This is the latest stop in the series 101 Things To Do. Each week through December 2020, we will select one place or activity around the region to highlight.

It’s a surprise. It’s a hidden gem. It’s not what a visitor expects to find in a small town in Minnesota.

It’s the Minnesota Marine Art Museum — MMAM — in Winona, and Nicole Chamberlain-Dupree, executive director since 2016, sees the faces and hears the comments of the 28,000 annual visitors.

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“They think it will be a nice collection,” she said, “but they come in, and their jaws are on the floor. I think the comment we hear almost every day is, ‘I had no idea. Why is this here?’”

Those comments are in reference to the names attached to the paintings hanging on MMAM’s walls. Paintings by artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Gauguin, Degas, Manet, Monet, and many others have found a home in Winona.

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum opened in 2006 along the Mississippi River in Winona. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
The Minnesota Marine Art Museum opened in 2006 along the Mississippi River in Winona. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

“People are just stunned by the quality of the large recognizable names in art history,” said Jon Swanson, curator of collections and exhibitions. “We really work under the tagline ‘great art inspired by water.’ That includes traditional marine art such as seascapes and portraits of ships and naval battles, but it is also an artist’s response to water throughout the history of art. Everything in this museum has a connection to water.”

That includes the building itself. Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, the location was destined for the museum.

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“We are in this historic city which goes back to the shipping port,” Chamberlain-Dupree said. “Water just seemed to be both figuratively and literally in the air.”

Most of the art on display is owned by area collectors.

“The collectors that we work with are still actively collecting,” said Chamberlain-Dupree, “so when new works are added to the collection or added to the galleries, we rotate what is in those galleries so that the new works get some visibility and other works get to rest. Art like people, needs to rest.”

The European Gallery at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum offers visitors plenty of space to enjoy the famous paintings housed in the collection. Submitted photo
The European Gallery at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum offers visitors plenty of space to enjoy the famous paintings housed in the collection. Submitted photo

In order to see famous paintings, visitors to art museums in cities such as Paris, London, Chicago, and New York often have to deal with parking problems, long lines, and crowded galleries. That is not the case at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

“While we certainly hope to get to the point where we are seeing 50,000 or 75,000 people each year, we are appreciative of the size of our galleries and the size of our building,” said Chamberlain-Dupree. “It can be a very peaceful and personal experience for our visitors.”

Because the exhibitions change, and new art is added, “It is a different museum every time you come back,” Swanson said. “You can go to the same movie theater and see a different film every time. You can go to the same museum and see a different exhibition.”

Swanson said that pulling into the parking lot is “like driving into a landscape painting. It’s really a beautiful setting right on the river.”

If you go...

Name: Minnesota Marine Art Museum

Address: 800 Riverview Drive, Winona, Minn.

Phone: 507-474-6626

Website: https://www.mmam.org/

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Cost: Adults/seniors $7, Students $3