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Dan Murphy’s Les Paul Goldtop Guitar

Posted byLori Williamson on 20 Nov 2013 | Tagged as: What's New

“It was really a home spun band with very humble beginnings”.  That’s how former Soul Asylum lead guitarist Dan Murphy described his Minneapolis-based band, which rose to superstardom in 1992 with their hit single “Runaway Train”.  A native of Duluth, Murphy co-founded the group in 1981 with Karl Mueller and Dave Pirner as a trio under the name Loud Fast Rules, playing in garages, at parties, and in local clubs including First Avenue.  With the addition of Pat Morley on drums, the band changed its name to Soul Asylum in 1984 and began recording albums for the independent record label Twin/Tone Records. Grant Young replaced Morley on drums shortly after their debut album, Say What you Will, and for the next nine years the band played hundreds of concerts across the United States and Europe, building a following of fans and climbing the college radio charts.  After releasing a string of tepidly-received albums under the A&M label, the band signed with Columbia Records in 1992 and released Grave Dancers Union to critical and popular acclaim. The album’s success catapulted Soul Asylum to international celebrity and assured their reputation for the next twenty years as one of the world’s most renowned independent rock bands.

Purchased in the mid 1980’s at Benedict’s Music Store in Minneapolis, Murphy used this Gibson Les Paul guitar on every Soul Asylum album, starting with 1988’s Hang Time, until his departure from the band in 2012.  Murphy also logged hundreds of performances on the guitar as a member of Soul Asylum and the supergroup Golden Smog, including appearances at President Bill Clinton’s first inaugural ball, the MTV Music Awards, “Saturday Night Live”, the “David Letterman Show”, and the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno”.  The guitar joins the Society’s extensive holdings of artifacts and manuscript materials which document both the storied legacy of Soul Asylum and Dan Murphy’s celebrated achievements as a Minnesota musician.

Adam Scher, Senior Curator

Photo by Daniel Schwen.

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New Library Exhibit – Dry Times: Temperance, Prohibition, and Gangsters in Minnesota, 1900 – 1933

Posted byLori Williamson on 15 Oct 2013 | Tagged as: What's New

In anticipation of the opening November 9 of American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, we put together some material in the Library Lobby to showcase the Minnesota angle and whet visitors’ appetite for more!

Minnesota played a major role in Prohibition, the banning of alcohol in the United States from 1920 – 1933 made possible by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.  The Temperance Movement (supporters of making liquor illegal) had been active here since the 1880s, but it was the National Prohibition Act (also known as the Volstead Act) championed by Minnesota Congressman Andrew Volstead that made the Amendment reality.

Liquor, of course, did not go away, just underground. A brisk illegal trade in alcohol could be found nationwide, but it was to Saint Paul the gangsters would come to either vacation or “let things cool off.” An arrangement with the Saint Paul Police made the city a haven for criminals. As long as bribes were paid and crime was not committed in the city, Saint Paul Police agreed to look the other way. While this made for some interesting visitors, this arrangement did not last long.

Come take a look at these amazing pieces from that time, showing all sides in the great national debate that came to a largely joyous end in 1933.

This exhibit is open the same hours as the Library.

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Matthew Marvin’s Civil War diary, visualized

Posted byLizzie Ehrenhalt on 02 Oct 2013 | Tagged as: What's New

The diaries kept by Civil War soldiers make for gripping reading.  They’re full of the sights and sounds of military life in the 1860s, from routine dress parades and picket duty to dramatic battles like Gettysburg and Antietam.  But while the content of these accounts is priceless, it’s sometimes hard for the average person to access.  Soldiers’ handwriting is messy; their grammar and spelling are inconsistent; and the words they use are unfamiliar.  Sifting through all of a diary’s entries in search of recurring themes can exhaust even the most dedicated reader.

With this in mind, a team of staff in the Collections Department is exploring creative ways to distill and display the content contained within historic manuscripts.  They hope to determine whether data visualization–the practice of transforming data sets into interactive graphs and pictures–can be used to make primary sources more accessible.  Funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, their project will produce three visualizations of a diary written by Matthew Marvin, a farmer from Winona, Minnesota who served in the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry between 1861 and 1864.

The first of the visualizations, created with the web-based presentation tool Prezi, is now available to the public.  For the best viewing experience, be sure to open the Prezi in full-screen mode. To do this, click on the screen enlarger icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the presentation tool bar.  You can move backwards and forwards through the Prezi by clicking on the arrows that appear at bottom-center of this tool bar.

Enjoy the visualization, and be sure to record your observations on the Prezi itself.  The project team welcomes your feedback.

