Voices of Minnesota: Fishing families on the North Shore

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In two Voices of Minnesota conversations, two men, Howard Sivertson and Walter Sve, who grew up in fishing families on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It's a way of life that's practically disappeared.

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(00:00:00) Thanks Greta. Six minutes past (00:00:01) 12:00 (00:00:06) and good afternoon. Welcome back to midday on Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Gary eichten. This are a midday to voices of Minnesota conversations. We're going to hear from two men who grew up in fishing families on the North shore of Lake Superior. It is a way of life that's practically disappeared and Howard sivertson has turned his memories now and two paintings and books but Walters Vey is still a commercial fisherman. And that's who we're going to hear from first. He has started hauling fish out of Lake Superior when he was just 10 years old that was 65 years ago. Smeii remembers the Heyday of commercial fishing on Lake Superior, but now he's one of a handful of fishermen who are still working along the North Shore Minnesota Public Radio, Stephanie Hempel talked with Walters say (00:00:55) walks Faye is tall and spare when he's working he wears. Plaid wool shirt topped with orange waterproof overalls held up by wide suspenders. He wears glasses and a baseball cap. Just about any morning between May and November. You can find him in his Fish House it sits on a narrow Rocky Beach just below Silver Bay 50 miles up the shore from Duluth. He's cleaning the Herring he brought in at dawn. His son. Eric is helping him. The work goes along smoothly reach for a fish slid it open tease out the guts scrape the scales slide it aside later say will deliver the fish to restaurants and stores along the shore in the time. It takes him to clean a tub of Herring Waltz vacant tell you a lot about the old days here his dad came from Norway via (00:01:48) Canada. He landed Montreal and on New Year's Day in 1921. He was his uncle up in Edmonton. Canada has sent money over so so my dad Get over to this country. And so then he went that's why you went there and then he worked two years to pay off this his fear for getting over here, but he didn't like it up in that Prairie country. So he had Uncle here and tore Burrs so he came down here and boy was just like coming home for him because Lake Superior laid on the same side as a what the future did Norway. So he was looking out over his kind of salt Southeast over the lake and like he did in the in the fiord Triumph Jordan or we so it was like coming home and the trees were just pretty much the same virtues and evergreen trees. So that's why he decided that this is where he wanted to see. My dad was one of the Blaster said bless it out the road around Silver Creek cliff and my mother just lived west of the cliff just bought a strong half mile or so. That's that's how come they met and and then they got married (00:03:07) and had a blast his way through to beat (00:03:09) her. Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, that's about it and their names were just about exactly the same. So my dad's name is reg Malden. My mother's name is reg hilde. So (00:03:22) pretty good Norwegian name. (00:03:24) Yes. My dad always said he had to come to this country the to find find somebody with a crazy name like he has One cup of fish (00:03:36) clean one more to go. (00:03:41) I got started early this morning on the lake. I went out at four o'clock in the Moonlight yesterday. I went out at 3:00 in the morning light. It's so nice out there. Then that's might as well take advantage of the of the beautiful weather and then a nice moon. What more could we ask for (00:04:04) moon is bright enough so you can see what you were doing. (00:04:06) Oh, yes. Yes. It was bright enough. I could see the mesh is some on the Nets around the fish and so had no problem picking the fish off out of the Nets. Some of the fish the smaller fish you can push through the mesh. Look at the bigger ones. You have to back them out. So you got to be able to see a little bit then (00:04:29) how much did you catch this morning (00:04:31) got 270 pounds overwhelmed around wage and all yesterday. We had 620 we got six and that's all we got 1,800 feet of net out. So (00:04:45) so how does that sound to you? I mean, what kind of catch is that? (00:04:49) That was that was just 600 pounds. That was a nice catch today was kind of small for two men, but that's that's the way it is what fishing you never know. You never know just because you got that saw don't mean you're going to catch fish. (00:05:07) You're making this cleaning look pretty simple. (00:05:09) I've been clean fish for at least 65 years because I started when I was well, it may be even For I was 10 years old. So 75 now so you never get tired of it. No, no all I need four years ago and we got lots of hearing back in well in the 40s and and early 50s when we had a lot of hearing it got kind of tiresome astounding cleaning fish till 6 o'clock up to 10 o'clock at night when you come in with well with my brother and my dad and I were three of us and you come in with a ton and a half of hearing, you know, that's that's a lot of cleaning. This summer The Herring fishing with real bad the water got too warm and in July and August and almost a lot of days there that I had five hearing. That's all I got. You said the water was (00:06:14) too warm for the hearing. What did they (00:06:16) do? Well, then they go they go out and probably deeper or to get into cooler (00:06:20) water. Do you catch different fish at different times of (00:06:25) year? Not mainly we're fishing for Herring and that's what you get, but I do fish for the DNR in me and then in September and fish for lake trout for the DNR. So there is test netting so they see how the fish are doing all the trout Earth. They're spawning in the lake. So there's natural reproduction and and what the Lamprey situation is. We used to start fishing around the first of me and and you don't