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Framing history: Upcoming exhibit focuses on area photographers

An excursion boat on Lake Okabena1 / 5
Worthington High School football team 1910.2 / 5
Promotional photo for photographer E.F. Buchan.3 / 5
Brewster Drum & Bugle Corps in 19564 / 5
Adrian Main Street 19095 / 5

WORTHINGTON — On the morning of Aug. 24, 1908, Lillian Yates snapped a photograph featuring four generations of her own family in her Worthington studio.

There are a couple of notable things about what she did on that Monday. First of all, Yates was a professional photographer — a female professional photographer — certainly a rarity at the time in rural Minnesota. Secondly, the four generations were all male, encompassing an age span of 90 years. This was also a rarity, as most such generational photos usually include at least one female.

Yates is just one of many photographers who have worked in Nobles County in its more than 150-year history, snapping images that tell the story of the county and its people. An upcoming exhibit planned in conjunction with King Turkey Day will showcase some of those images and put the spotlight on the men and women who captured them.

“The idea for this exhibit was Ray Crippen’s,” said Jerry Fiola, a member of the Nobles County Historical Society’s Collections Committee, crediting the Daily Globe’s historical columnist and former editor. “I was working with Ray on researching neighborhood grocery stores. I was picking Ray’s brain, and he was giving me all sorts of leads on relatives of these grocery store managers. As we were having a conversation, he said, ‘Sometime we should do an exhibit of Nobles County photographers, because we have some of the photographs.’”

The idea quickly gained steam, explained Fiola, as the NCHS recently did outreach programs in the outlying Nobles County communities and connected with other sources of information and photographs. Pat Demuth, who manages the NCHS collections, searched the society’s database and the Internet to compile a list of photographers who were active in the county over the years and then cross-referenced the available photographs. They also tapped into a trove of photographs that had been scanned by Meredith Vaselaar, librarian at the Adrian Branch Library, and others assembled by Audrey Brake, who is actively preserving history in the Wilmont-Lismore-St. Kilian area of the county.

More than 35 professional photographers who operated in Nobles County were identified, although the NCHS doesn’t have photos attributed to all of them or detailed information on their enterprises.

The exhibit will feature 14 photographers in small portrait photos and highlight the work of 11 others in larger formats.

“So all together, 25 different photographers of Nobles County,” said Fiola, “from about 1880 to prior to 1930 with a few from the 1940s and 1950s.”

Most Nobles County communities will be represented in the exhibit, although there are a few deficits in the collection. NCHS would appreciate the opportunity to acquire or scan any notable photographs from throughout the county and specifically some of the underrepresented communities.

“We would love to have more of Leota. We don’t have many early pictures of Leota,” said Fiola.

“Also Bigelow and Org,” added Demuth.

Crippen has written brief biographies of the featured photographers. One of the more colorful stories is about the death of one of the Faragher brothers, who operated a studio in Adrian. Mr. Faragher became inebriated, and when he couldn’t find any more booze to consume, slit his own throat.

One photo that caught Crippen’s attention was taken by Ernest Cords, a photographer in Dundee in the early part of the 20th century. The 1908 image is of a girls basketball team, before the sport was deemed not appropriate for girls to play and was abolished in the state for many decades.

“In January 1925, Cords took a series of photos of a partial eclipse of the sun over Dundee,” added Crippen. “It got to be fairly famous and was picked up and sold by Phillips Auction House in London. The selling price was not disclosed.”

One of the most prominent local photographers, Edward Buchan, came to Worthington with his family at age 14 in 1872. After living through the grasshopper plagues, he decided he wanted no part of farming and instead went to photography school in St. Paul, opening a studio in 1880 on Third Avenue in downtown Worthington — now the site of Rickers Photography Studio.

“He did a series of stereoscopes from Yellowstone National Park,” noted Fiola. “They were some of the earliest ever taken.”

The photos in the exhibit will be showcased in period-appropriate frames on loan from Fiola’s personal collection and mounted with assistance of Brenda Hurlbut of Ax Photo in Worthington. NCHS volunteer Sandy Wood has helped with the printing and framing of the biographies.

And the exhibit will go up — at the Worthington Event Center — just in time for Worthington’s King Turkey Day celebration and the many class reunions that are scheduled in conjunction with the festival. The exhibit can be viewed beginning Friday.

Anyone with information on Nobles County photographers or photographs can contact the NCHS, 376-4431.

 Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers may be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

(507) 376-7327