Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Russell, the bookseller of Stockholm October 25, 2011

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Bookseller Russell Mattson in his shop.

The old-fashioned screen door entry to Chandler's Books, Curios.

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU to Russell Mattson, purveyor of new and used books, amateur photographer, sometime candle maker, car nut and lover of Monarch butterflies.

I met him on a recent Monday afternoon in Stockholm. Wisconsin. Not Sweden.

We struck up a conversation in his Chandler’s Books, Curios, in this Mississippi River village of 89 founded in 1851 and dubbed the oldest Swedish settlement in western Wisconsin.

You’ll find a Swedish import shop here, run by the Norwegian Ingebretsens, and an array of other quaint shops and eateries and more in this charming small town along Wisconsin State Highway 35 south of Prescott, or southeast of Red Wing, if you’re from Minnesota, like me.

Russ originally hails from St. Paul; he’s lived in Stockholm for 38 years. For 31 years, he made candles at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival before retiring in 2003. His store, once called Candles and Lanterns, previously catered candles until that market deflated.

He still makes candles now and then. He also collects swamp milkweed seed to give away in his shop, encouraging others to grow milkweed as food for Monarch butterflies.

But mostly, Russ focuses on keeping the bookshelves stocked in this cramped, don’t-meet-another-customer-between-the-shelves bookstore.

You'll find lots of book, old vinyls and other curiosities, but not much wiggle room, in Russ' shop.

If you're seeking vintage used books, you'll find them here.

The bookshelves stretch nearly to the original tin ceiling in Russ' store.

Ask Russ what sells best and he’ll pause before pointing to the rack of car books and then pulling out photos of vintage cars he once drove, wishes he still owned.

That leads him to step outside to a display table and show off the photos he’s taken, some dating back decades. Of particular interest is a blurry black-and-white image of a locomotive that looks more painting than photo.

Russ took the picture of the Canadian National in northern Minnesota in 1955 when he was only 14. He’s pretty proud of the photo. Not because it’s the best image he’s ever taken. But because of how he took the shot. He snapped the photo with his Baby Brownie by placing binoculars in front of the camera lens.

All this I learned from Russell Mattson, purveyor of books, when I asked to take his photo on a Monday afternoon in October in Stockholm.

A front window of the bookstore features an eclectic mix of merchandise.

If you need swamp milkweed seed, you'll find it in a jar on the store counter. Help yourself. It's free.

Or perhaps you need a "new" phone. Russ has one for sale "from the slow old days."

A collection of buttons inside an open drawer in the bookstore.

CHECK BACK for more photos from Stockholm, not Russ, and other Mississippi River towns in future posts.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling