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Ice Fishing at its Finest

Posted byLori Williamson on 09 Feb 2015 | Tagged as: What's New

More MNHS Collections on the Huffington Post! This time, ice fishing.

To see more images like the one below check out our newest post, Ice Fishing Fun!

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Images of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival

Posted byLori Williamson on 28 Jan 2015 | Tagged as: What's New


Once again, our Collections are featured in the Huffington Post, and just in time for the end of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival!

To see more images like the one below check out our newest post, Saint Paul Winter Carnival!

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Common Loon Gunning Decoy by Laurie McNeil

Posted byLori Williamson on 12 Jan 2015 | Tagged as: What's New

Photo: Jeff Smith, Allen & Marshall Auctioneers

“Phenom” is a well-worn idiom in the creative arts, but it’s an apropos expression of Laurie McNeil’s extraordinary talent.  Starting with a sheet-rock knife and no formal training, the Minneapolis native burst onto the scene in 1985 and within a year went from virtual obscurity to international best-in-show winner.  Most of McNeil’s decoys, which take about 500 hours for a life-sized work, are crafted from a block of tupelo, a wood favored by decoy carvers for its softness and buoyancy.  A cardboard template is used to trace an outline onto the wood, which is then cut out with a band saw.   Rotary tools and wood-burning pens are then used to further define the decoy and create fine details like feathers.

Video: Common Loon Decoy from Start to Finish – Less Than Two Minutes (courtesy: Laurie McNeil)

A critical step in the creative process is weighting the figure so it floats – a judging requirement in gunning decoy competition and a necessity for hunting use (a rarity since McNeil’s decoys often sell for thousands of dollars).  This exquisite specimen, McNeil’s first life-size rendition of Minnesota’s state bird, was executed in 1987 and proved an especially challenging figure to self-right.  Opting to forgo a keel, McNeil hollowed the body and head and used lead weights for ballast.  Uncertain of the efficacy of her engineering, McNeil concealed a rueful message inside the bird’s head which reads, “If you are reading this note, something serious has happened to my Loon!” Miraculously, the decoy took to water like the proverbial duck and won best-in-show that year at the prestigious Pacific Southwest Wildlife Arts California Open. McNeil became the first woman to win the open-class competition at that event, a singular honor which garnered the admiration of wildfowl carvers and collectors nationwide.

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Winter One Hundred Years Ago

Posted byLori Williamson on 05 Dec 2014 | Tagged as: What's New


We’ve been asked by The Huffington Post to start blogging on their site. This provides an exciting national platform for Minnesota history!

To see more images like the one below check out our newest post, Winter One Hundred Years Ago 2014-15!

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Jan Kuehnemund’s Vixen guitar

Posted byLori Williamson on 10 Nov 2014 | Tagged as: What's New

A Girl, a Guitar, and a Dream.  It’s a fitting epitaph to Jan Kuehnemund’s remarkable life, which was tragically cut short by cancer in 2013.  The 59-year-old St. Paul native was the founder and lead guitarist for Vixen, the first all-female rock band from the Twin Cities, which rose to international stardom during the glam metal heyday of the 1980’s.  Jan began playing guitar as a teenager and formed her first band, Lemon Pepper, while still in high school. With her dad Carl serving as roadie, Jan and her band mates Laurie Hedlund (drums), Cindy Boettcher (keyboards) and Gayle (Erickson) DeMatoff (bass) played throughout the Twin Cities, including gigs at the Cabooze, Duffy’s and the Union.   As the band honed their chops, they secured a manager and began performing around the country under their new moniker, Vixen.  During the 1970’s Vixen opened for acts such as Styx, Ted Nugent, REO Speedwagon, and Bob Seeger, and in 1979 the girls moved to Los Angeles to strike it big.

By the mid-1980’s Cindy, Laurie, and Gayle had left the band, but Jan continued to pursue her dream with new members Janet Gardner (vocals), Roxy Petrucci (drums) and Glencoe, MN native Share Pedersen (bass). Their 1988 self-titled debut album, Vixen, went gold and was followed in 1990 by the release of Rev it Up and tours with Deep Purple and Kiss.  Vixen disbanded in 1991, but re-formed in 1997 without Kuehnemund.  Jan won a legal battle for the band’s name and revived Vixen in 2001 with new members. With more than 1 million records sold, four songs in Billboard’s Top 100, and six top-ranked videos on MTV during the 1980’s,  Vixen established its legacy as a groundbreaking success in the male-dominated world of heavy metal rock, a feat accomplished in large part due to the vision, talent and perseverance of its guiding spirit, Jan Kuehnemund.


Jan Kuehnemund (left) with Janet Gardner and Share Pedersen at The Town and Country Club in London, 1990. Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns, gettyimages.

Stop by the History Center this week only (through November 23) to see this rock star’s guitars, stage costume, and more. Enjoy!

