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  • Making the Prairie by Hannah King, Curator.

    How do we define the prairie? And how does it define us? At their most basic, prairies are defined as extensive areas of flat or rolling grassland. The open and expansive views of our area were formed by glaciers moving through the area, which also contributed glacial debris like stones and boulders, as well as creating many lakes. The last glacial period ended about 10,000 years ago. As glaciers retreated, melting ice filled in many of the depressions left behind. Rain and snowmelt help replenish these glacial lakes and “prairie potholes.” The glaciers also moved and deposited other materials, which left us with the soils found in Stevens County today. Most of the soil in the area is till, a mixture of materials ranging from fine clay to large boulders. Parts of the county also have lacustrine deposits, which are materials that settled out of glacial lakes. The deposits tend to be sandy and gravelly near where the lakeshore was and have more clay near the middle of the lake. These areas tend to be very flat and level.  Different kinds of prairie are home to a variety of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubbery.

    People followed the glaciers. Rock art and mounds show that the first people arrived in Minnesota at least 5,000 years ago. When European settlers arrived, they found the land inhabited by Dakota and Anishinabe (Ojibwe) peoples. Human habitation had relatively little impact before the arrival of settlers when indiscriminate killing of bison nearly drove the animals to extinction. Around the same time, famers began plowing large fields, which destroyed many acres of prairie. Prairie can be made into one of the most intensive crop producing areas in North America, so very little land was left in its natural state. The availability and fertility of land in Minnesota meant that for decades the main industry was agriculture. Since so much of the land was in constant use, there was not much opportunity to develop large cities and tall buildings, which kept views in Stevens County open even as more people arrived in the area. The landscape, whether agricultural, or built, is still heavily influenced by the prairie that has been replaced.

    Today, many people realize the need for a greater balance between nature and people. Prairie restoration kits, programs, and companies abound. Crop and prairie residue is used as biomass fuel by UMM and the West Central Research and outreach Center. Artists inspired by the prairie share its beauty, perhaps stirring appreciation for the natural landscape in someone new. The openness and richness of the prairie shaped the lives of the first waves of people who came to Minnesota. Later people changed the prairie to suit human needs regardless of nature’s rhythms. Perhaps we are heading toward a time of equilibrium, when people can still make a living off the land while also respecting it.



  • Congratulations, Kate!

    Superior Industries in Morris recently hosted a nine-week Dale Carnegie  course.  The course stressed the Five Drivers of Success which are:  Self-confidence, People skills, Communication Skills, Leadership skills, and Reducing stress and worry.  There were twenty-three participants including our Director, Kate Sauers. Tasha Rohlfs of Fargo, ND was their able leader.

    They held a graduation ceremony at Superior on March 15.  Each participant was required to give a two to three minute presentation.   The participants invited their supervisors to attend and the supervisors actually awarded the certificates.  Ward Voorhees, Chairman of the SCHS Board is seen awarding Kate’s certificate to her.

    The last item on the agenda was having the participants cast secret ballot votes for who they thought should win four additional awards.   The awards were for Highest Award of Achievement, Human Relations Award, Biggest Benefit Award and Business Application Award.  We are proud to say that Kate won the Highest Achievement Award.

    Kate tells us that this course has impacted her personal and work life in an incredibly positive way.  “My biggest benefits are improved communication with my co-workers and more confidence,” added Kate.


  • ***SPECIAL WEEKEND HOURS March 25***

    On Saturday March 25th we will be hosting the UMM History Club with their event, Reacting to the Past: French Revolution! from 9:30a-4:30p. YOUR Stevens County History Museum will be OPEN to the public as well! Stop in and check us out!

