Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When the polka music fades in Seaforth December 10, 2015

Northbound on Redwood County Road 7 just minutes from Seaforth.

Northbound on Redwood County Road 7 just minutes from Seaforth.

ON MY LAST VISIT back to my native southwestern Minnesota in late October, my husband and I drove through Seaforth. This community of 86 residents lies seven miles to the east of my hometown of Vesta in Redwood County.

A farm site along CR 7 near Seaforth.

A farm site along CR 7 near Seaforth.

When I was growing up, my school bus passed Seaforth en route to Wabasso, stopping along the way to pick up farm kids.

The former post office in Seaforth. Like so many small town post offices, the one in Seaforth was closed.

Like so many small town post offices, the one in Seaforth was closed by the U.S. Postal Service.

On occasion I attended a funeral, bridal shower or wedding at the Lutheran church in Seaforth at a parish that, because of diminishing congregational size, closed years ago. The church is now a house.

One of the many buttons my mom saved from Seaforth Polka Days.

One of the many buttons my mom saved from Seaforth Polka Days.

As a teen and young adult, I sometimes attended Seaforth Polka Days, an annual July event featuring, as you would expect, polka bands. For 42 years, Seaforth has hosted this celebration and billed itself as “The Smallest Polka Town in the Nation.” That will be no more, I learned from my mom, who today resides in an assisted living apartment in Belview the next town north of Seaforth. Mom didn’t know details. So I turned to the internet and found this July 14 entry on the Seaforth Polka Days Facebook page:

It is the end of an era, the booster club has decided that this will be the last year for polka days. Every year becomes harder to find enough volunteers to work and crowds have been smaller as well. Let’s make this year one to remember. Spread the word that it will be the last, for those who always planned to come one of these years or for those who have fond memories from years past this weekend will be your last chance to celebrate polka days in Seaforth!

Still open or shuttered, I don't know.

Still open or shuttered, I don’t know.

Such decisions to end large-scale small town celebrations are not uncommon. Year after year, the same locals often find themselves planning and working these events.

A scene in the heart of Seaforth.

A scene in the heart of Seaforth.

Yet, Seaforth isn’t totally giving up. Area residents are still planning a 2016 community celebration during the last full weekend in July: softball games, bean bag toss competition, the fire department fundraising supper, tractor pulls, a DJ and one polka band (instead of many) and “buckets of beer.”

On the north edge of Seaforth, even the grain elevator is closed.

On the north edge of Seaforth, even the grain elevator is closed.

Now they’re soliciting names. Online Facebook suggestions thus far include C4th Small Town Days, C4th Clear Creak (sic) Days, C4th Clear Creak (sic) Fest, C4th Hometown Days, C4th Summer Days, Polka Days Part 2 and, finally, Redneck Fest.

Look closely, and you can see the faded words "Farmers

Look closely, and you can see the faded words “Farmers Grain Co.”

Thoughts, on any of this?

Last I knew, my Uncle Milan owned this grain elevator complex. I don't know whether he still does.

Last I knew, my Uncle Milan owned this grain elevator complex. I don’t know whether he still does.

Do you help plan and work at a small town celebration? Do you attend small town celebrations? Let’s hear. Why are such events important to rural communities like Seaforth?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Faribault: When music inspires art September 21, 2015

"The Music Nut," a ceramic sculpture by Tami Resler.

“The Music Nut,” a ceramic sculpture by Tami Resler

I AM A PERSON WHO DELIGHTS in art, like the devoted sports fan loyal to a team.

"The Music Man," oil on canvas by Dana Hanson

“The Music Man,” oil on canvas by Dana Hanson

Perhaps it is the absence of access to the arts in my formative years that causes me to so appreciate art today. I can’t recall ever visiting an art gallery while growing up in rural southwestern Minnesota. If there were any galleries, I was unaware. Art, for me, was limited to school art projects. Life was about the basics, not the arts.

"Central Park Notes," an oil on canvas by Pat Johnson

“Central Park Notes,” oil on canvas by Pat Johnson

I especially celebrate occasions when the arts are brought to folks in an unpretentious way. For years, Faribault, my home of 33 years some 120 miles from my prairie hometown, has offered free weekly outdoor summer concerts in Central Park. This year, visual art was added, much to my delight. It’s important, I think, to expose people to art in a relaxed setting, where they feel comfortable approaching artists, watching them create and asking questions.

A snippet of Linda Van Lear's "Girl & Violin" watercolor pencil

A snippet of Linda Van Lear’s “Girl & Violin” watercolor pencil

Local artists set up their easels, pulled out their supplies and created music-themed art as musicians performed. It was perfect, this melding of music and art in the park.

