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Picture some history

Goodhue County Historical Society collections and exhibits manager Johanna Grothe (left) and board member Janet Daley attach enlarged copies of historic photos from the Bender albums to a display at the Goodhue County History Center.1 / 5
Phil Revoir of Red Wing made negatives of historic photographs and then prints of the negatives. He donated all of his negatives to the Goodhue County Historical Socety.  He donated all of the prints to the area museums. The prints (including these two) will be sold during the Museum Crawl May 31 and June 1 throughout Red Wing.2 / 5
An image of Peters’ Palace of Sweets is one of the original historic photographs that Phil Revoir collected. It is part of his large collection that was sold to a private individual who then donated all the photos to the area museums. This one is housed at the Goodhue County History Center.3 / 5
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Editor’s note: Read about Phil Revoir in the May 28 edition.

By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor

A huge collection of photographs showing what life was like during Red Wing’s early years has been donated to the city’s history museums in order to preserve and share the stories they tell.

The six museums are working collaboratively to share the Phil Revoir collection and make it available to everyone.

Exhibits are going up now, during Minnesota Museum Month. In addition, the museums are planning Red Wing’s first Museum Crawl May 31-June 1, according to Goodhue County Historical Society collections and exhibits manager Johanna Grothe.

Revoir, a retired Red Wing photographer, collected and restored thousands of antique photographs depicting the greater Red Wing community. The collection, which also includes ephemera and memorabilia, became his life’s work.

Last spring the family put out word that much of the collection was being put up for sale, including historical photos, some of Revoir’s photos and touch-ups, local memorabilia and postcards.

A local benefactor with a passion for history purchased it all. Doing so meant the museums would not have to bid against each other. The benefactor also wanted the collection to stay in Red Wing.

Photos help create a sense of place, the private donor said. “A picture defines things in a way words can’t. When they’re combined, it’s just phenomenal.”

It was essential that the museums come together and find a way to share the collection, working together in a way that has not happened in the past.

A committee formed with representatives from the Goodhue County Historical Society, Red Wing Shoe Company Museum, Red Wing Pottery Museum, Red Wing Marine Museum, American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame and Museum, and later the Aliveo Military Museum. People from some area historical organizations also were part of the effort.

The collection was brought to a central location, where “Everyone got to see everything,” according to Michelle Engel, archivist for the Red Wing Shoe Museum. The representatives established rules for sharing the collection, and began the process of indicating what they wanted.

Revoir collected old and historic photos, including many street scenes and blufftop views of the city, a limited number of individual portraits and organization images, some photos of parades and military departures, a few business interiors and storefronts, pictures of the river and riverboats, winter sports photos, clay industry images and more.

Also, Revoir had acquired several photo albums that are filled with a variety of images. Among the most important are the Bender albums compiled by Adolph S. and Adolph C. Bender, father and son, and the historic photo collection of Dr. L.A. Steffens.

In addition, Grothe said, Revoir had a huge postcard collection — more than 2,600 postcards from the late 1800s to the 1990s — plus such things as political campaign cards from the 1920s and ‘30s, catalogues, event programs, brochures and magazines featuring local companies.

Items were distributed to the museums according to which images will best enhance their individual collections.

Because of its broader scope, the Goodhue County museum acquired a large selection of items that it will share with the other museums and with the public on an ongoing basis, Grothe said.

That includes the photo albums, which the group decided should remain intact. Images from the albums that the other museums wanted were scanned and made available as digital copies.

Although a majority of the collection depicts the Red Wing area, there also are images and postcards of outlying communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Photos that duplicate images already in the collection or that do not have local content were offered to other area historical organizations.

Grothe noted that the Revoir family donated additional items to the county museum, including enlarged prints of historic photos he restored and more than 6,700 photo negatives.

The anonymous benefactor made an additional donation to the county facility to help with the handling of such a large number of items. That funding is being used to purchase archival boxes and sleeves, and to prepare the exhibit.

In all, the images and memorabilia going to the museums represent far more than a dollar value, according to the benefactor.

“(Revoir) had one-of-a-kind items,” the donor said. “The collection is priceless.”