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Coya Knutson’s Accordion

Posted byLori Williamson on 18 Sep 2013 | Tagged as: What's New

Cornelia “Coya” Knutson (1912-1996) dreamed of being an opera singer.  After graduating from Concordia College in 1934, the North Dakota native set out for New York City to study piano and voice at the prestigious Julliard School.  Regrettably, an operatic career was not in the cards but Coya would later apply her musical talents to succeed in an unrelated yet equally competitive vocation – politics.    She was helping her husband Andy manage a hotel and cafe in Oklee, Minnesota during the early 1940’s when the political bug bit her.  With accordion in hand she hit the campaign trail, singing her way across the state in a vivacious soprano. Inspired by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Coya became a staunch supporter of agricultural reform and won the hearts and votes of Minnesota’s rural communities.

After serving on the Red Lake County Board and in the Minnesota House of Representatives, the former music teacher and Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate stunned the state’s political establishment in 1954 by beating twelve-year incumbent Harold Hagen for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Coya Knutson was now the first woman from Minnesota elected to Congress, and Washington was soon to become equally astounded by her drive and commitment.   Despite her lack of seniority, Coya won a seat on the coveted House Agriculture Committee, initiated the first federal appropriations for cystic fibrosis research, introduced the first bill for the income tax check-off to fund Presidential election campaigns, and wrote the first federal student loan program.

But Knutson’s prospects for a long career in Congress were derailed in 1958 when husband Andy made a public plea for Coya to quit politics and return to Minnesota.  In a time when a woman’s place was in the home, not in the House of Representatives, Andy’s appeal struck a resonant chord with voters and toppled Coya’s bid for re-election. Coya Knutson never held elected office again, despite comeback attempts in 1960 and 1977, but her determination, dedication to service, and personal charm firmly established her as an iconic figure in Minnesota political history.

Adam Scher, Senior Curator


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New Oral History Page Available – Voices of Minnesota

Posted byLori Williamson on 20 Aug 2013 | Tagged as: What's New



The Minnesota Historical Society is pleased to announce that it now has the largest digitally available Oral History collection in the country – and possibly the world!

The collection had previously only been available on tape cassette or as paper transcriptions. Through years of digitization and cataloging Voices of Minnesota is the new online portal to the more than 1,300 Oral History interviews in our collection. You can search for specific oral history interviews through Collections Online or by subject matter on Voices of Minnesota.

Projects available online range from World War II to recent immigrants, politics, art, and much more.

Keep checking back – more Oral History projects and interviews are being added all the time!

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History is Now! Celebrating Marriage Equality

Posted byLori Williamson on 01 Aug 2013 | Tagged as: What's New

The Minnesota Historical Society is looking to document select current events through collecting digital images, and we need your help.

The Society wants to document the historic recognition of equality for all by collecting digital photos of same-sex weddings held during the month of August, 2013. Our goal is to collect 100 great photos during this time of couples state-wide who are now able to get married.

Please see this page to learn more about this project and specifics to submit.

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New Library Exhibit – The Golden Age of Rail Travel

Posted byLori Williamson on 10 Jul 2013 | Tagged as: What's New

Dining aboard the North Coast Limited, Northern Pacific Railway, 1934.



Come see the new exhibit in the Library Lobby on the Golden Age of Rail Travel, 1880 – 1950. The exhibit highlights a fabulous new donation to the collection from Steve Pattison and family of Great Northern Railway china and silver. It also includes menus and tourism promotion materials from our wonderful railroad archival collections. Visit a time when transportation was so much more civilized!

Glory of the West Pattern, 1940-1957. Donation by Steve Pattison and Family.










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Quillwork Cuffs by Dallas Goldtooth

Posted byLori Williamson on 03 Jun 2013 | Tagged as: What's New

2013_41_2.jpgUnique to North America, porcupine quillwork is an art form used by Indigenous peoples that have traditionally resided in the porcupine’s natural habitat – from coast to coast in the northern United States and Canada.

With tendrils stretching back over centuries, quillwork was the primary decorative art form used for embellishing rawhide and tanned hide items prior to the introduction of glass beads of European manufacture. Many Dakota and Lakota people have oral traditions which explain how quilling was brought to them by Double Woman (or Double Face Woman). The earliest extant examples of quillwork are found in Canada and are said to date to the 6th century.

In their natural state, workable porcupine quills are usually pale with black tips. Historically, color was added through the use of dyes made from plant and animal materials. By the 19th century, commercial dyes became readily available and greatly expanded the possibilities for new designs and color combinations. Historic quillwork from the plains, much like painting and beadwork, is often characterized by geometric patterns – concentric circles and rosettes, as well as other geometric shapes, were commonly found on panels adorning men’s shirts.

2013_41_1.jpgTraditionally practiced by women, today many men are also contributing to the revival of the quillwork art form.   Through working with knowledgeable practitioners and relatives (and sometimes by studying museum collections), today quillwork artists are revitalizing the practice; it is again becoming a vibrant and living art form.

