MFA in design students dig into history of Harvey Hall objects

By University Communications
January 17, 2017
From left, holding the historical objects they researched, are MFA in design students Nicolette Morgan, Dharshana Gopalakrishnan, Drew Hagen and Shane Sanders.

Photo: From left, holding the historical objects they researched, are
MFA in design students Nicolette Morgan, Dharshana Gopalakrishnan,
Drew Hagen and Shane Sanders.


Four graduate students helped University of Wisconsin-Stout wrap up its 125th anniversary in 2016 with a special project that shines light on four tangible pieces of university history.

The Master of Fine Arts in design students did research last fall on a 16 mm film, tailor’s ruler, medicine bottle and soda can from the University Archives collection. The medicine bottle and soda can were found recently during the renovation of 100-year-old Harvey Hall, which reopened in September. The other items were found during previous renovations.

Although seemingly mundane, the objects became springboards for research into the history of their design and university history. The four students have shared their findings via “Discarded Design: A Reflection on Art in Ephemera,” a website and 48-minute podcast describing the historical context of each object. Go to the website to listen to the podcast.

Students created the website and podcast as part of an MFA in design class taught by Assistant Professor Ursula Murray Husted, who called their work “funny, clever and well-written.”

After meeting with University Archivist Heather Stecklein and learning about the various archived objects, students each chose one object to research. The students are Drew Hagen, of Minneapolis; Dharshana Gopalakrishnan, of St. Paul; Nicolette Morgan, of Elk River, Minn.; and Shane Sanders, of Tilden.

Hagen researched the 16 mm film, Gopalakrishnan the tailor’s ruler, Morgan the medicine bottle and Sanders the soda can.

The objects found during the most recent Harvey Hall renovation can be seen in a display case, along with renovation photos, in the café on the first floor of the building.

A film reel contains a 16mm silent film made on campus in the 1930s or 1940s.Historic silent film

Hagen looked into why Stout Institute, as it then was known, produced a film in the 1930s or 1940s that shows female home economics majors in labs working on clothing design, art, interior design, food preparation, child care and science experiments.

The film appears to have been shot mostly inside Harvey Hall.

Although he wasn’t able to find definitive answers, the 12-minute, silent, black-and-white film may have been used as a student recruiting tool. Because it had no ending, the film may have a missing second reel, possibly promoting the other major on campus at the time, industrial arts education.

"I was reminded that comprehensive research is a truly immersive process. You start somewhere and end up somewhere else that you didn’t expect. Kind of like life, right? You branch out into other wonderful things you didn’t realize you cared about," Hagen said.

Tailor’s ruler

Gopalakrishnan looked into the history of the tailor’s ruler, finding that it probably was used on campus in the 1920s. With clothing design being on aspect of the home economics major, students likely used the wood and brass ruler for measurements in marking fabric and making patterns.

The ruler was made by Lufkin, a company founded in Cleveland in 1885 as E.T. Lufkin Board and Log Rule Manufacturing. The company later moved to Saginaw, Mich., and still is a leading rule-making company, Gopalakrishnan found.

A medicine bottle and tailor’s rule, found during renovation of Harvey Hall, date to the 1890s and 1920s, respectively.She also found that the company made its own illustrated advertising booklet, “The History of Measurement,” dating the practice to ancient times.

“The project taught me that there could be no limit for theory-based design research,” she said.

Medicine bottle

The medicine bottle Morgan researched dates to the 1890s, the first decade the school was open. The 3-inch-wide by 7-inch-high bottle came from a Philadelphia company, Wyeth, that dates to 1860. Wyeth was acquired in 2009 by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

The bottle was found in Harvey Hall likely because the building had an office for the school infirmary between the 1920s and 1960s, Morgan found. The infirmary was located near campus in the Amon House, a school-owned home also used for home management classes.

Morgan had a chemistry test performed on campus to see what might have been in the bottle, but the results were inconclusive because the bottle contained too much dust.

Morgan earned her undergraduate degree from UW-Stout in interior design, so she was excited to find that Amon House was named after Martha Ruth Amon, who was a home economics professor and head of the related arts department at UW-Stout from 1949 to 1952. Amon redesigned the interior of the house as its purpose changed from a home management lab to a restaurant management lab. The current interior design major grew from the home economics major.

“I began researching a medicine bottle and ended up finding a house that was named after quite possibly the first interior design professor on the UW-Stout campus,” Morgan said. “One of the biggest things I learned was how valuable of a resource the archives are to UW-Stout students. I also learned that it is very difficult to predict how research is going to turn out and that interesting things can be discovered when you aren't looking directly for them."

A soda can found during the Harvey Hall renovation likely was from the late 1960s.Soda can

Sanders researched the history of an empty orange soda can found in Harvey Hall. Based on the can’s steel construction, pop top and the fonts used to create the Sun Rise label, he believes the can, which was found in a wall in Harvey Hall, was from the late 1960s.

In addition to doing research on the Sun Rise company, dating to 1956, Sanders tied his research to the history of the art department, which was founded in 1965 and has become the School of Art and Design at UW-Stout.

"I loved learning about the early days of the art and design program in the ’60s,” Sanders said. “That period of American history is really special. I commend then Stout President William J. Micheels for having a vision and seeing it through. Look at what the department is now. Pretty amazing stuff."

For more information about UW-Stout’s MFA in design, go to the program website.

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Photos

Second Photo: A film reel contains a 16mm silent film made on campus in the 1930s or 1940s.

Third Photo: A medicine bottle and tailor’s ruler, found during renovation of Harvey Hall, date to the 1890s and 1920s, respectively.

Bottom Photo: A soda can found during the Harvey Hall renovation likely was from the late 1960s.