Collections Up Close

collections up close Blog

Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future

About

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.

All MNHS Blogs

Subscribe by e-mail:

 Subscribe in a reader

The Hill Family Collection

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | December 16, 2008
Early in 2008 the papers of legendary Minnesota businessman James J. Hill and several of his family members were transferred from the James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul to the Minnesota History Center, just a few blocks away. In this podcast, learn about the history and contents of the collection and the reasons for the move, and catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the incredible process of relocating almost 2500 boxes of valuable historical documents, photographs, books and artifacts.
[display_podcast]

The Campaign Trail: Minnesota’s Historic Role in Modern Politics

By: admin | What's New | December 9, 2008




Political campaigns are chaotic, frenzied affairs and the best way to peer into this process is through the lens of a camera. Fortunately, Minnesota is blessed with having some of the best documentary photographers in the field. The exhibition, The Campaign Trail: Minnesota's Historic Role in Modern Politics examines campaign photography by featuring work by three talented and dedicated political photographers in Minnesota-Tom Arndt, Terry Gydesen and Ann Marsden. Each has been documenting the political scene for many years, providing an important visual document for future generations. In particular, Tom Arndt and Terry Gydesen's thoughtful and sensitive chronicle of the Mondale and Wellstone campaigns provide an in depth portrait of the candidate and his campaign.

Come see an exhibit of these fascinating images on view at the James J. Hill House Gallery until Feb. 22, 2009.

Above photo by Tom Arndt


Minnesota’s Humanity in Print

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | December 4, 2008


Barbara Tuchman coined the phrase, "Books are humanity in print," and nowhere is this more obvious than the work of two of Minnesota's literary giants, J. F. Powers and Jon Hassler. So our next two best Minnesota books are...

J. F. Powers. Morte D'Urban. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1962.

Jon Hassler. Staggerford. New York: Atheneum, 1977.

Powers and Hassler have much in common so it seems appropriate to mention them together. Both ended up at St. John's University after interesting starts to their careers and both are thought of as "Catholic" writers although the term seems ridiculously limiting to me. As a bit of trivia, of interest only to a few of us here at the MHS, Powers earliest job was working for the WPA Historic Records Survey in Chicago. When World War II broke out Powers tried for, and was denied, status as a Conscientious Objector. He came to Minnesota to serve time in the Federal prison at Sandstone. He had the Irish penchant for writing short stories [read his "Lions, Harts, Leaping Does"] but became famous with his National Book Award winning novel of a priest in Stearns County, Mort D'Urban. Powers was married to writer Betty Wahl (Rafferty and Co.) who he met at St. Ben's.

Jon Hassler came to Minnesota in a more traditional way, birth, and experienced life in the southern, urban, and northern parts of the state. He didn't start writing until he was in his mid forties and Staggerford was his first novel for adults. It concerns life in a fictionalized Park Rapids and introduces characters that turn up in his subsequent work.  His recognizably Minnesota characters, like Powers, are wrought with foibles and pettiness and problems but are likable if not lovable in spite of their shortcomings. One of the smartest things that has been said about Hassler's writings was from a reviewer who pointed out the unusual ability he has of "making good people interesting" [take that Jonathan Franzen].

A Selection of Minnesota Quilts

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | December 2, 2008
A quilt can be something to keep you toasty warm on a chilly night, but it can also be a work of art. Quilts today are often created as serious artistic expression, but quilters of earlier centuries also could focus their work on artistry as much as utility. Textile curator Linda McShannock shows us some of her favorite examples of these artistic quilts from the Society's collection, ranging in date from the 18th Century to the present.

Ghost Poems

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 26, 2008



Myers-Rich, Paulette. Ghost poems for the living: 13 sonnets by Shakespeare with distillations and images. Saint Paul: Traffic Street Press, 2005.

One of my favorite things in the MHS Library Collection is a fine press book by Paulette Myers-Rich, Ghost poems for the living: 13 sonnets by Shakespeare with distillations and images.

