Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Off I-94: Artsy Fergus Falls June 17, 2011

The vintage-looking sign on the side of a building in downtown Fergus Falls caught my attention. The Market sells a variety of merchandise from kitchen to bath and body, garden and home accent products and lots more.

UNTIL LAST SATURDAY, I’d never entered Fergus Falls, only driven past this west central Minnesota community along I-94 en route to the Dakotas. After miles and miles of interstate travel, the towns don’t seem to matter any more. On the fringes, one seems like the other—just another rest break, a place to tank up on gas or a quick stop for a bite to eat.

Sadly, that marks the reality of today’s fast-paced, get from point A to point B, world.

But then one day you have a reason to pull off the four-lane, to explore one of these interstate-side communities and you discover a town with a personality and identity, and you wonder why you have not come here before this day.

And so that is how I found Fergus Falls, population 14,500, when I traveled there last weekend to view my Roadside Poetry Project poem displayed on four billboards. (My spring poem has since been replaced by a summer poem.)

After photographing my poem and dining at the downtown Viking Café (click here to read my earlier post on this vintage restaurant), I explored this Otter Tail County seat with my husband, Randy.

Certainly, we saw only a small portion of this riverside town. But I toured enough of Fergus Falls to come up with a single word to describe it: artistic.

I wonder if the folks who live in Fergus also see their hometown as an art community. Or would they choose another word to describe their town?

Here are photos to back up my word selection.

Knit graffiti circled a tree downtown. Bottlecaps were strung on another tree by this one. What a simple and memorable art idea.

Fergus Falls Summerfest happened to be on when we were in town. Here's one section of the event.

Clear Lake, S.D., artist Karlys Wells of Back Porch Art created this gourd art, among my favorite art at the fair.

Even signage can be art, like this on a downtown bakery.

Call it art, or something else, but this Rice Krispie cake in a bakery window display made me laugh out loud.

Kaddatz Galleries, a nonprofit art gallery, showcases the work of Charles Beck and other local artists.

Woodcuts and woodblock prints by one of Minnesota's most-recognized artists, Charles Beck of Fergus Falls. His subjects are the landscapes and nature of Otter Tail County. Until I walked into this gallery, I do not recall having ever heard of Beck. His earthy, rural art appeals to me.

I was impressed with the number of visitors in the Kaddatz Galleries.

The doors to the Fergus Theatre were locked, or I would most definitely have gone inside. The vintage exterior adds so much to the charm of downtown Fergus Falls.

I am a big fan of vintage signs for the character they add to a community.

SO HAVE I CONVINCED you to pull off I-94 in west central Minnesota and explore Fergus Falls? Fergus lies 2 1/2 hours northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul, mighty close to Fargo, N.D.

Here are several websites to check out and learn more about some of the places highlighted in my photos and story:







Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


4 Responses to “Off I-94: Artsy Fergus Falls”

  1. Bernie Says:

    You guys should have kept going west and came to Montana. 🙂
    That knitting around the tree is really unique. I have never seen something like that before. I love the vintage sign on the side of the building. That is fun!
    I’m not surprised that you tried the doors of the theatre. You go girl.
    Its fun when you take your camera and go roaming. I never know what we might learn about.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Hey, that would have been fun, to see where the deer and the buffalo roam. Is that Montana? Actually, we did see a pasture full of buffalo on our way to Fergus, but too far off to photograph.

      Ah, yes, me and my roaming camera. I carry is mostly everywhere. Sometimes my husband doesn’t like it when I pull out the camera while we’re dining. But how else am I supposed to photograph the food. With my cell phone?

      Watch for one more post from Fergus and then I have lots more of other places we saw.

  2. Thank goodness someone finally noticed! And congrats on the roadside poetry.
    I have lived in Fergus Falls for 20 years and made it my life work to get us to the point where someone just stumbled upon us and noticed that we ARE an Arts Town!

    I’m sorry the theater wasn’t open. This is the venue where I have served as E.D. for the past 17 years. We have at least 200 event nights a year but we must have been dark the day you were there. It’s a great little theater and a great little town. I encourage folks to explore it even more deeply. The Community College has tons of art and music and theater and the schools have maintained their arts programs as best as they can on limited budgets.

    Cheers to you! and thanks for noticing!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Rebecca, thanks so much for your kind words. Randy and I enjoyed our several-hour visit to Fergus Falls. I’m sure I only scratched the surface of what your city has to offer. But I quickly saw that yours is a thriving arts community. It takes enthusiastic and committed individuals like you to make that happen. So congratulations on your efforts.

      Readers, Explore Minnesota Tourism’s Facebook page picked up my blog post yesterday and I’ve gotten many, many views via that connection. That should help get the word out also about this west central Minnesota gem of an arts town.

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