The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
Since the untimely death of the Minnesota music legend, tributes and memorials have flowed from every corner of the globe. At the Minnesota History Center, the purple suit Prince wore in the 1984 film Purple Rain (filmed at First Avenue) was placed on public display the day his death was announced. Fans covered the wall with their memories of the artist. The suit will be on display in the History Center’s Gale Family Library until June 19, 2016, when it will be returned to storage for its continued preservation.
There is no shortage of local connections to the Purple One, and thanks to a recent acquisition, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) now has another to celebrate. In 1984, Neil Baker of Button Works, based in West Saint Paul, Minnesota, produced 400,000 buttons to promote Prince’s Purple Rain album and tour. The buttons came in ten unique designs copyrighted by Purple Films Co. and Warner Bros., Inc. Mr. Baker kept examples of a number of the designs and graciously donated one of each design he had left to MNHS. These seven buttons and an additional sheet of uncut button images are our first Prince-related addition to the Society’s collection since the artist’s death on April 21, 2016.
Sondra Reierson, Associate Curator for 3D Objects
- See Prince's Purple Rain suit and other items from our collections in the Gale Family Library through June 19 during regular Library hours. The costume will return to storage then; other Prince-related items will remain on display through July.
- Why is the Purple Rain suit going back to storage? Textiles are particularly sensitive to light and the Purple Rain suit has been in high demand since its 1987 donation. MNHS must strike a balance between making it available to the public and preserving it for future generations. See more about how MNHS cares for its collection and how you can preserve your own items.
- Related items in collection: Purple Rain button 1997.219.1 Circular pin-back button featuring the cover image from Prince's Purple Rain album and film, copyrighted 1984 by Purple Films Co. & Warner Bros., Inc. This is another of the ten button designs produced by Button Works
A new addition to the Explore section of the website is a single theme page dedicated to the material culture of the Ojibwe people that are currently in the Minnesota Historical Society’s holdings. The number of objects is over 2,000 and includes clothing, birchbark, tools, and government items.
The website is organized into different categories, making it easier for the user to find specific objects. Once in a category, it will lead to either a sub-category page or link to MNHS’ online search tool with the corresponding objects. These items were digitized as a result of a project to make the Ojibwe material more accessible.
Some of the highlights from the collection include a beaded jacket dated circa 1920s:
A wooden mold used for making maple sugar candy dated circa the early 20th century:
A pair of beaded moccasins dated circa 1999:
A wooden and leather lacrosse stick dated circa the early 20th century:
Visit the Ojibwe Material Culture site and explore for yourself!
Although ice hockey has been played in Minnesota at the amateur and scholastic level since the 1890s, Minnesotans had to wait until 1967 for its first professional team, the North Stars, to emerge from a National Hockey League expansion. In 1971 the World Hockey Association was formed to compete with the NHL and Minnesota garnered a second professional team, the Minnesota Fighting Saints.
Based in Saint Paul, the Fighting Saints were actually two distinct teams. The first squad, which rallied fans with the catchphrase “You’re a Saint or you ain’t!” played four seasons beginning in 1972 and boasted a winning record of 30-25-4 before folding in 1976. The Saints’ second incarnation came in 1976 when the WHA’s Cleveland Crusaders moved to Saint Paul. The “New Fighting Saints”, as they were sometimes known, also fared well on the ice and had a winning record (19-18-5) through their first 42 contests. Yet despite their success and a devoted following the Saints could not compete financially with the North Stars, which benefited from a favorable television contract. Unable to secure a buyer, owner Nick Mileti was forced to fold the franchise on January 20, 1977.
Among the Saints’ star players was Canadian-born Dave Keon, who used this stick during the 1976-77 season. Keon spent 15 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs before joining the WHA, where he also played with the Indianapolis Racers and the New England Whalers. One of the greatest two-way centers in professional hockey, Keon scored 498 career goals and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986.
Adam Scher, Senior Curator
With the digitization project now complete, all World War I artifacts in the MNHS Collection are available to view on the Collections Online database. Here are some highlights from this incredible collection:
Victory medal awarded to Tela B. Burt, an African-American from Minneapolis who served as a supply sergeant with the 809th Regiment of Pioneer Infantry in France, circa 1919. After the war ended, Burt returned to the Minneapolis and had a career with the post office, played music for several dance bands, and eventually became one of the first African Americans in the Twin Cities area to enter the real estate field.
A length of barbed wire from Verdun, France, found by Miss Frances Rogers of Minnesota, who was part of the American Fund for French Wounded.
German military field telephone inside oak case, circa 1915.
A United States Army Model 1917 steel helmet. This classic World War I "doughboy" helmet was worn by Private Clarence Ervin Ohmann of Saint Paul, Minnesota.
A ditty box owned by United States Navy Seaman Edward R. Stensrud of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It contained souvenirs relating to Stensrud's WWI service, including postcards, German and Swedish matchboxes and an address book. Railway tags have been pasted on each end of the box.
Coat for an American Red Cross overseas uniform, worn by Margaret MacLaren of Saint Paul, Minnesota, while serving in France circa 1918.
British military issue gas mask and cloth case, circa. There were many types of gas masks used during the war, and this is known as a Small Box Respirator.
French Croix de Guerre medal awarded to Minnesotan John Bowe. When the war began Bowe was the mayor of Canby, Minnesota. He abandoned his position and went to Canada to join the military, where he was rejected due to age. He then went to England and tried to enlist, but was informed he would have to renounce his United States’ citizenship. He then went to France where he joined the French Foreign Legion in 1915.
Minnesota service flag created for the Victory Liberty Loan Campaign in April, 1919. The approximately 1,200 gold stars represent the servicemen from Minnesota who died during the war. It is 18 feet high, and 28 feet long.
Stephanie Olson, Collections Assistant
The NPL practically invented grass roots organizing, and would support candidates from either party who supported its platform (hence “nonpartisan”). The League advocated for economic reforms to help farmers who were being exploited by business interests, such as grain elevators, stockyards, and other middlemen. “We’ll stick” was the group’s rallying cry, as seen on the pennant below.
The NPL was in operation in 13 states as well as Canada, but it met with its greatest success in North Dakota and Minnesota. This is an image of Minnesota members in 1917.
Pamphlets and newspapers played a hugely important role in the development of the movement, leading to corresponding anti-NPL pamphlets. While not as immediate as our instant commentaries of today, these pamphlets were a quick way to make arguments heard. The rise of the NPL was also one of the earliest political movements to be heavily photographed; seen here are members with The Nonpartisan Leader.
World War I brought about suspicions of the potentially socialist nature of the NPL, which was followed by prosperity in the 1920s for farmers. These two occurrences took away much of the need for the NPL. It eventually developed into the Farmer-Labor party in Minnesota, which later merged with the Democrats. The Democratic Party in Minnesota is still known as the DFL.
Learn more at the Minnesota Historical Society Research Guides and MNopedia!
Come see NPL materials on display in the Library Lobby, on view until mid-January!
Lori Williamson, Acquisitions & Outreach Coordinator
Recently published online is a large donation from an anonymous donor from St. Louis, Missouri. The collection consists of American Indian cultural material from Minnesota and local regions. Encompassing 258 objects, the collection contains bandolier bags, moccasins, pipe bags and various ceremonial objects.
The majority of the collection was amassed by Alfred “Gafe” Peterson of Cass Lake, MN starting circa 1920 until the donor bought the collection from Gafe in 1974. Some objects are dated to the early 19th century. Unfortunately, the collection did not come with much information regarding its items.
However, one of the bandolier bags and a beaded shirt does have documented history. John Smith, Ka-Be-Nah-Gwey-Wence, also known as the Oldest Living Ojibwe, is seen in multiple photographs wearing the beaded shirt and bandolier bag: in the portrait seen here he is wearing the shirt pictured below. Smith was thought to have lived into his 130s, with many people in the Cass Lake area familiar with him. We have many photographs of Smith wearing traditional Ojibwe beadwork and having the actual objects are a great addition to the collection.
