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'Grace,' Minnesota's State Photograph, Celebrates A Century

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It is an image recognized around the world.

Minnesota's state photograph of a man bowing his head in thanks celebrates a century this year.

The picture hangs in the Secretary of State's office and in homes all over the country, including the Cooper dining room on the CBS show "Young Sheldon."

The story behind the photograph starts on the Iron Range in the early 1900s. The sign on the drive into the mining town of Bovey immediately captures your attention: "Home Of The Picture Grace." The image lines the streets leading to the studio where Swedish immigrant Eric Enstrom took the famous photo in 1918.

"It was the end of World War I. Times were tough, not only here but in the entire world," said Cathy Berrendts, Enstrom's granddaughter.

For Enstrom's grandchildren, it is a picture that captured a moment in time on the Iron Range.

"A lot of people had emigrated from Europe and started over, and started from nothing," said Kent Nyberg, Enstrom's grandson. "They were grateful for what they had, as little as it may have been, but it was better than what they had before."

Early on, no one knew just how far "Grace" would reach.

(credit: CBS)

"It gives me a sense of hope and it makes me thankful for this family," said Kris Nyberg, Enstrom's granddaughter.

As the story goes, Enstrom asked the peddler in the picture to pose for him. Charles Wilden bowed his head with clasped hands naturally before a meager meal.

"He had grandma bring in a dictionary. It's not really a Bible," Berrendts said. "A dictionary, a knife and a loaf of bread, and he took the picture."

Enstrom, and later his daughter Rhoda Nyberg, hand-colored the photo using oil. He added a window, with rays of light shining in.

"I don't know how many proofs he took, but obviously he settled on one which is the picture we see today," Nyberg said.

Enstrom's work has been seen everywhere from a military tent in Afghanistan, to a town in Africa, to homes spanning from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, to Oregon and Illinois.

"It is all over the world," said Pam Botts, Enstrom's granddaughter.

But it is here at home that "Grace" became the state photograph in 2002. Former State Representative Loren Solberg was a sponsor of the bill, and believes it was a natural fit.

"The photograph itself just kind of almost represents the value of Minnesota, of being grateful for what we have," Solberg said. "Not necessarily all of us have everything we want but the simple things in life, and we kind of value those."

The history of "Grace" is now on a plaque outside Bovey City Hall for generations to read. And so, 100 years later, the photograph remains relevant.

"What it represents is timeless," Nyberg said.

"Grace" will be celebrated during Bovey's Farmer Days over the Labor Day weekend. There is an oral history that will play, and there will be a parade Monday at 11 a.m. featuring Enstrom's family -- including grandchildren like Kris Mayerle, who is reporter Jennifer Mayerle's aunt through marriage.

The Itasca County Historical Society also has a display sharing the history of 100 years of the picture "Grace."

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