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Archive for January, 2008

Recent Acquisition: WPA Art from Ah-Gwah-Ching

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008


Art is not a treasure in the past or an importation from another
land, but part of the present life of all living and creating peoples.
                                                                     Franklin Roosevelt

Late in 2007, the Minnesota Historical Society became the proud steward of a large collection of art from the Works Project Administration (WPA). The WPA (1935 – 1942) was part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program to put unemployed citizens back to work. In Minnesota, this program employed numerous artists crst-paul-small.JPGeating one of the most prolific and exciting periods in the history of art making in the state.

For nearly 70 years, this collection had remained on location at Ah-Gwah-Ching (meaning “out of doors” in Ojibwe), a state-run medical facility in Walker, MN. Originally opened as a tuberculosis hospital in 1907, the institution is scheduled to close early in 2008. The employees of the hospital and residents of Walker have taken great pride in (and great care of) this collection.

Originally commissioned by the federal government–which still claims title to all WPA material–the Historical Society has been identified as a facility best able to preserve, research and interpret the work from this important era. In an agreement with the General Services Administration, MHS will hold this work in perpetuity.

The Ah-Gwah-Ching archive, as it is now called, consists of more the 160 items including prints, watercolors, oils and woodcarvings by such artists as Bob Brown, Henry Bukowski, Reathel Keppen, Dorothea Lau, Alexander Oja and Bennet Swanson. A selection of this archive will be on view at the James J. Hill House beginning in May 2008.

From top to bottom:
Communications (1936) by Ingrid Edwards
Train Yard (1936) by Sverre Hanssen
Nite in North St. Paul (1941) by Alexander Oja

Brian Szott, Curator of Art

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Picturing Fort Snelling

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Brian Szott, Curator of Art, looks at changing views of Fort Snelling seen through artwork and photography of the 19th and 20th Centuries. (6 min. 46 sec. / 17.5 MB)

Additional images of Fort Snelling can be seen in the Visual Resources Database. More about Fort Snelling artist Seth Eastman can be found under History Topics, and at the exhibit page for Seth Eastman: Artist on the Frontier.

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Pinn Family Dolls

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

The Pinn Family dolls, simple dolls made from common household clothespins, come straight out of the Great Depression and the imagination of a Minnesota designer. Not only do they represent the simplicity and make-do attitude of the era, but they also give us a glimpse of an imagined family growing up in Minnesota. Their names reflect some clever double meanings: father, “Ty Pinn,” mother, “Hattie Pinn,” daughters, “Beauty Pinn,” and “Clo Pinn,” son, “Harry Pinn,” and “Baby Pinn.” This set of dolls was given to a young Wisconsin girl who summered in Forest Lake, Minnesota, and kept them safe in their original boxes. 

Pinn Family dollsThe original Schoenhut Company and its dolls didn’t survive the Depression. Reorganized in 1935, the Otto Schoenhut Company of Philadelphia added Emily Myers’s Pinn Family dolls to its product line and brought Myers, a Minnesota designer, to Philadelphia to teach employees how to paint the features and accessorize the dolls. In the late 1930s, Myers ended her contract with Schoenhut and manufactured the dolls herself from her home in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. 

Emily T. Myers (1886-1971) produced and sold individual collegiate dolls and Pinn Family dolls by mail order and at the Minnesota State Fair through the 1940s.

Linda McShannock, Objects Curator

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WCCO-TV Goes Behind the Scenes at MHS

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

WCCO-TV reporter Jeanette Trompeter recently peeked behind the scenes of the Minnesota Historical Society’s History Center. Trompeter interviewed curators Linda McShannock and Matt Anderson about interesting pieces from the Society’s collection, including a handgun used to wound John Dillinger, a duster worn by a James-Younger Gang member during the Northfield Raid, and pieces of Munsingwear underwear.

See Trompeter’s report here: http://wcco.com/specialreports/minnesota.history.center.2.609055.html

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Camera Ojibwe – The Photos

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Diane Adams-Graf, Curator of Sound & Visual Collections, and Marcia Anderson, Senior Curator, discuss photographs featured in the 2007 exhibit “Camera Ojibwe.”

We Are at Home, the book by Bruce White that inspired “Camera Ojibwe,” is available in the Online Store.

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