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Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future

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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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Woodcarvings

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 1, 2007
Photo of carving by Peter A. PetersonArt elicits many reactions from viewers. It can inspire, evoke strong feelings, or move us to reflect upon its form or meaning. It can also tell us much about the time and place in which it was created, as these examples from the Minnesota Historical Society collections show.Peter A. Peterson or "Whiskey Pete" captured in his woodcarvings the spirit of country life. Born in Alvdalen, Sweden, in 1884, Peterson emigrated with his family when he was about 17, settling in rural Dalbo in Isanti County. This hard-working, church-going, mostly Swedish farm community is where Peterson learned to carve wood. His subjects point to the world and personalities he saw around himself, people like lumbermen, the pastor, and members of a Swedish band and choir. His carvings range from 4 inches to 40 inches, but most are less than a foot tall. They speak to us of the world as seen through Peterson's eyes.Since the figures are painted, we can only guess at Peterson's methods and materials. He probably carved soft, local wood such as balsam fir with a whittling tool or small knife. Oral tradition holds that Peterson did not carve for money; he gave his work away, traded it for a few goods, or sold it for whiskey — thus his nickname. After his death on October 21, 1964, these figures eventually found their way to a New York auction house, where the Minnesota Historical Society purchased them as fine examples of folk art. Now they have come back to Minnesota to inspire and remind us of Peterson's world.bear.jpg In a similar folk-art tradition, a new form is emerging: chainsaw art. Chainsaw sculptures are showing up at fairs, along roadsides, and as commissioned art projects in cities and private homes. Stillwater carver Perry Carlson, who has been working with wood for 15 years, is also of Swedish descent, with a brother and father working in this art form as well. Perry's recent tool choice is the chainsaw, which greatly assists him with "getting at" the wood. From the variety of his sculptures, his clients favor these friendly two-to-three-foot tall "Welcome Bears" for their porches or decks up at the cabin. Carlson mostly works with trees already down or wood already cut. Another of his specialties is the "story pole" made from trees that are diseased or need to come down. Carlson carves a story into the tree, saving it from complete removal and creating beauty that adds meaning to the place where the tree has stood for many years.Pete Peterson and Perry Carlson represent craftsman that are part of a long and enduring legacy of wood-carving. The Minnesota Historical Society will continue to collect the work of historical and contemporary carvers both to document the art form and remind us of ourselves and our sense of place.This article was originally published in the Summer 2002 issue of Minnesota History.

Arts and Crafts Movement

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 1, 2007
Canterbury made by Anthony Edward OfstieThe Arts and Crafts movement's values of handicraft and creative expression found fertile ground in Minnesota. Included in the Minnesota Historical Society's furniture collection from the turn of the last century is this tall, handmade canterbury or magazine rack, made by Anthony Edward Ofstie, a Norwegian immigrant born in 1861. The dark-stained, quarter-sawn oak stand features a square top with marquetry of various-colored woods.Employed for most of his life driving fire engines with Hook and Ladder Company No. 6,Ofstie may have developed his appreciation for woodworking while driving a Minneapolisfurniture-store truck. He and his wife, Julia, enriched their southeast Minneapolishome with furniture of his own design. Among the six pieces in the Society'scollection today are an unusual table and upholstered armchair made of cow hornsand oak. A decoratively monogrammed wooden music-storage cabinet contains a notethat Ofstie handcrafted it for one of his two sons, a heartfelt gift of whichlofty Arts and Crafts theorists surely would have approved.This article was originally published in the Spring 2001 issue of Minnesota History.

1930s Cookbooks

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 1, 2007
Betty’s Scrapbook of Little Recipes for Little CooksLooking at the Great Depression of the 1930s through the eyes of its cookbooks gives a new perspective on food, one of the vital needs of Minnesotans in a time of economic crisis. The Historical Society library has a nice collection of Minnesota cookbooks from the decade, many of which reflect the economic travails of the period.

