Tag Archives: art

Mahala Fisk Pillsbury’s Inauguration Gown

On a cold day in January 1876, Mahala Fisk Pillsbury of Minneapolis, a prominent community member and philanthropist, took on a new title: Minnesota’s First Lady. Her husband of twenty years, businessman John Sargent Pillsbury, had just been elected for his first of three terms as Minnesota’s governor.

This gown, worn by Mrs. Pillsbury at one of her husband’s inaugurations, most likely that first one, came to Hennepin History Museum many decades later after being carefully packed away and preserved by family members as a memento of the occasion.

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Mrs. Pillsbury. Hennepin History Museum collection. Chalk on paper.

A founding member and president of the Stevens Square home for elderly women and children, Mahala Fisk Pillsbury was a formidable force in the world of Minneapolis social services and public welfare. She was equally at home wearing a ballgown in her role as the governor’s wife or with her shirt sleeves rolled up as an active participant in the activities of the social services organizations that she founded.

You can see the gown now at Hennepin History Museum, where it is a centerpiece of Behind the Ballot Box, an exhibit exploring election on the 1st floor. The exhibit is open now through February 5.

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Finding Family at HHM

We love stories like this!

Last week, Thomas P. came to HHM docent Shari Albers’ Fireside Chat about our historic Washburn Fair Oaks neighborhood and enjoyed the program so much he decided to become a member. He loves art and is a collector of various pieces by local artists. At the Chat he learned that the Portraits of the Past exhibit closing the next day, so he asked us if he could fill out his membership after he had a chance to see the gallery. As he walked through the gallery, he was surprised to see a portrait of his own great-uncle Jacob Gray! Thomas was thrilled to see his own family represented in the gallery and told us he is even more happy to become a new member.

Welcome, Thomas! We’re so happy to welcome you to the Hennepin History Museum family as a member and as a volunteer.

 

 

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!

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.