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Elwell & Beers inducted into the National Rivers Hall of Fame

As pioneers in their respective fields, and for their work connected to the rivers of America, William Harry Clarence Elwell and Julie Hart Beers will be inducted into the National Rivers Hall of Fame on November 5, 2021, at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

William Harry Clarence Elwell (1866-1949) moved with his wife and kids to McGregor, Iowa, in 1893. Having worked as a traveling salesman in St. Louis prior to the move, he had experience in the business world. Two years after their move north, he began investing his efforts in the pearl industry. In 1895, he obtained a few pearls from a local fisherman. Elwell traded these pearls for cash and kept investing. His side hustle quickly evolved into a profitable business.W.H.C. Elwell

His network reached from the Midwest to the east coast, Europe, the Middle East, India, and beyond. However, the Japanese started becoming players in the industry in 1928. Elwell sustained this push and continued on what would become a nearly 40-year run as the pre-eminent pearl dealer in the world. His work in this field put the upper Mississippi River region on the international map.

Although he was a known businessman, Elwell was in tune with wildlife and nature. He was an acclaimed naturalist with an extensive collection of specimens turned out by his taxidermy skills and was knowledgeable of flora and fauna in the region. Education was a top priority in his life. He was partly responsible for founding the American Wildlife School in McGregor, and his children attended college at universities as far away as New York City.

W.H.C. Elwell remained a vibrant and eventually the only freshwater pearl dealer on the Upper Mississippi until his death in 1949. His dedication to the pearl industry, education, nature, and his family set a high standard for others during this era.

Julie Hart Beers (1835-1913) was part of a generation of artists whose work went unrecognized for years. In May 2010, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opened the first known exhibit that focused on women artists that were associated with the 19th-century landscape painting movement. Along with Beers, Susie Barstow, Jane Stuart, Sarah Cole, Harriet Cany Peale, Evelina Mount, and Eliza Greatorex were featured in the exhibit.

Stories have been passed down that say one woman was not allowed to create art and her stepmother burned her paintings. Another was conducting her art career while raising her children as a single mother. As they worked during the same time as their male companions, these ladies were able to create breathtaking landscape paintings that told stories, spoke to women’s perseverance, triumph, and heartbreak.

Beers is a female icon in the painting industry. Her work, along with that of other women of her time, is finally being recognized as it should.

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