Although a potter and teacher by training, Charles “Happy” Grantier spent much of his professional life pursuing different types of art. As the son of pioneering homesteaders, he worked as a rural schoolteacher all over the state while he created several pieces of pottery, ceramics, watercolors, oil paintings, pencil sketches, chalk drawings, block prints, hooked rugs, and wax sculptures. Like threads in the handweavings he also produced, he wove these elements into a single, elegant, and profoundly simple life.
Charles Grantier 1936
Grantier was born on August 4, 1909 in Williston. His parents owned a ranch several miles from the small town of Banks, about 20 miles north of Watford City. During the school year, he and his siblings lived with their mother in a house in Williston so they could attend public school. In the summers, the entire family lived and worked at the ranch. Grantier’s mother died during his senior year in high school and, as a result, he moved in with his paternal grandmother in Tacoma, Washington to finish high school.
Upon graduation, he returned to attend the University of North Dakota-Grand Forks (UND). He studied ceramics and education and, in his fourth year, was hired as an assistant by Margaret Kelly Cable in her renowned UND ceramics department.
He initially had trouble finding work as an art teacher after college, but was eventually hired at the PlumCreekDistrictSchool near Dickinson. In 1935, he took work with the Dickinson Clay Products Company, which had changed its name from the Dickinson Fire and Pressed Brick Company when the business expanded to include pottery. (Native clay from western North Dakota, especially bentonite, was plentiful and extensively employed by the company in both its bricks and pottery. Since the source of the clay was an important factor in its products, the pottery was marketed under the trade name “Dickota,” which was formed from the first four letters its home town and the last three letters of its home state.) In 1937, the company closed and Grantier returned to teaching. In May 1939, Grantier replaced fellow UND-ceramics alum Laura Hughes as a state supervisor of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal New Deal program designed to alleviate unemployment. (Hughes briefly left North Dakota to demonstrate pottery-making at the New York Worlds Fair.) One aspect of the WPA program was the Federal Arts Project, which provided jobs for professional artists and trained non-artists in practical artistic skills such as ceramics and pottery. Under Grantier’s guidance, pottery production (which was based in Mandan) expanded to employ eighteen people and created milk jugs, bowls, plates, cups, glasses, pitchers, trays, and other utilitarian pieces for schools and hospitals all over the state. Decorative objects such as vases, candleholders, lamps, ashtrays, trivets, spoon holders, flower pots, paperweights, tumblers, and teapots were also produced. With the exception of a month-long stint in 1941 at Rushmore Pottery in Keystone, South Dakota, Grantier remained the state supervisor until the WPA was dissolved during the 1942 build-up to World War II.
As governmental funding was directed toward the war effort, the artists of the day engaged in an "art exchange by mail." Grantier and his friends had a correspondence club and would send a piece of art on an envelope. The envelope on the right, postmarked in 1941 was sent by Florence Baken in Lansing Michigan to Charles Grantier. These examples of mid-20th century art are also collected nationwide.
He married Minnie Neibauer of Mandan and they lived at 311 5th Avenue NW. Charles took a job as a supervisor at FortAbrahamLincolnState Park south of Mandan. He stayed there until 1944, when he became the director of Mandan’s first youth center, Teen Square.
He continued to work with various artistic mediums while he made a living as a rural schoolteacher all over the state. He taught in Mott, Crown Butte, and Hay Creek (among other communities) and eventually became principal at the school in Menoken.
In 1953, he received the Citation Award, which added his name to the Honor Roll of the American Artists Professional League.
In 1958-59, Grantier became the first President of the Mandan Art Association as well as the first Chairman (or what today is known as a Show Chairman) of the Mandan Art Show. He was also Mandan High School's first art teacher when the subject was added to its curriculum. He died on February 6, 1979. Both he and his wife Minnie are buried in Union Cemetery, Mandan.
Our gratitude is extended to Arley and Bonnie Olson of Dickinson who provided the portrait of Mr. Grantier. Muchof the information presented in this biography was obtained from the ND Visual Artists Archive website authored by Ben Nemenoff and supplemented by members of the Mandan Art Association.The Society appreciates their contributions toward this Legacy Program biography.
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