Sleeping Giant: subtle view of Range people, places, color

The old Dupont factory power house. This picture was taken just a month before the building (which blew up twice) was torn down for good by the city of Hibbing. (PHOTO: Vance Gellert, from his Sleeping Giant collection).

The old Dupont powder factory power house. This picture was taken just a month before the building (which accidentally blew up twice about 100 years ago) was torn down for good by the city of Hibbing. (PHOTO: Vance Gellert, from his Sleeping Giant collection).

About three years ago I had the honor of working with Minneapolis photographer Vance Gellert as he planned a major project centered on Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. I consulted with him on a few shoots, gave him some ideas, and he went about his business.

Well, after a preview show in 2013, the final results are in. “Sleeping Giant” is now a traveling photo exhibit and soon-to-be book. And it’s beautiful.

In a foreword I was asked to write for the book, I said this:

Today’s Iron Range region is often called “unique,” but many — even hearty natives — struggle to explain why. I’d argue that the evidence is visual. No where is that more evident than in the collection of Vance Gellart’s photographs you are about to see.

The Iron Range possesses its own color palate. Our red is darker and browner, while our greens often alternate between pastel and nearly black. We have two skies, one bright blue and the other flat grey. The subject matter is colossal. Natural landmarks blur into manufactured ones. Often it is difficult to tell what was here for 50 years and what was here for an eon. All that is new soon covers with dust. So it is for the human subjects as well.

Gellert shows the Iron Range’s colors and turns them into a succinct story of a place where people collide with elements, both forever changed. Quirky attributes of Range culture bring a quick smile, but mostly one may view these images with abject awe at what was, what was done, and what unknown future may be.

The exhibit opens tomorrow, January 29, at the Gordon Parks Gallery at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. The exhibit will then travel to the MacRostie Art Center in Grand Rapids around March 1 before heading to the heart of the Iron Range at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm in mid-April.

I’d strongly recommend checking it out.


  1. DuPont began making black powder in 1802 and continued into at least the 1960s, with regular explosions. I remember when DuPont’s Carneys Point powder plant in New Jersey blew up in April 1978, but I am not sure what sort of powder DuPont was still making there.
    At their original powder mills, family members lived in a mansion close enough to be damaged by the regular explosions. The official story is that the duPont’s considered it a matter of honor to share their workers’ risks. True? I don’t know, but it makes a good story.

  2. Nelson French says

    Many memories of trips out to Dupont Lake (aka Carey Lake) for sledding in the winter – hiking around the old explosives building. Good memories.

    • George Maras says

      As a child growing up on Dupont Road our family often visited Carey “Dupont” Lake. One Fourth of July our family and good friends, Rudy and Mary Bartol, were at the lake for the day. Evidently powder remained in the cement floor as the dads built a fire on the floor, topped it with a camping grill to boil coffee. There was an explosion. My memory, as a 5 year old standing near by, is the coffee pot shooting 30′ in the air. Rudy was facing the fire and the explosion did not break but did blacken his eye glasses. When we got home that day my dad went to one of the neighbor’s to tell the story and brought me along as evidence as some of the sparks had landed and damaged my hair.

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