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Archive for February, 2008

Bishop Whipple Collection of American Indian Art

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Senior Curator Marcia Anderson gives a brief overview of the new exhibit Selections from the Bishop Whipple Collection of American Indian Art, now on view at the Minnesota History Center. This podcast includes biographical information about Bishop Whipple as well as a closer look at a few pieces from his fabulous collection. (6 min. / 3.64 MB)

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I-35W Bridge Mile Marker Sign

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Mile marker sign from I-35W bridge

The Minnesota Historical Society’s primary collecting mission is to document people and events from the past. It is rare for us to collect present-day items because, without the benefit of hindsight, it is difficult to identify significant objects and events. The collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River on August 1, 2007, was an important exception.

In the days after the disaster, MHS curators discussed how best to document it in the Society’s collection. Steel bridge girders are impressive, but they are difficult to move, exhibit and store, so we opted instead for smaller pieces. Road signs seemed an obvious choice, and a sign clearly connected to the bridge would be better still. The Minnesota Department of Transportation recommended a mile marker sign, and in October the Society took possession of the sign for mile 18.4, which stood on the northbound lane at the time of the collapse.

From a curator’s perspective, the sign is an ideal artifact from the tragedy. It is quickly recognizable to viewers, is branded with the I-35W identification shield, and is directly connected to the bridge (the I-35W bridge stood between miles 18.3 and 18.7).  The sign is just one of several pieces the Society has collected from this event, but it will remain one of the most poignent.

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

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Albert Colgrave, Artist Soldier

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008


One hundred and forty-five years ago, theater and war unexpectedly collided.  Albert Colgrave, a scenic artist for St. Paul theatres, carried his illustration pencils, paints and chalks as a soldier in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.  In April 2006, the Minnesota Historical Society acquired six, singular, carte de visite photographs that show Albert Colgrave as both artist and soldier. In three of the images, the young artist stands with his easel, palette or painted canvas. A fourth image shows the artist in the Federal uniform of the Sixth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. The remaining two images are portraits.  These photographs are an outstanding complement to the Society’s sixty-three, original Colgrave drawings (twenty-four of which are fist-hand views drawn during his participation in the U.S.-Dakota War).

Born in England in 1839, Albert Colgrave immigrated with his father and brother to Columbus, Ohio.  When only 18 years old, he moved in with his brother’s family in St. Paul, Minnesota. Colgrave applied his artistic skills by painting sets for several local theaters.  An advertisement which he placed in a local newspaper boasted that he was capable of producing  “Banners, Transparencies, Flags, Emblems, Decorations, &c. on short notice for Processions, Parades, &c.”

After the United States erupted in civil war, Colgrave joined a group of young men from the printing industry to organize a unit called  “The Young Men’s Guard.” In July 1862, the unit mustered in as Company G of the Sixth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  Rather than being sent to battle the Confederate army, though, Company G was rushed to St. Peter, Minnesota, to assist in quelling the outbreak of hostilities between government troops and Dakota soldiers. Company G participated in the actions at Birch Coulee, Fort Ridgely and finally, Wood Lake and Camp Release. Following the conclusion of hostilities, they moved on to the Lower Sioux Agency, Mankato and lastly, Fort Snelling.  Colgrave sketched scenic views of the people, camps and battles.  Many of these were made in collaboration with photographer, Adrian Ebell, also a soldier participating in the campaign.  Together, their sketches and photographs formed the basis of engravings illustrating Ebell’s 1863 article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, “The Indian Massacres and War of 1862.”


Albert Colgrave did not leave Minnesota when Company G was transferred with the rest of the Sixth Minnesota to the southern theater of war. While on march with his unit, he contracted typhoid fever and, upon reaching Glencoe, Minnesota, died on March 4, 1863.  Colgrave’s remains were carried to St. Paul, where a large funeral was held and his body interred, in Oakland Cemetery. 

In 1981, the Society learned of a cache of Colgrave’s original drawings held by a local resident. In 2006, these cartes de visite were located in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Society was fortunate to acquire both the drawings and photographs.  Together, the two collections preserve part of Minnesota’s social, artistic and military history.  By making them accessible to the public for further research and study, we will enjoy an enhanced understanding of one man’s efforts to document one of the most turbulent episodes in Minnesota’s history.

The drawings and photographs are available at the History Center Library and online at the Society’s Visual Resource Database at http://collections.mnhs.org/visualresources/.  For an in-depth review of Albert Colgrave (from which most of this information was gathered) and Adrian J. Ebell, see Camera and Sketchbook, Witnesses to the Sioux Uprising of 1862, compiled and edited by Alan R. Woolworth and Mary H. Bakeman, Park Genealogical Books, Roseville, MN, 2004.

Diane Adams-Graf, Curator of Sound and Visual Collections

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Keeping Warm: Knits and Heaters Preserved at MHS

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Clockwise from top: knitted hat, wrist warmers, scarf, mittens, dickey, and stockingsHow do you keep warm in a Minnesota winter when freezing is not just the temperature, but the condition you feel whether indoors in a draft or outdoors in the wind? Common sense, long traditions and modern technology combine to provide us means to keep warm until that long awaited spring weather arrives.

What could be more basic to keeping warm than a hand-knitted accessory? The Society’s collection of hand-knitted items includes great examples of beauty and practicality that date from the mid 19th Century to the present. Minnesota’s knitting history includes examples from Northern European immigrants who expected family members to produce knitted items as part of their everyday duties. Thus, among others, we have examples from skilled knitters who have made Swedish wrist warmers, Latvian mittens, and Norwegian stockings. Our collection of helmet liners, chest warmers and hand-knit stockings remind us that patriotic, charitable knitting warms hearts and protects soldiers.

Clockwise from top: insulated seat cushion, vacuum flask, soapstone foot warmer, fuel-operated hand warmer, and electric heaterA younger generation of 21st-Century knitters fuels the popularity of this craft to add their own style. Jayne Cobb, the character from the TV series Firefly, may have worn his ugly hat to honor his mother, but its popularity among fans is just as much about consciously creating the most glaringly offensive color combinations possible. Keeping warm has never been more stylish.

Cozy clothing is only one answer to the problem of keeping warm. Minnesotans have used a number of interesting devices for portable, personal warmth. Soapstone hand and foot warmers were early solutions. Once heated in an oven or in front of a fire, a stone could be wrapped in a mitten or placed in a pocket to provide radiant heat for a half hour. Fuel-operated hand warmers lasted longer – and lit cigarettes to boot – but were bulkier. Modern chemical-reaction hand warmers combine lasting heat with minimal size.

Portable kerosene heaters provided warmth for everyone in the room, but required open flames and liquid fuel. Electric heaters eliminated the fire and fuel, but required a nearby outlet. Seat cushions retailed under names like “Hot Seat” were said to work like magic. In fact there was a bit of illusion involved: the foam pellets inside reflected the user’s body heat rather than producing warmth of their own. Other devices added heat inside the body. What could be better, for example, than a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee on a bitter winter day? The Society’s collection includes an early brass vacuum flask, complete with cork stopper, from 1909, as well as the stainless steel and plastic bottle explorer Ann Bancroft used on her journey across Antarctica in 2000-2001.

The Minnesota Historical Society preserves a number of knitted clothing articles and personal heaters. The items in these photos are some of our favorite warmth-providing and chill-chasing objects from the Society’s collection.

Linda McShannock, Objects Curator

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

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