Grace (photograph)

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1918 original black and white photo. Later versions may have color and a second light source added.

Grace is a photograph by Eric Enstrom. It depicts an elderly man with hands folded, saying a prayer over a table with a simple meal. In 2002, an act of the Minnesota State Legislature established it as the state photograph.[1]

History and background[edit]

The original photograph was taken at Enstrom's photography studio in Bovey, Minnesota. Most sources indicate 1918 as the year, though Enstrom's daughter Rhoda, born in 1917, claimed to remember being present when the photograph was taken, which might have been around 1920. The man depicted in the photograph is Charles Wilden, who earned a meager living as a peddler and lived in a sod house. While the photograph conveys a sense of piety to many viewers, according to the Enstrom family's story, the book seen in the photo is actually a dictionary. However Wilden wrote "Bible" on the waiver of rights to the photo which he signed in exchange for payment, casting doubt on whether the book seen in the photo is a Bible or other religious text.[2]. Likewise, local stories about Wilden "centered more around drinking and not accomplishing very much," than religious observation.[3]

What happened to Wilden after the photograph is unknown. In 1926, he was paid $5 by Enstrom in return for waiving his rights to the photograph; he disappeared thereafter. After the photograph became popular Enstrom attempted to track Wilden down but was unsuccessful. Numerous family members and local historians have also attempted to determine what became of Wilden but have not been able to locate definitive evidence.[3]

Enstrom first licensed the photograph to Augsburg Fortress in 1930. In the 1940s, his daughter, Rhoda Nyberg, colorized the photo by hand. This version was featured in prints produced during the 1940s onward and became the more widespread and popularly known version of the photo.[4]

Enstrom earned a modest sum from the photograph for the remainder of his life until his death in 1968. Nyberg died in 2012.[3][4]


In 2014 the stage play Picturing Grace premiered,[5] which presents a dramatized retelling of the story behind the photograph, its photographer and subject. The play premiered in Itasca County, the same region in which the photograph was captured.

The water tower in the town of Bovey, MN has the following words painted on the side: BOVEY / home of the picture / "GRACE".[6]

The extremely deep lake (previously an iron ore mine) which borders Bovey on the west and north has not been named on any known map. A past resident of Bovey has used social media to promote the idea of naming it Lake Grace.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Grace, official state photograph". State of Minnesota. Archived from the original on January 16, 2014. Retrieved Feb 25, 2014.
  2. ^ "Giving 'Grace': Celebrating Minnesota's state photograph on its 100th birthday". MPR News. Retrieved Apr 29, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Lee, Stephen J. (27 February 2012). "Man in famous Grace photo mystifies historians". Grand Folks Herald. Archived from the original on 1 November 2015.
  4. ^ a b Walsh, Paul (27 February 2012). "Iron Range artist brought Grace photo to fame". Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
  5. ^ "'Picturing Grace' has successful opening, looks forward to future audiences". Grand Rapids Herald-Review. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  6. ^ Historic American Engineering Record, creator. "Bovey Water Tower, Eighth Avenue & T.H. 169, Bovey, Itasca County, MN". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2019-06-10.

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