The beauty of this work is really beyond description; to hold it in one's hands is a joy. It is perfectly constructed, bound using linen cloth and flax papers created by the artist and letterpress printed on photo rag paper in an edition of 26.

What I love best about it is its simplicity and honesty; the whole design lends credence to its story. The story is the oldest there is, of love and loss and memory. In the book, Paulette presents a Shakespearian sonnet (which is about as good as it can possibly get in my estimation) with a subtle image of a recently dead flower above. On the following page is her "distillation," which consists of a negative image of the flower, and a new poem, which is created by removing carefully chosen words from the Shakespeare sonnet. Paulette's poetic skills shine through her careful choices for removal. The new poems are not Shakespeare, but they are not trying to be; they are something new, and still deeply beautiful. I believe this act gets to the point of dealing with loss; something is removed, yet something new can be created.

Come see it! It is available in our Library for viewing upon request. Not surprisingly, it won the award for the best fine press book at the 2006 Minnesota Book Awards.

Lori Williamson, Acquisitions Coordinator










2008 Republican National Convention

By: admin | What's New | November 25, 2008
Minnesota delegation's floor standardFor four days in September, the political spotlight shown on the Twin Cities as they hosted the 2008 Republican National Convention. Delegates, reporters, protestors and police officers descended upon Minnesota to take part. In the months since, we’ve collected approximately 120 different objects associated with the event.

Highlights from the convention itself include the Minnesota delegation’s floor standard, two delegate chairs, informational signs that guided delegates through the Xcel Energy Center, and 56 pieces of the confetti - each piece bearing a color photo of John McCain - that fell over the crowd after the nominee's acceptance speech.

From the media, we collected eight different credential cards – two for each day of the convention – used by staffers with Minnesota Public Radio and KARE-11 TV. We also collected a photojournalist’s camera that was broken beyond repair as he covered protests near Mears Park on September 2.Media Floor Pass used by MPR staff

Two protestors donated handmade anti-war signs they carried on the John Ireland Boulevard bridge during the September 4 demonstration, as well as a pocket guide to protestors’ civil rights issued by the ACLU. We received a “Peace Keepers” T-shirt worn by one of the volunteers who formed a nonviolent barrier between protestors and police officers. We also collected one of the disposable “PlastiCuff” wrist restraints used by police officers to secure arrested individuals.

Our week at the center of American political life was a thrilling one. I'd like to think that we’ve preserved a little bit of that excitement along with these objects.

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

Learn More:


Professional (i.e. successful) Explorers

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | November 10, 2008
Well, I got my wrist slapped for snottily suggesting that Pike was not the gold standard for either an explorer or a diplomat. To avoid sounding critical of iconic Minnesota figures I’m sticking to the undisputed success stories with the next two nominations for Minnesota’s 150 best books.

Detail of Nicollet's Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River





Henry R. Schoolcraft. Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake, the Actual Source of this River; Embracing an Exploratory Trip Through the St. Croix and Burntwood (or Broule) Rivers. New York: Harper, 1834.

J[oseph] N. Nicollet. Report Intended to Illustrate a Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River, Made by I.[sic]N. Nicollet, While in the Employ Under the Bureau of the Corps of Topographical Engineers. Washington: .... 1843.

Schoolcraft's 1821 A Narrative Journal of Travels... to the Source of the Mississippi River documented his earlier expedition with Lewis Cass, on which he was the geologist. That trip incorrectly identified Cass Lake as the river's head. When Schoolcraft went back in 1832 to settle conflicts between the Ojibwe and Dakota, he took the opportunity do further explorations and create an accurate map of the region west of Lake Superior. At long last he correctly identified the veritas caput ("true head") of the Mississippi. Although Schoolcraft deserves great credit for his work, an Indian named Oza Windib, or Yellow Head, led him directly to Lake Itasca. God forbid Indians ever get credit for discoveries, so it has recently been suggested that Oza Windib was the first Swede in Minnesota. I suspect that Schoolcraft would have noticed that small fact.