  • Scandinavian at Heart

    Scandinavian at Heart

    by Hannah King, Curator

    SCHS Collection

    Back in September, Minnesota artist Lucy Tokheim visited the museum to give a presentation about her work and her new online exhibition. Though Lucy herself is not of Scandinavian descent, she is inspired by the traditions she saw practiced in Minnesota and on a visit to Norway. Lucy’s enthusiasm was contagious and we decided to create an exhibit focused on Scandinavian arts and crafts. Stevens County and the surrounding areas are filled with wonderful artists that practice traditional forms of painting, dancing, and sewing. However, we also wanted to invite contributors who do not have a Scandinavian background or who are reinterpreting traditions in a new way, much like Lucy. This spring, Scandinavian at Heart will feature a thought-provoking mixture of historical artifacts, modern traditional pieces, and imaginative interpretations of Scandinavian and Nordic art and history. The exhibit will have painting, rosemaling, illustration, pottery, beading, carving, and weaving. Pieces are inspired by the art and stories of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. Our artists come from different ethnic backgrounds, but all have been steeped in the Scandinavian culture that is so common in the Midwest.

    Scandinavian at Heart will open Thursday, April 13, with an opening reception that evening from 6-8pm. We will also have our own Norwegian version of a sip and paint night! Local artist Clarice Dieter will show participants how to create a rosemaling pattern. Watch for the date announcement soon. We hope everyone can come out to enjoy the exhibit, whether you are Norwegian, Swedish, or just Scandinavian at heart.

  • Scandinavian Immigration and Influence in Minnesota

    Scandinavian Immigration and Influence in Minnesota

    by Hannah King, Curator

    More Norwegians live in Minnesota than any other state in the U.S. Just over 20% of people in Stevens County have Scandinavian ancestry. Many of us grew up with Johnsons, Andersons, and Olsons and came to love treats like sandbakkel and krumkakke. How did the Midwest, and Minnesota specifically, come to be the center of Scandinavian American culture?

    Minnesota has been an immigration destination since the early 1800s. Norwegians began to flee overpopulation and poor farming conditions in the mid-1800s. They first settled in Wisconsin and Illinois, both of which had rich and plentiful farmland. From there, they moved west into Minnesota and the Dakotas. Other Scandinavians and Nordic immigrants followed suit. In 1850, Swedish writer Fredrika Bremer wrote, “What a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become.” That dream essentially came true, with many important historical figures, cultural practices, and even regional dialects influenced by Scandinavian immigrants.

    Governors Knute Nelson, John A. Johnson, Floyd B. Olson, John Lind, and Adolph O. Eberhart were all of Scandinavian descent. The strong presence of cooperatives for everything from fuel to telephone services is largely due to Scandinavian influences. The same can be said for the widespread nature Lutheranism, agricultural communities, and hotdishes.

    Even the way people speak in the Upper Midwest has been affected by all those Scandinavians. Linguists have given the regional accent that you hear in Minnesota, eastern North and South Dakota, western Wisconsin, and northern Iowa its own name – Upper Midwestern English. Most residents in these areas know that things like the long ‘o’ (such as in Minnesooota) and the phrase ‘uff da’ aren’t something you hear elsewhere. However, even our phrasing is different. The Upper Midwest is the only area in the U.S. where people say ‘come with.’ John M. Spartz, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the “come with” construction, said the phrase is basically a direct translation from the German and Scandinavian languages — languages once spoken frequently in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin during a period of heavy German and Scandinavian immigration. “I would say, ‘Come with,’ and people would look at me like I’m crazy,” Spartz said. He added that it sounded to the person like he had not finished his sentence. People in Minnesota and Wisconsin also sometimes use the word “borrow” when they mean “lend.”

    It turns that all Midwesterners, even those who don’t have a drop of Norwegian blood, still carry the mark of Scandinavian immigrants who started to arrive over 150 years ago. Throughout this newsletter and upcoming exhibit, we’ll be exploring Scandinavian culture and heritage. We hope you come with.


    This Norwegian dish set is part of a collection donated by Agnes Gaarder Steiler and was owned by her aunt, Andrea Ihler. Andrea lived on the Korsmo farm in southeastern Norway before immigrating to Minnesota. The largest container is a butter dish and was brought over from Norway. The second largest dish is a sugar bowl. The two small pots with spoons are for salt and pepper. The bowl lid and the spoons all have “Norge” (Norway) burned into the wood – this part of the design and the lack of wear imply that these items may have been souvenirs rather than practical objects.

