paths.

“It is important to study the past to understand the future, and art allows students to do that,” Boulay said. “This donation allows students to understand where to go in the future, career wise.”

Barr said his hope for art in Winona is that people will use it as a tool for community and storytelling.

Barr said there are stories to tell about the university as a community, a place and where it is going to take all of us in the future.

“No donation has come close to this one that Mo blessed us with. This donation is two times the amount of the previously largest donation we have received,” Olson said.

It is clear the $5 million donation is going to have an impact on not only the students that attend the university, but the community of Winona as well.