ober canoe photo

Ernest Oberholtzer canoes in the wilderness area of northern Minnesota, a region now set aside as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. "Ober," who was born in Davenport, led the fight to have the area preserved. This photo was taken about 1912.


After hosting an exhibit of wedding dresses for five months, directors of Davenport's German American Heritage Center decided they needed a less lacy counterbalance for their next act.

They believe they have hit the nail on the head with "Land & Water," a look at two figureheads of the conservation and preservation movement.

The "land" part of the exhibit celebrates the prairie landscape and work of German-influenced landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860-1951).

The "water" part focuses on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota and the efforts of Ernest Oberholtzer (1884-1977), a Davenport-born naturalist of German descent, who was instrumental in preserving the area as wilderness.

The exhibit opens at 2 p.m. Sunday with a talk on our prairie heritage by Daryl Smith, the director of the Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

The exhibit on Jensen, consisting mainly of display panels, was rented from the Danish Immigrant Museum in Elk Horn, Iowa. Signature looks of a Jensen landscape include prairie plants and a fire council ring of stones.

One reason that Janet Brown-Lowe, the executive director of the German center, says Jensen was "German-influenced" is that many of his ideas were a rebellion against the strict, regimented ways of the German rule he lived under during a time that his area of Denmark was overtaken by the Germans.

Jensen came to the United States at the age of 22 and went on to design many of the widely known parks in Chicago, including Garfield Park and Conservatory, Lincoln Park and Columbus Park.

He also designed the landscape for the 1909-1911 Rock Island home of Susan Denkmann, an heir to a lumber fortune. The home and grounds are now the Hauberg Civic Center, 1300 24th St.

The "water"/Oberholtzer portion of the exhibit was added because Brown-Lowe thought it would be a good complement to "land."

Exhibit items include photos and artifacts borrowed from the Oberholtzer Foundation, including a shirt, his camera (he was known for wildlife close-ups) and Native American crafts.

Oberholtzer's "influence was phenomenal and he is virtually unknown in his hometown," Brown-Lowe said. "These two men and the landscapes they loved still inspire us today."