get as many and you got to be further all up and down deep at that time of the year. The Herring are real deep. So you're probably down a hundred and twenty feet with your nets. It's harder fishing. That's for sure now. We're only fishing and 18 feet down from the surface. (00:07:20) This is voices of Minnesota. We're talking with Walters Fay in his fish house. He's been a commercial fisherman on the North shore of Lake Superior all his life. He learned the trade from his father and mother they settled at Split Rock near Silver Bay in (00:07:33) 1927. There was nothing here when they settled here so they build up a tilt a little fish oils and with living quarters above there was 14 by 18 and my brother he he was already born when they settled here and then I was born in 28 and when my sister was born in 1932 decide to have had a little more room so he had it on 18 Str8 feet to it. So so the building got to be 26 by 28 and that was that was hurled living quarters for well until 1936 (00:08:14) and that was upstairs from the fishes. (00:08:16) It was upstairs in the fish sauce. Yes. (00:08:20) Now tell me about your childhood. What what was it like growing up (00:08:23) here? Well, I don't know if we didn't really wish it was The Depression years and and nobody had anything and we didn't either so but we were always happy and we didn't we didn't know no better and I think we were probably better off for it. We made our own fun and and we helped my dad which with the Nets in there whatever we could do to help them that would and that because the house is heated with wood and that's way before we had electricity of course. So whatever had to be done I'll kids woke up. We were happy to do it because we don't have nothing else to do. So we were just busy working reeling up nets and for this to dry, um and and whatever whatever he had of frost to do. We were just busy busy all the time and enjoying it and And then in the wintertime then we had little more more free time to go and play with the kids in the neighborhood. We were 15 kids that lived within a mile and a quarter of one another. So what did you do for fun? What kind of playing did you know I was in that it was in the wintertime. So we all had these Runners sleds and of course we had the best healed over here. So then come over here and we slide down the hill just running back and forth and mother always had some goodies for us made some cake or something or cookies and stuff. So it's got cold. We'd run in and warming and have some chocolate or choco or whatever, you know, so yeah, we had we had a good time. (00:10:15) And tell me about how you met your wife and when you got married to her, (00:10:20) but I met Carol through my through my brother. My brother's wife. Her father was a fisherman, but he lost his life before Carol wasn't what four months before Carol was born. (00:10:38) How did he lose his life? (00:10:40) So the northwest wind this is the worst wind that we have that we got to be careful with it and he got caught they were on on the Nets love for miles on the lake and was a beautiful day when they went out. He was about 65 70 degrees and warm and I so they didn't even take a jacket with you sure. She's just in the shirt sleeves and the wind came up without no warning. Usually you get a little warning with a northwest wind but this time there was no warning at all. I guess it was about 60 mile an hour wind just just thought a nowhere and it's it dropped from 65 degrees to 10 degrees in one hour and start snowing and it started in but they lost their motor on their boat. You will more has a vibrator quite a bit from this thumb screws that holds them on the boat work loosen and they lost your motor and they just didn't make it in they couldn't rule against it after they lost your Motors. So they were at the mercy of the wind so they had tied themselves in the boat. I think more than likely knowing what is going to happen to them. So they were phone ten days later Let's cross the lake and Cornucopia and they froze to death. (00:12:13) Were you ever caught out in a storm? (00:12:16) Oh, I'm in a lot of storms. I never got caught up here. I always made it in but I suppose I got to see if their motor hadn't kept running. Maybe maybe I want to help hold up the same way. I don't know. The wind can come up so fast with Northwest. That's the one we got to look out for the offshore wind and I had to I was fishing but seven miles off the lake back in 62 63 and 64 and I got caught in a northwester out there and but it's normally took me 20 and 19 to 20 minutes to run that distance. I took me hours and five minutes to get in Booking their seat, and I had to I had to record real slow to give the board a chance or otherwise you'd come over one wave in here than didn't go read up on the ball of the bulletin if I went faster with a very difficult, so I had to just go real slow and give the board a chance and folks were pretty worried, but I made it. All right. (00:13:27) The folks were worried weren't you worried? (00:13:29) No, I wasn't worried. I knew I knew I was doing Jesus but he didn't (00:13:35) so were they waiting for you here at the (00:13:37) fish house only are they had the binoculars and had one pair of binoculars and my mother would be looking and she couldn't see nothing then my dad would look and he wouldn't see not and then she'd lock and back and forth and then finding my dad, he says it's not like there's one place water spring around higher than any place else. Oh he's coming. So that's that's the way they they knew I was heading in. All right, (00:14:05) this is voices of Minnesota on Minnesota Public Radio. We're talking with Walters Fay a commercial fisherman on Lake superior's North Shore wall space cells Herring to several restaurants and stores and he sells the eggs or row to a company that ships them to Sweden where they're sold his caviar. He weighs the row on an antique scale (00:14:26) now. I've got ex actly 13 pounds. (00:14:29) So that's a good catch of row, huh? (00:14:32) Too bad not too bad out of 270 pounds of hearings. (00:14:36) Aren't you worried that you're