Home|Meet the Kaukonens|Negatives / Album|1951 Road Trip Photos|The Movies|Famous Kaukonens|About This Site

Every great artist has created a self-portrait, and David Kaukonen is no exception. In this photo (left) from 1937 — the same year his twin daughters were born — David makes twins of himself, through the magic of a double exposure!

Toivo (Hope) Kaukonen was born 13 March 1913 in Iron, Minnesota. He was the first Kaukonen of the family to be born in America, as both of his parents, as well as his older brother William, were born in Ylistaro, Finland. Even though Toivo's parents ended up living in the U.S. for most of their lives, they amazingly never learned to speak English! There were many Finns in that part of Minnesota, and they tended to stick together and maintain their own separate culture. To read more about Toivo's parents, Isaac and Wilhelmina, click here.
 
The Kaukonens attended a Finnish-speaking Lutheran church, and Toivo's baptism certificate and confirmation certificate are written in Finnish. Therefore, Toivo and his sibblings had to speak Finnish at home, just to be able to communicate with their parents. Many years later when I was growing up in the same town as my grandfather Toivo, I noticed that he definitely had an accent when he spoke English, but according to his daughter (my aunt) Sandra, he would always insist that he did not have an accent.

After graduating from high school in 1932, Toivo attended the Dunwoody Institute trade school in Minneapolis. After eight months of courses in the Building Construction Department, he earned, in May 1934, a certificate in Painting, Interior Decorating and Show Card Writing (a type of commercial illustration and lettering for display in shop windows). In fact, I just tracked down a couple of old textbooks, published in the 1920s, on the Web (in PDF format) — Toivo may have studied these very books, or books like them. These publications are a fascinating glimpse into the past, and into Toivo's education — you can download them by clicking on the following links: Interior Decoration: Its Principles and Practice and Principles and Practices of Show Card Writing.

Toivo was hired from Dunwoody by a painter in Pipestone, Minnesota, by the name of Walter Keers. He worked for him for about 18 months — a turn of events that would change his destiny forever — and mine too!


 
Around this time, as Toivo was leaving behind the northern-Minnesota Finnish culture of his youth, and entering into his adult working life down in southern Minnesota, he decided (according to Sandra) to legally change his first and middle names. Breaking with his Finnish heritage, he chose a thoroughly American-sounding name: Dave Ernest, as shown on a new birth certificate he obtained later in life. Although I understand that he always went by Dave and not David, for the purpose of this Web site I have chosen to use the more formal David.

Well, work was not the only interesting thing David found through Mr. Keers — there was also Margaret, the eldest daughter of fellow Pipestone painter Jacob Foltan! They must have started getting to know each other soon after David's arrival in Pipestone, because this photo of them together dates from 1934. About a year after his arrival the blossoming romance fully bloomed into a wedding bouquet on July 30, 1935. Now that David was not just the employee of a painter but the son-in-law of a painter, he stopped working for Mr. Keers and instead became the painting partner of his father-in-law Jacob. Just over two years later, David and Margaret's first child arrived — actually, children, for the twins, Gloria and Sandra, were born on October 3rd, 1937.


In 1938 Jacob and David made a trip to Santa Maria, California, to paint the house and newspaper printing business (the Santa Maria Courier) of former Pipestone resident Ed Trebon. The quaint newspaper article to the right announced the big news to the community of Pipestone. The "Pipestone Men" liked Santa Maria so much that as soon as they had finished the job they headed back to Minnesota and packed up their two families. Jacob and Eva Foltan, with their three unmarried daughters, and David and Margaret with their twins, moved permanently to Santa Maria, where all four adults lived for the rest of their lives.

The following year, the third Kaukonen daughter, Sharon, arrived on the scene. German father-in-law Jacob and Finnish son-in-law David continued their painting partnership in Santa Maria. During the 1940s the business prospered and grew — and the extended family grew too! In 1945, just after World War II ended, Jacob's daughter Esther married a Dick Ziech, fresh out of the military. David put together a special little scrap-card for Esther and Dick's wedding, which reveals a side of him that was not often seen.

But that decade was not all work and no play; David pursued his hobby of photography. He became a member of the Santa Maria Camera Club — "where all the members are legends in their own minds and world famous at home". At the end of 1938 and the beginning of 1939, David won two monthly award ribbons from the Club. In August 1947 David won an honorable mention in the A-group at a print competition of glassware. The following month he took a second-place B-class award at a print competition on architecture, which was judged by Ernest Brooks, the founder and director of the three-year-old Brooks School of Photography in Santa Barbara, assisted by one of his instructors, Charles Ogle. "Brooks commented on each print from the technical point and Ogle from the point of value as advertising material." Congratulations, David!

In 1947 David also found time to bowl regularly as a member of the Lutheran Men's Club team. In one article, the Santa Maria Times reported: "The Lutheran Men's Club bowling team maintained top spot on the Handicap Bowling League ladder last night by defeating the Petrolium Equipment five for three games and total pins." Those Lutheran guys sure knew how to sling those balls! When David's daughter Sandra was an adult, she followed in her dad's footsteps by being part of bowling leagues for about 25 years.

In 1951, David decided to take his family for a summer vacation to visit his family back in Minnesota, Margaret's family in Illinois, and to see the sights along the way. So David, Margaret, thirteen-year-old Gloria and Sandra, and twelve-year-old Sharon piled into the family car on July 4th and spent the next fourty days on an expedition — more than 6,000 miles — back to the Midwest. The 145 photos on this Web site document their journey.

Over the rest of his life, up until his untimely death in 1982 at the age of 69, David continued to be an avid amateur photographer. He had his own darkroom so he could develop and print his photos himself. He had a small motion picture camera for making home movies. As camera technology continued to evolve, he would occasionally upgrade his camera equipment, progressing from a folding camera and a twin-lens reflex camera to a more modern single-lens reflex. Through the many decades, David took an uncountable number of photographs. This Web site presents only a tiny fraction of his photographic legacy and artistic vision.
 
