Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Waiting April 27, 2015

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My daffodils are in full bloom here in southeastern Minnesota.

Daffodils are in full bloom in southeastern Minnesota.

THEY’RE POPPING UP here in the north land. Daffodils. Crocus. Tulips. Bulging buds burst or about to burst into the vibrant hues of spring.

Fiddleheads are poking up along the foundation of my house.

Fiddleheads poke up along the foundation of my house.

I’m waiting, waiting, waiting for tulips to loosen their lips, for fiddleheads to unfurl in the rhythm of the wind.

Waiting, always waiting.

Why? Why must I always wait for tomorrow?

Wild day lilies are emerging.

Wild day lilies emerging.

I must delight in today. Green growth. The slow warming of days. The beginning. This transition of seasons.

Garden art that stays on my backyard fence year-round.

Garden art stays on my backyard fence year-round.

There will be time to seed zinnias and spinach, to fill pots to overflowing with greenhouse goodness, to climb the ladder and haul down the garden art, to pull out the lawn chairs and gather around a backyard campfire.

My artist friend Steve Denninger gifted me with this piece of original garden art created from recycled items. It hangs on an old wooden box in my backyard. The box is built from a recycled fence.

My artist friend Steve Denninger gifted me with this piece of original garden art created from recycled items. It hangs on an old wooden box in my backyard. The box is built from a recycled fence.

For now, on this day, in this moment, I must appreciate today. Stop waiting. Maybe tomorrow won’t be better than today and today is actually better than tomorrow. Yes, I must stop waiting and live in today’s season of life. Whatever that may be.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Country Crooner April 24, 2015

Portrait #18: Dunnell Lenort

 

Portrait 16, Dunnell Lenort, Village of Yesteryear 2012

 

If you were to read the biography of country and oldies rock n’ roll singer Dunnell Lenort, it would read like a country song.

Heartache and hardship. Good times and bad. But through it all, he perseveres.

I knew none of this when, in July 2012, I listened to Dunnell perform “I Fought the Law” at the 26th annual Steele County Historical Society Extravaganza at the Village of Yesteryear in Owatonna. It was an afternoon of living history, activities and entertainment.

I often wonder what brings a singer onstage to perform with a passion. So when I chose Dunnell’s image for today’s portrait feature, I googled his name to learn more. After hearing Johnny Cash on a home stereo at age five, Dunnell knew he wanted to sing.

But his journey into music starts even earlier. A stroke at only eight months old paralyzed Dunnell’s right leg and arm, beginning 20 plus years of trips to Gillette Children’s Hospital for treatment and multiple surgeries. Through it all, one thing kept this young man’s spirits high—music.

His music career has ebbed and flowed. He once performed on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and as an opening act for Roy Clark at the Surf Ballroom. (Buddy Holly performed his last show there before the February 3, 1959, fatal plane crash near this Clear Lake, Iowa, venue.)  Mostly Dunnell has entertained audiences in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. County fairs, casinos, community events. He lives in Twin Lakes, a small town in Freeborn County.

In early 2008, Dunnell’s beloved wife, Angie, underwent surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor. Things were going good until the couple was seriously injured in an automobile accident several months later.

Angie lost her battle with cancer on September 24, 2014.

On the home page of Dunnell’s website, you won’t find a photo of him. Rather, you will find an image of Angela and these loving words:

I love you Angie and will miss you so very much.—Dunnell

I would like to thank everyone who have expressed their condolences to myself and the family at the loss of my companion, friend and wife Angie. I will miss her tremendously. God’s blessings to you all.—Dunnell

Now that’s a country love song if ever I read one.

Dunnell has many performances booked already for this year, including an appearance again at the July 12 Steele County Historical Society Extravaganza. He’ll take the stage at the Village of Yesterday at 1 p.m.

If you happen to hear Dunnell perform anywhere, remember his inspirational story. His is a story of strength and love, holding strong to hope and a dream.

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This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Civil Rights Movement as photographed by Stephen Somerstein April 23, 2015

POWERFUL. HISTORIC. MEMORABLE.

Looking through a window into an exhibit space at Flaten Art Museum.

