Early 20th-Century Native Photographs On Display in AIRC Great Room

Bemidji State University’s American Indian Resource Center is home to a permanent installation of Native American portraits taken by local photographer Neil Hakkerup at the dawn of the 20th century.

The installation features 22 large prints and several smaller prints of Native people from the Leech Lake and Red Lake nations, taken between 1900-1915, including photographs of the city’s namesake, Chief Bemidji. The collection, which also includes original glass photo reproduction plates, has been permanently donated to the BSU Foundation for permanent display in the American Indian Resource Center by David and Kathy Cooper.

The Hakkerup exhibition is open to the public during regular office hours at the AIRC unless the Great Room is being used for an event.

About the Cooper Collection
Niels L. Hakkerup was born in Denmark in 1876 and immigrated to the United States with his wife, Anna, in 1898. He worked for Morrison Studio in Chicago, regarded as one of the largest photography studios in the world, before moving to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Minneapolis. He arrived in Bemidji in 1900 and worked in Minnesota until 1946.

Hakkerup had three separate studio locations in downtown Bemidji. An article in the Bemidji Pioneer on March 27, 1909, described Hakkerup as “among the most experienced and highly trained photographers in northern Minnesota.” In 1914, he was acknowledged in the Bemidji Pioneer as “already famous” for his Indian photography, which stated that his work had been widely recognized by leading American Indian photographic authorities.

His work was shown at the Beard Gallery and featured in the Minneapolis Journal. His portrait collection was considered to be “the most striking series of Indian photographs in existence at the time.”

The collection installed at the AIRC is believed to have been completed between 1900 and 1915. His portraits focus on physical appearance, clothing, bead work and hair styles and feature members of the Leech Lake and Red Lake nations.

Hakkerup took a considerable number of photographs, but many were either destroyed by him or lost in a 1908 fire in his Bemidji studio. He was thought to be very particular about his Indian portrait work and was willing to share only a limited number of photographs, including those in this collection.

His work is on record at the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress Collection of American Indian Photographs, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Beltrami County Historical Society.

Hakkerup sold his studio in 1946 and moved to California, where he died in 1958.

After the sale, a number of glass plates were found in the studio’s basement. Four original framed portraits from that find are included in the AIRC collection. The only other known Hakkerup Indian portrait was gifted to the Beltrami Historical Society.

The photographs found on the glass plates were scanned in 2012. The digital collection is available for temporary loan, and copies of individual images are available for purchase.