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March For Our Lives protest signs

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | October 3, 2019

On March 7, 2018, students from the Saint Paul and Minneapolis public school systems left class, gathered outside Central High School in Saint Paul, and marched twenty blocks down Marshall Avenue toward the State Capitol. This protest was in reaction to the shooting of 17 high school students, teachers, and administrators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. The feeling amongst protestors was raw, unfiltered, and angry. Students had had enough of “thoughts and prayers,” and called for legislative change on both the local and national level. 


This protest was the first of many in Minnesota, organized through a Facebook group and word-of-mouth, resulting in thousands of attendees. According to CBS Minnesota, about 5,000 students were part of the walkout (1). The vast majority of attendees were students carrying signs and chanting in the street, most marching in support of stricter gun laws. A  2018 graduate of Central High School and member of the Minnesota Historical Society’s Teen Action Group collected signs at the event (2). Recognizing that the signs and the moment itself were historically important, he donated them to the Society.


The signs expressed messages including “No More Silence, End Gun Violence,” “Protect Our Students,” “We Call BS,” and “Schools are for Learning, Not Lockdowns.” Handmade on poster board and cardboard and designed with markers, tape, and glue, each sign was a visual representation of the student’s feelings at the protest. In contrast to the majority of attendees, one counter-protester’s sign referenced the Castle Doctrine (3), the idea that a defendant can use deadly force in self defense when the defendant is in their own home. The interactions between the counter-protester and the other students were tense, but remained respectful. 


Following the March 7th protest, students gathered again on March 14th for a moment of silence, which centered on grief, rather than the anger of the initial protest. On March 24th the national March For Our Lives, a student-led protest calling for tighter gun control laws, was held in Washington, D.C.. Satellite events took place throughout the United States, including one held in the Twin Cities. The march was heavily broadcast and supported by world-famous celebrities, bringing much greater national attention to the cause of gun control. 


Despite not being old enough to vote in elections, students have had an immense impact on the national conversation about gun control. These students are part of a rich historical tradition of protests and walkouts, one that includes students from Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, who marched for Civil Rights, those from Birmingham, Alabama, who were part of the Children’s Crusade, and the high schoolers from East Los Angeles, California, who protested for Chicano recognition and rights. The response to the Parkland shooting by students throughout the United States is the most recent example of the impact that youth protest can have on US history.

Suzanne Rubinstein

Summer 2018 Curatorial Assistant Intern



1.  “Thousands Of Students March To Capitol Building, Demand Gun Control.” WCCO | CBS Minnesota. March 07, 2018. Accessed August 27, 2018.

2. Year-long internship for high school students to introduce them to the world of museums and representation of communities in museums.

3.  Castle Doctrine is, “An exception to a rule in place in some jurisdictions that requires a defendant to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. The castle exception states that if a defendant is in his home, he is not required to retreat prior to using deadly force in self defense.” “Castle Doctrine.” LII / Legal Information Institute. November 20, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2018.


Bess Stiegler

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | March 29, 2019

Minnesota Historical Society Collections staff have successfully completed another digitization project: items from the shop of Bess Stiegler. Born near Riga, Latvia, in 1892, Stiegler’s family fled to England when she was a young child to escape pogroms against the Jews. At age 18, Bess came to the United States and moved to the Twin Cities to be near her sister.


When Stiegler settled in Saint Paul, she began working for prominent local milliner, Miss Jackson, and eventually was able to open a shop of her own: Vogue Hat Shop. The main location was on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis  and because all of the hats were hand-sewn, it had a reputation for quality. Business went well until the tall hair styles of the 1960s caused most women to abandon their fashionable headwear. While other stores closed, Stiegler managed to stay in business by producing fur hats, a necessity in wintertime, and the occasional men’s hat. Stiegler retired in 1978 after nearly forty years of owning and operating the Vogue Hat Shop. When she died a decade later, her family donated a variety of items from the Shop to MNHS, including hats, supplies, and more. These items, along with a variety of photographs, can be now be viewed on Collections Online

Stephanie Olson

Collections Associate

Notes from an Intern

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | January 17, 2019

Hello! My name is Clare Wedrickas and I was the 3D Objects intern during the fall of 2018. I have a background in art history and am currently in a library and information science graduate program. The work that I did within the department perfectly melded both worlds and allowed me to gain more experience working with objects and recording them. Much of my day-to-day work focused on cataloging within the collection; I created catalog records for incoming objects and completed records that had been started earlier. A wide variety of artifacts are housed within 3D Objects which made my time interesting because I was able to learn about so many different pieces of history: handmade Christmas cards by Minnesota artists David and Lolita Granahan; lace and linen dresses from the early 1900s; a metal and wood hand crank coffee mill; Prince’s personal travel Bible (shown above); a wood and metal cane from 1889 that was a gift from employees of Norwegian language newspapers to their boss; and large assortment of objects relating to the Green Giant Company. 

One of my favorite acquisitions to cataloged was a white Irish lace day dress worn by Harriet Weyerhaeuser in the first decade of the 20th century. A member of a prominent Saint Paul family, Harriet was the wife of powerful timber businessman Frederick Weyerhaeuser. One of three dresses from this family accepted into the collection this year, this particular dress is the most elaborate. The dress is constructed out of white pique - a type of woven cotton fabric - with floral designs. Some of the flowers are three-dimensional, making the dress even more interesting in my eyes. Think of the amount of skill and the number of hours that it took to create these by hand!

In addition to cataloging and working directly with 3D objects, I had the opportunity to attend a handful of staff training sessions that were led by librarians from the Gale Family Library. Session topics included becoming familiar with the library, how to search for people within MNHS Collections, searching for history about your Minnesota house, conducting state hospital records research, and tips and tricks for searching within the library systems. As a part of creating and filling out catalog records I occasionally had to research people associated with the objects, which can be a bit of a challenge depending on when they lived and how prominent within society they were. The knowledge that I gained from all of the research sessions was extremely helpful and allowed me to search a bit more confidently than before, which in turn made me a better cataloger.

Did you know that there is an online index called MOMS (officially the Minnesota Official Marriage System) where you can search for marriage certificates? Not every county’s records are in the database, but if you are lucky enough to find who you are looking for then you can discover the county and date of their marriage. As you try to piece together someone’s life, information such as this can be key. It was also neat to learn about the Minneapolis and St. Paul City Directories where you can look up who used to live in your house and what their occupation was.

Another fun opportunity that I had was to attend was the weekly meeting of the Collections Acquisitions Committee. In these meetings curators present materials they would like to purchase or accept as donations for the museum’s collections, and then there is a vote. The voting members are predominantly curatorial staff, but the meetings themselves are open to all MNHS staff. I enjoyed observing the process and listening to curator’s reasons for accepting material, which was often that the object up for vote would fill in an area of the current collection that was important but lacking. These meetings also gave me exposure to different areas within Collections, such as library acquisitions and photography. It was fun to peek behind the curtain to see how the collections grow and what criteria curators need to think about when making these decisions.

Learning about MNHS 3D Object cataloging standards, as well as why the 3D curators do or do not accept certain objects into the collection, gave me valuable knowledge that I can bring with me to my next museum role. In order to work with objects in museum collections you need to be detail oriented and able to conduct different types of research; my time as the intern helped me to develop those abilities even further. The skills and experience that I gained from my internship at MNHS further built upon past experiences working in art museums and with art collections, and I am leaving this role more confident in my collections and cataloging abilities.

Clare Wedrickas

3D Intern, Fall 2018

Kaposia, 1848

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | October 15, 2018

St. Paul's first black resident, James Thompson, died on this date in 1884. Thompson had the distinction of being the only slave sold in Minnesota. He was brought to Fort Snelling as the servant of an army officer in 1827, where he proved himself gifted in languages, quickly learning Dakota. Bought and freed by Methodist missionary Alfred Brunson, Thompson then served as an interpreter at the Kaposia mission and eventually settled in St. Paul, where he donated the land and much of the material for the city's first Methodist church (now the site of the St. Paul Hotel). 

This painting of Kaposia is by Seth Eastman.

Learn more about James Thompson on MNopedia.

Happy Birthday, Prince

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | June 7, 2018

This decal or sticker consists of square white paper with a gold glyph symbolizing The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, circa 1993-1995. It is often referred to as the Love Symbol.

See it in Collections Online.

Worlds of Wonder: Minnesota Children's Books

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | April 3, 2018

Visit the new Library Lobby exhibit Worlds of Wonder: Minnesota Children's Books, on view during Library hours now until mid- May. 

From the Gag sisters to boys' adventure stories to Bink & Gollie, Minnesota's tradition of producing quality children's literature is worth celebrating. This is just the tip of the iceberg; play around on the Library catalog or ask a friendly librarian if you'd like to see more from our collection!


“St. Paul Cathedral”

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | September 19, 2017
Etching of St. Paul Cathedral

This etching on paper is titled “St. Paul Cathedral”; it was made by Minnesota artist Lowell Bobleter in the 1930’s or 40’s.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this print in our collections database.

Remembering Charles Beck

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | September 15, 2017

Charles Beck, a Minnesotan artist, passed away yesterday. He was a talented and amazingly prolific woodcut printer, sculptor, and painter. We are lucky to have several pieces by him in the MNHS collection.

Charles Beck was born in 1923. He attended Concordia College and received his MFA from the University of Iowa. The inspiration for his work comes from his hometown of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and the landscapes of surrounding Ottertail County.  Beck was an art instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College for more than 30 years, and he received an Honorary Doctorate from Concordia College in 1980. His work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Plains Art Museum.

See more of his work in Collections Online.