Looking through a window into the “Selma to Montgomery” exhibit in the Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.

That trio of adjectives describes Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail, an exhibit of 45 black-and-white photos documenting the 1965 Civil Rights Movement through the work of photographer Stephen Somerstein.

I was only eight years old in 1965, living in rural southwestern Minnesota, far removed from what was occurring in Alabama.

The faces of the Civil Rights Marches and Movement include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Stephen Somerstein.

Faces of the Civil Rights Movement include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, and his wife, Coretta Scott King, right. This shows a snippet of a photo by Stephen Somerstein.

But the exhibit, showcased at the Flaten Art Museum of St. Olaf College, took me to Alabama in 1965 and into the movement for equality in an up close and personal way.

An overview of a section of the exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

An overview of a section of the now-closed exhibit at St. Olaf College.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Somerstein’s pictures are worth 45,000 words. My one regret is that I did not visit this exhibit until the day before it closed on April 12 thus failing to inform you, my readers, of the opportunity to see this for yourselves.

This portion of a photo by Stephen Somerstein drew my attention.

This portion of a photo by Stephen Somerstein drew my attention.

As I circled the museum space, I studied many of the photos in detail. These images by Somerstein, a then student at City College of New York and editor of the school newspaper, call for close examination. It is in the details that we begin to fully understand, to see the fear, the hope, the defiance, the anger, the love, the determination.

I found myself drawn to hands and arms—those of an interracial couple, that of a union member gripping a sign, activists carrying American flags, a soldier focusing binoculars, a mother cradling her son:

One of my favorite images

One of my favorite photos by Stephen Somerstein.

Skin color matters not, as showcased in this section  of a Stephen Somerstein photo.

Skin color matters not, as showcased in this section of a Stephen Somerstein photo I photographed.

The two things I noticed in this Stephen Somerstein photo: the marcher carrying and American flag and the soldier atop the building scanning the scene with binoculars.

The two things I noticed in this Stephen Somerstein photo: the marchers carrying American flags and the soldier atop the building scanning the scene with binoculars. It’s truly a multi-layered image.

The Teamsters Union

The Teamsters Union Local 239 sent supplies to activists who were marching. This is a selected section of a photo by Stephen Somerstein.

Eyes and words also drew me in:

vote

Bobby Simmons, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, wearing zinc oxide to prevent sunburn, wrote VOTE onto his forehead. This is a section of Stephen Somerstein’s portrait of Simmons.

The exhibit featured explanatory information about photos and the movement.

The exhibit featured explanatory information about photos and the movement.

And although I did not participate in the interactive portions of the exhibit created by artist Nancy Musinguzi, I appreciated that visitors could photograph themselves and pen thoughts on working toward justice and equality.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the exhibit and express their thoughts.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the exhibit and express their thoughts.

Opinions expressed in the exhibit polling place.

Opinions expressed in the exhibit polling place.

They could also vote in a People’s Survey. Vote.

A St. Olaf College student staffing the museum makes sure a video is working properly.

A St. Olaf College student staffing the museum makes sure a video is working properly.

The exhibit drew a wide range of interest at St. Olaf College with students in social work, history, art history, gender studies and more viewing the photos, says Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson. The timing of the exhibit—on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, relating to current day issues and release of the movie, Selma—added to the interest.

Another overview of part of the exhibit.

Another overview of part of the exhibit. Photos displayed are by Stephen Somerstein.

Additionally, Becker Nelson notes that the exhibit connects to the 50th anniversary of the death of St. Olaf graduate James Reeb. (More to come on that in a post next week.)

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate.

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate.

This remarkable collection of documentary photos impresses in a deeply personal way. Beyond headlines. Beyond news stories. Beyond the pages of history books. Somerstein’s photos document the humanity of the Civil Rights Movement in the eyes, in the hands, in the stances of individuals. And that connects all of us, no matter our skin color.

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© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Original photos are by Stephen Somerstein. My photos of Somerstein’s images are published here with permission of Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf College.

Selma to Montgomery was booked through New York-based National Exhibitions & Archives.

