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Archive for May, 2008

‘Thank God and FDR’: New Deal Art from Minnesota, Selections from the Ah-Gwah-Ching Archive

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008


An exhibition of paintings, prints, and sculptures from the 1930s and 1940s by Minnesota artists is on view at the James J. Hill House through November 2, 2008. Please visit the exhibit website for more details and to see examples.

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Sesquicentennial Display

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008


Now on view in the Library Lobby is Founding Documents of Our State: Minnesota at 150 Years. Highlights include Minnesota’s two (count them, two) original Constitutions; a territorial legislator’s desk from 1853 (shown above); a map from 1857 (also above); Seth Eastman’s design for the territorial seal; and an original newspaper from when statehood was declared. This will be up until June 23, 2008.

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“Motherwort” Quilt

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008


Quilting is a $4 billion dollar industry, as reported by the director of the Houston Quilt Festival in a recent newscast. Interest in quilting was revived in the early 1970s along with other forms of handwork. Today quilters in their enthusiasm demonstrate their interest in both traditional and experimental quilting. “Motherwort” is a contemporary quilt by a Minnesota quilter recently added to the permanent collection.It is an abstracted floral image with rich color in the designer’s choice of printed cottons and decorative machine stitching.  

The quilter, Clare Degerness of Moorhead, Minnesota, notes: “I approach quilt making from both a construction background and a life long interest in art. Both aspects of my quilt art are important – original, creative and precise construction. Although I began quilt making with traditional patterns and techniques, my own creativity has stretched to include original designs, non-traditional fabrics, and construction techniques never taught in Home Economics…. My work goes beyond my own space into public places where, hopefully it educates and inspires.” (Quote from Proverbial Challenge website.)

Linda McShannock, Curator

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Pontifications and books 11, 12, and 13

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Pat’s Pontification # 1: If you are a Minnesota writer who makes the cover of Time magazine (for your writing, Jesse, for your writing), you have to be on the 150 Best Books list. If Time confers two covers on you, you get two books on the list.time-lewis.jpgtime-lewis-2.jpgtime-garrison.jpg

So let’s add three books using this foolproof method of choosing Minnesota’s best books.

Sinclair Lewis. Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott. New York: 1920.
Sinclair Lewis. Babbitt. New Yor
k: 1922.
Garrison Keillor. Lake Wobegon Days. New York: 1985.

Lewis is the 600-pound gorilla of Minnesota literature. Try as you might to ignore him, he is going to have to be dealt with. And for good reason! He is still relevant and still a good read, which is not something you can say about most 88-year-old American literature. If you read Lewis in school I would encourage you to reread him. Like Huck Finn, these books change significantly each decade of your life. Main Street was taught as a novel about the small mindedness of small towns but it is, perhaps more importantly, the first feminist novel. Carol asks, in chapter 16, “What is it we want – and need? … I think perhaps we want a more conscious life. We’re tired of drudging and sleeping and dying. We’re tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists.”

My only difficulty here was whether to list Lewis’s canonical works or my favorites. Personally I love Lewis’s worst book, Mantrap, where an effete Eastern lawyer goes to the north woods for adventure that ends in a canoe chase through a burning forest. Fabulous! I also love It Can’t Happen Here, Lewis’s most political novel about fascism coming to America. But then there is Pat’s Pontification #2: when Hollywood thinks you are culturally iconic enough to make your Minnesota novel into a film three times, as is the case for Babbitt, your book automatically makes this list.

Just down the road [15.21 miles to be exact] from Gopher Prairie is, of course, Lake Wobegone. With a deft and lighter hand Keillor updates Lewis’s cultural criticism and re-presents Minnesota to the world. Touted by Time as the new Mark Twain, I think of Keillor as the new Sinclair Lewis.

Please allow me one more pontification while I’m on a roll. PP#3: When a book spawns published parodies, it is a good indication that the author has struck a significant nerve and the book should be considered for the Best 150 list. Come into the MHS library and read parodies of all three of these titles. They are Ptomaine Street; The Triumph of the Nut, a 1923 book containing a parody of Babbitt; and Fascist Home Companion.


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Northern Exposure

Monday, May 12th, 2008


Last Friday evening WTIP http://www.wtip.org/  in Grand Marais, Minnesota interviewed me about the Best 150 Minnesota Books blog. It was great fun and made me long for a visit north. Two things came up in the interview that might be worth mentioning. First, they asked me about the wiki that I started, to identify fictitious Minnesota towns and the real towns on which they are based. http://pseudonymousminnesota.pbwiki.com/. If you are interested in Minnesota fiction this may amuse you, but more importantly I need your help identifying these Minnesota places. Second, host Ann Possis claimed that Canoeing with the Cree by Eric Sevareid was her favorite book. How can you not love a woman who appreciates such a guys-growing-up-on-an-outdoor-adventure book? Thanks Ann.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

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RetroRama – A Celebration of ’50s Suburbia

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Although RetroRama is over, you can still appreciate our trip into the basement at the History Center to examine and pull items from the MHS Collection that speak to the culture and fashion of the 1950s. We documented what we found and thought we’d share it with you…enjoy!

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icon for podpress  RetroRama - A Celebration of 50s Suburbia [4:24m]: Download (2889)

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Numbers 8, 9, and 10

Friday, May 9th, 2008


Natural History is destiny. In Minnesota anyway. Hell, if it weren’t for the beaver the only language you could hear around here would be Dakota. The great outdoors and the environment are crucial to our identity as Minnesotans, as many books on the 150 list will eventually attest. We care about our surroundings. We keep phenological journals to remember when the ice went out and when the first foolish robins show up in our back yards and we keep it to ourselves when we find a patch of morels. Fortunately for us, scientists have been describing the flora and fauna of this state for 150 years and surely will never be done. Let’s get started with three of the “best” books in this field.


Thomas S. Roberts. The Birds of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1932. gnawers-res.jpg

C. L. Herrick. Mammals of Minnesota: A Scientific and Popular Account… Minneapolis: Harrison and Smith, State Printers, 1892.

Conway MacMillan. Minnesota Plant Life. Saint Paul: Geological and Natural History Survey, 1899.

In my opening post for this blog I was only slightly joking about Nachtrieb’s The Leeches of Minnesota being one of the 150 best Minnesota books. It is more beautiful than The Mosquitoes of Minnesota by William Owen and not as compelling as Washburn’s The Hymenoptera of Minnesota. Roberts’ two-volume work, however, is the king of these natural histories. See this glowing review of Roberts in the July 1932 issue of “Auk” . The Birds of Minnesota has gorgeous illustrations by Allan Brooks, F. Lee Jaques [of whom we will hear more later], Walter Breckenridge, Walter Alois Weber, and even Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Compulsive collectors will need to own several copies of Birds. There is a signed, limited, ¾ leather edition and several updated editions. Like all of these books, Roberts provides a snapshot in time of the state’s environment. It is surprising to see what birds are no longer native to this area for example, or to think about unlisted species that have now come to exploit a Minnesota habitat. Herrick’s early work on mammals is wonderful for its very funky illustrations, although educators today prefer Evan B. Hazard’s 1982 Mammals of Minnesota with its beautiful illustrations by Nan Kane. Finally, MacMillan is one of those books you would have to take if you were banished from the state. You can almost smell the various environments he describes. plant-life-res.jpg

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Numbers 6 and 7

Thursday, May 1st, 2008


In an effort to mix it up a bit here, I’m going to suggest two of Minnesota’s best 150 books that I am betting you have never seen. The books also address one of my very, very few pet peeves. The Twin Cities support a vibrant and creative book arts community. Thanks are due, in large part, to the efforts of Jim Sitter and civic visionaries such as Governor Elmer Andersen and Jay Cowles, who helped create the Minnesota Center for Book Arts twenty-five years ago. My peeve is that too many people believe that the birth of MCBA was the beginning of this important aspect of local culture. In fact, Minnesota has a long and rich history of fine presses making beautiful books.  As is often the case in history, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. We will write, discuss, and list more fine press books in upcoming posts but for now…

Arthur Upson. Octaves in an Oxford Garden. Minneapolis: E. D. Brooks, 1902.

Richard Realf. A Fragment of the Poem Symbolism. Minneapolis: Chemith Press, 1906.

The early Twentieth Century was a time of literary foment in Minnesota. Edmund Brooks and his rare bookstore were at the center of this scene, along with William C. Edgar and his literary magazine “The Bellman.” Brooks served as patron for Arthur Upson, who wrote poetry in the morning and cataloged rare books for Brooks in the afternoon. Tragically, Upson died very young [probably a suicide], drowning in Lake Bemidji. Mary Moulton Cheney was also part of this cultural growth spurt. She worked with Upson and decorated his 1904 book, The City. Her Chemith Press book, listed above, is a good example of her exquisite work. Cheney was a designer, a member of the Handicraft Guild, and head of what became the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.  For more on this era I suggest reading the 1945 U of M Press book Of Brooks and Books by Lee Grove.   As a reminder, all of these books and “The Bellman” are available for your perusal in the MHS library.  Shown below are both colophons, which should be one of the first things you look at in a fine press book, as they frequently give details about how and who put the book together. 

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian


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