Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A historic bank and White Buffalo Calf Woman June 23, 2011

SET ME IN FRONT of an architecturally-stunning historic building and I’m in history heaven.

Just look at the lines, the colors, the window leading, the carvings…of the Old First National Bank of Mankato building, now a Verizon Wireless Center reception hall.

I didn’t step inside the former bank, didn’t even try a door. I was content last Saturday afternoon to view the exterior with its Prairie School style architecture.

“It’s like that bank in Owatonna,” my husband said as we gawked at the building built of brick, Mankato limestone and terra cotta along Civic Center Plaza in downtown Mankato.

He was, of course, referring to Chicago architect Louis Sullivan’s “jewel box,” National Farmer’s Bank in Owatonna, a brick building with terra cotta accents, splendid for its stained glass windows, arches and other architectural details.

The Mankato building features Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stained glass and detailed ornamentation along the roof line.

And now it also showcases a bronze sculpture of White Buffalo Calf Woman by South Dakota artists Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby as part of Mankato’s City Art Walking Sculpture Tour.


If you peer at the woman’s face, examine her beaded moccasins and the trim on her buckskin dress and pouch, you’ll notice how the colors mimic those of the historic bank building. Whether this Native American sculpture’s placement was planned or accidental, I don’t know, but it fits seamlessly with the historical vibe of the locale, enhancing the whole art viewing experience.

The city of Mankato, apparently named after a varied translation of the Dakota word Mahkato, meaning “blue earth,” owns a place in Minnesota and national history for the mass hanging of 38 Dakota here on December 26, 1862. Three hundred warriors were accused of killing civilians and soldiers and of other crimes during the U.S.-Dakota Conflict. After a public outcry, President Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38. Certainly, Mankato is not proud of this moment in history. But efforts have been made to honor the Dakota at monuments in the city.

And now sculptures like White Buffalo Calf Woman also help heal and educate the public about the Native American culture. According to information on the sculpture placard, this prophetess is the only religious icon accepted by all Native American tribes. She “brings a message of healing, hope and peace among the races to all the people.”

More than just art, I also got a history lesson along a Mankato city street on a Saturday afternoon in June.

PLEASE VIEW MY JUNE 20 post for more photos and information about the Walking Sculpture Tour. Additional images will be forthcoming.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


6 Responses to “A historic bank and White Buffalo Calf Woman”

  1. Bernie Says:

    I love how you notice things I never would. The fact her beading and the building match. You have an amazing eye for details. That building is beautiful. They sure don’t make them like that any more.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I do tend to notice detail, which is an important quality in a writer. And I agree, “They sure don’t make them (buildings) like that any more.”

  2. Ethan Marten Says:

    Thank you for sharing, Audrey.

    Mitakuye Oyas’in
    Ethan Marten
    White Buffalo: An American Prophecy

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You’re welcome, Ethan. The sculpture of White Buffalo Calf Woman so impressed me.

      Mankato is also home to two memorials honoring the Dakota, “Winter Warrior” and Reconciliation Park. Thirty-eight Dakota were hung on December 26, 1862, in Mankato in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. This August marks the 150th anniversary of the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 in Minnesota. Healing continues even 150 years later.

      • Ethan Marten Says:

        In making the movie, Audrey, my brothers and I have travelled to and spoken with many First Nations’ Elders. We have learned much, and pray for the healing to continue.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I expect such conversations would be incredibly enlightening. Healing sometimes seems to be a long and difficult process.

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