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Lutefisk or Ludefisk?

Posted byLori Williamson on 24 Oct 2014 | Tagged as: What's New

Whether one calls it lutefisk or ludefisk, whether one smothers it with melted butter or cream sauce, or whether one considers it an epicurean delight or a gelatinous mass of something to be feared, lutefisk holds a special place in the hearts of many Scandinavian-Minnesotans.  With the approaching holidays, food connoisseurs may be interested in knowing more about its history.

The Minnesota Historical Society recently received a collection of records of the Kildall Company, a Minneapolis-based firm that manufactured and distributed lutefisk and related fish products, vegetables and breads.  At one time purportedly the largest wholesaler of such products in the nation, the Kildall Company was founded in 1897 and established plants on the near north side of Minneapolis.  It also invested heavily in the growing and canning of pickles.  The Griffith family continued to run business until about 1954.

The collection contains advertising samples, price lists, correspondence, and other business records documenting the production, sale, and use of its various products.  When cataloged, the records will be available for study or simple enjoyment in the Minnesota Historical Society Library.

The following recipe for Old Style Ludefisk was recommended by the Kildall Company about 1949:

  1. Wash fish in cold water (Ludefisk may be stored in cold water until ready for cooking).
  2. Drop fish in BOILING water that has been well salted. (A cheesecloth bag helps hold the fish together).
  3. Cook to a brisk boiling point.
  4. Drain fish and remove any skin and bones.

Serve with drawn butter or cream sauce (and “for a truly delicious and unusual meal” it can be “accented by lingonberries or cranberries, boiled potatoes and possibly pickled beets and rice custard”).

When cooking any sea food, the most important thing is don’t overcook.

Duane Swanson
Manuscripts Curator


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New Library Resource Available – Military Records from Fold3!

Posted byLori Williamson on 25 Sep 2014 | Tagged as: What's New

Fold3, formerly Footnote, is often considered the premiere tool for online access to military records. The MNHS Library has just started a subscription, so researchers in the Reading Room will have access to the tremendous holdings on military history and service from Library of Congress, National Archives, and other repositories.

This resource is a treasure trove for people doing family history; military history; veterans; researchers; and teachers. Learn more about it here.

The MNHS Library is free and open to the public; see our hours here. We have staff available to help get you started. Come see what you can find!

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Recommendations Required

Posted byLori Williamson on 08 Sep 2014 | Tagged as: What's New

October 4, 1848, then President of the American Fur Company Ramsay Crooks writes from La Pointe Lake Superior:

Na-gwon-ay-bie, Chief of the Mille Lac [sic] Band of Chippewas has uniformly conducted himself with uncommon propriety for an Indian.

With his traders he has proven himself an honest, trustworthy man, while with the agents of the United States he enjoys the reputation of a prudent, sensible, well-disposed Chief, whose good example and discreet counsel have had a salutary effect on the characters of his people—I therefore recommend Na-gwon-a-bie [sic] to the kind consideration of all who esteem public and private worth as a person fully entitled to their confidence and good offices.

The preceding transcription is from a document in a newly acquisitioned collection that gives a glimpse into the complex relationships between Native American and European fur traders in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Crooks letter of recommendation for Chief Negwanebi.

Negwanebi was First Chief of (what was then known as) the Mille Lacs Indians. He served as a tribal representative for the 1825 Treaty of Prairie du Chien Council and was also a signatory on the 1826 Treaty of Fond du Lac and the 1837 Treaty of St. Peters.

Ramsay Crooks (1787-1859) was an early Scottish-Canadian fur trader, who served as General Manager (1817-1834), then President of the American Fur Company (1834-1859). Early 20th century historians describe Crooks as exceptionally gifted in creating positive diplomatic relationships with Native fur traders. {1}

This new acquisition is a signed and sealed letter of recommendation written by Ramsay Crooks for “Na-gwon-ay-bie, Chief of the Mille Lac [sic] Band of Chippewas” (also known as Nayquonabe/Negwanebi or Tallest [Quill] feather). The letter’s value goes beyond its connection to one of the Great Lakes area’s most notable industries. The existence of such a letter begs for deeper consideration of the sort of environment where such a recommendation was necessary. So pervasive were the stereotypes of native peoples in the European ethos that a signed and sealed certificate by a well-respected white trader was considered a valid method of proving trustworthiness.

Before these important pieces of our past could be made available to our researchers, we had to address the 168 years of damage and deterioration that our staff members could repair.

Images of the letter pre-conservation work. Image courtesy of the MNHS Book and Paper Lab.

Extensive conservation work was performed on the Ramsay Crooks letter of recommendation for Chief Na-gwon-ay-bie and related papers. The letter was the oldest document in this collection and was most in need of care. It appears that as the letter deteriorated from age and use, layers of paper and cloth were adhered for support, with further damage caused by the addition of two now rusting metal fasteners.

