Posted 9/22/21

WOODWORKING Walleye and whimsy in Winona Winona has always had its share of attractions. When we were kids, we'd hitchhike there because in a big town like Winona they actually showed movies …

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Walleye and whimsy in Winona

Winona has always had its share of attractions. When we were kids, we'd hitchhike there because in a big town like Winona they actually showed movies during the daytime! We loved the magnificent bridge leading into town from the Wisconsin side, and when we got a bit older, my pal Gavin Strand and I hitchhiked to Third Street, where there was a dirty bookstore that sold used paper backs. Gavin and I chipped in and bought “God's Little Acre,” by Erskine Caldwell. Very naughty, and confiscated by my father who then read it himself. Then we slid over to the department store where everyone's hero Paul Giel clerked in the summer when he wasn't pitching for the Winona Chiefs or running razzle-dazzle for the Golden Gophers. After several tries, we caught a glimpse of that very All-American boy, but never managed to score a sweatshirt.

And as we got deeper into adulthood, we discovered the wondrous batter fried walleye at the Hillside Fish House in Bluff Siding, Wis., just across from the town that was home to Watkin’s Vanilla and Bub's Beer, “In the shadow of Sugar Loaf,” of course.

The 140-year-old Hillside Fish House still draws us to it. Recently we visited Gavin Strand, the dirty book connoisseur who makes his home in Fountain City. We recalled when we visited Gavin and his wife years back when Connie volunteered as a docent at Winona's new art museum. My wife Ruth, who prefers museums to almost anything else, brightened at the idea. Gavin assured me that if we got sick of it, we could go and sit in the car. I brightened at that, but turned out to be a dead wrong. On a beautiful October afternoon, we arrived at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 800 Riverview Drive in Winona.

It blew Ruth away, which usually doesn't take much. But it also blew me away and I'm pretty hard to dislodge from my pedestrian habits.

The exterior is charming enough, constructed to resemble shingled portside warehouses, totally appropriate to this old-time river town. Once inside, however, we were struck by the commodious exhibition halls, one of which had just been completed, a gift from Richard and Jane Manoogian, former local industrialists. It covers 4,000 well-lit spaces and features a beautiful collection of 19th century land, river and seascapes.

When we were initially told that to qualify to be in the exhibit, water had to be part of the composition, that requirement rather turned me off. Then I got into the hall and saw which painters were painting said land and seascapes.

Would you believe?

Winslow Homer?

Vincent Val Gogh?

Paul Gaugin?

Marie Cassatt?

Pablo Picasso?

Georgia O'Keefe?

Yes to all six.

Connie showed us the grounds where all summer long the museum hosts picnics and people bring dishes to pass. A very nice Midwestern touch the Metropolitan in New York could adopt and save tourists from going broke in its cafeteria.

When the afternoon was over the Strands dragged us out onto the banks of the Mississippi with a log chain and we made our way back to Wisconsin and a terrific walleye dinner at the Hillside. And as we ate, we recalled some of the fun things that happened to us at the historic inn, like the time we drove 75 miles out of our way so we could eat Sunday dinner there. When we arrived, the waitress informed us that no walleye was being served because proprietor Leonard Losinski was on vacation and he didn't trust the new cook to do justice to the walleye while he was away “because she had only worked there for four months.” No matter: second choices are never second best at the Hillside.

The whole event was better than buying a sweatshirt from Paul Giel.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.