Visual Art 7-11-2002

State of Grace

The Revised Standard Version


George Slade meditates on community and art from a different point of view here: What does our community officially value? What is the audience–or audiences–for art in Minnesota? How do their desires play out? How does this influence the production of what’s called art?

Minnesota is, officially, a state of grace. Alongside the common loon, walleye pike, red pine, monarch (state butterfly), milk (drink), wild rice (grain), Lake Superior agate (gem), blueberry (muffin), and morel (mushroom), the symbolic pantheon now includes Grace, Minnesota’s state photograph, given official status in March of this year.

Here’s the official text: “The world-renowned photograph Grace, depicting an elderly man bowing his head and giving thanks, taken in Bovey, Minnesota, in 1918, by Eric Enstrom, is designated as the state photograph. A copy of the photograph Grace must be displayed in the office of the secretary of state.” (S. F. 1072, authored by Senators Lessard and Schwab, approved by Governor Ventura, and delivered to Secretary of State Kiffmeyer March 22, taking effect August 1, 2002)

As the only state with an orchid (the pink-and-white ladyslipper) as its representative flower, and a history of excellent photographers and photography within its borders, it is appropriate that trailblazing Minnesota should be the first state with an official photograph. But, speaking as one of Minnesota’s (unofficial) photography historians, in a forum devoted to Minnesota artists, I must quibble.

Notes on the House version of the bill (H. F. 1097) accurately referred to the work as a “picture.” Grace began life as Eric Enstrom’s black-and-white portrait of Charles Wilden, a kind-faced itinerant peddler. Prints were sold one by one out of Enstrom’s studio window. In the subsequent decades, however, Grace has become a manipulated, mass-produced, nonphotographic trace of its original self–twice over.

You may order Grace on, the “Authentic Website of the Enstrom Family.” Eric Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg, has prepared three versions of the image–in sepia, black-and-white, or full color–and they all reflect her artistic license, which transformed a print hanging on the studio wall into an open window. Unaccountably, the light streaming through that aperture doesn’t illuminate the head or hands of the praying man, though he is seated square in its path.

Given the changes made to it, I’m not surprised that the family site doesn’t reproduce the original photograph. You can find it at, where it alternates with a new Grace, commissioned by self-described “patron” and impresario John Holiday from George Molstad of Colorado Springs (a commercial artist specializing in portraits and nudes). Nyberg and family may consider this reworking of Enstrom’s portrait the “inauthentic” version. (In April 2002 I was able to link to lots of puffy, inspirational verbiage from Holiday, by way of; access to this address was restricted in July 2002, though the Yes2Art home page ( offers links for both Enstrom and Molstad by subscription.) Holiday claims to have found “the earliest known original black and white” print of the photograph in a Colorado thrift store. He filed a copyright date of 1920 on it (which conflicts with Minnesota’s legislative caption, but never mind). In 2001 he commissioned Molstad to make a 22-by-28-inch acrylic rendering of it (to which Holiday also holds copyright). Naturally, Holiday intends to offer prints “from the original photograph” as well as from the warmly colorized spin-off, but no orders were being taken when I checked in April. At least the “Molstad Grace” doesn’t create light where before there was just art on a wall.

An event in September 2001, announced in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review’s Community Calendar, would have been intriguing. The item read: “Grace Revisited will take place from noon until 3 p.m. in Bovey City Hall club rooms. On hand will be Rhoda Enstrom Nyberg’s largest hand-tinted ‘Grace’ and the newly unveiled Molstad Grace.” Sorry I missed the opportunity to compare the candidates vying for the franchise. I hope the secretary is a stickler for accuracy, since neither of these pictures should be passing itself off as “Minnesota’s photograph.”

George Slade

Apostate. Bricoleur. Changeling, possibly. …   read more