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

 

A Minnesota bait shop Norman Rockwell could appreciate April 26, 2013

White's Bait Shop, Madison Lake, Minnesota

White’s Bait Shop, Madison Lake, Minnesota, photographed while passing by.

FROM A PURE visual perspective, White’s Corner Bait in Madison Lake confuses the eye with a mishmash of angles and cluttered signage. Too many words to read while passing by on Minnesota Highway 60.

Pop, ice, bait...

Pop, ice, bait, batteries, tackle, rods, reels…

But from an artistic perspective, this long-time bait shop delights with a Norman Rockwell-like Americana charm.

I have, for decades, admired this barn red multi-layered building of angles and assorted jumbled rooflines defined by a pointed corner tower.

Not once, though, have I stopped to photograph it, to step inside, to check out the bait, to gather information on where the fish are biting.

Oh, how I love that kitschy fish.

Oh, how I love that kitschy fish.

White’s Bait, open since 2011 in a building that has been a bait shop for more than 50 years, prides itself on providing “good quality bait and great customer service.” Says so, right there on the business website.

Seems quintessential Norman Rockwellish to me. That good quality, that great customer service.

Next time I’ll stop.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Right out of Mayberry: Main Street Barber in Montgomery April 7, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:19 AM
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Steve Pan's barbershop in downtown Montgomery.

Steve Pan’s barbershop in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

I COULD HAVE BEEN WALKING into Floyd’s Barbershop in Mayberry on this first Saturday morning in April.

Same thing, according to the two customers at Main Street Barber, 106 First Street South, in Montgomery.

The old bakery cash register Steve got for his barbershop.

The old bakery cash register Steve got for his barbershop.

Barber Steve Pan agrees, as I note two Norman Rockwell paintings posted above a vintage cash register claimed from Franke’s Bakery down the street.

Above the bank of mirrors on the north side are vintage signs printed at Bohemian Club Beer.

Above the bank of mirrors on the north side are vintage signs endorsing Bohemian Club Beer. The signs were printed at the defunct Montgomery Brewing Company, which made the Bohemian beer.

Main Street Barber is about as rural Minnesota, Norman Rockwell Americana, small-town barbershop as you’ll find right down to chairs backed against the wall, trophy fish, a stand alone stove, an aged bottle of thick-as-tar “Auxiliator for the hair,” walls of mirrors, and barber chairs that hearken to the early 1900s.

Vintage chairs await customers.

Vintage chairs await customers.

Steve caught the walleye at Lake Gorman, the Northern at Red Lake.

Steve caught the walleye at Lake Gorman, the Northern at Red Lake.

This free standing stove heats the small barbershop.

This free standing stove heats the small barbershop.

An aged bottle of "auxiliator for the hair."

An aged bottle of “auxiliator for the hair.”

Looking toward the front of the barbershop and the window overlooking Main Street.

Looking toward the front of the barbershop and the window overlooking Main Street. I tested the chair in the foreground, per Bill’s urging.

I wonder, as customer Bill Becker urges me to try out a barber chair, how many hands have rested upon the arms of the chair, how many stories have been swapped here, how much hair has fallen upon this floor.

Bill guesses thousands of hands and I expect he would be right.

Steve gives Bill a flattop.

Steve gives Bill a flattop.

On this Saturday, 61-year-old Bill briefly serenades us with a verse from Marshall Tucker’s “A New Life” album while Steve sculpts his hair into a flattop. Bill remembers aloud, too, where he was when President John F. Kennedy and George Wallace and John Lennon were shot. I’m uncertain how we got on that topic because I’ve been distracted by photographing the historic charm of this place.

Tools of the trade and Steve's appointment book.

Tools of the trade and Steve’s appointment book.

Steve’s been barbering here since 1986, when he took over for Phil, who retired. “The opportunity was here…we’ll give it a shot back in the old hometown,” Steve recalls of his return to Montgomery from cutting hair in Hopkins. He’s the only barber in town now; the other two died.

Steve works on Bill's flattop.

Steve works on Bill’s flattop.

Nearly 30 years later, the hometown boy come home is still cutting hair…

Steve's scissors.

Steve’s scissors.

Bill jokes that he would have worn his wing tips had he known I would be photographing his feet.

Bill jokes that he would have worn his wing tips had he known I would be photographing his feet.

Hooks for caps hang by the vintage signs.

Hooks for caps hang by the vintage signs.

A Czech emblem, a nod to Steve's heritage and that of most folks living in Montgomery.

A Czech emblem, a nod to Steve’s heritage and that of most folks living in Montgomery.

More of those delightful old signs...and a reflection of me photographing them.

More of those delightful old signs…and a reflection of me photographing them and Steve shaping Bill’s flattop.

Family photos at Steve's work station.

A collage of photos and signage on the mirror above Steve’s work station.

Propped inside the entry.

Hung inside the entry.

PLEASE RETRUN FOR MORE stories and photos from Montgomery. Also, check my March 4 – 8 archives for a series of previous posts from this southern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling