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Brainerd artist helps create Crow Wing, Morrison county historical societies

Sarah (Thorp) Heald lived from 1881 to 1954. The 73-year-old artist’s paintings often portrayed Crow Wing County's early pioneer days and the Ojibwe in the area. Four of her works are on display in the historic courthouse with more in the county museum on Laurel Street in Brainerd.

Sarah (Thorp) Heald of Brainerd paints a fur trade scene at the Minnesota State Fair Works Progress Administration art exhibit.
Sarah (Thorp) Heald of Brainerd paints a fur trade scene at the Minnesota State Fair Works Progress Administration art exhibit.
Contributed / Patrick Blaine (Minnesota Historical Society)
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BRAINERD — One of the earliest artists to depict what life was like in the Brainerd lakes area in her works was also a founding member of the Crow Wing Historical Society.

Sarah (Thorp) Heald was the daughter of Freeman Thorp, another prominent painter and early settler who painted presidential portraits, including one of Lincoln on display at the U.S. Capital

She lived from 1881 to 1954. The 73-year-old artist’s paintings often portrayed Crow Wing County's early pioneer days and the Native Americans in the area.

Sarah (Thorp) Heald's paintings of Chief Bogemageshig, left, and Chief Hole-in-the-Day are on display in the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library on Laurel Street in Brainerd.
Sarah (Thorp) Heald's paintings of Chief Bogemageshig, left, and Chief Hole-in-the-Day are on display in the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library on Laurel Street in Brainerd.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

In addition to being a painter, she has works that include a novel, poetry like “The Legend of Wase-Ya” and a brief history of the county, which can be found on display at the county museum.

“Legends are fine things to have,” Heald had said of her written work, “The Legend of Wase-Ya.” “Like mosses and ivies and gnarled old trees, they add the beauty of fine old age to the places fortunate enough to claim them.”

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During the 1930s, Heald was secretary of the Crow Wing County Historical Society.

“Sarah Thorp Heald left us with her paintings and writings that speak to us of her life-long interest and dedication to recording the early history of Crow Wing County,” according to the Crow Wing County website.

Sarah (Thorp) Heald's portrait is hung above a display of her written works and donations to the Crow Wing County Historical Society of personal artifacts from her archeology collection.
Sarah (Thorp) Heald's portrait is hung above a display of her written works and donations to the Crow Wing County Historical Society of personal artifacts from her archeology collection.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Four of her paintings are on display in the county historic courthouse: “The Indian Trading Post,” “Attack of the Sioux on Ojibwe at Battle Point, Bay Lake,” "Indians Roping Off the Tracks" and "Jean (Joseph) N. Nicollet Visiting Trading Post at Mouth of Crow Wing River in 1836.”

“Her early subjects were mainly animal life. The remainder of her career was spent painting historically accurate representations of the scenes she loved researching,” according to a museum placard next to a black-and-white portrait of Heald.

The focus of Heald’s art, writing and research were often the Ojibwe in the Brainerd lakes area or Crow Wing County, and “celebrated and preserved the Ojibwe language” and even went so far as to attempt to learn the language of Ojibwe.

Ojibwe-made crafts are on display at the Crow Wing County Historical Museum and Research Library.
Sarah (Thorp) Heald served as director of the WPA Indian Handicrafts Project, which “encouraged Ojibwe in the area to explore their heritage while making and selling crafts for income,” according to the Crow Wing County Historical Museum and Research Library.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

She wrote a manuscript titled “Mixed Blood.” The fictional story is about the interracial couples comprised of white fur traders and Native Americans in the region and their families. She dedicated it by stating, “With deepest affection and gratitude for all they have taught me.”

Heald moved to the Lake Hubert area in 1894 and lived in the Brainerd lakes area until her death six decades later.

Heald served as the Brainerd-based Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library’s curator from 1935 to 1945. She donated personal artifacts from her archeology collection to the society in 1936.

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MORE ABOUT BRAINERD HISTORY BY FRANK LEE:
The Northern Pacific Railway was the driving force behind Brainerd’s first bridge across the Mississippi River, and the bridge was constructed in 1870. But five years later, it came crashing down and five passengers were killed.

“In another WPA-funded project and through her work at the society, Heald conducted dozens of interviews to document the history of the area,” according to a display at the museum.

She also served as director of the WPA Indian Handicrafts Project, which “encouraged Ojibwe in the area to explore their heritage while making and selling crafts for income,” according to the museum.

Heald was the Works Progress Administration district supervisor, and a group of citizens convened in 1936 at her request to form the Morrison County Historical Society. Its mission was to collect the history of that county from Zebulon Pike’s 1805 expedition to the present.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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