Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beyond just a holiday art exhibit at the former Owatonna orphanage December 15, 2011

A door into the Owatonna Arts Center in southern Minnesota.

BEHIND THE BACK BLUE DOOR of the Owatonna Arts Center, housed in a former orphanage, past the guardian nutcracker, up the stairs and just to your left, you’ll discover a sprinkling of holiday magic and realism in “The Story Books of Christmas” exhibit.

As OAC Art Director Silvan Durben tells me, the exhibit doesn’t specifically emphasize Christmas books—although two are holiday-themed—but rather impresses the sharing of a storybook with a child and the warm memories that evokes.

You’ll experience that bonding over books in a rotating display of Mother Goose tales crafted onto cardboard and placed next to a Christmas tree embraced by teddy bears tucked among branches.

Who among us doesn’t remember with fondness the recitation of nursery rhymes?

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick.

Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one. The mouse ran down. Hickory, dickory, dock.

Or the story of the “Old Man in the Moon?”

It was not lost on me, though, that the orphaned children who once tread these floors did not experience the closeness of clutching a teddy bear or cuddling on a lap while listening to nursery rhymes as they drifted into sleep.

A rotating exhibit of several Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

A close-up of art in the Hickory, dickory, dock rhyme.

Many dreamed of escaping—and some did via rail—the drudgery and abuse at the former Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children.

That reality struck me as I viewed an over-sized silver jingle bell and the word “BELIEVE” punched into an equally-large golden ticket at The Polar Express display. In that children’s picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, a young boy boards a train to the North Pole as the story unfolds to reveal the magic of Christmas.

The large, magical silver bell in The Polar Express display.

Although I did not ask, I wonder if the creators of “The Story Books of Christmas” considered the double-meaning of selecting The Polar Express to highlight in this place where so many children wished for a ticket out.

I found the selection fitting, touching and sad. And a wee bit hopeful.

FYI: “The Story Books of Christmas” exhibit runs through December 29 at the OAC, 435 Garden View Lane. OAC hours are from1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday, closed Mondays. The OAC will also be closed December 23 – 26.

The display highlighting the book, Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.

CHECK BACK for another blog post from the art center and for a photographic tour of Cottage 11, once home to orphaned boys.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

2 Responses to “Beyond just a holiday art exhibit at the former Owatonna orphanage”

  1. Camille Says:

    Hello, I have been compling names reading the letters and understanding their cirumstances, since I found out my father was there in 1931 and placed out, I did visit in 2003, this site is a beautiful tribute to the children and their families. A job well done.


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