New book on Early SD Churches from SDHS Press

The South Dakota Historical Society Press has volume 6 of its Historic Preservation Series coming out soon, “Early Churches in South Dakota.”  The bulk of the book was written by, and features the photography of, Robert W. Sebesta, but I was asked to write a brief introduction essay.  It’s unexpectedly kind of super exciting for me to see my name on a book for the first time… maybe someday I’ll have a book of my own…

Find more about the book and ways to pre-order before its released in August 2018, here.



A Huron Sojourn

Huron, South Dakota is the home of the South Dakota State Fair and a hub of the annual pheasant hunting season.  Industry in town has also meant a growing immigrant population and some moderate white-flight to the nearest small towns.  In the past, my time in Huron had been very brief, but I got to spend the day there recently.  What follows are some of the historic places I came across over the day–the only place I failed to capture was Manolis, one of two Greek delis left in town, so you’ll just have to go yourself sometime–lunch there was DELICIOUS.  If you have other information on construction date and/or architect/builder for any of these buildings, please let me know.

So here goes the tour… Continue reading

Blue Cloud Abbey / Abbey of the Hills

View from east, Blue Cloud  Abbey, Marvin SD, July 2015, photograph by author.

View from east, Blue Cloud Abbey, Marvin SD, July 2015, photograph by author.

I recently stayed at the former Blue Cloud Abbey, now privately-owned as Abbey of the Hills Inn and Retreat Center outside Marvin, Grant County.  It’s located a short way off I-29 on the coteau looking towards Milbank in the east.

It was an experiment, to see what it was all about, and it was partly inspired by my visit in June to St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota–I wanted to see what our state’s Modernist abbey was like.  I’d had a brief idea about the place from photos I’d seen, stories from friends, and a brief ‘just curious’ bit of research into the architect.  It’s a far more special, tactile experience to explore while you’re living at the place, even for a short time.  The abbey is expansive, almost entirely stone or stone clad.  The stone on the exterior and in the church is warm and glowing and intricate.  The guide of an evening history tour, on which I tagged along, thought it was limestone transported from Indiana (where their archabbey was).  Then, I loved stumbling on the smaller details in the clean lines of the side altars, the red stone on the altar steps, the mid-century recessed lights, and the bubble glass in the side doors of the sanctuary that all filled out and rounded out the design.  The stained glass in the sanctuary played with the light in beautiful ways.  The use of a lot of green tile through the interior and the few rooms with a lot of dark, wood paneling took getting used to, but other interior features were delightful, like the molded tile in the dining room and the variety of linoleum and mosaic flooring.

The Blue Cloud Abbey was founded in the 1940s to provide support for Catholic missions to the Sioux reservations in the Dakotas.  The abbey was founded by the Order of St. Benedict under the Archabbey at St. Meinrad, Indiana.  It was named for Blue Cloud – Mahpiyato, an Ihanktonwan Sioux leader who supported the Church’s work.   The monks worked on the missions, at area churches, studied in four rooms of library materials, quilted, ran a farm, built a greenhouse, made bread, and demonstrated hospitality by welcoming retreat-goers of many faiths.  The abbey had also included a great collection of material culture and photographs at their American Indian Culture Research Center.  When the abbey closed, the collection was deposited with the Center for Western Studies in Sioux Falls, who are working on digitizing part of the collection.

The Abbey of the Hills has posted a bit on the sites’ history on their website here. (Check the tabs for ‘About: Our Story’ and ‘Explore: Tour’).

Some additional history on the architect, Edo Belli, out of Chicago, at this site here.

And now, a selection of my photos from the trip…

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Days 2 & 3 of DOCOMOMO-US National Symposium in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Stopping for photos on the landscapes tour-- the reflection was too perfect.

Stopping for photos on the landscapes tour– the reflection was too perfect.

Now that I’ve had time to process the conference, have returned from subsequent trips, and have (sort of) caught up at work, the following is my brief run-down of days 2 and 3 of the DOCOMOMO-US national symposium.  Minnesota has a great deal of Modern treasures and a seemingly solid group of advocates who love Modernism.  An interesting theme was the impact of the world wars on the prominence of Modernism – there were the expressionists and Bauhaus after WWI, and at Mt. Zion Temple, Christ Church Lutheran, and at St. John’s Abbey, we learned that it was the end of WWII that pushed those communities to be willing to break with tradition and create a new order for their built environment.

On the second day, some of my first-day concerns were met when we spent more time on the modern vernacular – how Modernism played out across the many scales of our built environment.  A speaker from the MN State Historic Preservation Office talked on Modern preservation in greater Minnesota (outside the Twin Cities) and the author of Mid-Century Mundane spoke about that site and a newer project he worked on for Queens Modern.  Both were successful as glimpses into other places, as preliminary documentation and advocacy, but fell short of a bigger context that could provide a foundation for identification and evaluation elsewhere.  More work to do for all of us!  Another presentation promoted the need to look at urban renewal history, and evaluate its strongest architectural legacy that is worth preserving.  There’s a strong potential for such study in Sioux Falls I think…

On to the tours and photos and lessons-learned at the end of it all!

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Day 1 at the DOCOMOMO-US National Symposium

Beautiful light onto the altar.  Jehovah Lutheran Church, photograph by author.

Beautiful light onto the altar. Jehovah Lutheran Church, photograph by author.

Today has been a fascinating day.  Initial thoughts: The DOCOMOMO-US symposium is full of passionate, welcoming people with a wide breadth of knowledge on late-twentieth century and recent architecture, but it has also reinforced what a niche it still is.  Perhaps that’s largely a matter of its youth.  Like earlier time periods in architectural history, architects are the first major source of support.  Each era has taken time to be embraced by wider audiences and to extend beyond landmark buildings.  Many attendees are preservationists or preservation architects, but the masterworks are the focus of content – not vernacular/popular modernism or non-urban modernism (at least not in Day 1).  There was one presentation calling attention to the legacy of ‘forgotten’ local architects, which was a call that resonated with me.  The speaker encouraged the audience to go back to primary sources to fill in the gaps that have yet to be enshrined in monographs and textbooks.

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