Photos by Ethan Mickelson
As time continually warps the 134-year-old structure, the Moorhead’s Historic Comstock House, located on Eighth Street, requires constant preservation and occasional supplementation to prevent loss of design throughout history.
Named to the national register of historic places and Minnesota’s 26 historic sites, the almost-unaltered home offers visitors a glimpse of life in the Victorian period. Owned and operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, the Comstock House now serves as a backdrop to the newly opened Fargo-Moorhead Visual Artists (FMVA) constraint show titled “Time Warp.”
“Just South of Rustad” by Jon Offutt
Open from July 11 to Sept. 8, the show combines modern perspectives with an immersive context. Inside the Comstock House, the foyer serves as a gateway to the home’s 11 unique rooms, each requiring diligent examination. Movements throughout the space are greeted with creaking floors and low shadows, with each piece of new art neatly tucked between the centuries-old furnishings.
“In a house setting like this, it’s more intimate, I feel, and you get a better sense of the artwork rather than being in a gallery or open space somewhere,” said FMVA President Troy Pedersen. “The Comstock’s were well-versed and well-traveled, so we just hoped the artists could take away from that in producing artwork.”
“Tanit Rising Wall Sconce” by Karen Perry-Anderson
After completing his home in 1883, Solomon G. Comstock went on to live half-a-century with his family inside their towering home. As Moorhead developed, so did Comstock’s professional endeavors. The rewards of his success went to further adorn his prized piece of architecture.
The period also saw enlightened consumer interest in designs from the Middle and Far East, with a particular interest in Japanese and Turkish wares. Many international influences were introduced to the market at the first United States-hosted World’s Fair of 1876.
“There was a lot of Asian art at the time as well as pottery, with pieces throughout the house,” said Pedersen. “In fact, all the art that’s hanging now is in a spot that works originally hung.”
“Winter River” by Alissa R. Allery
From more conceptual pieces that evoke a sense of history, like the glass collage or found-materials abacus in the foyer, to work inspired by myths and legend, like the Carthaginian wall sconce in the library, artistic inspiration solidifies a new reality for the space.
Themes of nature are seen throughout and tie perfectly with the aged oak doors and windows. For new FMVA member Brandi Malarkey, the inspiration for her watercolor painting displayed in the dining room came from the era’s interest in the natural world.
“It’s a very traditional art, and it hasn’t gone out of style,” Malarkey said. “It was a huge thing at the time, where they would go out for nature parties and sketch, paint and pick things in groups. A lot of the ornamentation in their houses would center around plants. When I saw the Comstock House was doing a show, it was an absolutely perfect fit.”
FMVA’s imprint on the historic space is similar to the continual impact preservationists have made restoring everything from wall papering and coloring to carpets and furniture. The Comstock Historic House Society was formed in 1974 to restore the home back to its late 1800 appearance. Only two photographic records of what the home really looked like exist, so instructions for restoration were taken from hypothesis generated by using records of consumer tastes and trace design evidence found behind radiators and light-switch covers.
“Comstock House” by Donna Chalimonczyk
However strong the pull of time to distort and rejuvenate, some original works remain within Comstock House, such as furniture that was restored to its original form after many refurbishments and large portraits of the Comstock daughters Ada and Jessie May.
FMVA’s “Time Warp” is free and available to the public during summer tour hours, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment through September 8. Call 218-291-4211 to set up a tour. For more information on the exhibit, visit fmva.org or mnhs.org.
The Historic Comstock House
506 8th St. S, Moorhead
July 11 – Sept. 8
Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Free and open to the public