Debra Richardson, Fillmore County History Center director, shares a slide presentation of Fillmore County photographer Mathias Bue's work.
Debra Richardson, Fillmore County History Center director, shares a slide presentation of Fillmore County photographer Mathias Bue's work.
Mathias Bue, a photographer whose works are in the collections at the Fillmore County History Center (FCHC), was the subject of a presentation at a recent Kiwanis Club meeting in Spring Valley. Debra Richardson, the director of the history center, told his story as well as explained the development of the history center in Fountain.

"Minnesota was organized as a territory in 1849, and Fillmore County was established on March 5, 1853. Millard Fillmore was president, and we were where the action was, on the western frontier. The county seat was originally Chatfield, then Carimona, then permanently moved to Preston," said Richardson.

She also related the Fillmore County Historical Society originated in Preston, and its collections were housed in a private home until it was eventually offered the former Fountain Elementary School building 25 years ago, which now "holds the life stories of thousands upon thousands of people who lived and died in Fillmore County."

One of those was Bue, who came to the United States as a Norwegian immigrant, first working as a farmhand, then opening his photography studio, establishing a home in Lanesboro.

"He took portraits and landscape photos for 40 years, and he wasn't just a photographer - he had a historian's eye and viewed his profession as a way to preserve history," Richardson explained. "He understood the power of a photograph. He got out on the back roads and shot life as it happens, documented things large and varied. If a picture was worth a thousand words, Mathias Bue's spoke millions."

Richardson shared that FCHC inherited Bue's negatives from Fillmore County resident Don Ward, who had over 20,000 images Bue produced on glass slides and celluloid.

"We have them all catalogued, and we were advised to have them professionally scanned, but we could choose only 120 to be digitally scanned. It was hard to choose, and the images that were returned to us are high-resolution files that show more detail than Mathias Bue ever got to see in his own work.

"Last year we were granted a Legacy grant that we used to get our own digital scanner, and we can now scan each and every one of Mathias Bue's photographs. He passed away in 1969, but the stories live on in his work."

She then showed the club a slide presentation of Bue's work, beginning with the C.C. Scanlan family's photo taken with a pony in 1912, a roadside rest near Lanesboro, a view of the village of Peterson and a girls' 1915 basketball team.

Another photo featured a stout young boy - clad in his Boy Scout uniform - standing next to the family Christmas tree and his new tricycle in a photo entitled, "Christmas Day, Lund Home."

There were also photos of businessmen looking grand and proud beside their storefronts, the C.C.C. 751-tent city outside Lanesboro, the relocation of Lanesboro general merchant Henry Langlie's store building in 1923 and Forest Harley's Auto in Wykoff - the former Opsall-Kavanagh Motors.

Another interesting photo showed the Preston Ladies' Band standing primly, yet obvious, as men in drag on the steps of a Preston business in 1937.

Other photos featured threshing crews bringing in the sheaves, settlers maintaining their ground outside their cabins, and irreverent "Womanless Weddings." Richardson observed these "were a way for people to blow off steam in the late winter, a fad in the late 1930s...they'd have all these men in wedding drag, and they didn't know who the groom would be - the groom was always a surprise."

Bue's work documented everyday life, she noted, and occasionally veered toward the irreverent, such as the photo of himself and Henry Langlie dressed as twin sisters. However, she added, he always showed the true fabric of the people of Fillmore County.

"He took all of his photos using available light, which I find fascinating, because flash wasn't invented for quite some time after," Richardson concluded. "I can tell a Bue photo anywhere ... and we have such a rich history because of his work."