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.

In my first blog post about a year ago, I shared some of the weird and/or cool experiences of being a new employee. Now that I’ve gotten to know the State Museum’s collection, I want to share some of the artifacts that have made me look twice. These objects caught my eye and made me wonder, “Is this weird or cute?” I needed more input, so I polled the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum’s Instagram followers. Around 150 people voted, and here are the results:

1. Let’s start with an easy one. A rock collage sailboat titled “Aqua Cat.” How could this be anything but cute? North Dakota artist Ann Peters created this piece in the early 1970s for then-Gov. William Guy. The incongruence of the title and the subject matter is what really warms my heart. A boat named “Aqua Cat” must be 100% cute, and it looks like our followers agreed.

Aqua Cat - A rock collage. Weird or Cute? 58% Cute. 42% Really Cute. The image is of a shite, brown, and tan sailboat made out of rocks.

My phrasing of the question may have slightly skewed the results. SHSND 1984.207

2. Both amazing and slightly painful to behold, this squirrel-and-mushroom-patterned shirt is sure to make a splash at your next COVID-safe social gathering. Greg Machart’s brother-in-law Lee Matthiesen donated this spectacular shirt to the museum in 1992. Lee asserted Greg wore it throughout the 1970s. If this is true, we would like pictures. If it is not, I would like to congratulate Lee for pulling off one very well-preserved prank.

1970s squirrel and mushroom patterned shirt. Weird or Cute? 51% Weird. 49% Cute. The image is of a button up shirt with long sleeves and a collar that is purple with red and blue mushroms and circles with squirrel images in them.

Our followers were surprisingly tolerant of this bold and busy garment. SHSND 1991.76.6

3. A lively addition to any living room, these birds of paradise pillows were made by Christina Roemmech of Glen Ullin. Crafted out of carpet-like piling deep enough to lose your keys in, the pillows certainly garnered some “weird” votes. But the beautiful and comfy birds no doubt helped earn them a “cute!” from the majority.

These pillows - Weird or Cute? 32% Weird. 68% Cute. The two pilloes have a flamingo on them with yellow and pink flowers and green plants in a circle around the flamingo.

Birds of a feather flock together. SHSND 1992.52.1-2

4. Are you still cracking your walnuts with a boring old nutcracker? Or even worse … a creepy one? Then check out this one shaped like man’s best friend! The early 20th-century canine contraption once helped crack the toughest nuts in rural Mandan.

A nutcracker shaped like a dog! Weird or cute? 32% weird. 68% cute. The nutcracker is brown and shaped like a dog.

Thirty-two percent of our followers are weird. This guy is adorable. SHSND 2007.80.95

5. Twenty years ago, everyone wanted to get rid of their brightly hued porcelain thrones. Now the trend is making a comeback. Until it was donated in 2007, this 1950s gem graced what was arguably the most vital room in one Bismarck home. Toilets like this also came in other nostalgia-inducing shades including avocado green, powder blue, and canary yellow.

Classic 1950s pink toilet. Weird or cute? 50% Weird. 50% Cute. The pink toilet has a woodgrain seat and lid cover.

Our Instagram results showed an unexpected tie for this American Standard. SHSND 2007.86.2