getting in the way of those fish reproducing themselves (00:14:41) won't know there's lots of herring in the lake now. So they're they're they're doing all right. Yeah, and then we can't fish and spawning season years ago back in the 20s and 30s and 40s. We fished you around and there was lots of hearing that knows no end to it. So if it makes a difference now, I don't know but they seem to think so. So (00:15:03) are there more fishermen now are (00:15:05) fewer? Well, they very many. I wear only on the whole North Shore from Duluth to the Canadian border. I think there's 28. I think it is now 20 what story is it 30 now 30. Mm and back in the 30s. There was 400. I was in the Depression years will anything to try and make a buck? So there was a lot of people that were tried their hand at fishing and so and it was tons and tons of hearing hold off. The shore truck would come just least ton-and-a-half trucks at the dealers and Duluth had there were seven dealers in Duluth and they all had their own trucks on the shore and (00:15:49) you think he'll ever be like that (00:15:50) again. Oh, I I think so. I think it will it's it's been picking up all the time. So things are looking good (00:16:02) fishing crashed on Lake Superior in the 1950s. One reason was the sea lamprey. They came into the Great Lakes through the st. Lawrence Seaway and they practically wiped out the lake trout. Another reason was the heavy commercial fishing of the 30s and 40s. Then Reserve mining company started dumping its waste rock into the lake at Silver Bay the dirt in the water for The Herring to go elsewhere to spawn Waltz face as he can. Remember the day the current carried reserves muddy water into his family's fishing (00:16:33) grounds 27th of August 1956. That's when the dirty water reached our place. I'll never forget that and the clarity dropped right down to one foot that you could see down in and it went it was he's current so it carried it towards Duluth and then from there on it just got worse and worse, but it wasn't going out in the lake so far. So we still were getting some Herring for a few years. We just had to keep moving out just a little bit but then it got so bad that I had to go way out and then by 66 there was no use anymore. It was all the way across the lake the whole this old and the lake was that an in hearing are very fussy troughton total go. The water but hearing their guilt structure is so full that least little dirt in the water irritates it and up at Canada. They were starting to get more harrowing than they'd ever seen the life up there because the Herring went that direction instead for their spawning beds. Otherwise, the big spawning beds here on this end of the lake was between between the Knife River and and Duluth (00:17:50) and in the fall of 56. You could see this coming. It must have been a big shock. (00:17:54) How did you would you think if you're sure it will just like a clock coming through the water and we knew it was going to come anyhow, because when the reserve first asked for their permit to dumped in the lake my dad and for other commercial fisherman went to loose and they each of these fishermen they told us going to wind up right in the drinking water and farber's Duluth and they last that them and told them they didn't know what they were talking about. Well, it wasn't too many years a day. Start finding it in the drinking water. It's where they really notices in the toilet tanks. They've seen this sediment in the toilet tanks in ever had before and people were drinking this water. And I don't know and yet when they wanted to increase their capacity our legislators give them a permit to double their capacity (00:18:52) for 25 years. There were no Herring to be caught along the North Shore Waltz phase parents lived on the income from their guest cabins and Walt spent 30 years as a carpenter, he and his wife raised four children two of them still live on the shore and a third wants to move back to help with the cabins in the fishing Waltz. They went back to commercial fishing when he was 64. What is it about fishing? (00:19:17) Oh, I don't know. I think it's just because your Norwegian is gets in your blood that you got a few out there in the lake. (00:19:27) How did you get back into it? (00:19:29) Well as soon as fishing got start coming back after reserv had to quit dumping their tailings. So Lake they'll then they had to quit in 84 and and Water start clearing up and up a couple three years and and then I start test netting and so then then start picking up so by about 1992 then it's start getting pretty fair with herring again. So you could make a dollar to get on it. (00:19:59) Did you quit the carpentry then? (00:20:01) No, I quit the carpentry when I got to be 65. I quit work involved for him. So how old are you now 75 (00:20:10) and you still go out every day to (00:20:12) fish? Oh, yes. Yes. Yes, you got to keep busy. If you gotta stay young you got to keep working, you know want to sit down and do nothing because in the body will shut down and you'll die. That's what I that's what I figure I don't know. I can't take that chance. I'm going to keep working them (00:20:29) Waltz phase wife Carol died a couple of years ago. He's been keeping company with Helen Wilkie. She's one of those 15 kids who used to slide down the Is Hill and then warm up on cocoa and cookies Walt state is also building a boat with an inboard motor to make the fishing easier. This is voices of Minnesota on Minnesota Public Radio near Silver Bay. This is Stephanie (00:20:54) Hemphill. And I'm Chris Julian and Grand Marais. When you talk about commercial fishing on the North shore of Lake Superior, the name sivertson is sure to come up three generations of sieverts ins fished on Lake Superior Howard sivertson grew up spending his Summers on a small island next to Isle Royale. I'll Royal is the largest island in Lake Superior. It's about 20 miles off the shore from the town of Grand Portage when Howard sivertson was a boy a couple dozen families move to Isle Royale every fishing season. He says they lived a pioneer life now Howard sivertson is a