What’s in your attic?

Upcoming event will highlight a local find

by Marianne Morf
    The Clear Library has plenty of mysteries.  But did you know that there’s a real mystery surrounding the library?
    It’s always a good time for a good story, but considering March is Women’s History Month, along with the Clear Lake Historical Society’s focus on raising funds for its Save the Schoolhouse Campaign, it’s the perfect time to shed some light on the Monona VanCise mystery.

    Monona--also known as Minnie, grew up near Algona and later lived in Clear Lake before traveling west with her husband in 1897.  She died in 1933.
    Local historians report that 100 years after her time in Clear Lake, Monona’s name has repeatedly popped out of history.  Yet, she remains largely an unknown local treasure. 
    A number of years back an inquiry from a writer researching women artists from Iowa led to the uncovering of pieces of Monona’s life.  More recently, time spent by family members pouring through the history in the late Max Clausen’s Clear Lake home has revealed even more.
    “It’s one of those cases where people don’t know what treasures are in their attics,” said Sarah Clausen Mooney, who has become very active in not only preserving the history in her uncle Max’s home, but in sharing Clear Lake’s rich history with others.   Sarah has just completed her first year as the Clear Lake Historical Society’s first executive director.  The group is currently in the midst of saving Clear Lake’s first schoolhouse, which is located just behind the Max Clausen home on North 5th Street.  This Friday night, the Clear Lake Historical Society will host a special evening at the Clear Lake Arts Center which will not only tell the story of Monona VanCise’s connection to the community, but hopefully inspire others to dig into history.  Proceeds from the event will benefit the Save the Schoolhouse Campaign.
    So, who exactly was Monona VanCise?  And what is her connection to the Clear Lake Public Library and to Clausen Mooney?
    An article appearing in a 1924 edition of the Clear Lake Mirror reported library trustees had been presented with “a gift of unusual import and value.”  Two portraits, one of Mrs. J.B. Charlson, and the other of Dr. Margaret Colby, founders and pioneer workers in the library movement in Clear Lake, were hung on the east wall of the library. M. VanCise had created the portraits.  At some unsure point in time the portraits were eventually taken down and thought to have been placed in storage somewhere. 
    As local historians discussed what could have possibly happened to the portraits, memories emerged.  One day a woman hearing of the discussions about VanCise said she thought she had one of the portraits in her garden shed.  She had pulled both portraits out of a dumpster during a library renovation for their beautiful frames.  Her daughter, an artist, had the other one.  The treasures had been unearthed and talk of Monona VanCise quieted. 
    At least for a while.
    The addition of a history room at the Clear Lake library early this century led to advanced research about - Read More Via e-Edition

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