Hennepin History Museum has an extensive portrait collection. In some cases, it’s the subject who has the most fascinating story, other times it’s the artist, and in some cases, it’s both. In this case – a drawing of Emma Cranmer, done by Frances Cranmer Greenman in 1933- the stories of both artist and subject are woven together. For in this example, artist Frances Cranmer Greenman put charcoal to board to capture the likeness of her own mother, Emma Cranmer.
Frances Cranmer Greenman was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota in 1890, the daughter of prominent South Dakota suffragette Emma Cranmer. Cranmer, an active and outspoken participant in the suffrage movement at both the national and local levels, traveled the nation to speak at public forums on behalf of women’s rights. Perhaps inspired by her mother’s travels, Frances Cranmer Greenman left home at the age of 15 to study art first in Wisconsin, and a year later, at age 16, at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. – a world away from her log cabin home in South Dakota.
After several years studying in Washington, Greenman returned to her native Midwest, where she settled down to build a career in Minneapolis. In 1915, she won a coveted award for a series of portraits exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair, and by the 1920s she had earned the reputation as one of the Twin Cities’ leading portrait artists. She later went on to teach at the Minneapolis School of Art, and to write an arts column for the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune.
The portrait of Emma Cranmer can currently be seen in Portraits of the Past: Highlights from the Hennepin History Museum Collection, on exhibit through January 8, 2017.