Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Murals & a myth at an historic mercantile in Weaver February 18, 2016

The historic former Weaver Mercantile Buiilding, once home to Noble Studio & Gallery.

The historic former Weaver Mercantile Building, once home to Noble Studio & Gallery.

AGED BUILDINGS, like one in Weaver just off U.S. Highway 61 in southeastern Minnesota, intrigue me. Initially, the architecture and photographic opportunities draw me in. But then I start thinking about the history and the stories.

Carl and Marie Noble opened Noble Studio & Gallery here in 1955.

Carl and Marie Noble opened Noble Studio & Galleries here in 1955.

As luck would have it, a local was jogging down the street toward the former Weaver Mercantile when I happened upon the historic building during an early September get-away. She tipped me off that the building last housed an art gallery. Signage confirmed that. The current owner, she added, lives on the second floor.

Historic designation came six years after Carl Noble's death.

Historic designation came six years after Carl Noble’s death.

The young woman also expressed her dream of someday transforming the place into a winery. She and her husband, she said, make wine from black caps growing wild on the hillside behind their Weaver home. Then she continued on her run through this unincorporated village of some 50 residents and I continued my exterior photographic exploration of this building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the 1978 nomination for historic designation, the building is a “well-preserved example of commercial architecture in the Mississippi River Valley.” Hardware, groceries and dry goods were once sold in the first floor of Weaver Mercantile while furniture was sold on the upper floor. Additionally, the building housed the Weaver Post Office for many years.

A mural on the east side of the building denotes this as an artist's haven. Cannot you decipher the first word for me?

A mural on the east side of the building denotes this as an artist’s haven. Can you decipher the first word in the top portion, left?

Wanting to know more, I continued my internet search. In 1955, artist Carl E. Noble claimed this place as Noble Studio & Galleries (his home, studio and gallery). He died in 1972. An obituary for his widow, Marie Noble, who died 11 years ago, yielded the most information.

More signage toward the back of the building.

More signage toward the back of the building promotes Noble’s art.

Carl was, by the few accounts I found, an artist for the Federal Art Project of the Work Projects Administration in 1938. His name is listed among photos of FAP art in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.

Another view of Carl and Marie Noble's studio and galleries.

Another view of Carl and Marie Noble’s studio and galleries.

A muralist, cartoonist, illustrator and portrait artist, Carl Noble reportedly studied under Norman Rockwell (according to his wife Marie’s obit). I’ve been unable to verify that via a second source. However, the Nobles lived for awhile in Boston; Rockwell made his home in Stockbridge, MA.

The building was constructed in 1875 and opened as Weaver Mercantile.

The building was constructed in 1875 and opened as Weaver Mercantile.

I discovered that Carl painted six oil on canvas murals for Fire House, Southside Hose Co. No. 2 in Hempstead, New York, in 1938. The artwork depicts the history of local firefighting. Other than that, I’ve been unable to find other information of his WPA art or work at Noble Studio & Galleries. The former gallery itself, though, apparently showcases Carl’s murals on interior walls. If only I could have gotten inside to see and photograph his artwork.

One can only imagine the fun times here as guests enjoyed Marie's hospitality.

One can only imagine the fun times here as guests enjoyed Marie’s hospitality.

After her husband’s death in 1972, Marie opened a Bed & Breakfast in their home with a party area in the basement. That would explain the faded Mardi Gras Lounge sign above a back entry.

An overview of the Mardi Gras entry at the back of the building.

An overview of the Mardi Gras entry at the back of the building.

Marie reportedly regaled guests with stories, including that Jesse James robbed the Mercantile on his way to robbing the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota. Not believing everything I read, I contacted Mark Lee Gardner, noted historian, writer and musician on the western experience. He penned a book, Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape. He confirmed what I suspected. The story of the Weaver robbery is just that, a story.

Here’s Gardner’s response to my inquiry:

I’m afraid the story of Jesse robbing the building in Weaver, Minnesota, isn’t true. The Northfield Raid, as well as the known movements of the James-Younger gang, was heavily reported in the Minnesota newspapers at the time, and if they had been connected with a robbery in Weaver, it should appear in those papers. I never came across any mention of Weaver in my research. The other problem is that the gang didn’t go through Weaver on its way to Northfield. They are documented as having come from the west and south of Northfield.

…There are lots of Jesse James stories out there, and most of them are from someone’s imagination.