 

A must-read Pulitzer prize winning report on domestic violence April 22, 2015

“IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU, nobody can.”

Then he shot her.

That story of a woman who was shot by her husband, and survived, is part of a powerful investigative report on domestic violence by the Charleston, South Carolina, The Post and Courier which Monday won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

The Pulitzer Committee calls the seven-part “Till Death Do Us Part” series “riveting.”

That it is. It’s a must-read for anyone who cares about domestic violence. And we should all care. These are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our friends, our neighbors, our nieces, our granddaughters, who are dying and being abused (verbally/mentally/physically/emotionally) at the hands of men who supposedly love them. Men who control them. And then sometimes kill, or try to kill, them.

Whether you live in South Carolina—where the rate of men killing women ranks highest in the nation—or California or Minnesota or any place in between, you need to read this prize-winning series. Today. Now. (Click here.)

the logo

The logo for NO MORE, a national campaign for “No More Silence. No More Violence.”

The series addresses all facets of the issue. You will read stories and see images that will break your heart. You will read about survivors and grieving families. You will read about problems within “the system.”  You will read about frustrated law enforcement officers. You will read about lack of accountability and communication. You will read about warning signs and the reasons women stay in abusive relationships. You will read a list of problems and suggested solutions.

This is powerful information that will cause you to think and, hopefully, open your eyes and empower you to stand strong, to not look the other way. To care.

Here are some key bits of information that I gleaned from this series:

♥ Survivors often describe falling in love with “charming men who began abusing them well into their relationships.”

♥ Abusers are calculating and manipulative.

♥ Domestic violence is often mistaken as an “anger management problem.”

♥ Domestic violence is about control.

♥ Behavior such as choking/strangulation can predict a possible deadly outcome for those in relationships with domestic abusers.

♥ As South Carolina legislators recently debated domestic violence bills, all but one proposal died in committee. The sole surviving bill provided court-ordered protection for the pets of domestic violence victims.

♥ Domestic violence laws in South Carolina treat first-time offenders “about the same as shoplifters and litterbugs.”

♥ In dealing with domestic abuse offenders, it’s all about holding them accountable.

♥ When The Post and Courier emailed 30-plus clergy, asking whether they’d ever preached about domestic violence or heard a sermon on the topic, only four said they’d mentioned domestic violence. Most didn’t respond.

♥ Victims sometimes/often times fail to cooperate with law enforcement and prosecutors because “they are terrified of their abusers.”

♥ Zero tolerance of domestic violence leads to a drop in deaths.

The series concludes with the final section titled “Enough is enough.” Problems and solutions are presented therein.

Repeat that: Enough is enough.

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IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY in an abusive relationship, seek help. Call a local women’s shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

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FYI: April 19 – 25 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week which focuses on supporting victims of crime.

Click here to read the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women 2014 Femicide Report.

I understand that men can also be the victims of domestic abuse. But the investigative report by The Post and Courier focuses on women, which is why I also focus on women in this post.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

And the winner is… April 21, 2015

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SUE READY, I don’t know if you’ve ever won at bingo, or even played the game.

Not quite Vegas, but bingo balls at a church festival.

Bingo balls photographed at a Minnesota church festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But today your number tumbled from the cage—or more accurately, your name was pulled from a hat—as the winner of 2015 Poetic Strokes and Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota.

Poetic Strokes 2015 Publication Cover

 

Later this week I’ll drop an autographed copy of the collection, which includes my poems, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion” and “Class Reunion” in the mail to you.

Thank you for entering this give-way and to all of the Minnesota Prairie Roots readers who shared their favorite poets as part of this contest.

Sue named Billy Collins, two-time U.S. Poet Laureate and perhaps America’s most popular current poet, as her favorite. Here’s what she had to say about Collins’ poetry:

His poems appeal to a wide range of literary tastes. He is a master at capturing the nuances of everyday life and inspiring readers to wonder and think about the simple things in their lives. Often Collins’ wry sense of humor comes across in the poems. He does not take himself too seriously. Collins is a master at engaging his reader in the first stanza by starting small not making too many demands and setting up the scene. Then he makes the poem more complicated and a little more demanding as he moves it along to completion. Each line is simply stated but layered in meaning.