Yet another Frenchman figures prominently in our history. Over the course of three expeditions to this region, Joseph Nicollet, with Carver's Narrative in hand, completed the first scientific measurement of the upper Mississippi territory correcting some of Pike and Schoolcraft's distortions along the way.

I admit to being prone to hyperbole, but it is difficult to overstate the importance of Nicollet's map. It was so accurate and complete, with careful attention to both the original and European place names, that it was copied for decades and is still useful to researchers. Unfortunately, Nicollet did not live to see his map published. He died of a stomach ailment shortly before the U. S. Senate document was printed. The House printed the same report two years later. There are also two known copies of a wall map version of Nicollet. It breaks my heart to report that the MHS was an unsuccessful bidder on that map in 2006 when it sold at auction for $64,000.

Detail of Nicollet's Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River



Clem Haupers: Minnesota Artist

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | November 10, 2008
Art Curator Brian Szott discusses the life and work of St. Paul artist Clem Haupers. From his birth in St. Paul, his time in Paris, his stint as Minnesota director of the Federal Art Project to his art and teaching career afterwards, Szott combines the timeline of Haupers's life with a critical appreciation of his paintings and prints. Highlights include many examples of the art itself along with archival interviews with the artist.

[display_podcast]

View photos of Clement Haupers, Clara Gardner Mairs, and their artwork. Learn more about the Federal Arts Project in Minnesota. You can also explore Haupers's and Mairs's papers, and read and hear interviews with Haupers, in the History Center Library.

Hill Papers Come to the MHS!

By: admin | What's New | November 4, 2008
James J. Hill after driving the Golden Spike

James J. Hill was a business legend. In the last quarter of the nineteenth-century, he transformed the near bankrupt Saint Paul and Pacific into the legendary Great Northern Railroad that ran from Saint Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington by 1893. The man known as the Empire Builder had amassed a fortune of more than $63 million by the time of his death in 1916. Hill's son Louis inherited his father's business acumen and energetically pursued railroad, mining, and development activities throughout the west.

In March 2008, the Minnesota Historical Society happily agreed to transfer 1400 cubic feet of Hill Family records from the James J. Hill Reference Library in Saint Paul to the History Center. These papers cover the family and business concerns of James and Louis, the family and social life of Louis' wife Maud Van Cortlandt Hill, and the activities of the Reed/Hyde family between 1860 and 1920. Together these materials document late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social, political, economic, and cultural topics. By transferring the materials to MHS, the Hill Reference Library can better focus on its core mission: serving the needs of business owners and entrepreneurs with reference help and online tools. The Minnesota Historical Society, on the other hand, is uniquely suited to meet the needs of researchers, providing care for and access to the papers. The Society already has a number of resources that will complement and contextualize the Hill Family Papers. These include our collection of Great Northern Railroad records, a large collection of state newspapers, and an online database of historical images.

Generous support by the Northwest Area, Jerome, and Grotto Foundations will allow MHS to process the papers, create up-to-date finding aids, and produce a web site that will present web visitors with a single portal to access material relating to James J. Hill and his family. This work will be completed in 2010. In the meantime, limited access to the papers is available at the History Center library in Saint Paul.

Jennifer Jones, Head of Collections

Learn More:

Individual Beliefs, Communities of Faith

By: admin | What's New | October 31, 2008

To compliment the Vatican Splendors exhibit, come see a new display of material from the MHS collection in the Library Lobby. Individual Beliefs, Communities of Faith highlights Protestant churches, Judaism, Native American spirituality, and the faiths of Minnesota's most recent immigrants. Take a look…you can’t miss the pulpit chair! This will be on view until late December.



Boys' Choir, St. Clement's Church, Saint Paul

Boys' Choir, St. Clement's Church, Saint Paul

Pages