Prairie Daughters: The Art and Lives of Annie Stein and Orabel Thortvedt

Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County
Moorhead, MN

Prairie Daughters: The Art and Lives of Annie Stein and Orabel Thortvedt shared the contributions these two virtually unknown women artists made to the preservation of Clay County History. Through the development of this exhibit, the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County (HCS) sought to share Clay County history in a unique way, to honor these two women’s achievements, and to tell an interesting story few people know about.

Annie Stein was a self-taught artist who explored painting, photography, songwriting and needlework in her passion for creative expression. Annie became known in her small world for her paintings of the 1897 flood and other illustrations of the pioneer stories she grew up hearing. Meanwhile, Orabel Thortvedt was formally trained in Minneapolis and made a living as an animal portraitist. Returning to the Glyndon-area farm and carrying on her father’s journaling tradition after he died, she recorded every visit she made in Clay County as well as compiled and carefully indexed her own prolific set of journals, documents which provide valuable information about early Clay County life today.

The development of the exhibit relied solely on primary sources from HCS and private collections since almost nothing had ever been written about these two artists. Secondary sources are used only to support or add context to the primary materials. In order to show their range of media, preparation, and execution, HCS wanted to display as much of the artists’ work as possible. They used paintings, sketches, scrapbooks, diaries, notebooks and letters of both Annie and Orabel. This allowed the artists to tell their own stories with little curatorial help.

At the end of Prairie Daughters, a number of owners of their works donated them to HCS collections for preservation. An invitation to publish a book about the two women and their art was extended as well as a result of the exhibit.

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