Other readers’ favorites were Robert Frost, Lewis Carroll, Donald Justice, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Carlos Williams and Pablo Neruden. (Two readers also chose me as their favorite.)  Click here to learn why readers chose these poets.

Winner Sue is not only a reader, but also a writer of poetry. Visit her blog, Ever Ready, to learn more about this Minnesota woman and her love of poetry, cooking, travel and more. She coordinates the annual August Northwoods Arts Council Art & Book Fair poetry competition in Hackensack. I am blessed to call Sue my friend.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In which I discover the art treasures of St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges April 20, 2015

SOMETIMES I FEEL like I am missing out on a whole big wide world of art.

Not because art is absent here in outstate Minnesota. It isn’t. Recent years have seen a renewed effort to bring the arts—visual and performing—to communities like mine outside the Twin Cities metro area. Faribault has the Paradise Center for the Arts. Neighboring Owatonna, Northfield and Waseca also have art centers. Even the community of Zumbrota, population around 3,400, has the thriving Crossings at Carnegie.

So there are plenty of opportunities to engage in the arts at a local and regional level without venturing into Minneapolis or St. Paul, which I really prefer to avoid given my aversion for traffic congestion and big cities in general.

Despite an abundance of wonderful local art, I was still missing that segment of art created by renowned artists or by artists outside of Minnesota.

That is until I recently realized that I can see that type of art, too, right in my backyard.

In the center of this display space outside the Flaten Art Museum is a poster for the "Selma to Montgomery" exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement.

Promotional posters posted in the Dittman Art Center at St. Olaf College show the wide variety of artistic offerings.

Two colleges in Northfield, a 22-minute drive from my Faribault home, both sometimes showcase notable art from their collections in exhibits that are open to the public. They also bring in outside artists and traveling exhibits. Entrance to Carleton’s Perlman Teaching Museum and St. Olaf’s Flaten Art Museum is free. No cost and no traffic are a winning combination for me.

Items from St. Olaf's art collection were displayed in the recent "Interrogating Genders" exhibit.

Items from St. Olaf’s art collection were displayed in the recent “Interrogating Gender” exhibit.

Together, these two prestigious private colleges hold more than 6,500 paintings, fine art prints, photographs, sculptures and more in their collections.

Entering the Flaten Art Museum Atrium, I encountered this mega sculpture just outside the "Selma" exhibit.

Entering the Flaten Art Museum Atrium, I encountered this mega sculpture just outside the “Selma” exhibit.

I discovered Carleton’s gallery space about 18 months ago and St. Olaf’s just recently, when I arrived at the college atop the hill to view Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail, an exhibition of Stephen Somerstein’s photos.

Walking across the hall from one museum space to another, I found Michon Weeks' "Wheel Within Wheel (#1-44) paintings hung along the atrium wall. The acrylic on paper on wood panel is a visual inventory of items in her Northfield garage.

Walking across the hall from one museum space to another, I found Michon Weeks’ “Wheel Within a Wheel (#1-44) paintings hung along the atrium wall. The acrylic on wood panel paintings are a visual inventory of items in her Northfield garage.

After studying Somerstein’s remarkable images, I strode across the hall to see the Interrogating Gender exhibit, since closed.

Rosa Bonheur's "Cows in Pasture."

Rosa Bonheur’s “Cows in Pasture.”

The 16th Century "Madonna and Child, an oil painting on panel by Adriaen Isenbrandt of Belgium.

The 16th Century “Madonna and Child” by Adriaen Isenbrandt of Belgium.

The angle at which I photographed "Archaic Greek Statue of a Woman" makes it appear as if the Italian terra cotta sculpture is studying the art on display.

The angle at which I photographed “Archaic Greek Statue of a Woman” makes it appear as if the Italian terra cotta sculpture is studying the art on display.

There I marveled in getting close up to photographs taken by Andy Warhol. Yes, the Andy Warhol. I stood in reverent awe before a 16th Century oil painting on panel of Madonna and Child by Adriaen Isenbrandt. I enjoyed art from Africa and Italy and the Cows in Pasture pencil on paper by Rosa Bonheur.

