New project seeks the meaning of ‘Grace’ in Bovey

The picture “Grace” by Eric Enstrom.

You’ve seen the photo. An elderly man bows his head in prayer before a modest meal of bread and oatmeal. A large Bible rests on the table, perhaps read after dinner.

Eric Enstrom took this picture in Bovey, Minnesota, in 1918. The subject, a local peddler named Charles Wilden. Wilden was better known locally as an eccentric drinker who lived in a sod hut. Nevertheless, he looks as pious as can be in the picture. The thick book, according to lore, was actually a dictionary, though some argue that it could have been a multi-language Bible. These were common on the Iron Range at that time. Enstrom was Swedish-American.

When I was in Atlanta visiting the family church of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I saw this image on the wall of the lobby. Modeled after the picture “Grace,” this image features an African-American man. One can imagine the photo being there when King was a boy, because most of the church had been restored to its historic state. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Prints of “Grace” quickly became one of Enstrom’s best sellers, always displayed in the front window of his main street shop in Bovey. This was back when everyone traveling across the Mesabi Iron Range had to drive through each city’s downtown.

Enstrom sold the rights to “Grace” in 1930. Within years, the colorized version of his image became an almost ubiquitous image across America and even the world. Many variations went into production. Most folks who grew up in the late 20th Century remember it from their grandma’s house.

A Grand Rapids, Minn.,-based film studio is now working on a new film exploring the meaning of the picture “Grace” today. A+B Productions, which made the “Gems of Itasca” film series in recent years, will interview 30 different people about the meaning “Grace” has for them. The project will be called “Picturing Grace.”

A+B works in partnership with the Itasca County Historical Society in producing this film. The Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation serves as the nonprofit fiscal agent.

You can find out more about the project or how to contribute stories or funds to make it happen at the “Picturing Grace” website.



  1. Elanne Palcich says

    Interesting. I’ve always liked this picture as it seems to portray the human condition–our daily struggles, along with our daily bread.

  2. Robin Floyd says

    I remember this on the wall of a local bakery in Denver in the 1950’s.

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