After Summer, 1985

Untitled (Three Buildings)

Untitled (Three Buildings), 2010

Cathedral Forest

Cathedral Forest

Nellie Stone Johnson’s sewing machine

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | July 18, 2017


“I’m not going to quit.  There is too much to do.  People need jobs, equality, education...Can’t stop now.”

--Nellie Stone Johnson, 1995

Nellie Stone Johnson (1905-2002) was one of Minnesota’s greatest champions for civil rights and economic opportunity.  For more than half a century the Lakeville, Minnesota native fought for justice and equality as a statewide labor union leader and organizer, a founding member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and an advisor to Hubert Humphrey.  A longtime employee of the hotel industry, Johnson’s determined organizing efforts helped to eradicate racial and gender pay inequities and segregated work facilities in the Twin Cities.   Johnson retired from the hotel industry in 1963 and started a tailoring business in Minneapolis, where she used this sewing machine for over 30 years.  

Johnson continued to support labor and political causes and in 1989 the W. Harry Davis Foundation honored her service with the “Nellie Stone Johnson Scholarship”, which awards financial assistance to racial minorities and union members seeking an education at Minnesota’s state colleges and universities.       

Adam Scher, senior curator   

Nellie Stone Johnson's shop

From Dayton’s to Macy’s: Documenting the End of an Era

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | June 30, 2017

When you work at a museum, you might find yourself in a room full of lifeless animatronic body parts. It’s not a regular occurrence, but it can happen when over 50 years of holiday tradition is coming to a close. That’s how my colleagues and I found ourselves rifling through piles of characters from Macy’s (née Dayton’s) 8th Floor Auditorium shows including the Nutcracker, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, and many more. In mid-February 2017, we arrived at 700 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis to find a final clearance sale in full swing, with parts of the grand old department store already shut down. A 115-year legacy would end in mere weeks, and Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) curators were in the building to help preserve a bit of that legacy.



Room full of animatronics at Macy’s: Feb. 10, 2017

Back in 1902, George Draper Dayton built a six-story building that served as the flagship location for the Dayton Dry Goods Company, later renamed the Dayton Company. Dayton’s grew into an upscale regional chain that acquired several other large retailers over the years and spawned Target Corporation before rebranding as Marshall Field's in 2001, followed by a sale and merger resulting in the Macy’s name change in 2006. Dayton’s was a Minnesota institution, and after the store’s impending closure was announced in January 2017, Macy’s staff recognized the significance of the move and contacted MNHS to make a donation.


Over the years MNHS has amassed a significant collection of Dayton’s-related material, from artifacts to photographs, and from manuscript material to published works about the business and its founding family. The focus for the MNHS Collection is on Dayton's as a Minnesota company, with selective documentation of the Dayton's traditions Marshall Field's and Macy's kept alive. Highlights range from an early delivery wagon to a 1998 shopping bag, and from nineteenth century family correspondence to 1940s store display photographs.


In 2001, when Dayton’s stores were first renamed during the Marshall Field’s transition, MNHS acquired signage removed from the flagship building. When the call came in 2017, curators were curious to find out what new treasures would surface. The goal of the curatorial team's visit was to augment the existing Collection, keep the focus on the Dayton’s years, and be judicious in our selections. No museum can or should preserve everything it’s offered. Storage space is precious and there is no shortage of stories in need of preservation for future generations. With that in mind, and the valuable guidance of seasoned Macy’s staff, we began our tour through the upper floors.


The food department offered menus from various restaurants within the store, a sign from the Oak Grill, chocolate boxes, and a copper kettle from the Candy Kitchen. Macy’s staff compiled a series of Dayton News newsletters, a selection of shopping bags, as well as a commemorative plate depicting 20 years of the ever-popular Santabear. The bulk of the material the staff had gathered was related to decades of 8th Floor Auditorium shows — including artist renderings, drawings, floor plans, press kits, and posters, as well as a veritable sea of animatronic figures.



Selected donated items

Curators quickly developed selection criteria to limit the number of figures under consideration. We discussed only major characters in the best possible condition that would have cross-generational appeal or some other significance. This criteria brought us to three figures: Pinocchio, Cinderella, and Professor Severus Snape. Pinocchio and Cinderella are obvious enough choices, but Snape fit into another category. The Harry Potter book series was first brought to life in three dimensions by Dayton’s staff for their 2000 holiday show under a contract with Warner Brothers. This unique local connection to an international cultural phenomenon brought Snape to the top of our list.



Selected animatronics

After curatorial deliberation and final decisions from the MNHS Acquisitions Committee, we moved the new additions from the ever-emptying Macy’s store to the Minnesota History Center, where they will be processed and preserved. Once the donation is fully cataloged, the artifacts will be available to view in the Collections Online database and the paper materials will be open to researchers through the Gale Family Library.


Many sincere thanks to all the Macy’s staff who made this acquisition possible, particularly:

  • Paul Lopacinski
  • Liam Schafer
  • Andrea Schwartz


- Sondra Reierson, Associate Curator of 3D Objects


Animatronics arrive at MN History Center: Feb. 23, 2017


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