Naniboujou Lodge, MN
In 1927, some intrepid gents decided that they would craft an exclusive club and lodge along the northern shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Slugger Babe Ruth and heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey were signed on, presumably to attract folks willing to pay the steep membership. There is nothing unusual about that kind of story, or unique about most of the lodge and accommodations they built. With the exception of one breathtaking room.
naniboujou dining room
Accordiing to the current owner's website, the entire enterprise fell afoul of the 1929 Crash, and while the lodge was built, the associated golf course, tennis courts and bath house were never realised. It is noted that the Dining Room has the largest, stone fireplace in the state, but it is the decorative painting of the room that places this site on the map.
The walls and ceiling of the room are adorned with vibrant, polychromatic murals that make the entire room quiver with a vibration that is equally exciting as disturbing. Painted in 1929 by French artist Antoine Goufee, the motifs take their cue from Cree Indian designs, albeit liberally interpreted. The ceiling and walls lean inward from the exterior walls, supposedly echoing the hull of a native canoe.
The effect is incredible and the work is quite beautifully integrated with the architecture. Although this space is entirely a dining room now, one can imagine when it was at least partially a lounge. Evening nights, in the flickering light of only the fireplace, must have been oddly ritualistic, with these images swaying and fading into the darkened ceiling.
The remainder of the lodge is not that different from many other North Woods resorts - wood shingled and gently sprawling across the landscape. The surrounding landscape of woods and rocky beach extending out toward the vast, blue expanse of lake and sky, is beautiful and softly comforting. The very gentle lapping waves of the lake practically invite you to lull in a hammock and while away the day. Entering the Dining Room is like an electric shock and only the odd, hanging nose of a lantern hints at something unusual within.
The Naniboujou Lodge may be only really remarkable for a single room. One like I have never seen before, both its singular artistic achievement and architectural setting. But it is the discovery of this room's technicolor agitation sitting within the bucolic woodsy setting that is so sublime. It is a great example of that often over-used term "unheimliche" - strangely uncanny or unsettling. It is just a lodge dining hall, but is also clearly something else - a bit eerie and fantastical and maybe a great, agitating, haunting of the original inhabitants of the North Woods.