Concordia Greats: Cyrus Running

Post from the Past: Cyrus M. Running and Paul J. Christiansen planning the 1962 Christmas Concert mural

Cyrus M. Running held many interests and positions while at Concordia College. He began his professorship at Concordia in 1940 as the sole instructor in the art department. From that time, his position and influence on campus and in the community grew. The art department flourished under his management; his love of and interest in music helped create the now iconic Christmas Concert mural and he grew to be an influential artist not only at Concordia but in the wider Fargo-Moorhead community.

Running was born in Veblen, S.D., in 1913. He graduated from St. Olaf College as a member of the Class of 1934. He spent his two post-college years teaching music and history to high school students in Wisconsin. The following three years, he attended the Yale University School of Fine Arts then transferred to the State University of Iowa. It was at the State University of Iowa that he received his Master of Arts degree in 1940. He joined the faculty of Concordia after the completion of his master’s degree in 1940. At that time, Running was the only member of the art department and its chair, having taken over for Miss Dora Berg who had inaugurated the department only two years before.

As a condition of his taking over the department, Running was given permission to grow the department as he saw fit. In an interview aired on KCCM radio, he said, "I stated in my letter that I wanted to design my own department and the faculty approved it” (The Arts Around Us, 1974).

While the department had been approved to create a minor prior to his arrival, Running immediately set to work creating a major for students to pursue. He opened the department to all students, no matter their intent to pursue a major in the field. He wanted to allow all students to experience the introductory courses while having higher-level design courses available for those who intended to pursue the major. He stated that he modeled this after how Yale and the State University of Iowa structured their departments.

The art department was not the only area on campus that Running influenced. He had a lifelong love of music. Even before his time at Concordia, he practiced and participated in instrumental and choral ensembles. He stated that “I played trumpet in college and that was too noisy, so I started playing the piano and I could read notes a little bit but mostly I played well … taking off on a tune” (The Arts Around Us, 1974).

When he realized playing instruments was not his best talent, he took an interest in choir. During World War II, when many positions on campus were vacated due to enlistment, he took over directing the Chapel Choir. It was during this time as a choir director that he became close friends with Paul J. Christiansen.

Christiansen and Running are credited with creating the Christmas Concert as it stands today. The creation of the murals, as Running put it, was to solve a problem. The panels were erected to project the sound of the choir forward to the audience and the decision was made to paint the panels to make them more visually appealing. He designed and painted the murals for 30 years until his retirement from Concordia.

While his work at Concordia took much of his time, it did not stop him from creating his own artwork. Running’s influence as an artist grew in Fargo-Moorhead during his time at Concordia. He was featured in many exhibitions in the area and in the wider Minnesota and North Dakota region. During one of these exhibitions, it was said of his art that members of the community would need to pinch themselves and wonder if their city truly was that beautiful (Sherman, John).

To honor his influence on campus and his influence in the community, the 1974 Concordia Board of Regents voted to name the gallery on the second floor of the theatre the Cyrus M. Running Gallery. They cited “his contribution to the education of young people, to religious workshop, to the quality of life in this region, and to the good name of Concordia College” (Alumni News, Winter 1974). To this day, a large collection of Cyrus Running’s works are held by Concordia and displayed throughout the buildings on campus.


Photo (from left): Cyrus M. Running and Paul J. Christiansen

Contributed by Allison Bundy, archives associate, Concordia College Archives