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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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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

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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.

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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

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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

The Younger Brothers: After the Attempted Robbery

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | October 13, 2008
Everyone knows the story of the attempted bank robbery in Northfield by the James-Younger gang, when the townspeople rose up to defend their bank and thwarted the infamous would-be robbers. The gang fled the scene and split up; however, the Younger Brothers were captured later near Madelia, Minnesota. Government Records Specialist Charlie Rodgers tells the story of what happened to the brothers after their capture in this podcast.

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Modern American Regionalism

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | October 10, 2008




Often, my favorite things are our most recent acquisition. This is certainly the case this time. These three untitled watercolors by renowned Minnesota artist Mike Lynch (b. 1938) were just acquired in September of this year. Lynch's realist painting style is rooted in American Regionalism of the 1920s and 30s. His subjects include the urban landscapes and small town streets painted at dusk or dawn. Completed in the mid-1980s, two of the paintings capture familiar scenes of St. Paul, and the third depicts the beach in Grand Marais. All three paintings represent Mike Lynch at his absolute best and we are thrilled to include them in Historical Society's collection of more than 6,000 works of art.

This is the second important acquisition of Lynch's work in recent years.  In 2002, Lynch completed a major commission for the Minnesota Percent for Art in Public Places Program. The ten-foot by eighteen-foot painting View of St. Paul from Indian Mounds Park is located in the Stassen Office Building in St. Paul. MHS acquired an archive of more that 50 items that document in detail the artist's step-by-step process of its creation.

Mike Lynch was born in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1938. He studied painting and drawing with Birney Quick at the Grand Marais Art Colony and attended the Minneapolis College of Art. Over the past thirty years, Lynch has exhibited throughout Minnesota, including solo exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and group shows at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, Duluth Art Institute, and Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Lynch has been awarded artist fellowships from the McKnight and Bush Foundations, as well as the Minnesota State Arts Board.  In 2003, Lynch received the McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist Award.

Brian Szott, Curator of Art



The City Beautiful

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | October 9, 2008


Another one of those beautiful "must have" Minnesota books is:
Edward H. Bennett. Plan of Minneapolis: Prepared Under the Direction of the Civic Commission... Edited and Written by Andrew Wright Crawford. Minneapolis: Civic Commission, 1917.

In 1909, Daniel Burnham [chief architect for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and the subject of the 2003 bestseller, The Devil in the White City] and Edward Bennett published their Plan of Chicago. It was dubbed "Paris on the Prairie" by wags who couldn't help but notice the influence of the École des Beaux-Arts where Bennett studied from 1895-1902. Also in 1909, a Civic Commission was formed to discuss a city plan for Minneapolis, consisting of a dozen Minneapolis organizations from the Woman's Club to the Trades and Labor Assembly. They hired Bennett, who as Chicago's chief proponent of The City Beautiful Movement believed that cities could be "White" like the Columbian Exposition and that people would be uplifted through their contact with art and beauty and order.



The author and editor of this work, Crawford, always gets short shrift so let me rectify that. He was a lawyer and art connoisseur who is most often associated with his hometown Philadelphia. Crawford was civically active with a strong interest in city planning and in the development of city parks. His interests made him the perfect choice to author Bennett's Plan of Minneapolis. Crawford's avocational interest in architecture earned him an honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects. For a bit of his prose and the rationale for the plan, let me present a few lines from Chapter 1 "The Coming Metropolis:"

  • Minneapolis is the commercial and officially designated financial capitol of an empire greater in size than Great Brittan, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Switzerland combined.

  • Minneapolis is now a large city. The greater city that the future is so surely and so swiftly bringing must be a more economic, a more convenient, a happier and a more generally beautiful city.

  • City planning is the exercise of municipal imagination. It is the scientific and expert vision of inevitable city growth, and the preparation of plans to provide for that growth. It is municipal prevision, municipal prevention and municipal preparedness. (bloggers note: The 3MP's of planners?)


Ultimately very little of the Plan [of which 1,000 were printed and distributed] could be implemented because, in spite of the emphasis on science and imagination, none of the planners anticipated the most important shaper of 20th century American municipalities: the automobile. Still, it seems to me that they anticipated a refocus on the riverfront by 70 years and had countless other ideas that we might wish had been implemented.



I hate giving this much attention to Minneapolis, so allow me to mention the less grandious but 11 years earlier St. Paul eqivilant, Report of the Capitol Approaches Commission to the Common Council of the City of St. Paul, 1906. This would be another fine addition to a complete Minnesota book collection but at 31 pages we can not nominate it for our list of best books.

I would love to hear from architects, city planners, and the Met Council on our selection of Bennett's work for our greatest Minnesota books list. Does anyone think about the issuses raised by the Plan? Know about this book? Study it? Still look at it from time to time? Click on "Comment" and let us know.

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