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Archive for 2007

Collections Tours

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Tour of the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections storageLinda McShannock, Costume and Textile Curator, provided a behind-the-scenes view to the Minnesota Needlework Guild in October 2005. Participants from their needlepoint study group toured the History Center’s storage area for costume and textiles and viewed 19th and 20th century examples of needlework in the Society’s permanent collections.

Specialized group tours with curators are available for a fee. Arrangements are made through individual curators. Contact Lori Williamson at 651-296-9984 for further information.


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Munsingwear Victory Promotion Bra & Girdle Set

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Munsingwear Victory Promotion Bra and Girdle SetThis cotton bra and girdle with a stars-and-stripes motif was not marketed but used as a gimmick to support the war effort and promote Munsingwear’s wartime underwear sales.

The company, headquartered in Minneapolis, designed and manufactured a wide variety of undergarments for men, women and children. This collection documents the availability and use of a variety of fabrics–silk, lace, synthetics and rubber–in the underwear industry from the 1880s to the 1980s.


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U.S.S. Ward Model

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

U.S.S. Ward Model

On the morning of December 7, 1941, this 1,247-ton destroyer was patrolling the Hawaiian waters near Pearl Harbor. On board were 85 reserve officers and enlisted men from the 47th Division stationed at the Naval Training Center in St. Paul. That morning the Ward encountered a Japanese midget submarine near the harbor entrance, attacked and sank it, thus firing the first shots of the Pacific War a few hours before the Japanese air attack.

On the morning of December 7, 1944, three years to the day after her Number Three Gun fired the opening shots of the war, Japanese aircraft attacked the Ward. Severely damaged, the crew abandoned ship and the vessel was sunk by gunfire from an adjacent U.S. destroyer.

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Pottery

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Grouping of pottery objectsArtists have long brought the joy of art to everyday life through the application of their creative force to Minnesota’s material culture. We have a rich craft heritage and generations of Minnesotans have found pleasure in the use of functional and beautiful objects that provide sensory experiences and add vigor to everyday life. The Minnesota Historical Society has been collecting contemporary fine crafts for about 25 years and our region is recognized nationally particularly for the quality, creativity and influence of its ceramic artists. The six clay objects illustrated here are in the Society’s collections and were acquired between 1988 and 2005.


Object Identification

From top left and moving clockwise:

  • Ceramic vase, Kirk Freeman. 2002 MCF Purchase Award. 2002.170.2.
  • Raku ceramic vase, Richard Gruchalla and Carrin Rosetti. 1993 MCF Purchase
    Award. 1993.207.1.
  • Porcelain platter, Chris Holmquist, 1988. 1988.213.1.
  • Ceramic jar with cover, Joe Christensen and Judith Ryan Reiling, 2001.
    TD133.1.2001.
  • Stoneware platter, Peder Hegland, 1990. 1990.339.1.
  • Carved porcelain vessel, Becky Lloyd, 2005. TD005.1.2005.
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Department 56 Ice Palace Model

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Image of Department 56 Ice Palace ModelEstablished in 1886, the St. Paul Winter Carnival remains one of Minnesota’s most enduring seasonal celebrations. Perhaps the most renowned symbol of the festival is the Ice Palace, an ornate edifice made of ice from Minnesota lakes. Over the years, the image of the Ice Palace has been applied to everything from buttons to advertising cards, providing a wealth of memorabilia for Winter Carnival collectors.

In 1995, acclaimed Minnesota giftware manufacturer Department 56 introduced the “Snow Carnival Ice Palace” as part of their line of fine quality collectibles. In keeping with company tradition, the model was made for a limited time and then retired from production to enhance its rarity.

The Minnesota Historical Society maintains a rich and diverse collection related to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival dating from the late 19th century to the present. The collection includes clothing and uniforms, medallions and buttons, musical instruments, flags and banners, plaques, commemoratives, film footage, posters, and photographs. These items document the evolution of the festival and its royalty and clubs, as well as the participation of Saint Paul businesses and organizations.

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Charles Bornarth’s Civil War Sword

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Bornarth's sword and scabbard
A native of Prussia, Charles Bornarth settled in Minnesota in 1857. In 1862, he left the family farm in Sibley County to join the army. Charles rose to the rank of lieutenant with Company “H” of the Seventh Minnesota Volunteer Infantry and fought against Dakota Indians at the Battle of Wood Lake in September 1862. In 1864 he was discharged from the Seventh Minnesota and joined the 67th United States Colored Infantry as a 2nd lieutenant.