painter. He sells his work in Galleries and he's Illustrated in written four books about days gone by in northern Minnesota. His first book was called once upon a Nile it uses paintings and text to tell the story of commercial fishing on Isle Royale. (00:21:41) My grandparents came over here from Norway. They were commercial fishermen in Norway in 1892 and they established themselves in aisle Royal then as seasonal fishermen from let's say the first of April to the first of December and I'll Royal and they commercial faced and all my relatives on my father's side were commercial fisherman. And so it was it was the thing you're supposed to have done in those days was to be a commercial fisherman the (00:22:06) how come you didn't end up as a commercial fisherman, (00:22:09) I threw up a lot when I was a kid my I work with my dad from the time. I was about five six years old on the lake and what I was kind of a dreamy kid, not particularly interested in commercial and commercial fishing or fishing and I did get seasick a lot and I it turned me off from commercial fishing and by the time I could get old enough I my seasickness was cured by the time was what 15 or 16 and by the time I got old enough to fish the fish had disappeared from the lake the lake trout. Disappeared from the lake and due to the influx of smelt. Remember that voracious little fish that eats the fry and the baby trout and between that and the Lamprey eel. It's suck the blood of the trout and that killed trout fishing. So there wasn't a future in commercial fishing after about 1950. So at that left me, even if I wanted to be a commercial fisherman, which I didn't it left me out of the of the game there. I was born in Duluth and raised about a week after I was born my mother and I joined dad and my sister and I'll Royal and we went over on the window. That was the first time I threw up you were a week old. Yes, I guess she's shaking. But anyway, so let's start in 1930 and we made those annual trips until I was about 20. That was the routine pretty much until the 1950s. (00:23:35) So you definitely were old enough to get several years of a taste of (00:23:40) For fishing. Oh, yes. I got a real good taste of it. And if I would have been little bit bigger if I was to do it now if someone introduced me not at 73, which I am now, but if they would induce me later on in life to commercial fishing, I would have loved it. It's like having a trapline. It's like hunting or fishing owner every day. You're excited about what you're what you're going to catch and what's on on your hook lines. And what's in your nets and there's also the fear of maybe nothing is in there the insecurity of it as something else but also when you got some fish enough to make a living there was also that feeling of well-being and in you're Your Own Boss you're out in the out in the lake you're out in the open and little traffic. No, none of those none of those stressful factors that you might find in the city. (00:24:33) You're also a subject to the elements and to the whims of the big lake. (00:24:39) Oh, absolutely, but you dress for it and Boats were tough and are rugged and well shaped handle the lake and we all be always had foul weather gear where we went you carried it with you. So you very seldom went in the house except for meals or sleep. So we're out in the rain and the weather all the time and you think nothing of that when (00:25:03) I look at your pictures at the paintings, it seems like those are are fond of depictions of their life. (00:25:13) I didn't think if I painted myself throwing up anybody would buy it. But but it's it's I painted some of the some of the pictures show some of the some of the harshness of the fishing industry, but there was also a lot of nice things about it. They're working in probably the most beautiful area the world a lot of horizon lot of gentle landscape a lot of a lot of beauty but they these fellows work very hard and work in amongst a lot of beautiful islands and in water and different things like that animals while stings and so those are the things that I was impressed with as far as pulling on that anchor line until my fingers bled that in interest interest me too much but painting the scenes the environment in which they worked that was fantastic. (00:26:02) Yeah, I don't mean to imply that your paintings and your book once upon a Nile don't get at that. I mean, I think I guess they're both sides of it. But I guess what I Come Away with what I remember is the these beautiful Horizons as you (00:26:18) say, well that's fantastic. My work is complete in the last that's what I wanted to do a conscious desire and a subconscious desire to create that atmosphere because that's what I knew. That was what the world looked like to me and I painted that world and it was a his a great place to live up live and grow up on it was a like all Huck Finn Paradise. There's always something to do outside. We invented our own games we chase squirrels and animals and and we went fishing his letter a lot of what they call Sportfishing now, but there's a lot of fishing like that and we just everyday was full when we were children and it was a small island with only a few people on it. So everybody knew everybody it was like one big happy family. As far as children felt, you know, we didn't get involved in the problems the adults had too much but at least it was a it seemed like one big happy family to his children. (00:27:12) How many people are on the island over the summer me? (00:27:15) Well, there's many there's about 200 islands around Isle Royale itself, but we were on one Island and there were probably ten families and when Island and maybe three of those families had children and there was a few Bachelors to Fishtown that island but the in the whole of Washington Harbor where I grew up which on the Southwest end of Oil royal it involved. There's 145 family islands and families lived down in in the whole area there. There's been maybe 12 14 families, I guess. (00:27:45) And you actually transported your life to the island. (00:27:49) We left we left a modern life on the North Shore