“Percy has become quite an expert fiend of photography” ~ We’ve Got Talent ~ Part II


I knew that my grandmother, Hellen (McQuillen) Scheer liked to paint. When she and Gramps moved from Bigfork to Colorado in the late 1960s, she began taking classes and painting in earnest.  What I didn’t know was that she first held a brush to hand-color a black and white photograph of my gramps when they were courting.  This was in the mid-1930s when film for colored photos, was still ­a dozen years in the future.

I have collected stories about artists from the old newspapers since I started the Reminisce project.  I know there are many more artists than those I am sharing, so please let me know who the artist in your family is. Today’s column is about visual art. The final segment, next month, will be on writing.


In 1908, the Bigfork Settler reported that William Lake had received two beautiful oil paintings last week of sceneries on the Bigfork River painted by his brother at Hoffman.” William and his brother Leonard, a house painter, were from a small town in west central Minnesota. William filed on a homestead in the Big Fork Valley in about 1905.  It would be interesting to know if Leonard sketched the scenes while visiting his brother, or if he had painted from memory or a black and white photograph.  Also, wouldn’t it be fun to know where these paintings are hanging now?

Ida May (Williamson) Martin was another painter identified by the Bigfork Settler. “Mrs. J. R. Martin shipped 4 paintings to Duluth Saturday.  She has shipped several paintings there in the past few months, where she has found a ready sale for them.  Many of these pictures are of different sceneries about Bigfork and the recipients of the same are loud in their praise of the beauty of the same.  What a treat it would be to some of the city folks to visit these parts and have the chance of seeing and enjoying all the real beauty that nature produces here at different periods of the year.  Beautiful sceneries that the majority of us, who live here, have become so accustomed to that we pass them by without even giving them a second thought.” In May 1925, when the article was written, Ida was 67 years of age and raising four grandchildren.

In the archives of the Itasca County Historical Society, I found a lovely pastel painting that was created by Mrs. Amy Porter.  She lived and farmed with her husband Charles near Rabey, MN in northwest Aitkin County. One of the small painting she made was for a dear friend, Josephine (Burt) Crowe who lived in Grand Rapids. Amy painted many pictures, Christmas cards and birthday cards with pastel paints. The painting she did for Josephine Crowe was created on a 1953 tax receipt!


In 1898, Percy Brooks purchased the interest of C.H. Marr, the joint owner on his father’s store, so that Percy and his father Asa were co-owners. The A.D. Brooks & C.H. Marr General Store was the first merchant in Deer River.  Percy enjoyed new-fangled merchandise and in 1901 he was busy with a camera. “Percy Brooks is making an album of large photographs of scenery and other things in and about Deer River when examined will already furnish amusement for several hours.  Percy is becoming quite an expert fiend of photography and he lets nothing pass that is worth ‘shooting’ at. He has one picture of a smallpox patient which looks so natural that it has actually given people the itch by looking at it.” [Itasca News 5-4-1901]

On the 1905 Minnesota State Census, Eric Enstrom is living in Milaca and his occupation is stated as photographer. By 1910, he and his wife Esther and son Roger are living in Bovey where he has his photography studio. Enstrom is best known for the photo “Grace” which he took in about 1920. It depicts an elderly man bowing his head and giving thanks. “Grace” was adopted as the official state photograph in 2002.  Before that photo received notoriety, Enstrom was recognized for his ability to capture subjects in a unique way.

Local Girl Model for Prize Photo ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 8-11-1926

“The Enstrom Photograph Studio of Bovey was awarded a silver loving cup offered to the best photographer on the Mesaba Range.  The contest, arranged by the Range Association of Photographers, was for the best photograph taken of the same model, and John R. Snow of Mankato acknowledged as one of the best photographers in the state, was the judge.

“Miss Peggy Wells of Grand Rapids was the model.  Miss Wells went from one gallery to the next and was posed and photographed by the different artists.  Each gallery was given a number, and the numbered pictures sent to the judge in Mankato.