A poster posted at the initial exhibit.

A poster posted at the initial exhibit.

And then, to honor the participating artists, a several-day “Nature of Music” exhibit was staged in a connecting space between the library and community center to showcase selected pieces. I missed that event. But the en plein air art will be exhibited again, this time from September 22 – November 10 in the Lois Vranesh Boardroom Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. An artists’ reception is slated for 5 – 7 p.m. on Friday, September 25. Other gallery openings are also set for that evening.

This shows one of the many faces in Irina Mikhaylova's "Faces in the Crowd" done in soft pastels.

This shows one of the many faces in Irina Mikhaylova’s “Faces in the Crowd,” done in soft pastels.

The Paradise is a wonderful center for the arts. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to live in a community with an arts center and a library. You see, I also grew up in a town without a library…although today Vesta has a Little Free Library.

"At the Bandshell" in soft pastels by Barbara Bruns

“At the Bandshell” in soft pastels by Barbara Bruns

Murphy's face in "Murphy at Central Park," acrylic on hardboard by Julie Fakler

Murphy’s face in “Murphy at Central Park,” acrylic on hardboard by Julie Fakler

A section of Nicole Volk's "Camelot Calls," inktense on watercolor paper

A section of Nicole Volk’s “Camelot Calls,” inktense on watercolor paper

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork was photographed with permission of Jeff Jarvis, Faribault Park & Rec Enrichment & Communications Coordinator, who organized the en plein air program.

Note that unavoidable glare on glass shows up on some of the photos. That is the reason I sometimes did not photograph an entire work of art. But sometimes I wanted only to show you a snippet peek at the entire piece.

 

Festival celebrates Faribault’s cultural diversity August 20, 2015

Adding to the artsy aspect of Car Cruise Night, was this colorful attire worn by Faribault

Faribault is becoming an ever diverse community as shown in this photo from a recent Friday evening Car Cruise Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

Neighbor meeting neighbor.

I like that phrase tagged by the International Festival Faribault planning committee to an event celebrating my community’s cultural diversity.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary for this photo taken at a previous fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

When we personalize, then we begin to see beyond the differences. We see individuals rather than skin color or clothing. We hear the person and not the language. We connect. We become neighbors.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at Faribault's International Market Day celebration.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtly Aztec Dancers performs at a previous International Festival Faribault, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, August 22, the Faribault community comes together in Central Park for this 10th annual celebration of diversity. International Festival Faribault aims to promote an understanding between cultures and to unite the community with music, dance, art, ethnic foods and merchandise.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata during the 2012 festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. I won first place for this image in the “personal heritage” category of the 2014 Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest.

I’ve attended the festival numerous times and delight in this opportunity to meet others, to sample ethnic foods, to listen to music, to check out the art and more. My favorite has always been observing children gathered to break pińatas. It is then that I see the possibilities for Faribault. We can learn from these kids who care not about differences but rather are focused as one on a single goal.

On Saturday, let that goal be neighbor meeting neighbor.

A woman, without my prompting, took this mask from the table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her.

Art showcased by a vendor at the 2012 festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s the International Festival Faribault entertainment schedule:

  • 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. – Steve Huber on acoustic guitar
  • 11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.- Otto & Celia – Guatemalan singers on keyboard; Patti Letona – Guatemalan singer; and Eliana Tobar – El Salvadorian singer
  • 11:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. – Selvin – Guatemalan dancer
  • 11:45 a.m. – noon – Children’s Dance Performance by Florecitas de Dios
  • noon – 1 p.m. – Ollin Ayacaxtly Aztec Dancers
  • 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. – Flag Ceremonies (national anthems and salutes)
  • 2 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – South Sudanese music and dancers
  • 2:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. – Cambodian dancers
  • 3 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. – Hula Hoop Performance by Adrienne Lee
  • 3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Breaking of piñatas

FYI: Admittance to International Festival Faribault is free.

 

Summertime in Minnesota: A boy & his lemonade stand July 29, 2015

Cooper Soderberg opened his lemonade stand in Faribault last week.

Cooper Soderberg opened his lemonade stand/snack bar in Faribault last week.

THERE’S SOMETHING INEXPLICABLY grassroots wonderful about a kid and a lemonade stand.

Lemonade stand details, misspelling and all.

Lemonade stand details, misspelling and all, and likely intentionally.

Last week, 11-year-old Cooper Soderberg decided he wanted to earn a little money for a new computer and also contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project. Half of his profits are going to help soldiers’ families.

Cooper is selling chips, candy and lemonade.

Cooper is selling chips, candy and lemonade.