 

It truly seems that the marriage of David Kaukonen and Margaret Foltan was a match made in heaven, for God had to practically move heaven and earth in order to get Margaret in the right place at the right time!

Eighteen months before David was born in Iron, Minnesota to Finnish immigrants, Margaret made her entry into the world as the first-born child of Jacob and Eva Foltan — ethnic Germans living in the eastern region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in a small Transylvanian village near the city of Timişoara (now in present-day Romania).

In 1913, when Margaret was only two years old, her parents took a trip to the United States, leaving her with her maternal grandparents, Nicholaus and Margaretha Schlauch. Unfortunately, a little obstacle, commonly known as World War I, prevented her from joining her parents in America. Suddenly little Margaret was in a land at war — sometimes she was right in the middle of it. After the war ended, the Germans of Transylvania found themselves to be a disadvantaged minority under Romanian rule.

Finally, when Margaret had reached the age of 13 — after an eleven-year separation, her parents had saved up enough money to send for her. In an article appearing in the 7 December 1990 edition of the Santa Maria Times, Margaret reminisces:

"It's hard to remember exactly. I doubted that I wanted to come. I remember my grandparents crying a lot. We went through all of that and my grandfather took me to Bucharest. We were too late for one ship so we had to go back home, and when I left again we had to go all through the crying again," she said.

When they got to the border of Hungary and she boarded a train for France, she met a woman coming to the United States who offered to watch over the young girl. It was a good thing too because Kaukonen only spoke German.

Kaukonen's passport picture shows a slim, dark haired, pretty girl who looks like she might have been shy and retiring.

"Oh, I was shy then. In those days you just did what you were told. My grandparents said I was going so I went. I only had one small chest that I was allowed to take with me. I remember it took five days for us to sail here and I was seasick the whole time. I don't think I ever got out of my bunk," she said.

She doesn't remember much about passing through Ellis Island, but she does remember that an uncle was supposed to meet her there.

"I waited and waited and he never showed up. Lucky for me the woman I sailed with was going to Ohio, so she helped me get on the train to Chicago, where I had to change to get to Minnesota," she said.

From Chicago, she had to get to the right train herself but said she had a tag on, and even though she couldn't speak the language, she thought people were probably used to seeing immigrants and helped her along.

She didn't recognize her parents when she got off the train in Minnesota but said, "since I was the only child who got off the train there, it was pretty obvious to them who I was."

She was put in the first grade because she could speak no English. "I was so much bigger that the other first-graders," Kaukonen said. "But by the time I got to high school I was only about a year behind the grade I should have been in." She said that it was scary at first to begin school not speaking the language.

When Margaret arrived in Pipestone, Minnesota in the summer of 1925, she discovered that she had three younger sisters whom she had never met before. Apparently she applied herself to learning English and catching up on her school work, because she graduated from high school in 1932 — the same year as her future husband David — only 7 years after her arrival. Little did she know that only three years later she would be married to this tall, handsome Finn from the north of Minnesota. Just coincidence — or a match made in heaven?
 
The short newspaper article announcing their marriage states that their wedding took place at 4:00 p.m. in the home of the Lutheran pastor on Tuesday, July 30th, 1935. "The bride wore a figured blue silk crepe dress with white accessories. The couple left at once on a week's trip to Iron, Minnesota, to visit in the home of Mr. Kaukonen's parents."
 
 
 As the daughters of an avid photographer, the young Kaukonen girls never knew what would develop in life. How many times were they called upon to pose for a photo, either at home or away? How many times did their dad stop the car for another great shot, while driving through a national park? Such images will never be erased from their memories!

Sharon, two years younger than her twin sisters Gloria and Sandra, has other vivid recollections of her dad:

He had his darkroom in mom's laundry room. During the war years there were calendars with pin-up girls in bathing suits — drawn, not photographs. It was tastefully done, and it must have caught our dad's eye, for he carefully cut them out and pasted them all over the darkroom / laundry room. The twins, neighborhood girls and I use to play a game by going into the darkroom and picking out a girl, and then coming out and trying to pose like her. Then the others would go into the darkroom and try to find the girl that was being imitated. I guess you might call this inventing our own game. One time the pastor and his wife were coming to Sunday dinner, so dad quickly whitewashed the whole room because he was going to show his darkroom to the pastor. Yep, that was the end of our game!

One time dad took a picture of me sucking my thumb and guess what? It cured me! Dad would do trick photography sometimes — after setting up his home movie camera, he put a laundry basket in the driveway and filmed each of us girls climbing out of the basket and it looked like we had all been in there together!

Gloria shares: When I was in high school, I thought I would follow in my dad's footsteps and take a photography class; then I would be able to use all the equipment in his darkroom. As soon as I finished my class, dad decided to sell his equipment! I sure was upset! But my pursuit probably wouldn't have gone far — one time I went to Dodger Stadium on camera day to take photos of all the players and forgot to load the camera with film! While we were growing up we were forever having to have our pictures taken. As soon as dad started bringing out the large photo lights and put a sheet up for the backdrop, we knew what was going to happen. We would have to sit still and have a light meter put in our faces. For little kids like us it wasn't much fun — I would rather have been playing with my paper dolls. But as I look back on all this picture taking, I'm so thankful that he did all of that.

P.S. Sandra says that the teddy bear in the photo is NOT Sharon's but either hers or Gloria's!

 

Be SURE to sign the Guest Book and leave your comments before you're finished!
Home|Meet the Kaukonens|Negatives / Album|1951 Road Trip Photos|The Movies|Famous Kaukonens|About This Site