The cloth backing of the letter shows damage left by a rusted paperclip and a yet to be removed metal fastener in the upper right hand corner. Image courtesy of the MNHS Book and Paper Lab.

Tears were apparent along the folds of the document and the ribbon and seal were frayed and cracked respectively.

Close up showing tears and cracked wax pre-conservation treatment. Image courtesy of the MNHS Book and Paper Lab.

Conservation staff cleaned and removed adhesive and metal fasteners from the document. Creases were removed by relaxing the paper with a moist swab and applying light pressure. Treatments disclosed a previously unseen line of text on the lowest crease of the letter. Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste were used to mend the tears along the edges of the document and the folds. A custom sink mat with cover was made to protect the document’s raised ribbon and wax seal.

Letter of recommendation following conservation treatment. Note the entire line of text uncovered during treatment! Image courtesy of the MNHS Book and Paper Lab.

A more detailed description of the conservation work done for these materials is included in the papers.

Special thanks to Society conservationists Sherelyn Ogden and Jenna Bluhm. The Conservation web page available on the MNHS’s website is a great resource for those interested in learning more about the Society’s conservation practices and how everyone can better preserve and protect their own documents and items. Access to this collection requires the permission of the curator.

Shelby Edwards, Assistant Curator of Manuscripts

{1} J. Ward Ruckman. “Ramsay Crooks and the fur trade of the Northwest.” Minnesota History Vol. 7, no. 1 (Mar. 1926).

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Artists Selected for 2014/15 Native American Artist-in-Residence Program

Posted byLori Williamson on 18 Aug 2014 | Tagged as: What's New


The Minnesota Historical Society has recently awarded three six-month paid residencies to artists Jessica Gokey, Pat Kruse and Gwen Westerman. Each artist works in a traditional media, which together represent many of the major historical art forms of the region: beadwork, birchbark, and textiles (ribbonwork).

These residencies were created to provide opportunities for artists to use collections at MNHS, as well as at other institutions, in order to develop their respective art forms. These residencies, while rooted in historical research, are designed to provide a platform for artists to move their art forward. While in residence, each of these artists will continue to develop research and community outreach plans that delve deeply and broadly into their communities, to gain new knowledge and to share their expertise.

Jessica Gokey, is a beadwork artist who lives in the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) community in Hayward, Wisconsin. She has been beading for more than ten years and shares her knowledge with members of the community by teaching at the LCO Ojibwa Community College. Gokey believes that sharing her “knowledge of traditional Ojibwe beadwork will help preserve the art of beadwork for future generations.” She plans on researching the extensive bandolier bag and other beadwork collections.


Pat Kruse, a birch bark artist who lives in the Mille Lacs community in Minnesota, has been working with birch bark for more than 30 years. Kruse creates birch bark products “to honor the old ways and the ancestors that practiced these ways.” He will research the birch bark collections and continue to build an apprentice relationship with his son, in order to pass on this traditional knowledge.

Gwen Westerman, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is a textile artist who lives in Good Thunder, Minnesota. As a member of the six generations of women in her family who have made quilts, she sees quilts as having not only a utilitarian function but also as containing stories. Westerman has been expanding her textile arts with other traditional art forms to “find new ways to tell our stories.” She plans on researching and revitalizing traditions of Dakota ribbonwork.

The Artists-in-Residence were selected based on the recommendations of a panel consisting of experts in the field of Native American arts and culture. The panel members are Sasha Brown (Santee Dakota), Joe Horse Capture (A’aninin Tribe of Montana) and Scott Shoemaker (Miami Nation).

The Native American Artist-in-Residence program is made possible in part by a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.

Rita Walaszek, Collections Assistant
Ben Gessner, Native American Artist-in-Residence Program Coordinator

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Hudson Bridge Drawing

Posted byLori Williamson on 31 Jul 2014 | Tagged as: What's New

One of the recent additions to the State Archives is a large collection of bridge plans from the Bridge Division of the Department of Transportation (DOT). This set is made up primarily of plans and blueprints for nearly 1,000 bridges from around the state spanning from 1895 to 1973. It also contains two unique pencil drawings, including this one for a bridge crossing the St. Croix River. This drawing shows a proposed plan for a truss bridge (DOT bridge number 5999) that wasn’t actually built, connecting Lakeland, Minnesota and Hudson, Wisconsin, dated October 10, 1945. The drawing has the initials R.W.C. but the full name of the illustrator is not known. This drawing was discovered by one of our volunteers as he went through the collection sheet by sheet and made a complete inventory of it. The other bridge in this collection that has a pencil drawing is bridge number 5895 in Hastings, MN.

This collection is an addition to bridge plans we already hold from the Department of Transportation.

Anjanette Schussler, Government Records Assistant

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