    All the dishes are made out of wood and have designs painted in red, yellow, and green. The two larger dishes are made in the style of a tine (pronounced tee-nah), a traditional bentwood box where the lid fits into the prongs on each side. While the dishes have a traditional top, a true tine would have a base made out of a single piece of bent wood. This style of container dates back over 1000 years in Norway.

  • Selfies: Egocentric or Authentic?

    Selfies: Egocentric or Authentic?

    Our previous post discussed the long history of the snapshot and how early trends in camera use reflect popular use of camera phones today. But that was a broad overview. In this post, we dive into the most controversial use of photography in our time: the selfie.

    Much like the snapshot, the selfie has a history dating back to some of the first cameras. The earliest known selfie was taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839.blog-post-7a He used a daguerreotype, which is an early form of photography that took a long time to develop. One theory is that he was able to set up the exposure and get into place, sit for the exposure time, and then rush to close the aperture. Since the exposure was so long, he was able to move quickly without ruining the photo. However, most early photographers preferred the classic mirror selfie. You can visit Mirror Portraits from the Early Days of Photography to see a gallery of such photos.

    PBS Art Assignment host and former art curator Sarah Urist Green believes that self-portraits were sometimes more of a necessity that conscious choice in the early, experimental days of photography. It was easier to practice on oneself than have other people pose for so long. But even when ignoring practicality, people loved having photos of themselves. In 1925 DH Lawrence lamented that “each of us has a complete Kodak idea of himself”. Though Lawrence probably saw the “Kodak idea” as evidence of humans’ selfish, narcissistic nature, he also pointed to another interpretation of selfies. Do selfies help us get a better grasp on our identity?

    The Guardian interviewed Rebecca Brown, a 23-year-old graduate trainee from Birmingham, who sees selfies as a form of self-exploration. “It’s almost like a visual diary,” she says. “I can look back and see what I looked like at a particular time, what I was wearing. It’s exploring your identity in digital form…People think if you take pictures of yourself, you’re self-obsessed but that’s like saying if you write a diary or an autobiography, you’re self-obsessed. Not necessarily. A selfie is a format and a platform to share who you are.”

    blog-post-7bMost arguments against selfies point to the fact that they are different from a diary because they are made for public display. However, there are layers of privacy and publicity involved. Some people take selfies as a personal record, much like a diary. Some are taken to show a new hairstyle or cool pair of shoes, shared only with friends. And some are taken to show the world and hear its response. Brown finds that need for feedback normal. “Before I go out, I’ll take a couple of pictures almost to see how I look in other people’s eyes. In the same way that if you wrote a really good piece of work and had people commenting about how good it was,…if people start liking your selfie, then obviously you’re going to get a natural buzz. It gives you a nice boost and you can walk with that little bit more confidence.”

    Urist Green also sees significance in a selfie. She finds that “the basic motivations and potential for expression have stayed the same. I am not saying all selfies are art. Dear god no. But I am saying that there’s not really a difference in nature between a photographic self-portrait made by an artist and your run of the mill selfie.” There is no shame in wanting to see yourself and to see how the world views you. So “go forth and selfie. Just try to do it well.”


    Further reading:

    A Brief History of the Selfie, Huffington Post, 10/15/2013 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/selfie-history-infographic_n_4101645.html

    Mirror Portraits from the Early Days of Photography, Michael Archambault, 6/2/2015 http://petapixel.com/2015/06/02/mirror-self-portraits-from-the-early-days-of-photography/

    Why Snapchat is Valuable: It’s All About Attention https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140321152822-79695780-why-snapchat-is-valuable-it-s-all-about-attention




    Before the Selfie: A Brief History of Looking at Ourselves, KQED Arts, Carly Severn, 6/9/2016, https://ww2.kqed.org/pop/2016/06/09/before-the-selfie-a-brief-history-of-looking-at-ourselves/