See more pieces from this wonderful collection in Collections Online.
Rita Walaszek, Collections Assistant
Recently, Ojibwe beadwork artist Jessica Gokey concluded the public workshop portion of her residency at the Lower Sioux Agency. Jessica shared her experiences studying the MNHS historic Ojibwe beadwork collections, while providing instruction to participants, assisting them in designing and creating their own floral beadwork.
Birchbark artist Pat Kruse participated in a reception and gallery talk at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum where he showcased large wall pieces alongside many of the intricate baskets that he and his son Gage made during the residency. Pat also demonstrated how he works with birchbark and how the Ojibwe people use the bark in many different ways.
Textile artist Gwen Westerman has been visiting various musuems, studying early Dakota ribbonwork in order to understand historic patterns and techniques. She has intensely studied the collections here, at the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Working with three apprentices, Gwen is developing ribbonwork teaching guides that will incorporate Dakota language.
One of the goals of the Artist-in-Residence program is to acquire work created by each artist for the permanent collection. From Jessica Gokey we recently accessioned a beaded table cover which depicts nearly 20 traditional indigenous plants used for food in the Great Lakes region. We also acquired work by Jessica’s apprentice, Terri Hom. Terri made a beaded placemat and birchbark napkin ring that were inspired by historic items in MNHS’ collections. Jessica and Terri talk about their work and the residency program in our new video, here: https://youtu.be/0bvz_lwgYFY
Also recently added to our permanent collections were many birchbark applique items created by Pat Kruse and his son and apprentice Gage. Pat and Gage created wonderful baskets based on their study of the forms of historic baskets. To these forms, they add their own personal, artistic, and family style and arrive at the wonderful contemporary baskets seen here. (To listen to Pat and Gage speak about their experiences, please visit http://youtu.be/sKtXiOkhNsY).
With the first residencies wrapping up, we have just published a Call for Submissions for the upcoming round. The deadline is September 30th with two artists announced shortly thereafter. Please visit
www.mnhs.org/residencies and check out our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/mnhsnativeartistresidencies for more information.
Thanks, Rita Walaszek and Ben Gessner
Native American Artist-in-Residence Program
“Hitting .300 is almost like a cause, a campaign.”
--Rod Carew’s Art and Science of Hitting, 1986
“Keep your eye on the ball and hit’em where they ain’t.” So went the mantra of 1890s right fielder William “Wee Willie” Keeler, perhaps baseball’s greatest place hitter. In 1964, more than half a century after Keeler retired, the Minnesota Twins signed a 19-year-old Panamanian who would rival Wee Willie’s wizardry with the bat. Rod Carew made his big league debut as a second baseman with the Twins in 1967, hitting .292 and winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Carew had 12 stellar seasons with Minnesota, culminating with a career-high .388 batting average in 1977. In 1979 he was traded to the California Angels and led the team to two division titles before retiring in 1985. With a lifetime .328 average and 3,053 hits, Carew was a sure bet for baseball’s Hall of Fame, which enshrined the slugger in 1991. But what made Sir Rodney a truly exceptional player was more than his seven batting titles (a feat surpassed only by Ty Cobb) and 18 consecutive All-Star Game selections.
He approached hitting as a vocation, studying pitchers and adjusting his stance to spray balls to all parts of the field. “He has an uncanny ability to move the ball around as if the bat were some kind of magic wand,” recalled Oakland A’s hurler Ken Holtzman.
A member of the Twins’ vaunted “Lumber Company” offense, Carew used this 32-ounce Hillerich & Bradsby bat to secure batting crowns in 1973, 1974 and 1975. Bearing pine tar residue on the handle and ball marks on the barrel, the bat also features Carew’s autograph and “HOF 7/21/91,” the date of his Hall of Fame induction.
Adam Scher, Senior Object Curator