Friday, August 21, 2009

The Story of the Homestead Commemorative Stamp


Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

John and Marget Bakken would have been lost to history if it were not for a picture taken in 1898. It shows the couple outside their sod house in Walsh County, North Dakota, with their two young children and the family dog.

John Bakken was born in Benson, Minnesota, in 1871. His parents were from Telemarken. After a sojourn in Minnesota, they moved their large family to homestead in North Dakota in 1881. There John married Marget Axvig, who also came from a big Norwegian family. She was born in Telemarken in 1867.

The photographer was John McCarthy. He later sold his business to Fred Hultstrand including the original plate of the Bakken picture. Hulstrand’s assistants, the Wick sisters Thelma and Sylvia, colorized a print with oil paints.

The colorized photograph then made its way into a book called “The Pageant of America,” a 15-volume series commemorating the nation’s sesquicentennial in 1926. Charles R. Chickering, an artist for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, discovered the photograph in the book and based on this image designed the 1962 Homestead Act centennial stamp but with a few changes.

Chickering made some subtle changes in the composition but the most noticeable change is the removal of the two children, Tilda and Eddie, and the dog. This was allegedly done, according to Tom Isern, a history professor at North Dakota State University, to avoid depicting living persons. However, John Bakken, still living in North Dakota, recognized himself and his old soddie.

The Homestead Act stamp was given a general coloring of bluish-gray to represent a late evening and emphasize the bleakness of the plains, according to a 1962 broadside advertising its release. The 4-cent Homestead Act commemorative stamp was issued in Beatrice, Nebraska, on May 20, 1962, on the centennial anniversary of the signing of the act by President Abraham Lincoln.

The image was again used in 1975 by Norway to commemorate immigration to America but this time it is red. This artist’s adaptation of the same photo restores the children. “Indeed, the postures of John and Marget make the children central to this postal image—rightly so, given the attitudes of immigrant settler,” said Isern.


Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.
A copy of the original photograph, the Homestead Act stamp and the Norwegian stamp can be viewed at the American Memory website of the Library of Congress as part of the Fred Hulstrand collection.

Sources:
Isern, T. (2003, April 10). Plains folk: Bakken Homestead. North Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture Communication.Retrieved July 5, 2009, from: http://www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/newsrelease/2003/041003/04plains.htm

Sunwall, C. (2008, August 8). Homestead Act stamp. Dakota Datebook. North Dakota Public Radio. Retrieved July 5, 2009, from:
http://archive.prairiepublic.org/programs/datebook/bydate/08/0508/052008.jsp

Photographs retrieved July 5, 2009, from American Memory Home Web site:
http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?ngp:106:./temp/~ammem_0z8m

The 4-cent Homestead Act commemorative stamp was issued in Beatrice, Nebraska, on May 20, 1962, on the centennial anniversary of the signing of the act by President Abraham Lincoln.

Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

Designed by Charles R. Chickering, the stamp features an image of a sod hut, typical of the early homestead dwellings. A man and woman stand in the illuminated walkway. The stamp's bluish-gray color represents a late evening scene and emphasizes the austerity of the plains.

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