    The Invention of the “Snapshot” Changed the Way We Viewed the World, Smithsonian.com

    PBS offers a surprisingly artsy history of the infamous selfie, Joe Blevins, 6/3/2016 http://www.avclub.com/article/pbs-offers-surprisingly-artsy-history-infamous-sel-237702



  • Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part two

    Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part two

    Not everyone was pleased by the rise of the snapshot. Professional photographers disparaged the haphazard, often out-of-focus shots from amateurs. Alfred Stieglitz, an art photographer, predicted that “Photography as a fad is well nigh on its last legs.” Still others complained about “Kodak fiends,” people who always had their device on hand, constantly taking pictures. Sound familiar?


    Most people used their cameras to have fun, whether it was preserving family memories, chronicling vacations, or making jokes. There were trends (like modern mannequin or plank photos) that included breaking the news, where people broke their their heads through holes in newspapers. Some amateur camera users considered themselves to be more serious photographers than these Kodak fiends and their crazy snapshots. In the early 1900s, they formed several organizations to promote photography as art rather than a hobby. The most prominent was the Photo-Secession, founded by the previously mentioned Alfred Stieglitz in 1902. To these serious photographers, snapshots lacked aesthetic and technical expertise. Within a few decades, however, some artists returned to snapshots, considering them as a form of American folk art. As time passed and cameras became embedded in American lifestyles, artists became more comfortable with the continuum between everyday snapshots and high art photography.

    It is easy to see the parallels with today’s camera fiends. We see young people and other early adopters using the latest photo apps, from Instagram to Snapchat. Again, we see people mock these amateurs, with their poorly lit pictures of food or of goofy faces. But everyone taking photos with their phones is continuing a tradition started with Kodak fiends, a tradition of documenting the everyday lives of ordinary people.



    The Invention of the “Snapshot” Changed the Way We Viewed the World, Smithsonian.com

    Kodak and the rise of amateur photography, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kodk/hd_kodk.htm

  • Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part one

    Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part one

    People have long kept diaries, family records, and legal documents to keep track of their lives and commemorate people, events, and important information. As new technologies become available, people change the way they keep those records and memories. We moved from handwritten records to printed books to digital files. Photography is another way that people record and remember. Photographs can capture a particular moment in time as it happens, with relatively little change between what a person sees with their own eyes even if the person behind the camera is not a skilled photographer.

    Amateur photography explores home and private lives and captures its subjects in the moment. Pictures taken by amateur photographers create one-of-a-kind records that preserve memories and give a glimpse of the everyday lives of regular people. The National Gallery of Art notes that “Any American who takes a snapshot contributes to a compelling and influential genre…[that has] also affected the ways in which we represent ourselves and mark life events, preserving and even creating memories.” How did the photograph become such an important part of our lives?

    The first snapshot camera was introduced by George Eastman in 1888 – the Kodak. It was a small hand-held box that cost $25 (about $600 today) and was very easy to use. The Kodak camera came with 100 shots preinstalled. When all the negatives were used, the photographer would send the whole camera back to the Eastman factory, which would send back the developed photographs along with the reloaded camera. It is easy to see where Kodak got its first slogan: You press the button, we do the rest.


    However, the cost meant that many people could not afford to have their own camera. So, in 1900, Eastman released the Brownie, which cost only $1 (about $30 today). The new price made all the difference and one third of American households had a camera by 1905. Cameras continued to become more popular and easier to use. The Polaroid was invented in 1948, creating developed black and white photos in 60 seconds. Instant color film was available by the 1960s. Digital cameras were already in development by the 1970s and camera phones were on the market by 2001.

    Today, almost every American has access to a camera, often right in our own pockets. Most people treasure the ability to capture and preserve memories. Some people even see snapshots as a form of American folk art. But what about the people who fail to appreciate the ease and ubiquity of snapshot photography?


    The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978, National Gallery of Art, http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2007/snapshot/

    The Invention of the “Snapshot” Changed the Way We Viewed the World, Smithsonian Magazine, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/invention-snapshot-changed-way-we-viewed-world-180952435/