Minnesotans who lived on farms often had more food available to them than people who lived through the Depression in town or in The Cities because they raised animals for milk, eggs, and meat and grew vegetables, berries, and some other fruits in large gardens. Farm women had the skills, space, and equipment to preserve food when it was ripe and plentiful, for their families' nourishment and enjoyment after the state's short growing season. In general, though the 30s were tough on farmers too, food remained plentiful for many, as demonstrated in this charming oversized cookbook published by The Farmer in 1931 to help farm girls learn to cook. The cookbook says nothing about the need to help Mother economize, to stretch ingredients or learn to use less expensive substitutes. It gives recipes and instructions for everything from muffins to a whole meal for the family. And this was published after the farm economy had been in dire straits throughout the 1920s!

Recipe BookPeople in small towns, on the iron ranges, and even in larger cities also planted gardens and even raised an animal or two for the family table. Cookbook writers and organizations that compiled cookbooks for sale clearly expected town and city women to put up food and probably assumed they grew at least tomatoes, cucumbers, and dill in backyard gardens. These cookbooks encouraged them to emulate their sisters on the farm - without saying so directly - by including large numbers of recipes for canning preserves, pickles, relishes, and sauces.

A frequently seen recipe type in 1930s cookbooks is the "Mock recipe" which attempted to make a desirable dish without using one of the main ingredients that makes it desirable. The best known is probably mock apple pie, made with soda crackers and lots of sugar and spices. The Northwest Housewives Prize-Winning Recipes Book, published by the St. Paul Daily News Home Economic Dept. in 1934, includes a recipe for Mock Maple Mousse that uses brown sugar and water to substitute for the maple syrup and a recipe for Mock Turkey Legs that calls for veal steak and pork tenderloin, molded into the shape of a drumstick on a wooden skewer.

Strawberry short cake recipe pagesEven during the Depression, the flour millers of Minneapolis still needed to sell their flour. The Betty Crocker cookbooks in the MHS collection show how General Mills encouraged women to use their products in baking and other cooking: the key words here are Bisquick and celebrities. Bisquick combined flour and fat to speed the baking and cooking process; movie stars helped struggling Americans to escape temporarily from their difficult lives. And movie stars using Bisquick - well, the combination must have seemed irresistible to the advertising folks at General Mills. The cookbooks emphasized the glamour of the stars, both men and women, with alluring portraits of the celebrities and their chosen dishes like Mary Pickford's strawberry shortcake.

Cookery Club BulletinPillsbury started a cookery club to encourage both brand loyalty and more use of flour. The MHS collections only hold one issue, Bulletin No. 2 from November of 1934 - but we'd love to acquire more. The editor was Mary Ellis Ames, whose title was Director of Pillsbury's Cooking Service. Unlike Betty Crocker, she was a real person who used her own name. ("Ann Pillsbury," who demonstrates delicious baked goods at the Mill City Museum, came later.) Ms. Ames’s only reference to hard times in this issue is to use the word "practical". Several recipes provided, like Mexican Pancakes and Almond Marigold Sponge Cake, promoted the use of specialty flours like Pillsbury's Pancake Flour, Pillsbury's White Corn Meal, and Pillsbury's Sno Sheen Cake Flour.
 Tested Recipes, cookbook coverThe Russell-Miller Milling Company promoted its Occident Flour with a booklet of Tested Recipes that featured a cross-stitched cover and proclaimed its seals of approval from the Good Housekeeping Bureau, the Farmers Wife magazine's reader-testers, and the Household Magazine. It appealed to economy-minded bakers by printing a letter that asserted that Occident Flour produced 13 to 28 ounces more bread per 49-pound sack than Flour A and Flour B. Which just might have been General Mills and Pillsbury, but brand names weren't mentioned.

Home economists often worked at establishments where cooking for large numbers of people was essential. A boon to them was a book called Quantity Cookery, written by two well-known Minnesota home economists, Nola Treat and Lenore Richards. In the 1941 edition of their book, 1st published in the 1930s, they advise: "In Discussing the Limitations in Menu Making the Element of Cost Has Come Up Again and Again. It becomes a definite restriction in institutions that work on a budget, or where the group to be served demands good, wholesome foods at the lowest price." Examples given are factory cafeterias, school lunchrooms, and restaurants and hotels “whose patrons comprise the lower-income groups”. They then discuss the need to re-use all leftovers, noting "It requires a good deal of ingenuity to use these leftovers in some other form so as to maintain variety and that element of surprise which is so essential."

