Louise Walker McCannel, granddaughter of Walker founder Thomas Barlow Walker, played a critical role in the history of the Walker: both the private Walker Art Galleries and the public Walker Art Center. After graduating from Smith College in 1937, where she earned a degree in Fine Arts, Louise and her brother, Hudson, became the caretakers of the vast and varied art collection amassed by T.B. Walker. Louise was appointed director of the Walker Art Galleries and while Hudson left for New York in 1938, she stayed to help facilitate the Walker Art Galleries 1939 transition to the Walker Art Center. She worked at the new institution in many capacities: as director of the Children’s Gallery, editor of the Magazine of Art, and assistant curator.
As curator, she worked on the Walker’s extension program: educational outreach in the form of 36 small exhibitions that circulated throughout the state of Minnesota. These thematic shows—on jewelry, Chinese painting, and Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, and based on works in the T.B. Walker Collection—used portable panels for easy transport, a format that may seem old fashioned and quaint today, but was a very progressive form of outreach in 1940.
McCannel was instrumental in helping the Walker through its early years as an art center, and continued to serve on its board for more than 60 years. She was an active member from 1950 to 1997, and in 1998, after she became an honorary board member, continued to be a staunch supporter.
McCannel’s work and her philanthropy extended far beyond the Walker, as well. In a story about her life in the Star Tribune, Walker director emeritus Martin Friedman, who worked with her over several decades, described her as “a fierce, no holds-barred liberal when it came to social causes. She was always on the side of the little guy. She had a great sense of community and was an enemy of anything that smacked of racism. She was really dedicated to making a better world.”