Now Online: Mayville Historical Society

Pair of turned wooden candlesticks attributed to Frank Fell, Mayville, 1905-1935
Pair of turned wooden candlesticks attributed to Frank Fell, Mayville, 1905-1935.

I’ve just added 29 artifacts from the collections of the Mayville Historical Society to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. It’s quite a wide range of objects, including embroidery by a local man named Rudolph Sauerhering; a splint basket made by Elmer Kelm, who learned basketry from his German immigrant father; and a lace collar crocheted in 1912 by 18-year-old Alvina Lindemann, framed with a photograph of Lindemann wearing her handiwork.

The candlesticks shown above were made by Frank Fell, a woodworker born in Mayville in 1865 who worked for the Mayville Furniture Company. When the manufactory closed in 1904, Fell purchased its lathe and opened his own woodturning shop. He was best known for his German-style spinning wheels, which are discussed by Victor Hilts and Patricia Hilts in their article “Not For Pioneers Only: The Story of Wisconsin’s Spinning Wheels,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 66:1 (1982), available online. Fell also made what a 1907 receipt (on file at the Mayville Historical Society) describes as “artistic turned work”: tilt-top tables, side tables, footstools, lamp bases, and candlesticks like the examples shown here.

When I write the catalog entries for the database, I try to find out as much information as I can about each object’s maker. In this round of research and writing, I was excited to uncover genealogical information about a local family that helped me to date a quilt (detail below) in the Mayville Historical Society’s collection. This white quilt is covered with the signatures of members of the Hinkes family of Dodge County embroidered in red, a popular trend in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. MHS documented the names and locations on the quilt, but was uncertain of the date when it was made. I was able to apply the concepts of terminus post quem and terminus ante quem to pin down a possible date range. These are terms archaeologists (and some historians) use to mean “no earlier than” and “no later than.” In the case of the Hinkes family quilt, the terminus post quem is 1892–according to Dodge County, Wisconsin: Past and Present (1913), Joseph Hinkes married Clara Heimerl in 1892; Joseph and Clara Hinkes’ names appear together on the quilt, so it must have been made after they were married. The terminus ante quem is probably 1897–according to the Wisconsin Genealogy Index, Celia Hinkes married Joseph Weix in 1897; Celia Hinkes’ maiden name appears on the quilt, so it was most likely made before her marriage and subsequent name change.

A side note–a striking Gothic Revival parlor stove cast from iron ore mined in Mayville in 1846 is the Wisconsin Historical Society’s current Museum Object of the Week.

Signature quilt, Hinkes family, possibly LeRoy, Dodge County, 1892-1897

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.


15 responses to “Now Online: Mayville Historical Society

  1. Belinda Christensen

    I was doing research on Wisconsin spinning wheels when I ran across this site. When the photo of the Frank Fell spinning wheel came up in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, I was very excited. I have the exact same wheel down in my garage being refurbished.

    This is the second Wisconsin made wheel I have found. I also own an early (1974) Jerry Jensen spinning wheel.

    I am currently looking for more information on the wheels made by Henry Christianson of New Richmond, WI. He is also listed in the Hilts’ article in the footnotes.

    • Henry Christianson was my grandfather – he was very well known for his making of spinning wheels. I was very excited when I saw someone making an inquiry of his work. Thanks.

      • Belinda Christensen

        My daughter did find a Henry Christianson Saxony wheel up in the Balsam Lake area of WI.

        We both live in New Richmond, WI.

      • Belinda,

        I just got a spinning wheel that has a Henry Christianson sticker on the bottom and I understand the person I baught it from had Henry make it for his mother. It is missing a couple of pieces….so I am going to try to find them. I am interested in learning about Henry…all I can find out. I baught it in St. Croix Falls, Wisc. Nice legacy!

  2. wisconsinobject

    Belinda, thanks for your comment. The story of Frank Fell is very interesting. I’m not familiar with Jerry Jansen. Where was he working?

    Good luck in your research on Henry Christianson! Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about him myself.

  3. Belinda Christensen

    Jerry Jensen is listed in the final footnote in the Hilts’ article as one of the current WI spinning wheel makers. He originally began making wheels in the Windy Lake area of WI. The wheel I own was made while he was living there.

    Although semi-retired, Jerry and his wife are still making a limited number of beautiful spinning wheels in the Wisconsin Dells area.

  4. Belinda,
    I found a Henry Christianson spinning wheel at a garage sale in Baraboo, WI. I bought it over a year ago. It has been sitting in my house because it is broken and needs repair. I was Googling where I could repair this spinning wheel online and came across this blog. Can you tell me a reputable place to get my Henry Christianson spinning wheel fixed?

  5. Roxann,

    Was your Grandfather’s real name Peter Henry Christianson of New Richmond, WI? I see on this website,, there was a Peter Henry Christianson who was a painter that was badly hurt in this tornado. Any relation? I am also interested in your Grandfather’s work because I found one if his spinning wheels at a garage sale.

    • Hi Traci,
      Never heard of a Peter Henry Christianson mentioned in any family history, so I’m guessing he was not related. My grandfather died years ago and I know that there are quite a few spinning wheels of his around. Glad you liked his work – he was awesome at it and really enjoyed making them.

  6. I am a shepherdess & spinner in Southern Wisconsin. A friend recently purchased an old spinning wheel that the owners said had been in the family for 6 generations. Wear on the footpedal makes this seem accurate. It’s a beauty, but is missing one maiden and needs a bit of TLC to bring it back into use. Anyone got a recommendation for who could do this work within a 4 hour drive of Madison ? Thanks, Linda Dee

  7. Dorothy Hobson Cabrera

    Frank Fell was my Great Grandfather. I am so proud to see his work on this site. My mother has one of his spinning wheels on her hearth.

    • Dorothy, it’s great to hear from a descendant. Glad his legacy is still with your family.

    • Hello Dorothy,
      I am a handspinner, and I’ve recently acquired one of Frank Fell’s spinning wheels. I have a restorer making a copy of a missing piece for me. The missing piece is the 3-part distaff, and I haven’t found any photos of Frank Fell wheels with complete distaves. We’re working on replicating it with one original piece, and the other two based on a small drawing in an advertisement. I’m wondering if you have any photos or drawings that would help. I stumbled upon your comment on this post while searching for distaff photos. Your Great Grandfather’s wheels are beautiful and much loved by handspinners!

  8. Hello tracy,

    I just had a part made for my Frank Fell spinning wheel. The man that did my work is Bob Ralph . He is knowelegeable about wheels and wonderful to work with. He restored my flyer and made two new spindles for me. It is wonderful and works well. I am very happy. You can e-mail him and send photos of your wheel and he will let you know what he can do.


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