 Home Economics Association, University of Minnesota, 1933 And of course, women continued to study nutrition and home economics at the University of Minnesota's "farm campus." The MHS library is lucky to have an example of a small cookbook they produced, modestly titled Brain Food. The students used humor in compiling their cookbook, which featured recipes they had solicited from important and well-known members of the university community. University President Guy Stanton Ford had the honor of the first recipe, for a dish called Sunday Night Supper - a bowl of crackers and milk, with peanut- buttered crackers on the side.

A cookbook written by another Minnesota home economist, Mrs. J.B. Graham of Duluth, illuminates the challenges of feeding a family and of making a living on a northern Minnesota farm. 212 Ways to Prepare Potatoes, [1935], establishes Mrs. Graham as a premiere writer of cookbooks for hard times. She lovingly dedicates the book, which sold for 75 cents, to “Our Rural Friends of the Arrowhead. May it Wend its Way Into Every Home and Add Interest to the Homemakers Cookery. May it Help to Bring Prosperity to The Arrowhead Farmer.” The recipes came in large part from the Duluth Chamber of Commerce’s annual recipe contests held during the city’s Potato Week in 1932, 33, and 34. There are recipes for potato breads, muffins, pancakes, and a chocolate mashed potato spice cake, potato doughnuts, fritters, patties, and pies. Cornish pasties and English pasties, dumplings and puddings, soufflés, and sausage, potatoes smothered, creamed and scalloped, hashed and fried. The “foreign recipes” section includes Swedish Kropp Kakor, Norwegian Lefsa, and a savory/sweet Austrian Potato Potica that calls for sugar and cinnamon as well as ham or bacon. The book may have helped many a poor northern Minnesota family through the rest of the Depression by providing a real variety of dishes from one primary ingredient that was inexpensively available.

Debbie Miller, Reference Specialist

View of Mendota, 1848 by Seth Eastman

By: admin | What's New | October 31, 2007

View of Mendota, 1848, by Seth Eastman



In his painting, View of Mendota, 1848, Seth Eastman has created a remarkably detailed portrait of Mendota, a settlement built in the 1830s at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Mendota was the home and base of operations of Henry Hastings Sibley, the American Fur Company's regional manager. Sibley, who may have commissioned the painting, was already moving out of the fur trade and into politics by 1848. He was instrumental in creating the Minnesota Territory in 1849 and became the state's first governor in 1858.

Eastman (1808-1875) was an acclaimed American artist as well as a career soldier. He was stationed at Fort Snelling from 1830 to 1831 and from 1841 to 1848, when he served as the fort's commander. In his painting, he depicts Mendota as seen from Fort Snelling, including the Sibley and Faribault houses, both of which still stand today as historic sites.

Harry and Mary Zimmermann, whose family had been in Minnesota since the mid-1800s, purchased View of Mendota, 1848 in 1937. In honor of their memory, the painting has been given to the Minnesota Historical Society by their daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, and her two sons. It joins several other art works in the Society collections by Eastman. The Society is deeply grateful for this extraordinary act of generosity and commitment to Minnesota and its citizens.

Brian Szott, Curator of Art

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Olmsted County Coroner Records

By: admin | What's New | October 31, 2007
Carbolic acid bottle and coroner’s documents"His death was not caused feloniously."

These are the words of the Olmsted County coroner's jury concerning the 1901 death of a Henry Schmelzer in Rochester, Minnesota. Mr. Schmelzer committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid, and the bottle containing the poison is pictured here. The bottle was discovered in the coroner's inquest file (no. 151) for Mr. Schmelzer, along with statements given by coroner's inquest witnesses. Witnesses included Henry's two brothers and his spouse, Emma. According to the testimony, Henry had been depressed for sometime about his failing crops. His body was found three days after he went missing in the unfinished basement of the new part of a Catholic church. The empty bottle of carbolic acid was found near Henry's body.