My first view of the former Weaver Mercantile and Noble Studio & Galleries.

My first view of the former Weaver Mercantile and Noble Studio & Galleries.

Still, none of this diminishes my appreciation for the Italianate style building in Weaver and my interest in the artists (Marie’s obit notes that she created many lovely paintings) who once lived and created therein.

The village of Weaver is located along U.S. Highway 61 north of Winona in Wabasha County.

The village of Weaver is located along U.S. Highway 61 north of Winona in Wabasha County.

IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING MORE about Carl and Marie Noble, their gallery and art or about the history of the building, I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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21 Responses to “Murals & a myth at an historic mercantile in Weaver”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    That is quite the history of a dinky little town along the Mississippi River. I love that area; it is the gateway to the Whitewater river to me. It is a place I spent 16 or so years trout fishing with friends – an event dubbed “Trout-o-rama.” We braved all weather conditions, ate like kings fire-side, caught a lot of trout and simply made memories to last a lifetime. Additionally, the fog is pretty epic in that Weaver bottoms; the valley that stretches upriver (Whitewater). Heaving west from town on 74; then right on 26 will take you part way up the bluff to an overlook with an amazing view. http://wp.me/pFlzQ-1bH

  2. What a COOL Building and one with History too! I think it would be great to live in a place like this – hoop dreams. Thanks so much for sharing this beauty – Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Wow what an interesting post and those windows!!!

  4. Beth Ann Says:

    Interesting story and you got some great answers to questions even if they proved to be not as exciting as the story that was first reported.

  5. -R Schloss Says:

    Hello,

    You probably saw this 1910 Weaver image from MNHS during your internet research. That building looks to be near the center.

    I enjoy your mailings and appreciate your efforts.

    Rick S

    ________________________________

  6. Don Says:

    I love brick buildings and the architecture used in them. We just do not have any of that here, state is too young for it and shipping bricks is to expensive. Great photography, nice peaceful looking town and no stoplight in sight!

  7. perhaps that.word is “original” at least that is what came to mind after a brief scan.

  8. Mandi Smethells Says:

    Love this post! I lived in Weaver until 3rd grade (1990,) and my grandmother lived there until she passed away several years ago. It remains a special place always in my heart. I have very fond memories of Marie Noble, and attending parties in the 1980’s in this building. It was a dream when Marie would give tours of the bed and breakfast rooms. They were all themed, and quite extravagant and loudly decorated. I particularly remember a Zebra themed room, and murals of Palm leaves in another room. I have fading memories of attending a party in the lower Mardi Gras lounge, but even as a young child it felt like we were stepping in to the past (all the furniture felt very 1960s.) I also remember sipping soda on the back patio (which is now overtaken with weeds and trees,) but used to be filled with metal outdoor furniture. In the late 1990s, there was an estate sale at the property. It offered a rare chance for the public to view the inside of the building, I purchased some of Carl Noble’s oil paints which were stored in an old metal roller skate carrying case with roller derby stickers on it (I still keep paints in it to this day.)

  9. I am in the process of giving a PPT presentation at the Suffolk County Historical Society this evening on the WPA art & artists, which will include photos of Carl E. Noble’s works. I would love to share them with your website.

  10. nancy blackburn Says:

    Carl Noble and Marie were my step grandparents. Marie’s son C. Leslie Peterson was my stepfather for awhile until my mother and he divorced. I spent some time in this building as they were remodeling it. When it was purchased it was fairly run down and then a semi truck rammed through the front windows. Carl was a portrait painter, in the winter months he got commissions in large department stores in big cities. He had his easel set up with samples of his work and people shopping would come by and set up appointments and watch him paint. He and Marie did this for many years. During the summer they worked on the building in Weaver. Our family would visit them during this time. They also bought the old schoolhouse in Weaver and did some remodeling on it. It was always interesting to see what they were doing to the old buildings. Carl would often have a new mural in the works and it was fun watch him work. Carl Noble is credited so the story goes that he drew the first Frankenstein version of him with the screws on the neck that we know today. That is from the mouth of my stepfather though I haven’t been able to find any information to lead me to believe this is true.

  11. Cheryl Nymann Says:

    Carl also painted a mural for the Weaver United Methodist Church which remained incomplete due to his untimely death. It is proudly displayed at the center of the alter in the sanctuary. Pastor Cheryl Nymann


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