A sketch pad brought them together

In 1935, the Minneapolis Tribune published this photo of Frank Wing and a friend admiring a painting at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Courtesy of Hennepin County Library Photo Collection

In 1935, the Minneapolis Tribune published this photo of Frank Wing and a friend admiring a painting at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Courtesy of Hennepin County Library Photo Collection

Two St. Anthony Park residents familiar to the public in the first half of the 20th century were Frank Wing, newspaper cartoonist, and Dietrich Lange, educator and conservationist.

They weren’t close neighbors—Wing lived near the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota for many years; Lange was residing a few doors east of the St. Anthony Park Library at the time of his death—but their paths must have crossed from time to time. However, the only occasion on which we’re certain that happened was when Wing sketched Lange for his “Their Avocations” series in the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1920.

The avocation, in Lange’s case, was the writing of a series of adventure books for boys set in pioneer days. Intended to stimulate an interest in ethical hunting and respect for the environment, the titles included Lost in the Fur Country, The Threat of Sitting Bull and The Lure of the Black Hills.

“He is a master hand at sugar-coating historical facts with delightful fiction,” Wing wrote in the caption accompanying his drawing of Lange. “It is as if a boy were given a salutary dose of medicine in candy so palatable that he was unaware of the dose’s presence.”

It was typical of the light-hearted touch that Wing used in treating his subjects, community leaders typically, male invariably. He took his sketchbook into the halls of the legislature, courtrooms and restaurants, always on the lookout for interesting subjects.

From about 1910 until well into the 1940s, his work was familiar to readers, not only of the Pioneer Press and its companion paper, the St. Paul Dispatch, but those of the Minneapolis Journal, the Minneapolis Tribune, the Chicago Tribune and the Des Moines Register and Tribune syndicate, as well.

Wing was also an instructor with Minneapolis-based Art Instruction Inc., a home-study-correspondence school still in business today. Many young readers knew it through its magazine and comic book ads as the “Draw Me!” school.

Wing’s depiction of Dietrich Lange, signed with his distinctive flourish. Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Wing’s depiction of Dietrich Lange, signed with his distinctive flourish. Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Charles Schultz, later of Peanuts fame, was also on the staff at one point and regarded Wing as something of a mentor. Following his retirement, Wing headed the school’s cartooning and illustration division until shortly before his death in 1956.

At the time of Wing’s sketch, Lange had begun what would be a 22-year career as principal of Mechanics Art High School near the state Capitol. He spent 53 years in the St. Paul school district, including two years as superintendent of schools, and at the time of his death in 1940 was director of nature study for the system.

Lange came to Minnesota from his native Germany in the 1890s at a time when the destruction of the state’s forests and wildlife was intense. He led the fight to prohibit the trapping and sale of wild ducks and abolish spring shooting and lobbied successfully for the state to acquire cutover lands for reforestation.

During his tenure at Mechanic Arts, Lange was known to ride the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line to work, disembarking in Como Park to walk and watch birds, then resuming his journey at what is now the Historic Streetcar Station.

A plaque embedded in a boulder at the south entrance to the Como Park Conservatory parking lot identifies the small woods nearby as a bird sanctuary dedicated to “Dietrich Lange, author, teacher, conservationist.”

 

Roger Bergerson writes about local history and community news from his home in Como Park.

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