Plagued by illness throughout his military career, Charles spent the remainder of his service on detached duty in Louisiana. After the war, he dabbled in a variety of occupations including business, teaching, and civil engineering. Charles died in Shakopee in 1902 at the age of 72.

This sword, donated through the generosity of the Bornarth family, is a valued addition to the Society’s Civil War collections. The Minnesota Historical Society preserves nearly 7,000 items relating to the Civil War and Dakota Conflict including letters, diaries, photographs, uniforms and equipment. The collections represent all branches of service and include items from both Union and Confederate armies. Many of the artifacts, like the Bornarth sword, are associated with an identified soldier and tell a unique story.

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MHS Acquires Portrait of Minnesota’s Premier Pioneer Photographer

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Joel E. WhitneyThe Minnesota Historical Society recently made an important acquisition that underscores the significance of early photography in the state. A pre-Civil War daguerreian portrait of Minnesota photographer Joel E. Whitney and five carte de visite paper photographs of Whitney (including a stunning collage of Whitney’s hands, feet and facial self portrait), his wife and their family comprise the acquisition.Joel E. Whitney is Minnesota’s premier pioneer photographer. Trained in the art of “capturing mirror likenesses” during the earliest days of photography, Whitney operated, first as a daguerreian and subsequently a wet plate photographer, in St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1850-1871. He is nationally recognized as one of America’s foremost pioneer photographic artists.

The Society’s collection holds more than 800 of Whitney’s images, including seven daguerreotypes, taken during the 1850s of St. Anthony Falls, St. Paul and residents. These are rare views of Minnesota’s pre-Civil War scenes and citizens.

Daguerreotypes were mirror-like, one-of-a-kind portraits (no negative was involved) that first appeared in 1839 and peaked in popularity by 1858. To have a “daguerreian portrait” of Minnesota’s most prolific and famous photographer is a benchmark contribution to the iconographic history of the state. This acquisition completes a singular collection of Whitney’s pioneering work held by the Minnesota Historical Society. It was secured with private funds from the Lila J. Goff Acquisitions Endowment, the Josephine Harper Darling Estate and the Virginia Moe Endowment Fund. Tentative plans are underway to display this daguerreian portrait of Whitney and selections of his work from the Society’s collection, in 2008.

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Sinclair Lewis’s Mantrap

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Mantrap by Sinclair Lewis

Mantrap is not great literature but since the novel followed Main Street, Babbitt, and Arrowsmith we can forgive the author. In 1926 this romantic story was, however, a perfect fit for Hollywood. Clara Bow, the future “It” girl, was a perfect fit in the role of the seductive former manicurist who finds herself exiled in the wilderness and married to an older he-man.

This photoplay edition was acquired as part of the Library’s effort to document Lewis’s work in Hollywood. Perhaps no American writer saw as much of his work adapted for the movies as Sinclair Lewis. Lewis loved the medium and enjoyed associating with the glamorous personalities of Hollywood. More importantly Lewis’s two dozen films added to his reputation, widened his influence, and became a significant part of his income.

Through the generous gifts of Villaume Industries and the Linsmayer family the MHS library has acquired manuscripts, books, and ephemera that greatly enhance our understanding of this aspect of Sinclair Lewis’s career. The manuscripts include letters requesting the rights to a particular work, contracts, proposals of how to treat the text, and Lewis pitching ideas to the studios in an effort to turn even more of his work into film. Combined with the cheap “photoplay” reprints of Lewis’s novels and the publicity campaign material put out by the studios, these recent acquisitions help to illuminate the business of both Hollywood and of a popular American writer.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

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Alexander G. Huggins Diary and Huggins Family Photographs

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

The Minnesota Historical Society has recently acquired a collection of materials so exceedingly rare that one wonders how they survived and where they have been. The collection, created from the 1830s to the 1860s by missionary Alexander Huggins and his family, was recently discovered in an estate sale in Palo Alto, California.

