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collections up close Blog

Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


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.

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What's New

History is Now! Celebrating Marriage Equality

By: admin | What's New | August 1, 2013

The Minnesota Historical Society is looking to document select current events through collecting digital images, and we need your help.

The Society wants to document the historic recognition of equality for all by collecting digital photos of same-sex weddings held during the month of August, 2013. Our goal is to collect 100 great photos during this time of couples state-wide who are now able to get married.

Please see this page to learn more about this project and specifics to submit.

New Library Exhibit - The Golden Age of Rail Travel

By: admin | What's New | July 10, 2013

Dining aboard the North Coast Limited, Northern Pacific Railway, 1934.

Come see the new exhibit in the Library Lobby on the Golden Age of Rail Travel, 1880 - 1950. The exhibit highlights a fabulous new donation to the collection from Steve Pattison and family of Great Northern Railway china and silver. It also includes menus and tourism promotion materials from our wonderful railroad archival collections. Visit a time when transportation was so much more civilized!

Glory of the West Pattern, 1940-1957. Donation by Steve Pattison and Family.

Learn More:

Quillwork Cuffs by Dallas Goldtooth

By: admin | What's New | June 3, 2013
2013_41_2.jpgUnique to North America, porcupine quillwork is an art form used by Indigenous peoples that have traditionally resided in the porcupine's natural habitat - from coast to coast in the northern United States and Canada.

With tendrils stretching back over centuries, quillwork was the primary decorative art form used for embellishing rawhide and tanned hide items prior to the introduction of glass beads of European manufacture. Many Dakota and Lakota people have oral traditions which explain how quilling was brought to them by Double Woman (or Double Face Woman). The earliest extant examples of quillwork are found in Canada and are said to date to the 6th century.

In their natural state, workable porcupine quills are usually pale with black tips. Historically, color was added through the use of dyes made from plant and animal materials. By the 19th century, commercial dyes became readily available and greatly expanded the possibilities for new designs and color combinations. Historic quillwork from the plains, much like painting and beadwork, is often characterized by geometric patterns - concentric circles and rosettes, as well as other geometric shapes, were commonly found on panels adorning men’s shirts.

2013_41_1.jpgTraditionally practiced by women, today many men are also contributing to the revival of the quillwork art form.   Through working with knowledgeable practitioners and relatives (and sometimes by studying museum collections), today quillwork artists are revitalizing the practice; it is again becoming a vibrant and living art form.

Quillwork in the Minnesota Historical Society Native American Collections is robust, with examples of historic moccasins, pipe bags, men’s shirts, pipe stems, armbands, dresses, ornaments, dolls, gloves, jackets, tobacco pouches and more attributed to Dakota makers, as well as birchbark tourist trade items made by Ojibwe makers.

In addition to our historic collections, there are also quillwork pieces created by contemporary artists. Among them is a cradleboard done by Hope Two Hearts and Galen Drapeau (Isanti and Ihanktowan Dakota, respectively), circa 1980. An image of this cradleboard, which won best traditional art at the Sante Fe Indian Market, was featured in promotional materials for Hope and Galen's business, the Elk's Camp Society.
Surrounded by the art form for most of his life, Dallas Goldtooth, Hope’s son, has himself been creating contemporary work for over a decade. Recently, the MHS Collections Department had the opportunity to purchase a pair of cuffs from the artist, seen here.

These will be on view in the Recent Acquisitions show at the  James J. Hill House until the end of June.

Ben Gessner
Collections Associate, American Indian and Fine Art Collections

Recent Acquisitions Show at the James J. Hill House

By: admin | What's New | April 26, 2013

Our mission at the Minnesota Historical Society is straightforward—to preserve, share, and connect our history with Minnesotans and others both today and into the future. The organization does that in many ways: through our exhibitions, Library, historic sites, publications, and educational activities. Our permanent collection is at the core of everything we do at MHS.

With the goal of documenting the history of Minnesota and to tell the story of the people who call it home, each year the Collections department acquires thousands of items for its permanent collection.

We put together this current exhibit at the James J. Hill House to demonstrate the range of our collections.  Selected by Collection curators and staff, nearly all of the items in this exhibition were acquired in the last two years. Together, they demonstrate the depth and breadth of our collecting activities. From a 4,000 year-old prehistoric tool found in a northern suburban city park to campaign buttons for the latest Minnesotans to run for president, we aim to provide insight into the cultural, political, and social history of the state.

To see the exhibit, please visit the James J. Hill House. The show will be up until June 17, 2013.

To learn more about our collections, visit us at www.mnhs.org/collectionsupclose.

Acquired! 1850 Edward D. Neill letter describing the Minnesota Territory

By: admin | What's New | March 15, 2013

In February of 2013, the Minnesota Historical Society’s Manuscripts Collections acquired this letter written on February 23, 1850 in St. Paul by Presbyterian Minister, Edward Duffield Neill. Addressed to a Home Missionary Society colleague out East, the letter provides a detailed account of Neill’s missionary work in St. Paul, as well as his impressions regarding the changing landscape in the surrounding Territory.

Neill recounts his early work as a Presbyterian Minister in the Minnesota Territory but first and foremost, the eight-page manuscript gives a brief statistical analysis of Neill’s work over the past 10 months. He reports his involvement in building the First Presbyterian Church in St. Paul (Dec. 1849), his financial contributions to the Home Missionary Society’s coffers ($45.00 to date), and the increase in those who “…worship in accordance with the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian denominations” (approximately 900). He goes on to describe the pre-existing Catholic and Protestant denominations, the former currently being housed in a “rude log chapel”.

The letter also describes Neill’s impression of St. Paul upon his arrival in 1849. He states, “I landed at St. Paul in April, 1849. It was then a village of 300 inhabitants, mostly illiterate French Canadians attached to the Church of Rome.” Being a man of the church, he did however attempt to lighten the blow, stating that the current state of the Territory proves there have since been “…great changes and those in the right direction.”

Neill’s interests crossed well beyond his early work as a Minister, showing an inclination towards matters of business, politics, and governance. He is delighted by the establishment of several new schools and quite impressed by the Territorial Government’s incorporation of a Library Association.  Neill believes in five years time, “…there will be direct or speedy communications between St. Anthony Falls and New York City via Lake Superior, and there will be a call for at least five times as many laborers.”

Neill’s predictions for the future were not always so bright, however. In a passage foretelling of impending events, Neill states, “Four-Fifths of the Territory is in Indian Country, the abode of the warlike Ojibwa, the wild Dakota and the discontented Winnebago. Negotiations however are going on, which will shortly induce the Dakota to dispose of the lands of his ancient ancestors and to commence his painful Exodus towards the setting sun.”

Edward D. Neill, a native Philadelphian, came to the Minnesota Territory in 1849 as a Presbyterian Minister under the auspices of the Home Missionary Society. At the time this letter was written, Neill was a frontier minister but he is also known as a prolific author, Civil War Chaplain to the 1st Minnesota infantry, Secretary to Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, as well as a past President of Macalester College.

This spectacular piece of Minnesota history complements the Society’s collection of the Edward D. Neill and family papers, as well as the Minnesota portion of the American Home Missionary Society records, available on microfilm.

See whole letter: Neill letter 1850

Shelby Edwards, Manuscripts Collections Assistant

Learn More:

MHS Civil War Collections Online

By: admin | What's New | March 1, 2013

The Minnesota Historical Society maintains a rich collection of primary source materials (government records, manuscripts, photographs, art, artifacts) and secondary resources (books, published diaries, official sources) relating to the Civil War.

Our new Civil War Collections website features a timeline of major events and allows users to browse the Society’s holdings by collection type, topic, or event.  Check it out!


Also come see the new exhibit featuring many of these artifacts, Minnesota and the Civil War, opening March 2!

Minnesota Inventions on tpt!

By: admin | What's New | February 19, 2013

In case you missed it last Friday, our very own Adam Scher was on Almanac talking about Minnesota Inventions. Watch it here:


For more on Minnesota's food innovations, see our Inventions of Champions: How Minnesotans Changed Breakfast podcast.

President's Day is History Matters Day at the Capitol!

By: admin | What's New | February 15, 2013

President's Day is History Matters Day at the Capitol!

  • Come hang out in the State's seat of power and government!

  • Look at cool items from the Collections!

  • Go on a free tour of the Captiol!

  • Enjoy a free craft activity for the kids!

  • Talk to your legislator about why history matters to you!

This Monday, February 18, from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Learn more here:

Free shuttles are available from the History Center. Hope to see you then!

Contemporary Political Posters in Minnesota

By: admin | What's New | January 15, 2013

Historically, posters have been a relatively cheap and quick way to disseminate information and ideas. Often, in opposition to commercial posters which promote the consumption of products, political posters, as a genre, have been used much in the same way as political graffiti – to promote grassroots political and philosophical ideas and movements.

Today, political poster-makers expand upon the historic role of their predecessors, often straddling the line of fine art printmaking. Almost exclusively, they produce hand-printed, limited-edition serigraphs (screenprints) or prints produced using letterset presses - rather than using machines to print offset lithographs, which is the printing process most commonly associated with ‘large-run’ commercial posters.

Minnesota has a unique and vibrant graphic arts community; the community of printmakers and poster artists is no exception.

Poster Offensive is a biennial political poster exhibit created in 2004 by Jeff Johnson, owner and creative director of Spunk Design Machine (these exhibits currently coincide with election cycles).  According to the exhibit organizers, Poster Offensive is “an independent, non-partisan poster show, which utilizes the politically potent medium of the poster to showcase contemporary interpretations and critiques of political and social issues.”

Although many of the artworks in the Poster Offensive exhibits deal specifically with the elections with which they coincide, some reflect larger issues, including local food movements, conservation of natural resources, freedom of speech, unemployment, immigration, women’s rights, and, like these presented here from the 2012 Poster Offensive 6, the recent proposed ‘marriage’ amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution. Designed, illustrated, and printed by Jeff Johnson, Bill Ferenc, and Andy Weaver of Spunk Design Machine, a Minneapolis-based design boutique, these two versions of Equal Equals Love were recently added to the Fine Art collection at the Minnesota Historical Society.

Ben Gessner, Collections Associate

Click images above to see them larger. To learn more, please go to Collections Online:

Paul Bunyan and Jolly Green Giant

Dorothy and Betty Crocker

To learn even more:




Moon Rocks! - Apollo 11 Lunar Soil Sample

By: admin | What's New | December 4, 2012

In November 1969, four months after the first manned lunar landing by Apollo 11, President Richard Nixon asked the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to prepare lunar soil samples collected from the mission for presentation to the 50 United States and 135 countries.  Each sample was to be accompanied by the recipient’s state or national flag, which had traveled to the Moon and back aboard Apollo 11.

President Nixon presented this lunar soil display, containing approximately 50 milligrams of material, to the people of Minnesota in 1970 with the message:

Presented to the people of Minnesota by Richard Nixon, President of the United States of America.

This flag of your state was carried to the Moon and back by Apollo 11 and this fragment of the Moon’s surface was brought to Earth by the crew of that first manned lunar landing.

The display is presumed to have been received by the Office of the Governor, but for reasons which remain uncertain it was transferred to the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs where it remained for 40 years.  In 2010 the display was discovered in a storage area by staff of the Minnesota National Guard, who transferred it to the Minnesota Historical Society in November, 2012.

Adam Scher, Senior Curator

For more details, view the Moon Rocks in our Collections Online database.


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