of hot and cold running water and electric lights and Automobiles. And once we crossed it up towards the lighthouse on our way to Isle Royale but Midway we entered into another world. It was like a the Pioneer type world where everything was very simple living kerosene lamps wood stoves a totally different lifestyle. It's kind of unique to be able to experience the modern type of living with all the hectic the pressure and the pace of modern living enemy a dial Royal where the pace although we move fast when they're fishing of pace of living was slower the concerns. I don't know. I were you can handle the problems you because there weren't any there weren't any law enforcement people over there. There wasn't any churches there weren't any bars or restaurants or anything like that? No movie houses. So we pretty much Each other and we depend on each other and it was kind of like a unique little culture or there (00:28:55) and you still fish today angle or sport fish. Whatever it what would you call it? (00:29:02) I guess it's called. I'll call it angling because sports fishing. I have a problem with Sportfishing. I still don't think that a 200-pound man catching a three pound fish as much of a sport. It's fun, but I don't consider it a sport and so I'll call it angling and I still do that and I catch fish to eat. We have a cabin up in Canada right on Lake Superior and I take my rowboat out there and I'll roll for a couple of miles a day in catching the fish to eat. All I need is about to fish a week and that's plenty of fish. I love the going out and can dangling in catching a fish. I love that. I don't call it sport, but I love doing it and I love eating them too. I love the whole process. What to go out and catch as many fish as I can doesn't make much sense. (00:29:50) This is voices of Minnesota. We're talking with Howard sivertson. He comes from a commercial fishing family on the North shore of Lake Superior. He paints pictures of that old life when he was a young man hard Severson went to art school and he spent 25 years doing Commercial Art for ad agencies. Then he quit. (00:30:08) I built a little cabin up north of Two Harbors in the woods and I sold my property on Lake Superior, which was about I had thousand feet in the beautiful home on lakes five-bedroom home on Lake superior's soul that moved up into the woods and lived in the shack for three years while I learn to paint again or tried to learn to paint and that was in 76 I moved up there and in 1980. I felt strong enough that I was able to maybe sell some paintings. So I moved to Grand Marais opened the gallery with my daughter Jan sivertson here and get in granberry who continues to Gallery business. I'm not in it now, but so I've been Painting just what every day. I tried to paint almost every day since that time and my routine is to paint during the day during the mornings. I'll usually paint some go to the easel and if the weathers right I'll get out to my favorite spots and it could be aisle Royal. This is the islands the North Shore or The Boundary Waters depending on a day depending on the season. I'll go out there and paint and my research and afternoons, I paint emotionally but I also know that I have to use art principles in order for me to evoke those emotions out of my audience. In other words when I start the painting I asked myself, how do I this is a way I felt about this seen. How do I want the audience to feel about the scene? What what abstract shapes what directions would colors will help me to see that to those people you can go out and just express yourself, you know, just why least mishmash, you know wild expressing yourself without any without any skills or allowing you plan, but it's like handing a violin to a six-year-old. You don't nobody else wants to listen to it. (00:31:55) Can you describe what you're trying to capture (00:31:59) if I could I'd be a writer and this is a whole thing that the feelings were strong enough of but I found it was easier to paint the picture and it was for me to write it. I I can get along with words to a point. I've got four books out but my stories their strong enough in that and they're all highly Illustrated to cover any any my false in English language. At least. I hope they're covered. (00:32:27) You're not the only (00:32:28) artist in the family. My wife is an artist. Oldest daughter is an artist. She owns the Severson Gallery in town, but she's a wonderful batik artist. My other daughter Liz is a as a also painter in town here and she's living up in the woods and and cells are paintings in the gallery down here and hit my son Jeff. Who is he's an artist in his own right to him. Although he's able to draw very well, but he uses wood as his medium. He likes to build wooden boats and repair all boats and bring them back to life. And that is an art and it is an art you can use when you get done. You can go fishing, you know, once the boat is built again. So, I mean, there's the it's kind of a creative family. I guess. We don't think a whole lot about it up here because we're kind of all by ourselves and every once in a while. Somebody will see my you've got a bunch of artists in your family know each other. Oh my God, I guess we do. (00:33:24) This is voices of Minnesota and Minnesota Public Radio. We're talking with Howard sivertson. He paints Northern Minnesota historical scenes. He spends every morning in the studio in his house in Grand Marais shares the studio with his wife (00:33:36) Elaine. (00:33:40) This is her Studio here and there's an invisible yellow line. Holy shit. I can see right there. And then that will I don't cross that unless I'm invited and she doesn't come over there and she's invited and so we we stay out of each other's hair because of Tennessee's the come over and start to criticize each other's paintings and and she paints a little differently than I do and I paint differently than she does. And so I think it's best we somebody asks for advice will give each other advice. But other than that, we we respect each other's privacy. I guess these are the two paintings that you're looking at now are paintings