Back in the year of 1918, a bearded, saintly, old man, with foot-scrapers to sell, called on Eric Enstrom at his photography studio in the tiny mining town of Bovey, Minnesota.
From this chance encounter a world famous photographic study was created. Today Enstrom’s picture “GRACE”, showing the elderly peddler with head bowed in a mealtime PRAYER of thanksgiving, is known and loved throughout the world.
“There was something about the old gentleman’s face that immediately impressed me. I saw that he had a kind face… there weren’t any harsh lines in it,” Enstrom said in recalling the 1918 visit of Charles Wilden to his studio.
It happened that Enstrom, at that time, was preparing a portfolio of pictures to take with him to a convention of the Minnesota Photographer’s Association. “I wanted to take a picture that would show people that even though they had to do without many things because of the war they still had much to be thankful for,” Enstom said.
On a small table, Enstrom placed a family book, some spectacles, a bowl of gruel, a loaf of bread, and a knife on the table. Then he had Wilden pose in an manner of prayer… praying with folded hands to his brow before partaking of a meager meal.
To bow his head in prayer seemed to be characteristic of the elderly visitor, Enstrom recalled, for he struck the pose very easily and naturally.
As soon as the negative was developed, Enstrom was sure he had something special… a picture that seemed to say, “This man doesn’t have much of earthly goods, but he has more than most people because he has a thankful heart.” That Enstrom’s camera had captured “something special” is an appraisal widely shared.
Today many “GRACE” pictures hang in homes, restaurants and in churches across America. Prints have also been shipped to mission stations and other places around the world.
The early “GRACE” pictures were printed either in black and white, or in sepia (brown tone). Later, Enstrom’s daughter, Mrs. Rhoda Nyberg, of Coleraine, Minnesota, began hand-painting them in oils, and interest in the picture mounted.
Enstrom remembers that his best customers for the picture in the early 1920’s were people traveling through Bovey, Minnesota who saw the picture in his studio window. As soon as one framed print was sold, he’d make another to take its place.
After nearly a half-century as a professional photographer, a career dating back to 1900 in Minneapolis and to 1907 at Bovey, Minnesota, Enstrom listed “GRACE” as the best of the thousands of pictures he has taken.