Quillwork in the Minnesota Historical Society Native American Collections is robust, with examples of historic moccasins, pipe bags, men’s shirts, pipe stems, armbands, dresses, ornaments, dolls, gloves, jackets, tobacco pouches and more attributed to Dakota makers, as well as birchbark tourist trade items made by Ojibwe makers.

In addition to our historic collections, there are also quillwork pieces created by contemporary artists. Among them is a cradleboard done by Hope Two Hearts and Galen Drapeau (Isanti and Ihanktowan Dakota, respectively), circa 1980. An image of this cradleboard, which won best traditional art at the Sante Fe Indian Market, was featured in promotional materials for Hope and Galen’s business, the Elk’s Camp Society.
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Surrounded by the art form for most of his life, Dallas Goldtooth, Hope’s son, has himself been creating contemporary work for over a decade. Recently, the MHS Collections Department had the opportunity to purchase a pair of cuffs from the artist, seen here.

These will be on view in the Recent Acquisitions show at the  James J. Hill House until the end of June.

Ben Gessner
Collections Associate, American Indian and Fine Art Collections

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Recent Acquisitions Show at the James J. Hill House

Posted byLori Williamson on 26 Apr 2013 | Tagged as: What's New

Our mission at the Minnesota Historical Society is straightforward—to preserve, share, and connect our history with Minnesotans and others both today and into the future. The organization does that in many ways: through our exhibitions, Library, historic sites, publications, and educational activities. Our permanent collection is at the core of everything we do at MHS.

With the goal of documenting the history of Minnesota and to tell the story of the people who call it home, each year the Collections department acquires thousands of items for its permanent collection.

We put together this current exhibit at the James J. Hill House to demonstrate the range of our collections.  Selected by Collection curators and staff, nearly all of the items in this exhibition were acquired in the last two years. Together, they demonstrate the depth and breadth of our collecting activities. From a 4,000 year-old prehistoric tool found in a northern suburban city park to campaign buttons for the latest Minnesotans to run for president, we aim to provide insight into the cultural, political, and social history of the state.

To see the exhibit, please visit the James J. Hill House. The show will be up until June 17, 2013.

To learn more about our collections, visit us at www.mnhs.org/collectionsupclose.

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Acquired! 1850 Edward D. Neill letter describing the Minnesota Territory

Posted byLori Williamson on 15 Mar 2013 | Tagged as: What's New

In February of 2013, the Minnesota Historical Society’s Manuscripts Collections acquired this letter written on February 23, 1850 in St. Paul by Presbyterian Minister, Edward Duffield Neill. Addressed to a Home Missionary Society colleague out East, the letter provides a detailed account of Neill’s missionary work in St. Paul, as well as his impressions regarding the changing landscape in the surrounding Territory.

Neill recounts his early work as a Presbyterian Minister in the Minnesota Territory but first and foremost, the eight-page manuscript gives a brief statistical analysis of Neill’s work over the past 10 months. He reports his involvement in building the First Presbyterian Church in St. Paul (Dec. 1849), his financial contributions to the Home Missionary Society’s coffers ($45.00 to date), and the increase in those who “…worship in accordance with the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian denominations” (approximately 900). He goes on to describe the pre-existing Catholic and Protestant denominations, the former currently being housed in a “rude log chapel”.

The letter also describes Neill’s impression of St. Paul upon his arrival in 1849. He states, “I landed at St. Paul in April, 1849. It was then a village of 300 inhabitants, mostly illiterate French Canadians attached to the Church of Rome.” Being a man of the church, he did however attempt to lighten the blow, stating that the current state of the Territory proves there have since been “…great changes and those in the right direction.”

Neill’s interests crossed well beyond his early work as a Minister, showing an inclination towards matters of business, politics, and governance. He is delighted by the establishment of several new schools and quite impressed by the Territorial Government’s incorporation of a Library Association.  Neill believes in five years time, “…there will be direct or speedy communications between St. Anthony Falls and New York City via Lake Superior, and there will be a call for at least five times as many laborers.”

Neill’s predictions for the future were not always so bright, however. In a passage foretelling of impending events, Neill states, “Four-Fifths of the Territory is in Indian Country, the abode of the warlike Ojibwa, the wild Dakota and the discontented Winnebago. Negotiations however are going on, which will shortly induce the Dakota to dispose of the lands of his ancient ancestors and to commence his painful Exodus towards the setting sun.”

Edward D. Neill, a native Philadelphian, came to the Minnesota Territory in 1849 as a Presbyterian Minister under the auspices of the Home Missionary Society. At the time this letter was written, Neill was a frontier minister but he is also known as a prolific author, Civil War Chaplain to the 1st Minnesota infantry, Secretary to Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, as well as a past President of Macalester College.

This spectacular piece of Minnesota history complements the Society’s collection of the Edward D. Neill and family papers, as well as the Minnesota portion of the American Home Missionary Society records, available on microfilm.

See whole letter: Neill letter 1850

Shelby Edwards, Manuscripts Collections Assistant

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