in progress. I usually have two or more. He's going at one time and because I like to get them to a certain point and I turn them to the wall and keeping that way for about three four weeks didn't look at him with a fresh Eileen around in a new mistakes. Come a glare kind of glare out at you and this particular painting you're looking at now is a painting of a young man sitting in the back of his grandfather's boat pulled up on land its dilapidated and it's disintegrating and it said I'll Royal in the title is going to be a Heritage lost because this this is probably I was thinking of my cousin Melford Johnson when I did this and he's the fellow that would love to have kept fishing but couldn't and it was his grandfather's boat to and so he had to change his all his lifestyle and whatever you want to do because the fishing was done it I'll Royal the National Park Service will not let it continue. The DNR will not let commercial fishing continue yet. And so that that whole culture is gone. He would have been the last of the last ones of the culture. So that's that's kind of an emotional one for me. It's as you can see it's kind of gloomy and kind of a but still a nice setting. I have some pictures here. Here's a here's a painting of the Schoolcraft expedition in the 1832 when he left so st. Marie went to find the source of the Mississippi River and then he came back. This isn't at the mouth of the Pearl River where they finally got through with a long arduous trip half-starved canoes bent and broken and they took one day off to wash up and get ready to go back to the zoo and Indian village up there and is feeding them lake trout and things of that sort and it just shows that I'm finally taking a day of rest and getting ready to for the return trip down to st. Marie. All of your canvases historical. Is there (00:36:26) anything that is a current day painting? (00:36:30) Well, no, not all of them. But a great deal of them are our historical but I find up I'll paint just the scene once in a while. It has no historical value except in Environmental Way and it's just a piece of nature but most of the time I seem to like to to put some semblance of human beings in my picture because I think it's important for I don't know why but I just like like if I painted a scene of The Boundary Waters around close to it may be an Old Trapper Shack that it was there at one time and I will rebuild it in my painting just to put it there again because I like the idea that guy being up there trapping and making his living off the land and so I'll I'll do that quite often (00:37:19) asked the question because I was just spinning over my head. The paintings I've seen and and your books and I was thinking of of people being in and all of them in and all of them have this historical feel it seems like you're you're capturing an (00:37:35) era. Well, I started out with the commercial fisherman that once upon a Nile. I wanted to document those before some intellect got a hold of it and started, you know what I mean and started documenting and according to their research and I wanted to tell the story right, you know my way. But anyway, so I did that and in the process I got involved in the voyagers and often wondered in my cruises up in the Boundary Waters my paddling and my paddling Through The Boundary Waters and a lot of times out in the Susie Islands in those Canadian Islands in my other boats. I often wondered what they would look like paddling through there. And what was their mission what how did they feel anyway, so I started doing the research and I started putting the voyagers in those scenes rather just having the vacant seen I would put the voyagers in it's pretty much like this painting over here. This is a beautiful scene up at night in a Susie islands and painted just by itself was all right to me, but I thought how much more interesting it would be to have breakfast with that. One of the first people to take the census along the North Shore and he's up here in 1890 and the Census Bureau instructed him to take a rowboat from Duluth travel all the way up to Thunder Bay across the aisle Royal around our own backing in in that rowboat taking a census counting the Fisher so he had a role that boat all that distance or steal it. It was a 18 foot rowboat with a he said Schooner rig, but I think he only had one sale on it, maybe even Ridge for a schooner. So I think that's the way it looked and he had orders in it and two other fellows traveled with him. (00:39:17) It's we see him here passing between a couple of islands (00:39:19) is yes. He's passing on door, sir between a couple of islands and you can see the little This is would be the commercial fishing is Homestead Way off there in the distance, but you get some feeling of I hope how lonely that would be there and how lonely his trip must be how may be dangers of me but house how so how Serene it might be at times. And so I that's just I think a square inches there's about three square inches of people in about a you know, 200 square inch canvas (00:39:51) yet. It was housing is really important to you to put them in there. (00:39:53) Yes, I thinks I like seeing people out there. Yeah, but not many. I just like I just like a few somebody I can stop in and have coffee with her if I want. (00:40:03) Well, it's it is the nature of the country to that. You know, there aren't there have never been very many people in these scenes. There aren't today really very (00:40:11) many, right? It's in fact is less people now it used to be In 1890 when this fellow is up here doing his survey there was little over a hundred fishermen along the North Shore and I'll Royal by 1930. There's about 400 fishermen along on the North Shore. Now, you might see a lot of homes being built along the shore but they're not commercial fishing and they don't get out on the lake much. But if you get in the Susie Islands or the Canadian Islands or I'll Royal it's very sparsely populated and still still about his Wilderness as if we got you still go to I'll roll along a yes, I go quite quite often, but the National Park Service was given a mandate