Huggins DiaryIn 1835, Thomas S. Williamson and Alexander G. Huggins organized the Dakota mission at Lac qui Parle on the Minnesota River. This was west of and well beyond “the thin fringe of white settlement” around Fort Snelling. Until now it was not known that Huggins kept a diary of his daily life. This diary offers an extraordinary glimpse into lives of the Dakota in this area and is therefore a potential treasure trove for scholars. The diary deals with Dakota customs, such as making “holes” in children’s ears and Huggins’s invitation to a “dog feast.” There is a great deal of information on the interactive economy between the missionaries and the Dakota: Huggins writes of buying deerskins, trading bread and butter for ducks, and exchanging shirts for buffalo tongue. The Dakota language was crucial to Huggins’s work. He discusses meeting with Wamdiokiya or Eagle Help, the first Dakota man to learn English, in order to determine the correct spelling of Dakota words, and he writes about preaching in Dakota. There are references to prairie fires, buffalo hunts, and descriptions of Dakota guides and villages, all interspersed with a wonderful cast of Dakota people whose names have not been well known to historians.

For historians of the American West, the most interesting parts of the diary may well be Huggins’s entries narrating two of his travels. The first was a seventeen-day trip from Fort Snelling to Lac qui Parle in 1835. The Huggins family traveled with the family of Dr. Thomas S. Williamson up the Minnesota River, first on the American Fur Company’s Mackinaw boat, then by oxcart from Traverse des Sioux to Joseph Renville’s stockade at the lake. Huggins’s diary also beautifully documents a thirty-day trip across the prairie from Lac qui Parle to Fort Pierre on the “Missourie” in present-day South Dakota. Stephen Riggs accompanied Huggins on this trip and published an account in his book Mary and I…, but his text is far more prosaic.   

A smaller diary kept by Alexander’s son Amos, who was killed during the Dakota War, and an autograph book kept by his daughter Mary are also part of the collection acquired by the MHS. Even more exciting are three carte de visite albums and twelve daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes with images of all of these Presbyterian missionary families. Many images are identified and are entirely new to historians. Scholars are already hoping to identify the others using internal clues.        

The MHS library already holds rich collections supporting the material in this acquisition. We have a collection of papers from the Huggins family, as well as papers of the three other well-known missionary families: the Riggses, Ponds, and Williamsons. Many of these families lost their papers while fleeing the Dakota War in 1862. We also have early material created by the Dakota including letters written to the government and between family members. The acquisition of these new Huggins papers provides a deep and powerful new perspectives on both whites and Dakota people at a time of great change in Minnesota’s history.

Thanks to the many individual donors who made this acquisition possible.

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Presidential Campaign Buttons

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Photo of campaign buttons from the collections of the Minnesota Historical SocietyPresidential elections have marked Minnesota’s civic life for more than century and a half. Documented in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections are some 3,000 election buttons and badges worn to influence friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

Minnesota’s presidential favorite sons include two 1968 candidates, Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey. In 1984 Walter Mondale (with support of his popular wife Joan) ran unsuccessfully against Ronald Reagan. Topping the nation’s list of indefatigables is South St. Paul’s Harold E. Stassen, who campaigned more than a half-dozen times for the Republican nomination. This button dates from his 1948 run for the White House.

Perennial Communist Party candidate Gus Hall from Cherry, Minnesota, ran in four presidential elections: 1972, 1976, 1980, and 1984.


Displayed in this visual panoply are badges and buttons from these contests:

  • William H. Harrison’s successful Whig Party bid in 1840 (light blue
    ribbon);
  • Abraham Lincoln’s campaign of 1860 (very rare double-sided ferrotype
    lapel pin with the reverse showing Lincoln’s running mate, Hannibal Hamlin);
  • Republican Benjamin H. Harrison’s 1888 election (tricolor ribbon);
  • William Jennings Bryan’s Democratic People’s Party bid, probably from
    1900 (hand-colored portrait);
  • William McKinley’s Republican victory in 1896 (endorsed by the Sound
    Money Club of Winona);
  • William McKinley in 1900 (with Theodore Roosevelt as his youthful running
    mate);
  • Woodrow Wilson’s successful 1912 Democratic campaign;
  • Herbert Hoover’s victorious Republican-party bid in 1928 (gold elephant);
  • Republican Alf Landon’s defeat in 1936;
  • Pro- and anti-Franklin Delano Roosevelt efforts, probably in 1940;
  • Richard Nixon’s unsuccessful 1960 run against John F. Kennedy;
  • Barry Goldwater’s Republican loss in 1964 (scientific term AuH20);
  • And the distinctively Minnesotan “Scandinavians for Ronald Reagan” 1984
    victory.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2000 issue of Minnesota History.

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Traveling Smithsonian Exhibit, “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden”

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs