Tamara's Journeys

Journeys as great as the destinations.

Sunday in Minnesota: National Farmers’ Bank

February 12th, 2017

Today’s adventure was close to home and celebrates one of the world’s leading architects. Let me start by saying Louis Sullivan’s bank in Owatonna is one of the great buildings in the world. It’s a jewel – the proportions, the forms, the materials are all so exquisitely well used. It’s a joy to see it, to be in its space. In rural Owatonna of all places! The building highlights are the gold leaf arches, huge stained glass windows, terra cotta tiles, murals by Oskar Gross and the massive 2 1/4 ton light fixtures. The building is on the National Register of Historic Buildings and was featured on a United States postage stamp in 1981 as one of four unique architectural buildings. 

Louis Sullivan completed a series of eight banks in small Midwest towns during the last years of his career. The National Farmers’ Bank of Owatonna, built in 1908, is arguably the best. Sullivan designed the bank to resemble a jeweled strongbox, giving depositors a sense of security.

The building is “bathed in a symphony of color,” as Sullivan described it, the frescoes combine 240 shades of yellow, red, orange and green. Green and brown terra cotta panels and blue and gold glass mosaic bands contrast with the reddish brick walls and the red sandstone base that anchors the bank to its site. Elegantly arched stained-glass windows are mirrored on the interior by murals of dairy and harvest scenes painted by Chicago artist Oskar Gross. The lavish organic ornamentation, designed largely by Sullivan’s partner George Elmslie, carries through all interior elements, from 18-foot-tall light fixtures down to the tellers’ window grills. Builders could take a few lessons from him today.

Fill your world with beauty and color this week.

Tamara's Journeys

Journeys as great as the destinations.