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Owatonna — An Architectural Pilgrimage

Like so many other architectural junkies we made the journey to Owatonna to see one of the genuine masterpieces of American architecture … the National Farmers Bank of Owatonna. Our photographs can not fully capture the grandeur and beauty of this structure … it simply has to be experienced in person to be appreciated.

The bank, now owned by Wells Fargo, was designed by turn-of-the-century architect Louis H. Sullivan. He planned the bank to resemble a jeweled strongbox … an imposing modern facade with a lavishly ornamented interior.

Green and brown terra cotta panels and blue and gold glass mosaic bands give the boxy brick exterior a punch of color.

The exterior embellishments only hint at the elaborate decoration within.

Two elegantly arched stained-glass windows and a skylight allow natural light to wash over the main banking area. This subtle illumination heightens the soft palate of over 200 shades of color, intricate terra cotta and gold leaf detailing. Sullivan proudly referred to this as a "color symphony."

This ornate sculptured clock and much of the other unrestrained ornamentation was designed by Sullivan’s partner George Elmslie.

The interior arches feature incredibly ornate stenciling alongside terra-cotta and plaster ornament. The stylized plant motifs, derived from the American prairie, were Sullivan's trademark.

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The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.

— Frank Lloyd Wright —