by the US Congress 1931 to create a Wilderness a tile Royal. Well with the succeeded in doing was moving about a hundred people off the island the commercial fisherman and some are folks that lived there and transplanted themselves. Are they transplanted cells with a hundred people. So it takes a hundred people to run the island. They're given a tough job. Your chosen to me to me a Wilderness of the island and also a place that people could enjoy something that would attract people to it. You get people in a Wilderness is no longer a Wilderness, you know very much so and so their jobs over there is to maintain a Wilderness and it's also their job to attract 20,000 people a year to come over there and enjoy it and they're caught on the horns of a dilemma I guess is what I'm trying to say. And so they know quite which way to go but if you want to make a Wilderness or leave it alone just get off it if somebody wants to use it go ahead and use it but use it at your own risk my aunt that Clara has the last commercial fishing license and I'll Royal and she's staying here. There are some other summer residents who still have leases that will be up shortly and when they're up and he'll just be a National Park Service will be over there and nobody's over there year-round anymore. That's just kind of A Summer Place now. (00:42:15) I thought nobody was over there year round (00:42:17) ever. Or are there was a few families in the 30s during the during the Great Depression that lived over there because it was cheaper and they can live more simply I could make it shoot a moose catch fish and and cut a lot of wood. It burned a lot of wood, but they stayed there year-round. There's a family in Grand Marais the Scabbard family Gene Scabbard who lives here in Grand right now spent the first five is years and I'll Royal without coming to the to the mainland. He didn't know what an automobile looked like he didn't know it died. He could probably see airplanes once in a while, but he didn't know what any of that stuff was like and as a five-year-old came to school and Grandma and there's a lot of interesting stories about his reaction to civilization and the Johnson family. My cousins lived it. I already lived in the White House order for several winners and there was a there's a family. Well in fact is usually here's a painting over here. This is a picture of about the Johnson family at the chip. Well Harbor and they had hired a school teacher to come over and teach their children during the winter. And this is Dorothy Simonson standing on the hill looking out the bay and but it's a painting of Penny. I did this just try to tell the Dorothy signs and story when she came to our Royal teach these kids. This is 1932. She came over to teach the kids are in the winter and when she came to the harbor, I'll Royals and Majestic all she went through all kinds of wonderful words describing the beauty and Majesty of Isle Royale and all the romance and things of that sort, but it's time to freeze up and she's gone through storms and a few feet of snow each day. I'll Royal went down the tubes L had got worse and worse and worse and she got she got the several diseases you had a shortwave radio didn't work. She said I'm tired of eating moose meat. I'm tired of eating. Holy bread, and all these things that she's waiting for the wind to come to pick her up. The when you was a was the steam vessel and it was do probably about the first of April and the whole family waited desperately for that when you to show up with fresh supplies because they had no connection with the outside and when it finally did show up. She said it looked like a luxury liner she compared to win yet to that and the winner is a rust bucket, you know, just an old dilapidated both that came over but it had the supplies and it was her Escape off the island. And is this is this (00:44:49) her in the spring? Is that what this painting is? Yes, (00:44:52) that's her in the spring welcoming. The first trip of the wind ya from for my stage to go up on top of this hill to watch out for that for the ships that come in. I didn't get a good view, (00:45:04) you know, as you talk I get the impression you're being almost as much a historian as a painter. (00:45:10) Well, it's nice pool just starting to get to me that way. I'm not a problem. My problem is I'm a historian with a very poor memory. So I have to have the job these things down and pay them and things like that to get them off my brain captured on canvas, then you've got it. There you go. And like I tell people he's I said this may not be the way that ship actually look I mean if something's wrong with it, but from now on that's the way that ship looks and I'm making some errors there is that I can't help errors that I cannot research. I know that some of the things are not exactly as I'm portraying them, but I'm coming close and pretty well in I'm not a scholar if I was a scholar out have to wait until I was absolutely positive before I made my statement now I can I can send these things out as pretty darn educated guesses as what it would look like and what it did look like and so far. Nobody's trip me up. They haven't found any mistakes in the (00:46:06) paintings yet. You're listening to voices of Minnesota. We're talking with Howard sivertson. His paintings have been collected in four books about history along the north shore of Lake (00:46:15) Superior. And one of my favorites is beating hook line is this is one of the first ones it's a painting of two fishermen in a Mac and 24-foot Machina open boat out on the lake fishing hook lines showing a Squall coming in and showing them that work go to manage the Tillery standing up in the boat with a tiller between his legs and he's pulling What's called the mainland line, which is about seven miles long and off that Main Line run all these little snails and go down deep in the water with what they have hearing hooked onto them as fellow here in the middle of what pulls up the snails unties the old ones puts on a new one and they keep going that way until they catch fish. It'll be a fish on maybe every third Snell