Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Praise for a 92-year-old artist September 28, 2010

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The historic Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church.

INSIDE THE SMALL country church, I place my hand atop his, the coolness of his skin seeping into the warmth of my fingers. I feel the slight tremble of his hand, a hand that for some seven decades lifted brush to canvas and metal and wood as he painted.

He is cold, even though dressed in layers. I am warm in my short-sleeved shirt. We wait—me in the stiff-backed pew and him in a folding chair.

In just a few minutes, I will introduce my 92-year-old artist friend to a sanctuary full of worshipers, briefing them on his life as a painter. But how do you condense seven decades of painting into 180 seconds? I do, because I don’t enjoy public speaking and I have time constraints.

He is Rhody Yule, a former sign painter by day. And by night he painted to express himself in hundreds of portraits, landscapes, still-lifes and religious scenes created through the decades.

On this Sunday afternoon we have come by invitation of the Christdala Church Preservation and Cemetery Association of rural Millersburg to showcase nine of Rhody’s religious paintings, including one of Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church which he painted in 1969.

This is his debut public art showing and I am thrilled at the opportunity for Rhody, first the subject of a magazine feature article I wrote and now, I am honored to say, my friend.

A humble man of faith, who on more than one occasion has claimed that his paintings “ain’t nothin’” or “aren’t much,” deserves this public display of his art.

So on this perfect Sunday afternoon in September, when the sun filters through leaves tipped in red and golden hues, my husband and I have come to this hilltop site to set his paintings upon easels against the backdrop of the 1878 wood frame church. A woman in reverent prayer. Judas betraying Jesus. The Last Supper.

The simple lines of the church provide an ideal backdrop for Rhody's paintings.

Rhody's depiction of Judas betraying Jesus is among the paintings displayed.

"Our Glorious Savior," "The Empty Tomb" and "The Last Supper" on exhibit.

Jesus appears to, and blesses, doubting Thomas in Rhody's painting.

Rhody calls his painting of the suffering Christ, "Misery."

Here in the churchyard, on a strip of grass between the church and the gravestones of Swedish immigrants, those who have come for Christdala’s annual worship service/open house peruse the nine religious paintings, chat with Rhody, chat with me. They share their admiration for his art.

I am smiling. This is as it should be. Praise for the artist, the slight wisp of a man who, since age 16, has quietly sketched and drawn and painted for the joy of creating.

Artist Rhody Yule sits next to some of his paintings displayed at Christdala.

As the afternoon gathering draws to a close, Rhody gives his Christdala painting to the preservation society. I am unaware that he planned to do this. “It belongs here,” he tells me later. That is so Rhody, to quietly, without a big to-do, present his Christdala painting to those who will most appreciate it.

Rhody's 1969 painting of Christdala church.

THANK YOU to B. Wayne Quist for inviting Rhody and me to participate in Christdala’s annual open house. I am especially grateful for this opportunity to display Rhody’s art for the first time ever. He has also been accepted for a solo art show January 14 – February 26, 2011, in the Carlander Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for posts about historic Christdala, which closed in 1966.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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