Recently the State Archives collection received coroner's inquest files dating from the 1880s to the 1980s from the Olmsted County District Court. Usually, a coroner's inquest was only conducted if a death was caused by homicide and suicide, or if the death was somehow suspicious. Not all of the files contain such details about a death, such as Mr. Schmelzer's, but coroner's records are useful for family history. The State Archives preserves coroner's inquest files, and coroner's registers and record books from most of Minnesota's counties. These records are available for use in the Society's Library.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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Statehood Centennial Commission Records

By: admin | What's New | October 30, 2007
Placard for the Centennial CelebrationThe Minnesota Statehood Centennial Commission sponsored many different celebrations to commemorate the state's centennial in 1958. One of the most successful projects was the Centennial Train, pictured here in a poster showing the Minnesota Centennial logo and the Centennial Train. From April to September 1958, the train stopped in 86 of Minnesota's 87 counties (only Cook County, which had no railroad tracks, was excluded). A total of 633,347 persons toured the six cars of exhibits. Recently the records of the Centennial Commission were organized, described, and cataloged, making it easier to access this rich collection. Topics include county celebrations and fairs, Dan Patch horse races, the Festival of Nations, Fort Snelling restoration, historic tour program, Floyd B. Olson and Maria L. Sanford statues, pioneer recognition, Miss Centennial Minnesota, and Statehood Week. Records include correspondence, progress reports, brochures, programs, photographs, minutes, audio tapes, certificates, radio and television scripts, clippings, and a congratulatory telegram from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This collection provides wonderful documentation of how Minnesota celebrated its centennial and will be useful for planning the state's sesquicentennial celebration in 2008. The Statehood Centennial Commission records are part of the State Archives collections, cataloged in the Society's online catalog, MN PALS, and available for use in the Society's Library.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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St. Paul Police Department Mug Shots

By: admin | What's New | October 29, 2007
Mug shots and Bertillon cards

Pictured are samples from a recent acquisition of 125 mug shots and 85 Bertillon cards which originated with, or were used by, the St. Paul Police Department. This collection documents the identification and incarceration of criminals thought to be in the City of St. Paul and surrounding areas from 1891 through 1911. "House sneak," "safe blower," and "swindler" were not uncommon criminal occupations, and tattoos, scars, moles and physical shortcomings were duly noted. One card in the collection describes a criminal as follows: "Walks slightly pigeon-toed, slightly stooped shoulders, round lump on top and back of head..."Most of the mug shot cards were created by the St. Paul Police Department, but some originated in other cities' police departments, including Duluth, Minneapolis, Superior (Wisconsin), Chicago, Kansas City, Fargo, Denver, and New Orleans. Most are marked "Personal Property Jno. J. O'Connor," presumably the same John J. O'Connor who was Chief of Police for the City of St. Paul from 1900 to 1912 and from 1914 to 1920.

Mug shot cards are 4 by 2 1/2 inches (pocket size) with a photo of the criminal on the front and the criminal's name, alias(es), residence, legitimate and criminal occupations, physical measurements, features and "peculiarities" on the back.

The Bertillon cards are 6 by 5 1/2 inches, offering front/profile photographs of the criminal and Bertillon measurements on the front of the card, while the back lists information similar to the mug shot cards. The Bertillon System was an improvement of identification over simple mug shots and basic physical measurements, and was a forerunner to fingerprinting. It was developed by French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon in the early 1880s to increase the accuracy of criminal identification by measuring certain bony portions of the body, including the skull, foot, cubit, trunk and left middle finger. This identification method spread throughout Europe and was introduced into the United States in 1887.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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"Midnight" by Candy Kuehn

By: admin | What's New | October 28, 2007
“Midnight” by Candy KuehnThis recent acquisition, "Midnight," was a stand-out design at the Textile Center's Artwear in Motion, RetroFlexion runway show in 2005.

Candy Kuehn's wearable art pieces are much more than just functional clothing. As a fiber artist her pieces reflect changing moods, passage of time and lively experiences interpreted with painted and dyed fabrics and embellishments of feathers and beads.

The Society's collection often serves as inspiration for contemporary design by Minnesota artists. In this case, Candy took her inspiration from historic costume fashioning colors and materials that can be seen in the elaborate draping of the mid 19th century or the mix of textured fabrics often seen in the early 20th century. The Society's collection is building for the future by adding the work of contemporary Minnesota artists from several venues each year.

  


  


  


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1858 "Treaty of Washington"

By: admin | What's New | October 26, 2007
1858 “Treaty of Washington”The Minnesota Historical Society recently acquired a nationally significant treaty between the United States and the Yankton Sioux, allowing the historic treaty to stay in the Midwest.

Thought to be one of only two or three original copies in the world, the "Treaty of Washington," signed in 1858, called for the Yankton Sioux to cede more than 11 million acres of land known as the Yankton Delta - between the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers - in exchange for a 430,000-acre reservation.

In return, the Yankton were to receive $1.6 million in payments or money expended "for their benefit," paid over 50 years. Yankton leaders agreed to sign the treaty only after they were given the rights to the quarry at Pipestone, Minnesota. The U.S. Senate ratified the document on February 16, 1859 and was "proclaimed" by President James Buchanan on February 26. In accordance with the treaty, the Dakota people have mined the sacred stone from the quarry, though the treaty obligations were never totally fulfilled.

"Thanks to the generous support of our donors, the Minnesota Historical Society was able to quickly secure a document that several other institutions were interested in acquiring," said Patrick Coleman, a Society acquisitions librarian. "It gives us great honor to house a piece of history that has such enormous significance."

Further information about of the 1858 Treaty of Washington, including a link to a transcript, is available in the MHS Library Catalog.

Col. Henry C. Lester's Civil War Sword

By: admin | What's New | October 25, 2007
On April 14, 1862 the Third Minnesota Regiment presented this magnificent Tiffany and Company sword to their commanding officer, Colonel Henry C. Lester, "in token of their high regard and confidence." The gesture was a genuine expression of gratitude for a leader who had fashioned the regiment into a model of efficiency in a matter of months.

A resident of Winona, Minnesota, Lester entered the service in April 1861 and acquired his first taste of command as captain of Company "K" of the First Minnesota Regiment. His gentlemanly manner and skill as a drillmaster inspired governor Ramsey to appoint him to head the newly-formed Third Regiment in the fall of that year. But nearly three months to the day after receiving this sword, Lester's reputation as a man of untarnished honor would be sullied in action against the notorious Confederate cavalry wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Detail of Lester’s sword showing Tiffany and Co. as the makerThe ill-fated event took place on July 13, 1862 when Forrest launched an attack against Union forces defending the railroad junction at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Taking the Federal camps by surprise at dawn, the Confederates quickly captured more than one hundred Union soldiers. With only the Third Minnesota remaining on the field, Forrest devised a plot to force Lester to capitulate. Under a flag of truce, he invited Lester to meet with captured Union officers in Murfreesboro. Forrest lined the streets of town with as many Confederate soldiers as he could muster, giving the Union commander the impression that he was desperately outnumbered. Upon his return, Lester put the decision to a vote among his officers. In the end, a secret ballot favored surrender, and the Third Minnesota was relinquished with scarcely a fight.

The regiment was paroled and returned to Minnesota to participate in the Dakota Conflict and subsequent campaigns in the South. Colonel Lester and the officers who voted for surrender were held accountable for the debacle at Murfreesboro and were dismissed from the service in December 1862. Disgraced, Henry Lester left Minnesota and returned to his native state of New York where he lived until his death in 1902.

The Minnesota Historical Society purchased Colonel Lester's sword at auction in March 2005. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, this important Civil War artifact will now be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

This article appeared in the Summer 2005 issue of Minnesota History.

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