every 34 Snell. It's a very threatening sky in this painting. Yes, and my copy talks about their the Are out and all kinds of weather and the only time they have to come in as when they can't work anymore when it gets done when I always get too high too bad so they can't stand up anymore and work than they have to come in but that's very seldom happens because they're Pretty Caddy and these boats (00:47:22) that it to me that looks cold and uncomfortable. But like maybe a person could love that. (00:47:30) Yeah, that's right. This is especially nice right now is cold and uncomfortable in a few minutes the Sun is going to come out and it's going to warm them. They'll take off their coats and his me wonderful, you know all the feeling that the contrast we don't feel many contrasts anymore today. At least. I don't because if it's if it's really icky out. I'm not going out, you know, I go out on a nice days. So I don't I don't get soaking wet anymore and my feet haven't been frozen for years. Here's in contrast. There's another painting (00:48:02) of this is a without a doubt a happy. Joyful. Look at Fishing on the (00:48:08) lake. Yes. This is a nice calm day. Probably middle of July. They're getting ready to pull in the hook lines for the year and when they stopped for lunch, they will sit and have lunch and if it's nice and warm, it will take off their jackets and feed the seagulls and just he'll just lollygag around for about 15-20 minutes eating lunch before they go back to work again. But there I wanted to show that there were those kinds of days of beautiful days gorgeous days to be out there now (00:48:37) and this is the kind of see now that you're saying there really isn't a photograph of that anywhere. So you just had to do this from your own recollection, right (00:48:46) put your I'm looking at now is a story of inside of the fish house that would never ever been seen before nobody takes pictures inside of the fish house. They stink they're they're not they're not glamorous looking they're just workplaces and so they would say come outside. Let's take your picture. So I wanted to paint a picture of the other people inside working. Your jobs and the two fishermen are addressing the day's catch. They're Weighing on a scale icing down. The fish one young fellows is in charge of shopping the ice and into little boys over here are fishing through the floor for speckled trout and and things like that and grandmas down checking over. She likes to check over all the fish to pick out the ones you want for supper. She will chew them all. These fish just came out of the lake. She wants to get the freshest one and one with the right meet the red meat and I was in the so she goes through the whole box looking for (00:49:43) the way you're describing this. It's almost like this is a direct memory. I mean, do you have a picture of the scene in your (00:49:48) head man? We just got to be me. Oh, yes and Grandpa he's retired. He's probably in his 70s here and he's sitting on the on an old caring keg. He just wants to find out what the deal was like out there. Where did you get the fish were the up on top where the on the bottom how many fathoms but it was a blowing hard. Was anybody out he want to know all the facts she wants to relive that that day through these guys because he can't be out there anymore. I didn't ever start to make a book. I just painted so many pains in one subject and the book came after so the the voyagers was never meant to be a book that none of the books were meant to be books. Well seems like every time I did research for one thing. I would find out all these other things in the same path as if what I got to do that one of these days that's fantastic. I never knew that happened here. And so I'm just continuing their way. It's it's doesn't have a point to it. As far as I'm going to do another book on this subject. I'm just going to paint these things as I feelings that come across them and see what happens. I've got about two-thirds of a book two-thirds of paintings that I could use another book ready now, so I just keep going maybe another year. I'll I'll have enough paintings and and maybe start writing the stories. What is the theme of this? It's pretty much the same hit local history local history because it's so magnificent that we know so little about the history up here and we especially visually nobody took the pictures, you know, I'll say when commercial fishing is one of the reason that painted that one because when people come over to take pictures of the fishermen photographs of them, they okay. Okay, everybody stand up and stand together and smile. You know what I mean? They didn't take pictures of networks. They didn't take pictures of my play or anything else is all group picture a mug shot. Nobody saw them at work and It would be lost if it wasn't (00:51:47) done. Howard sivertson paint scenes of Life along the north shore of Lake Superior from Days Gone By he's also written an illustrated for books of northern Minnesota History. You've been listening to voices of Minnesota and Minnesota Public Radio. I'm crystalline and that does it for our midday program today? I'm Gary eichten. Thanks so much for tuning in by the way reminder that the editor for our voices of Minnesota series is Mike Edgerly also one other reminder. If you'd like to see some of the paintings that Howard sivertson was talking about they are available on our website, Minnesota Public Radio dot-org Minnesota Public Radio dot org, so take advantage of the service. Well till Monday, we're going to talk politics and media is impact on children. Chris grow. Gilbert will join us at 11. We'll talk presidential politics get all the latest and then over the noon hour. We're going to hear from James steyer. Who is the author of the other parent talking about the impact of that media? Have on children, that's Monday. Hope you can join us Sarah Myers the producer of our program Christina Shockley is our assistant producer Rick ABS in ski helped us with some engineering this week again. Thanks for tuning in.


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