So he and his grandma dug a handcrafted Kool-Aid stand—the one his mom used 37 years ago—out of her basement, spruced it up and set up a snack shop. His first day open on Division Street near the Faribault Senior Center, Cooper made $30. He got lots of tips.

Cooper tends his business while the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park Bandshell.

Cooper tends his business while the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park Bandshell. His grandma assists.

Thursday evening he parked his stand at Central Park for the weekly Concerts in the Park performance. Business didn’t appear especially brisk. But that didn’t seem to phase this young entrepreneur vending lemonade, chips and candy.

Preparing for customers.

Preparing lemonade for customers. You can find Cooper’s business along Division Street by the Faribault Senior Center.

I interviewed him and photographed him. Then, after I shot my last frame, Cooper strode over and shook my hand, a sure sign of a confident businessman destined for success.

BONUS PHOTOS from the concert:

This year's concerts also feature en plein air artists. These are Pat Johnson's brushes.

This year’s concerts also feature en plein air artists. These are Pat Johnson’s brushes.

Irina Mikhaylova created this pastel of a concert going couple.

Irina Mikhaylova created this pastel of a couple at the concert.

In the casual atmosphere of the park, some concert goers bring their dogs.

In the casual atmosphere of the park, some concert goers bring their dogs.

Dana Hanson's oil paints.

Dana Hanson’s oil paints.

A concert goer poses with a caricature created by Irina Mikhaylova.

A concert goer poses with a caricature created by Irina Mikhaylova, right.

FYI: Click here to read an earlier post about the artists who were part of the July 23 Concerts in the Park evening.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Melding music & art at Faribault’s Central Park July 28, 2015

The Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park bandshell on July 23.

The Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park bandshell on July 23.

WHILE BARBERSHOPPERS CROON, artists create. Music and art. Art and music. It seems the perfect mix for the annual summertime Concerts in the Park series held each Thursday in Faribault’s Central Park.

Pat Johnson has been at the concerts every week with her easel and paints.

Pat Johnson has been at the concerts every week with her easel and paints.

Last week I attended a concert for the first time this season and delighted in the en plein air artists scattered around the park with their easels and art supplies. They are new to the concert evenings, an idea of Jeff Jarvis, Faribault Park & Rec Enrichment & Communications Coordinator.

Pat Johnson paints en plein air.

Pat Johnson paints en plein air.

Jeff tells me the addition this year of artists injects even more spirit into the evening, provides an educational experience for concert goers and assists artists in developing en plein air painting skills in an openly musical and public setting. To keep the selected artists focused in the moment, they’re required to create music-themed artwork.

A vintage enamelware tray holds Pat Johnson's oil paints.

A vintage enamelware tray holds Pat Johnson’s oil paints.

Pat Johnson of Morristown was dipping brushes into oil on a vintage enamelware tray when I paused to watch her create a portrait of a young woman she’d previously seen at a concert. An artist for sixty years, she says painting is her passion. She’s happy to sit at the park, listening to the music and visiting. “I have been blessed with the people I’ve met,” she smiled.

Artist Tami Ochs

Artist Tami Resler

Tami's tools lie at her feet. Years ago, Tami designed the greyhound tatoo inked onto her leg in Vegas.

Tami’s tools lie at her feet. Years ago, Tami designed and got the greyhound tattoo in Kanub, Utah, after attending the Greyhound Gathering there. The Gathering raises monies for greyhound rescue.

Barbershopper details in Tami's art.

Barbershopper details in Tami’s art.

To the side of the bandshell, Faribault artist Tami Resler was surrounded by her “fan club,” a cluster of family and friends there to support her and enjoy an evening together. She was drawing with Sharpies and pencils—snippet details of a park sign, a trash barrel. Later I returned to see the faces of the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus flared into the corner of her art piece.

Irina Mikhaylova works on a portrait of the couple in the background.

Irina Mikhaylova works on a portrait of the couple in the background.

Irina at work with her pastels.

Irina at work with her pastels.

Irina's pastels.

Irina’s pastels.

Nearby, Irina Mikhaylova used pastels to color the sketch she’d done of two elderly concert goers settled into lawn chairs. It was sweet, a lovely capture of older folks who primarily comprise this audience. There is something sweet, too, about Irina, about the thick accent that traces to her native St. Petersburg, Russia. She now lives in Morristown. Because she cannot work in the U.S. as a mechanical engineer—her former profession—she has thrown herself into her art.

Shadows and light play on Barb Bruns as she works.

Shadows and light play on Barb Bruns as she works.

Some of Barb's corralled pastels.

Some of Barb’s corralled pastels.

Barb's in-progress interpretation of the Central Park bandshell.

