March 30, 2022

“I get such a bang out of things the way that they are that I’ve always tried to paint them that way.” – Josephine Lutz Rollins, 1964. 

Josephine Lutz Rollins (1896-1989) was a local artist renowned for her talent in watercolors. She taught for more than thirty years at the University of Minnesota (UMN), helped found the Stillwater Art Colony, and was the mind behind the West Lake Gallery. She painted this work, Tenth Avenue Bridge, in 1948. The work can be found in Hennepin History Museum’s collection, along with dozens of her other works. 

After graduating from high school in 1915, Rollins left her hometown of Sherburn, Minnesota to study at Cornell College. While there, Rollins built a foundation of drawing and painting in various mediums. She became especially good at perspective and stayed at Cornell for three years. Then in 1920 she went to Washington D.C. 

While in D.C., Rollins worked as a filing clerk for the Bureau of War Rick Insurance to pay for her education. She attended a life drawing class at the Corcoran School of Art. According to Rollins, the class allowed men and women to take the same class, which the school felt was very progressive. After a year, Rollins returned to Minnesota and took an Art Education class at the UMN. 

In 1927, Rollins became a part-time teaching assistant at the UMN. Over the next thirty-seven years, Rollins was promoted to a full professor. She often taught watercolor classes, in part because the oil painting classes were dominated by male teachers. According to Rollins, she was determined to “be the kind of teacher who knew how to do it and didn’t just tell somebody else how to do it.” 

While at the UMN, Rollins helped start the Stillwater Art Colony, which ran from 1933 to 1950. The art colony was begun by teachers from the UMN art department and taught everything from painting to weaving. Stillwater was a prime place to hold art classes, as there were plenty of beautiful outdoor areas in which to work. 

In 1965, Rollins and five other women began the West Lake Gallery. The gallery was a cooperative that became known for showcasing local artists. West Lake Gallery did ten shows a year, four showcasing members’ works and six devoted to other Twin Cities artists. The gallery closed in 1984. Rollins was one of the last original members in the cooperative upon its closure. 

Rollins travelled around the world throughout her career. In 1930, she studied in Munich, Germany under Hans Hoffman. In 1964, she spent a summer in New England, painting landscapes and displaying them at the West Lake Gallery. In the Hennepin History Musem’s collection are many landscapes created on her trips to Europe and South America, alongside some made here in her home state. 

Rollins passed away in 1989, but her name is still mentioned by artists and local history enthusiasts. Her work as an artist and teacher shouldn’t be understated. She influenced hundreds of artists through her classes, galleries, and work with the Minnesota Artists Association. We are lucky to have her work in our collection. 

Author Bio: Written by Summer Erickson, Visitor Services Manager and Collections Assistant at Hennepin History Museum. She graduated with a B.A. in Art History and Museum Studies from the University of St. Thomas in 2020. She is currently cataloguing and creating a digital exhibit of Hennepin History Museum’s art collection. 


Close, Roy M. “’Modest’ Art Gallery Marks 10th year.” The Minneapolis Star. June 25, 1974.  

“Josephine L. Rollins dies; started gallery.” Star Tribune. April 01, 1989. 

“Josephine Lutz Rollins (1896-1989).” Hiro Fine Art. Accessed on Nov. 03, 2021.  

Minnesota Artists Oral History Project: Interview with Jo Lutz Rollins, with Interviewer O’Sullivan, Thomas, and Interviewee Rollins, Josephine. Feb. 24, 1987. 

Rollins, Josephine Lutz. “Exploring with Brush and Palette.” Minnesota History. Minnesota Historical  Society. Accessed Nov. 03, 2021. 

Sherman, John K. “Woman Depicts Vision of Sky in Welded Steel and Silver.” Star Tribune. Nov. 08, 1964.  

Sullivan, Dan. “Five Women Artists in City to Open Gallery on Lake St.” Star Tribune. June 07, 1964.  

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.