By Margaret CoxIn this issue of Currents, we focus on Floretta Murray, accomplished artist, outstanding educator, dedicated faculty leader, and involved citizen, who left a legacy of pride for Winona State University and the community upon her passing in 2001.
When Floretta Murray set foot on the Winona State campus in the late 1920s, the university had no idea the impact she would make in its history. An artist at heart and natural educator, Murray launched her career following graduation in 1932 as an art supervisor at the Phelps Model School. In 1941, she began teaching art at Winona State, and eventually became head of the Art Department. Murray paved the way for the bachelor’s and master’s programs, as well as a number of internships for art majors.
A faculty member for 44 years, Murray made a lasting impression on her students. Stan Ledebuhr ’48 remembers her as a knowledgeable and kind instructor. “I took an art history class with her when I was at WSU,” explains Ledebuhr. “Years later, when I traveled to Europe with my family, we visited some of the same cathedrals we learned about in Ms. Murray’s class. I could still recall a lot of the facts I gathered in that class, even after all those years.”
Murray was also influential on various university committees, teaming with fellow female professors to pave the way for important campus-wide decisions. Throughout her career, Murray took an active role in several Winona community and civic organizations, such as the Winona Planning Commission.
Her concern and influence were exemplified during the restoration and relocation of the Princess Wenonah statue and fountain to its current home in Windom Park. A generous spirit, Murray made the first $1,000 contribution for the restoration project, and was instrumental in seeing the process through to completion.
After her retirement from WSU in 1976, she was named professor emerita, and served on the WSU Foundation Board for many years. She was named a Distinguished Alumna in 1987.
Murray’s passion for creating and sharing fine art continued throughout her lifetime. The Winona State Presidential Medallion that she designed in 1967 has been worn for ceremonial events by every Winona State president since its creation. Replicas of this remarkable symbol of school and civic pride have been bestowed upon 46 recipients of the Winona State Award of Distinction for their service to the university.
Her other artworks are in a number of private collections around the United States, and have been exhibited in Minnesota galleries and museums, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Hampton Gallery in London. Her legacy of commitment to students and quality art education continues today through the Floretta May Murray Foundation, which provides scholarship support to Winona State art students.