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Alumni couple donates collection to Flaten Art Museum

By David Gonnerman '90
February 10, 2012

The recent donation by Eugene '52 and Margaret Froiland Skibbe '53 makes St. Olaf the world's premier holder of Yoshida Hodaka's work.

St. Olaf College's Flaten Art Museum is pleased to announce the receipt of a valuable collection of Japanese art from Eugene '52 and Margaret Froiland Skibbe '53. The gift, a collection of 180 prints by contemporary Japanese artist Yoshida Hodaka (1926–95), makes St. Olaf the world's premier holder of Hodaka's work.

Eugene Skibbe, a professor emeritus of religion at Augsburg College, and Margaret Skibbe, a retired high school English teacher, have been collecting modern Japanese art for the past 25 years. The couple met as students at St. Olaf, and they both credit the two-semester art history course taught by Arnold Flaten '22, founder of the St. Olaf Art Department, with having "changed our lives" as they learned about the world of art.

But there's more than nostalgia behind the gift. The Skibbes cite Flaten Curator Jill Ewald's "fine art savvy" and the acquisition in 2006 of the Tetlie collection among the reasons for the donation to the college. "St. Olaf has quite suddenly become an excellent repository for the fine arts," says Eugene Skibbe. "We hope that Hodaka will further enhance that."

Hodaka was known for using a variety of styles throughout his lifetime.

Eugene Skibbe, who wrote the books Yoshida Hodaka: The Magic of Art and Yoshida Toshi: Nature, Art, and Peace (about Hodaka's brother), recalls liking Hodaka since they first met in 1987. "He wanted to be different from his father, Hiroshi, and his older brother, Toshi, who were in the vein of romantic realism." He explains that Hodaka's artistic vision was shaped by a 1950 visit to a museum of primitive art in New York and by genuine primitive art he saw in Mexico. "For Hodaka, it was more important for his art to be fascinating than to be beautiful. That has really grabbed us," he says.

Some of the donated items will first appear to the public as the core of an exhibit that will open in Flaten February 17: "Yoshida Hodaka and Post WWII Japanese and American Artistic Exchange." The show, which runs through April 1, will incorporate borrowed works from the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (which mounted a major exhibit of Yoshida family art in 2002), and the Weisman Art Museum.

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or