Lunchtime Tourist

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September 13, 2004 // UPDATED 4:04 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Peter Busa's Valspar building, 1101 S. 3rd St.

Valspar resides in one of the most prominent buildings in Minneapolis. You've surely spotted its bright geometric painted exterior on your way to the dome on Washington Avenue South or even riding the light rail. But who's responsible for Downtown's largest painting?

In 1970, 100-year-old Minneapolis Linseed Oil merged with another company and adopted the name Valspar. So what's a paint company to do as it enters a new era? Well, paint the building of course.

Valspar had the foresight and courage to go all-out. They hired Peter Busa, a painting instructor at the University of Minnesota who was on his way to national prominence.

Peter Busa (1914-1985) was born in Pennsylvania into a family of artists. He studied architecture, then fine arts at the Carnegie Institute and Art Students League, where he knew famous painters Stewart Davis and Thomas Hart Benton. After painting murals for the WPA, he began his association with Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and other New York School abstract expressionists.

In 1962, University of Minnesota art professor Cameron Booth hired Busa as a visiting artist. When Booth retired, he recommended Busa for his replacement.

While living in Minnesota, Busa rented a studio in a billboard company's office and made collages with discarded pieces of letters. His geometric patterns were also influenced by American Indian motifs.

Busa's work has been included in many shows and collections across the country, including all of Minnesota's major museums, the Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institute.

In an introduction for the catalog that accompanied Busa's 50-year retrospective exhibit at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Virginia, historian Robert Metzger wrote: "The personal poetry and awesome range and depth of his body of work remains one of the great undiscovered treasures of American Art."

Valspar paints and varnishes are used on buildings, cars, school buses and John Deere tractors. Their American Traditions line of house paints are carried at Lowe's.

Although they no longer manufacture products at this location, there's still a research lab across 11th Street with its own mural by Busa.

And, yes, in case you're wondering, the building has been repainted twice! The 40-color mural used 268 gallons of primer and 553 gallons of topcoat.

LUNCH TIP: Maxwell's American Pub, 1201 Washington Ave. S., serves contemporary cuisine in a historic bar.

For links to photos of the artist and some of his other works, write to