Barb’s in-progress interpretation of the Central Park Bandshell, in the background to the right.

On the other side of the park, Barb Bruns talked to me about blogging as she worked pastels across paper to recreate the bandshell, and the pet parade mural thereon. She is more than an artist. In Morristown, Barb operates Barb’s Custom Framing & Gift Shop with a local gallery at the front of her shop. It features the work of 27 local artists.

Artist Dana Hanson

Artist Dana Hanson

The sun shadows Dana's hand across her art as she paints.

The sun shadows Dana’s hand across her art as she paints.

Dana's dancer.

Dana’s dancer

A stone’s throw from Barb, the sinking sun spotlighted the mesmerizing art of Dana Hanson who, by freelance trade, creates art for her Lord Warmington Studio. Her grandmother, Frieda Lord, helped found Faribault’s art center. By day Dana works as a baker/cake decorator at Fareway Foods, just across the street from Central Park. On this evening, her art danced as she brushed oils into the shape of a hooded dancer in halal, the Hebrew word for praise.

Praise seems a fitting response for the addition of artists to the concerts. Jeff Jarvis confirms the enthusiastic reception. “Youngsters have emerged from the crowds to sit with ‘real’ artists—they even come back with their own art supplies to join in,” he cites.

Jeff, himself a visual artist, understands the financial and other challenges artists face in getting their work out there. “I wanted to elevate the status of visual artists by paying them to perform alongside the musicians,” he says. He accomplished that by securing a grant through the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

In addition to Jeff and the five artists I interviewed, Nicole Volk, Linda Van Lear and Julie Fakler have also been among the Concerts in the Park artists. Jeff selected local and emerging artists who enjoy working outdoors. The best works of each artist will be featured in a capstone exhibit September 8 – 11 at the Buckham Center Commons area with the opening reception from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. on Tuesday, September 8.

the sun sets behind the bandshell as the barbershoppers sing tunes ranging from "Sweet Caroline" to "God Bless America."

The sun sets behind the bandshell as the barbershoppers sing tunes ranging from “Sweet Caroline” to “God Bless America.”

FYI: The Concerts in the Park series continues for four more Thursdays with the Copper Street Brass Quintet performing July 30; Bend in the River Big Band on August 6; Jivin’ Ivan & The Kings of Swing on August 13; and The Bandshell Brass on August 20.

Please check back tomorrow for a story about a young entrepreneur who set up shop at the July 23 Concerts in the Park event. Plus, I will show you a few more concert images.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: The musicians of Monroe Crossing July 3, 2015

Portrait #30: Monroe Crossing

Monroe Crossing musicians photographed during a 2013 performance at North Morristown.

Four of five Monroe Crossing musicians photographed during a 2013 performance at North Morristown.

They’re in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. They’ve recorded 14 CDs to date. Twice they’ve appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York City. And in 2016, they will become the first Minnesota bluegrass band ever to perform in South Korea.

They are Monroe Crossing, a group of five musicians who rank as one of Minnesota’s favorite bluegrass bands.

On Saturday the performers, as they have many times in the past, take the stage at the oldest Fourth of July celebration in Minnesota, now in its 123rd year. That would be in North Morristown, a country church and school and a few homes clustered west of Faribault in the middle of farm fields.

The Trinity Lutheran Church and School festival grounds is the perfect setting for these musicians who present foot-stomping down-to-earth songs. They perform at 1:30 p.m. and then again at 4 p.m. And it’s free, although donations are accepted in on-grounds donation boxes.

Plan to arrive well in advance of Monroe Crossings’ concerts. The July Fourth celebration begins at 9 a.m., when food stands and games open. Yes, there’s plenty of great food including homemade pies, barbecued pork sandwiches, burgers and more. You can play bingo, hunt for a medallion, observe a flag-raising, bid on auction items, throw horseshoes, attend a parade (at 10 a.m.), listen to other musicians (The Jolly Huntsmen Polka Band, Sawtooth Brothers, Benson Family Singers and Downtown Sound), drink beer and more.

There’s also plenty of visiting. Old-fashioned handcrafted rides are available for the kids. This rural celebration is about as Americana grassroots wholesome goodness as you’ll find anywhere in Minnesota on the Fourth of July.

Ending it all is a 10 p.m. fireworks display.

FYI: Click here to reach the North Morristown Fourth of July website page for a schedule of events and directions.

You can also check out the event Facebook page by clicking here.

Click here to view a photo essay from the 2013 celebration.

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The Minnesota Faces series is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part IV: Touring the legendary Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa June 4, 2015

My husband exits the historic Surf Ballroom.

My husband exits the historic Surf Ballroom.