“The prize of a large silver cup will be displayed in the windows of Enstrom studio.  The Larson Studio of Virginia won second prize. The Range Association is affiliated with the National Association of Commercial Photographers. The winning photograph of Miss Wells will likely be entered in other contests in the state and elsewhere.”

As this article was written between censuses, I am not able to provide much information about Peggy Wells.  In fact, the only document I could find for a Margaret Wells was through the Minnesota Marriage records.  It states Margaret Wells and Matt A.H. Gielen were married on Jan 26, 1935 in Itasca County.  On the 1940 U.S. Census, Gielen is listed as married and living with his brother-in-law in Grand Rapids.  I could not find Margaret or Peggy Gielen.

The next article is also about the subject of a photograph. Walter Olson is the eighteen-year-old son of Peter and Olga Olson. I searched through an online newspaper site but was unable to track down the pictures. Perhaps the name of the newspaper was incorrect, but the information is still interesting.

Local Young Man is Shown in Picture ~ Deer River News 7-25-1929

“Walter G. Olson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Olson of Deer Lake, is one of several workmen shown in pictures taken recently at the hangars of the Universal Air Lines in Chicago.

In a series of photos published in the Chicago Daily News last Friday, Walter is shown working on a Fokker plane being prepared for a passenger run to Cleveland. He is shown placing radio shielding, for the use of the radio while flying.

Walter has been with the Universal Lines since last fall and is rapidly advancing in his chosen work.  Betcha some day he’ll fly back to Deer River.  And when he does, this paper hopes we’ll have a landing field that will permit a safe welcome home!”


In August of 1927, Williams Narrows Resort on Big Cutfoot Sioux Lake was in the movies.  Charles E. Belle, a photographer for Paramount Pictures came to the resort for the express purpose of capturing the Northwoods on film. “While here Mr. Bell took nearly five thousand feet of film for his company, much of it of animals at the Narrows’ zoo.  It is hoped the films may be brought here for showing.  They will prove splendid advertising for this region.”

According to the Apr 7, 1927 Deer River News, “Mr. Williams reports the purchase of the following additions to the zoo: two each of leopards, Canada lynx, coati mundi, cougar, opossum, peccary, timber wolves, sphinx baboon, badger, black-faced ape. Angora goats. Black fox, Wanderoo monkey, Java Monkey, Capuchin ringtail monkey, smoky mangabey, white-face ringtail, African geese, pea fowl, cayuga black duck and Egyptian pelican, and four alligators. These additions will make this one of the largest zoos in the state.”

The final article I have to share was also filmed at a resort.  The local film star, Marvel Clarice Cleveland, is the daughter of Oscar and Jennie. 

Local Girl in Minnesota Movie Show ~ Deer River News 6-21-1945

“After seeing the Minnesota State Tourist Bureau movie ‘short’ at two theatres while on a recent vacation, the news editor had to come back to Deer River and see the same short at the Lyceum Wednesday night to learn that Miss Marvel Cleveland of Talmoon was featured in three scenes of a fishing excursion shown as part of the film advertising Minnesota.  The scenes showed Miss Cleveland catching a fish, a closeup displaying a string of fish and then one of the fishing party cooking and eating the fish caught.  The fishing excursion, it is understood, was filmed at Camp Idlewild, Marcell, not far from Miss Cleveland’s home.  Miss Cleveland graduated from the Deer River high school with the class of 1945 on May 30.”

Walter Stickler established the Idlewild resort in about 1912.  He was a staunch supporter of the resort trade of northern Minnesota, and on the 1940 U.S. census his occupation is listed as ‘lecturer’ and the industry ‘resorts.’ In August 1929, he invited Dusty Rhodes, a pilot from Hibbing to land his plane, a sister ship of the famous “Spirit of St. Louis.” During the afternoon, he took 78 lucky passengers, four at a time, for a ride.

To share your stories, email reminiscewithchris@gmail.com, call 218-244-2127, or leave a message on my blog chrismarcottewrites.  Just enter the following address in the browser and you should be good to go: https://chrismarcottewrites.com

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