Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Preserving central Wisconsin’s rural heritage via on-the-road photography January 5, 2012

Each time I see this Wisconsin barn, I think of the biblical story of Joseph's coat of many colors.

ON OUR FOURTH TRIP through central Wisconsin in a year along the same route—Interstate 90 to Interstate 94 in Tomah then on Wisconsin Highway 21 to Oshkosh, up U.S. Highway 41 to Appleton—I’m getting to know the Dairyland state from her western to near eastern borders.

She’s a beautiful state of rolling hills, flat marsh land, stands of packed pencil-thin pines, too many towns whose names end in “ville,” infinite piles of stacked firewood, cranberry bogs and potato patches, muskrat mounds, cheese stores, Packers fans, small-town bars and barns—oh, the barns that I love to photograph.

One of my favorite barns along Wisconsin Highway 21 because of the stone walls.

As I’ve done on every 600-mile round trip to and from our second daughter’s Appleton home, I capture the scenery via on-the-road photography, meaning I photograph through the passenger side window or windshield of our vehicle at highway speeds. Sometimes I manage to snap a well-composed image. Other times I fail to lift my camera, compose and click in time and miss the photo op.

Journey after journey, I find my eyes drawn to the many old barns that are so much a part of Wisconsin’s landscape and heritage. And mine. Only in Minnesota.

I’ve seen every type of barn, from the well-preserved to the crumbling, pieced-together-with-tin structure. I know that any barn, once left to fall into a rotting pile of boards, will never be replaced by an equally grand structure.

A pieced together weathered barn blends into the gray landscape on a dreary winter afternoon.

A once grand barn shows the first signs of falling into disrepair.

The occasional white barn pops up among the characteristically red barns.

Majestic barns, rising sturdy and proud above the land, are seldom crafted anymore. Instead, mundane metal rectangles sprawl, without any character or beauty, across the landscape. Such structures hold no artistic, but only practical, value on the farm.

Via my barn photography, I am documenting for future generations a way of life—the family farm—which, in many places, has already vanished.

If my photos inspire you to appreciate barns and rural life and the land and our agricultural heritage and the men and women who work the soil and their importance in this great country of ours, then I will have passed along to you something of great worth.

An especially picturesque farm site along Wisconsin Highway 21.

The muted blue-grey of this old farmhouse blends seamlessly with the dreamy landscape on a snowy New Year's Day afternoon in central Wisconsin.

Contrasted against snow, red barns are particularly visually appealing.

NOTE: The above photos were taken on December 30, 2011, and January 1, 2012, along Wisconsin Highway 21 in the central part of the state primarily between Wautoma and Oshkosh.

I have applied a canvas style editing technique to most of the images, creating a quality that is more painting than photo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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