WHEN I MENTIONED to a friend that my husband and I were going on an overnight get-away to Clear Lake, Iowa, he immediately asked if we were touring the Surf Ballroom. We were.

A broad view of this massive ballroom which seats 2,100.

A broad view of this massive ballroom which seats 2,100.

The Surf is the focus for many visitors to this north central Iowa community. It wasn’t our main reason for traveling here. But we knew we couldn’t visit Clear Lake without seeing the famous Surf, site of Buddy Holly’s final Winter Dance Party performance before he, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a February 3, 1959, plane crash along with the pilot.

This display references "American Pie."

This display references “American Pie.”

It was, writes Don McLean in his song, American Pie, “the day the music died.”

Another tribute to the Surf's most memorable performed, rock n roll legend Buddy Holly.

Another tribute to the Surf’s most memorable performer, rock n roll legend Buddy Holly.

Now I’m not much of a music history person, nor a person with musical talent. I can’t read a note. I don’t have a particularly good singing voice. I typically cannot tell you who sings what and even had to ask my husband, before our arrival at the Surf, what songs Buddy Holly sang. He cited Peggy Sue and That’ll Be the Day.

The exterior ticket booth.

The exterior ticket booth.

Looking toward the interior lobby doors.

Looking toward the outside, this interior set of lobby doors are hefty and heavy. To the right is the original coat check area, not shown in this image.

This sign summarizes the importance of the Surf.

This sign summarizes the importance of the Surf.

Yet, even for someone like me who is rather musically illiterate, the Surf proved an interesting place. Built in 1948, the current ballroom (the first burned down) is on the National Register of Historic Places. And rightly so. From the exterior ticket booth to the heavy doors that lead into the dark lobby, where you can check your coat, the Surf holds that feel of yesteryear. It’s difficult to explain. But you feel that sense of entering a different world from a bygone era the minute you step inside. As if you’ve left Iowa. And today.

Just a sampling of those who have played the Surf.

Just a sampling of those who have played the Surf.

More historic memorabilia of Surf concerts.

More historic memorabilia of Surf concerts.

The lounge area features a stage, bar and lots more memorabilia.

The lounge area features a stage, bar and lots more memorabilia.

You'll spot numerous signed guitars on display.

You’ll spot numerous signed guitars on display.

Here you’ll discover a hallway museum of musicians’ photos, posters and history. And inside the lounge you’ll see stars’ guitars and more photos and other tributes to those who have performed here. If a musician’s picture is displayed, then he/she’s played/been here.

The ballroom stage.

The ballroom stage.

On the Friday afternoon we arrived at the Surf, we almost didn’t make it into the actual ballroom. Black curtains were pulled across two entrances and marked by “closed” signs. I peeked through the curtains to see musicians for Lee Ann Womack setting up inside. I failed to notice on the Surf website that the dance floor occasionally closes if a concert is scheduled. So be forewarned: Check the Surf calendar. Even better, call ahead.

But then, as luck would have it, Mark, who’s been working Surf security since 1978 and clearly loves this place and his job, parted the curtains and invited us inside with the admonition to keep our distance from the stage. He’d overheard our disappointment and said, “Since you drove a long ways…” We’d traveled only 85 miles. But another couple had driven nearly four hours from Omaha.

In the back are layers of booths, all original.

In the back are layers of booths, all original, and beach-themed murals.

Portraits

Portraits of Ritchie Valens, left, Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson hang inside the ballroom.

Signatures...

Signatures…

He led us onto the original maple floor dance floor, pointed us to the original booths (where I slid into one; it’s a tight squeeze), noted the beach themed décor (it is, afterall, the Surf), took us into a small room where musicians and others have signed the walls…

Each February, the Surf still hosts a Winter Dance Party.

Each February, the Surf still hosts a Winter Dance Party.

I wished I could have lingered longer in the ballroom, asked Mark to switch on more lights for better photos. But I didn’t press my luck. If not for his graciousness, I would have remained on the other side of those black curtains.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Shortly before our visit,

The day before our visit, the king of blues died. B.B. King’s promotional poster hangs in the lounge.

Lee Ann Womack's band was setting up on the afternoon of our visit.

Lee Ann Womack’s band was setting up on the afternoon of our visit. This was snapped just outside the front entry doors.

About a block away, this outdoor sculpture at Three Stars Plaza honors Holly, Valens and Richardson.

About a block away, this outdoor turntable/album sculpture at Three Stars Plaza honors Holly, Valens and Richardson. You can also visit the plane crash site about five miles from town. Because of rainy weather, we did not go there.

FYI: Please check back next week for the three remaining installments in this series of seven posts from Clear Lake, Iowa.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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