Tag Archives: 1930s

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Bust of Thomas Chan by Helen Zesbaugh

Written by current HHM volunteer Mara Taft. Original research and article by Bruce N. Wright, and published in Hennepin History, Fall 2000.

Helen A. Zesbaugh, an artist and author associated with an art gallery in Minneapolis, created this stainless steel bust of Thomas Chan in 1931. Thomas Chan (pronounced “Kahn”) was a Minneapolis art and antique dealer who eventually opened a gallery on Nicollet Avenue in the 1940s. This bust is especially unusual because it was cast with stainless steel, which only became used commercially in about 1919. Stainless steel is one of the hardest metals to manipulate, and casting this bust would have required use of a sophisticated foundry due to its relatively high melting point (2,550° F).

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Above: Helen Zesbaugh, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Zesbaugh was related to a family-run art gallery and framing shop of the same name on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. She attended the University of Minnesota for Art Education from 1916 to 1920, and authored the study Children’s Drawings of the Human Figure, published in 1934 by the University of Chicago Press as part of her master’s thesis in education.  If she taught art or produced other types of art locally, there is little trace, save this striking bust.

The sculpture’s subject is also notable. Thomas Chan was an art and antique dealer whose influence on the local scene was felt from the 1920s until his death in 1966. Chan was born in 1895 and grew up in Alexandria, Minnesota. He graduated in 1916 from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota and worked briefly in a Minneapolis drug store while moonlighting for the Beard’s Art Gallery, still in existence downtown.

Chan left pharmacy for good when he began working for Dr. Mabel Ulrich at her bookshop and art gallery on Nicollet Avenue, and was eventually inspired to open his own art gallery, the Little Gallery. In 1947, Chan closed his shop and moved his operations to Lake Minnetonka, where he worked as gardener, antique dealer, and art impresario until his death.

This polished sculpture represents a nexus of personalities brought together by the colorful network of art and antique galleries that formed along Nicollet Avenue in the mid-20th century.

You can see it now at the museum, where it is part of Portraits of the Past: Highlights from the Hennepin History Museum Collection. Hurry, the exhibition’s final day is this Sunday, January 8!

Emma Cranmer

Frances Cranmer Greenman

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.

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Sharpen those Mower Blades

It’s summer… and if you have a lawn in Hennepin County, you’ve probably spent plenty of time over the past month or two keeping the grass in check. In honor of this common summer task we’ve pulled out this small bag from the collection. Now empty, it once held equipment used to sharpen lawn mower blades.

During the 1930s, 1940s, and into the 1950s the Foley Manufacturing Company of Minneapolis placed advertisements in national magazines promoting their “Electrakeen” as an ideal side business. “This is the way to make money!” their writers urged in 1930, “This is what hundreds of men are saying about the Foley Elecktrakeen Lawn Mower Sharpener business they have started.”

The Foley company was headquartered in the Foley Building, 11 Main Street NE.Besides lawn mower sharpeners they also produced food mills, flour sifters, juicers, and other small household tools and appliances. The company is still around, although no longer at that location, and after a merger is now known as Foley Belsaw. They still specialize in making sharpening tools.

cars in snow 1935

Photo of the Week: Winter in Minnesota

Staff at Hennepin History Museum is split on the snow question. Good? Bad? Well,  at least none of us think it’s ugly – and it’s hard to beat the beauty of t snow-frosted Washburn Fair Oaks Park as seen from inside the windows in the museum’s cozy Fireplace Room. But when winter drags on and we get anxious for warmer temperatures and spring flowers, it can be nice to take a glimpse into the archives to get a reminder that those of living or working in or visiting Hennepin County today are following in long footsteps. Winter here is nothing new. Case in point: these cars, photographed in all their snow-covered glory in 1935. Looks like quite a storm!