Anyone who has recently visited the Volstead House will notice that it looks a little different on the inside. That’s because it is currently the site of a Granite Falls Historical Society-sponsored exhibition created by local photographer, writer, and artist, Jess Gorman. The project features canvases depicting creatively reimagined photos of old artifacts, newspaper clippings, and personal writings of Volstead’s wife, Nellie, and their daughter, Laura.
The art work ultimately restores the untold stories and personalities of the Volstead women. The exhibit is an extension of ongoing efforts by the GFHS to develop both permanent and temporary exhibit concepts within the Volstead House. The group is working with an outside exhibit design/construction consulting firm to create content and conceptual designs for future exhibits and programming. Although the Historical Society is still in the early stages of this endeavour, Gorman’s exhibition is certain to upend how local residents think about Volstead, his family, and their historic home. Gorman takes a unique approach to creating these original works of art.
She takes her photographs of historically significant items or documents, makes them much larger, and then adjusts elements like lighting, perspective, and shadow. The end products are brilliantly reinterpreted images that give new meaning and fresh insight into the depicted subjects. GFHS member Mary Gillespie first approached Gorman with the idea for a project after viewing her recent photo gallery, ‘Follow the Yellowstone Trail.’ The exhibit, which was shown in Granite Falls earlier this year, features several works created in a similar fashion.
Gillespie’s offer triggered a new realization for Gorman: “I could use my art to spark interest in historical documents that were probably sitting in drawers or cabinets.” But before she could commence with her work, Gorman had to brush up on her local history. She said that she had “very little” in-depth knowledge of the Volsteads, and remembered not being able to keep Nellie and Laura straight.
Gorman, like many residents of Granite, had a vague image of Volstead as an austere moralist sporting a thick walrus mustache - the architect of the infamous failed experiment of Prohibition. Many residents, in fact, aren’t even fully aware of the hugely important role played by Volstead’s wife, Nellie, and daughter, Laura. When Gorman began her research, she did so under the assumption that she would be “doing a project on Andrew Volstead,” adding that “the women were not the focus.”
She was startled to learn through the course of her research that not only did Nellie and, in particular, Laura have significant accomplishments in their own right, but that they had fascinating personal characteristics. It turned out that much of the hand-written correspondences and marginalia that Gorman explored was composed by Laura Volstead, providing Gorman with a rich collection of items to work with. “Not only did she archive her father’s life, but her own life as well,” Gorman said, a fact which has enabled her to expose a whole new side of Laura through to the modern public.
Gorman was also assisted in her research by Gillespie, who was “an amazing wealth of knowledge” on the subjects of the Volstead family. Gorman unveiled her exhibit during the National Beer Day festivities at the Volstead House on Sunday, April 7. While attendees sampled a variety of Minnesota-made beer (courtesy of the Granite Falls Network Community) Gorman explained her project and shared stories about the Volstead family. The exhibit will remain at the Volstead House for the time being and will help inspire future projects and exhibitions.