This picture, “Grace”, hung in my grandparent’s Tennessee farmhouse since the early 20th century. By God’s grace, I inherited it and Sandy was gracious enough to display it in my eyeline of our living room to enjoy from my daily spot. Interestingly, this is how I’ll always remember my Dad as I grew up: positioned at the breakfast table, hands folded, bowed over the Word of Grace to begin his day, every day. My lineage is all of grace.
Grace Came Knocking
It was 1918 and a knock sounded on the door of Eric Enstrom’s studio in Bovey, Minnesota. At the door stood a kindly old man with a warm smile. Tipping his cap, Charles Wilden announced he was selling foot-scrapers in the area and wondered if anyone home might be interested.
Enstrom eyed the saintly figure before him with great interest. No, he wasn’t in the market for foot-scrapers, but as he studied on it, he thought he might make a counter offer to Wilden.
“There was something about the old gentleman’s face that immediately impressed me. I saw that he had a kind face… there weren’t any harsh lines in it,” Enstrom would later say, recalling that divine encounter.
For from that doorway meeting an iconic photographic study was created. Today Enstrom’s picture “Grace”, showing the elderly peddler with head bowed in a mealtime prayer of thanksgiving, is hanging in living rooms, dining rooms, and mission outposts throughout the world.
As in my case and countless other family histories, this study of Grace has been handed down, passed on and displayed among a myriad of dwellings. You might even have one among your family’s possessions.
Enstrom, so the story goes, was preparing a portfolio of pictures to take with him to a convention of the Minnesota Photographer’s Association. “I wanted to take a picture that would show people that even though they had to do without many things because of the war they still had much to be thankful for,” he said.
Originally printed either in sepia or black-and-white, the simple composition of humble man praying, family book, pair of spectacles, bowl of gruel, and loaf of bread with knife, the portraits sold from Enstrom’s studio at alarming rates.
This was the highly accomplished photographer’s magnum opus among thousands of his photographs. Not many of those early photos are seen but paintings and prints of paintings are seen aplenty. That’s because Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg, due to skyrocketing business, plied her own expert talent of painting the photo’s likeness in oils, causing the print to go even more “viral.”
Which is where we began.
My grandparents got on the ground floor, so to speak, by adding this very painting – which has hung in our living room for the past decade – to their humble Tennessee farmhouse wall collection. They were poor sharecroppers living in desperate times, but managed somehow to scrape together some very thin coins so’s to purchase this celebrated reminder of how much we have to be grateful for and build their home around it.
And today, our home is among the many to be blessed with this Grace, and – hoping you don’t mind – I thought I’d pass some of it along to you.