A piece of art was donated to the Morrison County Historical Society’s collection recently: an oil painting depicting a scene of a house in winter. Though it is a beautiful painting, the front of it is not where its mystique lies. As historians, we are always looking for historical significance in art, and this piece has just that.
Turning the painting over, we can learn much more about this particular piece of art. It is on the back of the frame that we find the artist, matching the signature at the front of the painting—a Mrs. Al Hartman [sic]. This is most likely Florence “Dottie” Boeder Hartmann (1913-2008), a prolific artist from Pierz whose main medium was oil paint. Hartmann painted primarily nature scenes, inspired by the world around her (The ADvisor, October 17, 1988, page 16).
However, that is not where the discoveries end. We can tell that this painting was sold or put in some sort of raffle because it was won by an M. Berger. There is a final inscription on the back that served as the inspiration for this article: “Artrain Aug. 3, 1975 Little Falls”.
None of us at the Weyerhaeuser Museum were aware of the history of the Artrain. Thankfully, the donor knew enough to get us started on our research. After she told us about it, we kept finding more and more on it everywhere we looked! We found enough that it only made sense to share with everyone else.
Artrain was established in Detroit, Michigan, in 1971 with three goals in mind (as listed on their website, artrain.org): “to foster the development of local arts organizations throughout the Michigan [sic], to provide people in villages, towns and cities access to outstanding art exhibitions and to promote the MCA (Michigan Council for the Arts).” They accomplished these goals by putting art on a train and bringing that train around Michigan. Within their first year, Artrain received 191,000 visitors around the state. The rail museum began to tour beyond Michigan state lines three years later and soon reached millions nationwide.
Artrain arrived in Little Falls on July 30, 1975, opening amidst celebrations of the upcoming bicentennial anniversary of the American Revolution. As stated in the July 28, 1975, edition of the Little Falls Daily Transcript: “the week of dancing, singing, watching and listening has arrived!” Within the 5-day span of Artrain’s stop in town, visitors could expect to see variety shows, art exhibits, and musical performances. Some examples of what one could expect during these days include a musical drama from St. Mary’s fifth grade, dramatic readings from the Little Falls High School’s drama club, and even a karate demonstration (Little Falls Daily Transcript, July 31, 1975).
This stop on Artrain’s national journey was ultimately deemed a success, with over 1,000 Little Falls area residents lending a hand in various aspects of the event. An outpouring of support came from the community as well, with over 5,000 visitors stopping to participate in the artistic festivities (Little Falls Daily Transcript, August 5 and 8, 1975).
Art has been a staple within the culture of Morrison County for decades, whether it be in the form of exhibits and performances, craft sales at local churches, school band concerts, or any other number of creative endeavors. Minnesota Citizens for the Arts ranked Morrison County 4th out of 15 studies around the state in regards to artistic event attendance, gathering 128,348 to events in 2014. With 16 nonprofit arts and culture organizations within the county (artsmn.org), art is hard to avoid—So go out and see a show, take an art class, or visit a museum! Morrison County has plenty to offer.
Artrain retired its rail museum in 2008 but continues to sponsor programs to bring arts and culture to communities around the country.
~ Grace Duxbury
This article originally appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. 31, No. 4, 2018.