J. C. RYAN FOREST HISTORY ROOM
This exhibit is one of the Society's long-term ("permanent") exhibits, developed in the early 1990's, during the Coombe administration, fabricated by Venture Exhibits. It is an exposition about the lumber industry in St. Louis County, with a focus on the late 1800's, when logging was at its height.
Entering the room, the visitor will encounter three video monitors, equipped to play the programs "Logs to Lumber", which covers the lumberjack and logging camps, as well as log transportation to the mills; "Mills to Market"; and "Sawmilling, Past to Present". The next item is "Sky Pilot's Folding Organ", a module on the itinerant clergymen who served the lumber camps, including the organ.
In the center, on the left side, is an artifact-dense display area, featuring many clothing, tool, and transportation items from the logging camp life.
The large, semi-circular display at the end of the room is the heart of the exhibit. It covers many aspects of the life of the lumberjack, including food – procuring, preparation, serving and eating. Art depicting various aspects of the era and relevant artifacts is interspersed liberally.
On the other side of the room, the visitor encounters a selection of the photographs of William Roleff, a local self-taught photographer who was fascinated by the life of the logging camps and who captured many aspects of it with documentary impact and artistic excellence.
On the end of this center island, as the visitor leaves, is a module dedicated to J. C. (Buzz) Ryan, the extraordinary forester in charge of the Civilian Conservation Corps workers, whose work and legacy lives on today.
A display of artwork by Dale Lyons, local artist, on horses in the logging industry, completes the experience. This display also includes augmenting artifacts.
The Melheim Collection – Fesler Gallery
The Society's Fesler Gallery describes a space that is divided into two areas: a more enclosed space that we refer to as the "small Fesler", in which a rotation of exhibits is placed. The rest of this space, and the first area that the museum visitor arrives at, contains another permanent exhibit – the Melheim Collection, which is primarily a group of very intricately carved wooden furniture and clocks.
Herman Melheim and his wife, Lillian, lived in a log cabin at Ray, Minnesota, and this secluded cabin is where Herman began his wood carving career. He began carving with only a pocket knife and later developed his own makeshift tools. The carvings that resulted were the antithesis of "makeshift".
Mr. Melheim, over the years, gave generously to museums and historical societies, and in at least one instance he worked for six months carving furniture and religious objects, such as a pulpit, baptismal font, and candelabra, for a church. In 1976, at age 87, he gave most of his remaining furniture to the St. Louis County Historical Society, where it is on permanent display. He disposed of his carvings for the following reasons: he was afraid of forest fires, as there many in 1976; he contemplated a winter vacation in California and feared vandalism in his absence; and if anything should happen to him he wanted the furniture to have an appropriate home and to be seen and appreciated by as many people as possible.
Recently, thanks to a bequest from the Fesler family, the Fesler Gallery enjoyed a lighting update, a thorough professional painting job, professional cleaning, and careful hand cleaning of all artifacts. All artifacts were also photographed and added to the Society's digital collections record.
Two kubbestols (chairs made from single logs) were lent in 2007 to the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, to be featured in an exhibit entitled Kubbestol: From Seating to Symbol, which closed in March 2009. These lovely pieces have since returned to their home in the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center (the Depot) in Duluth.