WINONA, Minn. (WCCO) — Water is a crucial part of Minnesota’s culture. With all the lakes and rivers, our state claims more shoreline than Florida, California and Hawaii combined.

So it’s fitting that priceless paintings of water from some of the world’s greatest artists are on display in the river town of Winona.

Names like Van Gogh, Renoir and Matisse can be found at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

In fact, the collection includes what may well be Vincent Van Gogh’s first oil painting.

“It makes it unbelievably historically significant,” said Andy Maus, the museum’s executive director, “and aesthetically it’s just a charming little painting.”

There are also two Monets, a Georgia O’Keeffe, a Cezanne and a Picasso — all showcased in a building along the Mississippi River that resembles an old harbor village.

The artworks are just part of a collection on long-term loan from former state Sen. Bob Kierlin.

He built the Fastenal chain of industrial supply stores, and he and his wife, Mary Burrichter, became art collectors.

“What they have now is one of the largest and finest collections of marine art, privately held in North America,” said the museum’s curator, Jon Swanson. “They feel very strongly about sharing them. Mary often says ‘these are too good not to share.'”

The museum also features local folk art from a Winona area couple, illustrating life in their Mississippi River town.

Leo and Marilyn Smith have re-created some of the real-life characters and natural scenes that they’ve encountered in the river valley.

“(Leo) is the sculptor,” said Swanson. “He goes out and finds this wood in the river, pulls it out, dries it and then carves it. And his wife, Marilyn, she has the palette. She paints and does most of the coloring on these pieces.”

From folk art inspired by the river to classics inspired by the sea, water has helped shape an impressive collection.

“You don’t need to go to Chicago or L.A. or New York,” said Maus. “You can see them here in Winona.”

The Marine Art Museum switches out some of its exhibits every few months.

A new one, featuring National Geographic photos, just opened on Thursday, and will be there through May.

For more on the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, click here.

  1. Kathy Piscitiello says:

    Lovely report. My husband Tony and I are members of this museum and find it a peaceful, inspiring place to spend time. Thank you WCCO for recognizing this gem in our beautiful town of Winona.

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