The Goldstein Museum of Design: Small, But Mighty

Director Lin Nelson-Mayson talks about Minnesota's design museum

Lin Nelson-Mayson of the Goldstein Museum of Design.
(TJ Turner)

When sisters Harriet and Vetta Goldstein arrived at the University of Minnesota in 1912 and 1914, respectively, they brought with them a new educational approach to design developed by their mentor Frank Parsons at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts (now the Parsons School of Design). Imparting this philosophy to their own students—which linked art, fashion, interior and graphic design, and industry—the Goldsteins laid the groundwork for Minnesota’s future as a design center. Their book, Art in Every Day Life, is still used in colleges and universities around the country. In 1976, alumni lobbied to have a new design museum at the U named in the Goldstein sisters’ honor.

Today, the Goldstein Museum of Design (GMD) (stein rhymes with design) is a small gallery in McNeal Hall on the St. Paul campus and the HGA Gallery in Rapson Hall on the Minneapolis campus. The GMD, however, boasts a collection larger than that of the Walker Art Center and Weisman Art Museum together. Since 2005, Lin Nelson-Mayson has directed the GMD, launching thoughtful exhibitions on textile innovator Jack Lenor Larsen, the work of architects John Howe and Ralph Rapson, and Danish Modern furniture design as well as other initiatives, which she talks about here.

Two dresses on display at the Goldstein Museum of Design.
(TJ Turner)

What don’t most people know about The GMD?

We’re Minnesota’s design museum. We focus entirely on design, and the majority of our collection comes from Minnesota. Through exhibitions and using design language, we reflect on Minnesota’s design aesthetic, but also address questions and spark conversations in a consistent, thoughtful, and engaging way about design across time and cultures. What is the role of a designer in today’s world? Where can design have impact? What can we learn from design influences of the past? We also bring attention to product design, interiors, and fashion. In our exhibitions, we don’t just put stuff up. We tell stories for a general audience. Our exhibitions explore design history or aesthetics or a topic in ways guests can enjoy while learning.

Why is the GMD an integral part of Minnesota’s design culture?

Our square footage doesn’t define our capabilities, partnerships, or collaborations. Our objects have been featured in places ranging from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Disney World. Our online GMD Collection Photography Project allows students, faculty, and researchers from around the world to study objects in our collection. But we’ve had a quiet image for a long time largely because we’re an academic institution. We serve as the window on the U’s College of Design, or the bridge between the professional and the academic, while performing as a collecting institution that advances understanding and appreciation of design and an awareness of how designed objects can contribute to quality of life.

A collection of white and black dresses at the Goldstein Museum of Design.
(TJ Turner)

Why did you join the GMD?

The GMD sits in this fascinating place between history, art, and science. Because we’re always responding to something that has happened in design, regardless of time period or culture, we’re aware of our responsibility to represent design history and how challenges were overcome or paved the way for design initiatives occurring now. I’ve also put a priority on making sure our collection is well-cared-for and accessible, through a long-range preservation plan and the photography project, which has given us a larger platform to play on. Because we’re an academic museum, we put teaching and learning first, using design and design thinking to make the world a more livable place.

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