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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota’s natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

You have what? Adventures in Mount Making

Exhibits are one of the most visible ways that we, as a museum, engage with the public. Since reopening in November 2014, hundreds of thousands of people have passed through the galleries to see some of the treasures of our state, while also learning a bit about North Dakota’s history. I see exhibit development as one of the most important things we do as museum professionals. As a collections curator, it is also one of the most challenging.

I am the primary staff person who prepares artifacts for exhibit. The toughest part about it is finding a balance between artifact preservation and visual aesthetic. Some items are simple; lay them on a shelf and they’re happy. Others require quite a bit of creativity on the part of multiple people to come up with a workable balance. I’d like to show you the work involved with one artifact currently on display in the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum.

The artifact, a pair of hide leggings, was one of the more challenging items I prepared for the Native American Hall of Honor exhibit, which opened at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum on June 2. They are both fairly soft and very flexible, and being made of hide, they can’t be sewn through. Because of that, there were very few points where I could attach either legging to a mount. They are also heavy and require a structure that is sturdy enough to support their weight. I also needed to use archival materials that won’t harm the artifact over time. The final element is the visual aesthetic—how do you stay within the constraints of all of the above while creating something that looks natural?

Leggings

Here are the leggings that were to be mounted.  Made of soft hide, they would not stand up without being secured to a solid mount.

We have a large amount of cardboard tubes, and I decided to combine two for each mount, with a narrower tube at the bottom and a wider one at the top to replicate the general proportions of a leg. The leggings were created specifically for someone, so I wrapped archival foam sheets around the cardboard and layered them until the mount fit snugly and naturally into the legging, just like the leg they were meant for. I then secured each layer in place with strips of mylar, held together with double sided tape. To give the mount a more finished look, I wrapped undyed muslin around the top as well as a foam plug I cut to fit into the round hole.

Leggings mount

The base of the mount I made was cardboard tube that we had left over from rolls of foam, tissue paper and other archival materials that we commonly use in the course of our work.  I used a wider tube on top and a narrower tube on bottom, then wrapped sheets of archival foam around the tubes to match the proportions of each legging. The top of each was wrapped in undyed muslin to provide a finished look.

The leggings were to be displayed in a standing position. Without securing the leggings at the top, they would droop and slide down the mount. I would never try to sew through the hidesewing would cause damage to the material. There was one point on top where I could tack the legging to the mount, and that was a small hide strip that joins the two halves of material on each legging. I looped embroidery floss around the strip and into the muslin four separate times for strength and to spread out the weight as much as I could.

Display case

The finished product on display in the lower right.

Mounting the leggings was one of the more challenging parts of the exhibit for me. Most visitors probably won’t notice the final product, but that is the point of a successful mount!

Food for thought

Signa Hermanson Larson peeling potatoes

SHSND 2009-P-012-012. The State Archives has multiple images of different cooking scenes throughout our collections. Here, Signa Hermanson Larsen, Burke County, peels potatoes in 1923.

Recently, the State Archives took in a large number of North-Dakota related cookbooks from the collection of Charlotte Hansen. Charlotte was born in Jamestown in 1922, and had a longtime interest in culinary delights. She even belonged to a potluck group in high school called “The Harpies.” She and her husband Gordon Hansen owned the Jamestown Sun for a number of years. Gordon served as publisher and Charlotte was Food and Travel editor. She often travelled with a group of other food editors, and she wrote travel-themed food articles that won a variety of state and national awards from the National Food Writers Association and the National Press Women. She also published four cookbooks of her own. Eventually she wrote a food column for “The Splash” in Arizona, where they lived during the winters.

Frances Densmore cooking at a camp

SHSND 0270 Album p19-46. Frances Densmore is cooking at a camp.

Men cooking pitchfork fondue during groundbreaking ceremony for the SHSND

SHSND 2009-P-026-box6-file10-Roll3-08. These two men are shown cooking pitchfork fondue during the groundbreaking ceremony for the State Historical Society on October 9, 1976, in Bismarck.

Although Charlotte had cookbooks from many locations, only those related directly to the state of North Dakota have come to the State Archives. These selections of her cookbooks encompass churches and communities around the state from the 1950s to the 2000s.

These cookbooks add a unique new dimension to research. Many of our researchers come in looking to find specific hard facts about people or events, such as when an event happened, and where it was located, or how it came to pass, if possible. Books like these add color to the picture that these historians and genealogists are interested in. What people could and did eat during different times and in different places throughout history can highlight prosperity or poverty, describe populations of settlers, show advancements in cooking technology and changes in cooking techniques, and more.

Plus, the recipes are still viable for use. So, that’s a win-win.

Child with dog and cooking pot

SHSND 0086-0378. A child is alone with a dog and cooking pot in this image.

Cooking outside

SHSND 0086-0442. Hides and Eats is cooking outside at Crows Heart's place in 1912.

You can’t page through the books from Charlotte Hansen’s collection without locating rhubarb, pickles, desserts, hot dishes, jell-o, and salads…and don’t forget the lefse and sauerkraut! An increase in microwaveable recipes or various types of “healthy recipes” show different perceptions and technologies here in North Dakota.

For example, one of our new acquisitions from Hanson is a Community Cookbook out of Wimbledon from 1977. Compiled by the United Methodist Women, even the categories of foods that it is separated into are telling: Quick and Yeast Breads; Bars and Doughnuts; Cakes and Frostings; Cookies; Casseroles, Meats and Poultry; Desserts; Pies; Salads and Dressings; Pickles, Jams, and Relishes; and Miscellaneous, which includes a ten-page section on candy, and a section marked Lo Calorie (sic), which in turn is about 4 pages in length. This book includes some recipes that were in an older cookbook that had been compiled some years before.

Cowboy cooking outdoors

SHSND 0075-0625. A cowboy is cooking outdoors. Photo by Leo Harris.

Three-ring binder cookbook

The cookbooks range from three-ring binders to paper clipped together to book format. This one is from 1975.

One of our oldest cookbooks in State Archives is the Butterick Pattern Cook Book from 1890; interested culinary historians may view this book through the Library of Congress: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gdc/scd0001.00144805045.

For your enjoyment, for your culinary delights, and for a historic flair, feel free to try one of these recipes. Copies can be made from any of these books and added to your own home cooking enjoyment. You can’t take the cookbooks home, but you can always take home a copy of a recipe—or try one of these salads as listed below!

Community Cookbook of Wimbledon

From the Community Cookbook of Wimbledon.

Butterscotch bars

Our cataloguer couldn’t help herself; she copied and made this butterscotch bar recipe from the Otter Tail Power Company Christmas Cooky Book (sic) Cookbook.