January 2020 – Arts & Entertainment

RCHS Facebook Posts from January 2020 – Arts & Entertainment

Explore history with these snippets from past Facebook posts from the RCHS page.

Posts, event announcements, etc. have been edited for clarity and relevance.

Featured image: Winter Carnival at Rice Park. Photo courtesy of Bob Muschewske.

St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Art was established in 1884 (it closed in 1962), and was the first school for the arts in Minnesota. Founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph, it was housed in what is now known as the Exchange Building in downtown St. Paul. In addition to bringing arts education to the public, it helped to provide financial support for the Sisters’ work in education, social service and health care. Classes offered to children and adults included piano, organ, violin, zither, guitar, mandolin, banjo, theory, history of music, counterpoint, voice culture, elocution, languages, painting, china decorating, and drawing. There’s much more to this school’s past to appreciate, so learn more @ bit.ly/2ZsGbpD.

Image: Left, the Conservatory, 1886, formerly Judge Palmer’s House. Right, an instruction book used by teachers.

A century ago, a group of St. Paul leaders formed a social organization called the Sterling Club. One club objective was “the proper entertainment of persons of note who may visit.” Members welcomed traveling athletes, entertainers, and speakers, including Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and William Monroe Trotter. The club and its associated women’s auxiliary hosted formal balls, golf outings, an annual picnic at Cedar Lake Farms, and a Palm Sunday tea and musicale. The club still exists today, opening its doors to the community during Rondo Days and helping youth through community mentoring programs. For a story about the Sterling Club by Jeremiah Ellis, see the Ramsey County History magazine here.
Image: Undated photo from the Sterling Club courtesy of Bernadine D. McGee.

Max Shulman, Norman Katkov, and William Hoffman were all from St. Paul, Jewish, University of Minnesota School of Journalism graduates, and writers. If you’re the right age, you’re sure to remember their work. Shulman was known for television’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and the book Potatoes are Cheaper. Katkov wrote books along with TV scripts for Bonanza, Ben Casey, and other shows. Hofmann’s columns and books told tales of life on the city’s West Side. They were talented men, whose films, television shows, books, magazine articles, and newspaper columns today provide memories and a glimpse into our past. If you’re one who remembers these works fondly or just interested to expand your knowledge on the topic– here’s an article that that tells more @ bit.ly/2QcIRU3.
Photograph and design courtesy of Summit Images, LLC – Robert Muschewske and Leaetta Hough.

When Alice Lilliequist Sickels, the executive director of the International Institute of Minnesota from 1931-1934, instituted what would become the organization’s signature public event – the Festival of Nations, she knew it was more than just entertainment for visitors. It was and is to this day, an opportunity to learn about and celebrate with many different cultures from around the world through dance, music, art, lectures, food and vendor booths, and is still held on the first weekend in May. his image was taken at the Festival of Nations market in the St. Paul Civic Auditorium in 1942. For more on the International Institute and the Festival of Nations, see the article at bit.ly/2sgdG1V.
Image: Crowd at Festival of Nations, photograph courtesy of International Institute of Minnesota.

Nicholas R. Brewer (1857-1949) is a Minnesota artist best known today for his Impressionist landscapes of Minnesota scenes, but in his own lifetime, his wide reputation rested mainly on his portraits. He painted many prominent Minnesotans, and his circuit exhibitions in the 1920s and 1930s also featured portraits of some of the most famous men and women of his day. Brewer’s intimate engagement with his era’s cultural and political events allowed him to paint the portraits of actor Joseph Jefferson, Senator Frank Kellogg, and Archbishop John Ireland as well as musicians, politicians, and socialites. He wrote an autobiography titled Trails of a Paintbrush. His artwork is in important public and private collections, and several of his descendants are also artists. Julie LeEnfant’s book, Nicholas R. Brewer: His Art and Family is now available in paperback. (Afton Press, 2019).
Image: Nicolas Brewer with his portrait of actress Margaret Anglin as her character in the play, In the Wilderness. Image courtesy of the Mary Ann Walton collection.

Have you heard of a “living flag”? Apparently, St. Paul was the first city in the United States to create one in 1896. Composed of hundreds of schoolchildren, the girls in red and the boys in blue, it was created outside the federal courthouse and post office, now the Landmark Center. The occasion was a national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, (GAR), an organization of Union veterans of the Civil War. The living flag performed various patriotic songs, including “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” while the veterans marched through downtown St. Paul.
Image: A “living flag” in St. Paul against a backdrop of the Old Federal Courts Building, still under construction. From the Ramsey County History magazine article about the GAR National Encampment in Saint Paul.

The early days of theater in St. Paul were filled with bizarre spectacles that attempted to attract punters by appealing to their more prurient natures. A sampling of the names of various traveling female companies from the last quarter of the 19th century gives some indication of their marketing strategies. Here are a few: “Maggie Leclair’s Lovely Ladies,” “The Mormon Queen’s Female Company,” “The Floating Angels Company,” “The Female Magnets,” and “Mlle. Sidonia’s Frisky French Favorites.”
Image featuring “You Naughty, Naughty Men,” from the Ramsey County History magazine article.

The popularity of the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” translated very quickly to the stage, and it inspired a wide variety of shows, from the dignified to the absurd. First performed in St. Paul in 1858, during the following decades the show became so commonplace that bizarre modifications were added to increase the spectacle and the marketing appeal to audiences, including having two of every character on stage, having Eliza escape across frozen ice blocks, and whole packs of dogs.  In an incident from 1855: “The bloodhounds of an Uncle Tom Company broke loose recently and killed the donkey. The manager, in dire distress, had the donkey’s skin removed and sent an actor on in it to impersonate the part, but the accomplished artist, for the first time in his life, failed to make an ass of himself.”
Image: 1885 interior view of the Grand Opera House. From the Ramsey County History magazine article.

On April 5, 1881, eighty-four residents of the Irvine Park neighborhood Irvine Park signed a petition to the Common Council of St. Paul arguing that, although land for the park had been given freely to the city, no park had ever been developed. Residents had already paid for a fence and were willing, if not eager, to fund a music bandstand if the city would agree to grade the streets, provide police protection so that ‘thieves, tramps and immoral persons of all sexes, ages, races, and colors’ would cease ‘indulging in open and disgraceful drunkenness and debauchery.’” They also requested a fountain, a replica of which still stands in the park today.
Image: Irvine Park fountain, circa 1900. Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.

Today, St. Paul is home to a variety of outdoor sculptures memorializing figures of significance to local groups. The first wave of construction was between 1900 and World War I, when the statues of Schiller and Ibsen were erected in Como Park by the German and Norwegian communities, respectively. Not long after, the Daughters of the American Revolution honored Nathan Hale with a sculpture on Summit Avenue. The first native-born governor, John A. Johnson, received his statue in 1912 on the Capitol Mall, bringing the first era of memorials to a close. Since then, the Capitol Mall has continued to be the focus for various memorials, some attracting periodic controversy, but all testaments to the passions and memories of local people. For more on the restoration of the Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller Memorial in Como Park, see the article in Ramsey County History magazine.
Image: Close up image of Schiller’s face and torso. Photo courtesy of Robert Muschewske.

For more images from the RCHS Collection, see our images collection database.

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