Back to top

“Grace” (Minnesota state photograph)

Creator: 
  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
“Grace,” the Minnesota state photograph, taken by Eric Enstrom c.1920 and colorized by Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg.

“Grace,” the Minnesota state photograph, taken by Eric Enstrom c.1920 and colorized by Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg.

Around 1920, the photographer Eric Enstrom took a picture of a white-bearded visitor to his studio in Bovey. The resulting image, which Enstrom called “Grace,” gained international recognition and was designated Minnesota’s official state photograph in 2002.

Eric Enstrom was a Swedish American photographer who lived and worked in the mining town of Bovey. Around 1920 (some accounts date the event to 1918), an itinerant salesman named Charles Wilden visited his studio. Impressed by what he recognized as kindness in the man’s face, Enstrom asked Wilden to pose for a picture. He had Wilden clasp his hands and bow his head, as in prayer, while seated at a table with an arrangement of household objects, including a book, a loaf of bread, and a bowl of soup. He called the photograph “Grace.”

Enstrom composed “Grace” to represent survival in the face of hardship. He later connected it to World War I and the heavy toll the trenches of Europe had taken on American lives, as well as the rationing faced by Minnesotans on the home front. In a 1961 interview, he explained his intention to capture an image that would inspire thankfulness in people who had endured privations during the war. By highlighting Wilden’s devout posture and humble surroundings, he aimed to evoke the spirit of religious faith, thankfulness, and humility he associated with many of the newly arrived European immigrants to Minnesota.

As the 1920s progressed and tourists began to purchase “Grace” from Enstrom’s studio, the photograph became a well-known fixture in local churches, restaurants, and private homes. In 1926, Wilden signed over his rights in the image to Enstrom for five dollars and Enstrom registered a copyright.

Enstrom and his daughter, the artist Rhoda Nyberg, painted over prints of the originally black-and-white image to give it the appearance of a colorful oil painting. Nyberg continued to paint versions of the image for the rest of her life, even painting a matching image depicting an elderly woman.

During the 1950s, the Enstrom family sold the rights to “Grace” to Augsburg Publishing House in Minneapolis—a publisher associated with the American Lutheran Church. The photograph continued to grow in popularity in Minnesota and across the United States, and by 1961, Augsburg Publishing had sold twenty thousand prints.

In 2002, Senator Bob Lessard of International Falls and Representative Loren Solberg of Bovey sponsored a bill in the state legislature that designated “Grace” the official state photograph. Governor Jesse Ventura signed it into law later that year. Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer hung a sepia print of the photograph on her office wall, as specified in the bill.

In the 2010s, Augsburg Fortress (a new incarnation of Augsburg Publishing) continues to sell prints of “Grace.” Since 1995, the image has been in the public domain and can be found on many Web sites. The picture hangs in the cabin of the Northwestern, the Alaskan crab fishing boat featured in the Discovery Channel’s reality TV show “Deadliest Catch.” In 1993, a monument to “Grace” and its creator was erected near Bovey Village Hall.

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Boese, Donald L., and Patricia J. Walls. Bovey: A Century of Change. Bovey, MN: Rapids Printing, 2004.

Boldt, Megan. “‘Amazing Grace:’ Famous Photo Hangs in Secretary of State’s Office.” Grand Rapids Herald-Review, April 7, 2002.

City of Bovey, Home of the Picture Grace. Picture Grace.
http://www.cityofbovey.org/picturegrace.html

“‘Deadliest Catch’: ‘Legends of the Bering Sea: Northwestern’ on Discovery.” Newark Examiner, May 10, 2015.

Ereferencedesk. Minnesota State Photograph, Grace.
http://www.ereferencedesk.com/resources/state-symbols/minnesota/photograph.html

Eric Enstrom papers
Manuscript Collection, Itasca County Historical Society, Grand Rapids
Description: Papers documenting the life and career of Enstrom, the Minnesota photographer and creator of “Grace.”

Grace by Enstrom.
http://www.gracebyenstrom.com/

Krueger, Andrew. “Bovey Painter Helped Make 'Grace' Picture Famous.” Duluth News Tribune, February 27, 2012.

Lee, Steve. “Man in Famous ‘Grace’ Photo Mystifies Historians.” Grand Forks Herald, February 27, 2012.
http://www.grandforksherald.com/content/man-famous-grace-photo-mystifies-historians

Meier, Peg. “Grace: Masterpiece Depicting Prayerful Thanks Began as a Photograph in Bovey, Minn.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 19, 1993.

Minnesota Historical Society. Directory of Minnesota Photographers, Enstrom, Eric.
http://www.mnhs.org/people/photographers/E.php

Minnesota.gov. Grace, official state photograph.
http://mn.gov/portal/about-minnesota/state-symbols/photograph.jsp

“Portrait made Minnesotan famous: man who photographed ‘Grace’ dies.” Minneapolis Tribune, November 17, 1968.

Rudolph, PattiRae. “Picture: ‘Grace’ by Eric Enstrom.” Minnesota Public Radio, February 20, 2002.
http://archive.mprnews.org/stories/20020220/picture-grace-eric-enstrom

Stassen-Berger, Rachel E. “‘Grace’ May Become State Picture.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 13, 2002.

Thistle, Scott. “Official State Photo Has Rich History.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 1, 2002.

Walsh, Paul. “Iron Range Artist Brought ‘Grace’ Photo to Fame.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 27, 2012.
http://www.startribune.com/iron-range-artist-brought-grace-photo-to-fame/140587173/

“We Give Thanks For Our Blessing on This Day.” Chicago Tribune, November 23, 1961.
http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1961/11/23/page/200/article/thanksgiving-opens-family-photo-season

Weber, Tom. "Giving 'Grace': Celebrating Minnesota's State Photograph on its 100th Birthday." MPR News, June 25, 2018.
https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/06/20/giving-grace-celebrating-minnesotas-state-photograph-on-its-100th-birthday

Related Images

“Grace,” the Minnesota state photograph, taken by Eric Enstrom c.1920 and colorized by Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg.
“Grace,” the Minnesota state photograph, taken by Eric Enstrom c.1920 and colorized by Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg.
Black and white photograph, “Grace,” the Minnesota state photograph, taken by Eric Enstrom, c.1920.
Black and white photograph, “Grace,” the Minnesota state photograph, taken by Eric Enstrom, c.1920.

Turning Point

Rhoda Nyberg, Eric Enstrom’s daughter, begins to hand-color prints of the originally black-and-white photograph in 1926.

Chronology

c.1920

Eric Enstrom takes a picture of Charles Wilden at his photography studio in Bovey.

1926

Wilden sells Enstrom his rights in the image. Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg, begins to hand-color prints of the photograph with oil paint.

1946

Eric Enstrom sells his photography studio to his son, Roger Enstrom.

c.1950s

The Enstrom family sells a colored version of the image to Augsburg Publishing House.

1961

Augsburg Publishing reports total sales of more than twenty thousand prints of “Grace.”

1968

Eric Enstrom dies on November 16.

1993

A monument to Eric Enstrom and “Grace” is erected near Bovey Village Hall.

1995

On December 31, the copyright on “Grace” expires, and the image passes into the public domain.

2002

The Minnesota Legislature passes a bill to officially recognize “Grace” as the state photograph.