A wood sculpture from Africa, artist unknown, and titled "Seated Maternity Figure."

A wood sculpture from Africa, artist unknown, and titled “Seated Maternity Figure.”

I could have reached out and touched the art, except I didn’t. It was that comfortably accessible and intimate. I didn’t have that feeling I often get in galleries of “be careful and don’t touch,” although I was aware of cameras on the premise.

My husband peruses the art.

My husband peruses the art.

I only wish I’d realized years ago that I could simply walk onto these college campuses and view art by well-known and other artists and students, too.

I got down low to photograph the Greek woman sculpture encased in glass.

I got down low to photograph the Greek woman sculpture encased in glass.

Now that I know, I’ll be back.

FYI: All of the exhibits mentioned in this post are no longer showing. Both colleges will be featuring a Senior Art Show in their exhibit spaces.

Please check back for a story and photos of the Selma to Montgomery exhibit.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lindström/Lindstrom’s missing umlauts April 16, 2015

A section of LIndstrom's business district.

A section of  Lindstrom’s business district.

IT’S ALL A BIT AMUSING in a Minnesota sort of way.

Some folks in Lindström, “America’s Little Sweden” located about 40 miles north of the Twin Cities, noted the omission of the umlaut over the letter “o” on newly-erected official Minnesota Department of Transportation highway signage. They weren’t happy.

The town's 1908 water tower, converted to a Swedish coffee pot in 1992, sports umlauts.

The town’s 1908 water tower, converted to a Swedish coffee pot in 1992, sports umlauts.

Now if you’re of Swedish heritage and/or a stickler about absolutely proper linguistics, you can understand this discontent. I studied German in high school and college and am well aware of the importance of umlauts in correct pronunciation of a word. An umlaut denotes a specific sound.

A Swedish dala horse and  Yule goat posted on a business honor this community's Swedish heritage.

A dala horse and Yule goat posted on a business honor Lindstrom’s Swedish heritage.

I expect if I lived in Lindström, where the Swedish heritage is an integral part of the town’s identity and a tourism draw, I might be miffed, too, about that missing umlaut.

In MnDOT’s defense, it was simply following state law which allows only standard alphabet usage (no umlauts or such) on traffic control devices.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has since intervened, issuing an executive order on April 15 that approves addition of those two missing dots above the “o.”

In the meantime, The New York Times, the Associated Press and many other media outlets have picked up this, shall I call it, distinctly Minnesotan story.

I noticed in a television news story on the missing umlaut, that signage on the city’s center of government reads Lindstrom City Hall and Community Center rather than Lindström City Hall and Community Center. On the city’s website, the umlaut is sometimes there, sometimes not. I find that discrepancy interesting.

During my visit, I was more interested in what the bakery had to offer.

During my visit, I was more interested in what the bakery had to offer than an awareness of umlauts.

So I wondered about other signage in this community of 4,442 which my husband and I visited briefly last October, when I wasn’t noting the absence or presence of umlauts. I checked my few photos and here’s what I found:

Umlauts on the Swedish coffee pot, but none on the bakery sign.

Umlauts on the Swedish coffee pot, but none on the bakery sign.

No umlauts on the bakery bench signage either.

No umlauts on the bakery bench signage either.

Interesting, huh?

Apparently no umlauts in the word "julekaka" on this bakery signage.

Inside the bakery which specializes in Swedish treats.

Umlaut or not, Lindström has garnered national attention. And that can only benefit local tourism in Lindström/Lindstrom.

BONUS PHOTOS:

More bakery treats.

More bakery treats.

Many choices at this bakery.

Many choices at this bakery.

Nothing Swedish, as far as I know, about Deutschland Meats.

Nothing Swedish about Deutschland Meats. Love that kitschy brat art atop the business.

A must-visit antique shop in Lindstrom.

The must-visit Lindstrom Antique Mall, where you will find Swedish merchandise.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note that the absence of umlauts in cutlines is not intentional, but due to my not knowing how to add them there, if that is even an option.

 

 
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