Raised in the American heartland, Ted Hartwell merged down-home humanism with international vision during his 35-year career as founding curator of the photography department at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Nationally known as a pioneering advocate for photography as an art form, Hartwell died Tuesday at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester after a heart attack July 5 near his home in Pepin, Wis. He was 73.
Hartwell was among the first generation of photography curators in American museums, along with the Museum of Modern Art's legendary Beaumont Newhall, Edward Steichen and John Szarkowski. Szarkowski coincidentally died Saturday. In the 1950s and `60s, when many museums regarded photography as a utilitarian medium unworthy of attention, these pioneers mined its history, championed its newcomers and taught people how to see photographs as more than advertising tools, news reports or social documents.
Hartwell "was one of our heroes, a beacon," said Weston Naef, curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Recalling Hartwell's image-cluttered office and willingness to jawbone with anyone about photography, David Travis, photography curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, said "Ted's home and office were really a little heaven for artists and photographers."
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, on Nov. 9, 1933, Caroll T. Hartwell grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from North High School in 1952. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and was trained as an aerial reconnaissance photographer. After two years stationed in Korea and Japan, he returned to the Twin Cities in 1955 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota, from which he graduated in 1958 with a B.A. in philosophy.
He returned to Japan in 1959, taking spare, elegant black-and-white photos that were shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1960) and the University of Minnesota Gallery (1961). He joined the Institute of Arts staff in 1962 as photographer and adjunct curator of photography, and was promoted to curator in 1972.
The first show he curated, in 1964, was presented in a basement hallway that was "badly crowded and poorly lit," said the Minneapolis Tribune.
By 1970, however, he commandeered the main galleries for the first retrospective of Richard Avedon, a superstar fashion photographer turned political commentator. The dramatic Avedon exhibit earned national acclaim and "set the tone for everything Ted did," said photographer Jerome Liebling of Amherst, Mass.
Hartwell's subsequent shows featured, among others, Minnesotans Tom Arndt and Stuart Klipper, the Paris-based photo collective Magnum, and 20th-century masters Henri Cartier-Bresson, Werner Bischof and Marc Riboud.
Under Hartwell's direction, the museum's photography collection grew from nothing to more than 10,000 images including classic European and American artists from Julia Margaret Cameron to Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and more contemporary figures including Minnesotan Alec Soth.
`An eye for greatness'
Hartman "had an eye for greatness, the courage to convince a conservative museum that collecting photography was a good thing, and the guts to do it really well," said Evan Maurer, former Institute director and a friend for 40 years.
Hartwell is survived by his wife, Carolyn Mary, their children, Theron, 8, and twins Franklin and Louise, 4; and his son, Joseph, 38, from a previous marriage. Two earlier marriages ended in divorce. A son, Charles, preceded him in death.
Services will be at noon Saturday at Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pepin. Arrangements are handled by Abbott Funeral Home, Wabasha, Minn.