Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How I became an artist March 30, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:44 AM
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MY SKILLS AS A PAINTER are limited. I can paint a wall. I can dip a brush into a kid’s watercolor paint set and swirl colors onto a piece of paper. But I won’t promise a masterpiece.

Oh, no, if you want to see my best paintings, you will need to step back in time to more than 40 years ago. Imagine me hunched over an oilcloth-draped kitchen table in a southwestern Minnesota farmhouse dipping a thin brush into miniscule pots of paint. With great care, I brush shades of blue and brown onto cardboard as a ballerina emerges.

I have never seen a real ballerina. Her dainty features and fancy dress and perfect posture seem so foreign to me as I slump at the table in my rag-tag clothing that smells of the barn.

I imagine this ballerina smells only of flowers, like the ones I paint into the bouquet she clutches and into the wreath encircling her hair. Her bangs sweep in a fashionable style across her forehead, unlike my slanted, too-short bangs.

The paint-by-number ballerinas I painted as a young girl during the 1960s.

This ballerina’s life in New York City is so much different than mine on the farm. For the hours I am painting the flower-bearing ballerina and her sister, the twirling ballerina, I escape into their world. I dance on my tiptoes and spin and bow with grace on the stage of an opulent theater.

If not for Dan Robbins, though, I never would have experienced ballet. The Michigan artist created the first paint-by-number patterns in 1951. That led to a nation-wide obsession that allowed non-artists like me to become painters. The magazine American Profile featured Robbins in its March 25 issue. You can read the feature story by clicking here.

That story prompted me to remember the paint-by-number ballerinas I created as a child. Because my mother saves everything, I have those paintings today and they are among my most treasured childhood possessions.

TELL ME, HAVE YOU created paint-by-number paintings? Or do you collect these paintings? I would like to hear about your experiences and/or interest in paint-by-number kits.

You can learn more about the paint-by-number craze that swept the country during the 1950s by clicking here onto the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural Faribault church presents 50th annual The Last Supper Drama March 29, 2012

St. John's members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyer, Earl Meese, Victor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin Bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township.

EVERY LENTEN SEASON since 1963, worshipers and actors have gathered inside the 1870 limestone sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ—Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, for The Last Supper Drama.

It is, says 2012 co-director Pauline Wiegrefe, a moving, emotional Palm Sunday drama that puts participants and attendees “in the mindset of Holy Week.”

Sunday, April 1, marks the 50th anniversary presentation of the drama penned by long-ago St. John’s pastor the Rev. Walter C. Rasche. He wrote the script while serving in an Indiana parish and brought it with him to Minnesota. When Rasche left St. John’s in 1969, The Last Supper Drama tradition continued.

The script, which features 12 men positioned like the disciples in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting and then speaking individually about their relationships with Christ, has remained unchanged in five decades.

Cast members in the 2011 The Last Supper Drama, left to right: Todd Lein, Craig Mueller, Alan Meyer, Grant Meese, Martin Budde, Paul Meyer, Thad Monroe, Kyle Keller, Doug Spike, Keith Keller, Randy Tatge and Brian Little. The white pillow on the empty chair represents Christ.

Likewise, the same hymn, “Here, Oh My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face,” continues as the single participatory musical selection. Craig Keller, drama organist, plays the same taped mood-setting organ music he’s used since 1968. Prior to that, introductory music emitted from a record player stationed behind the altar.

For original cast member and life-long St. John’s member Luverne Hafemeyer, 84 of Northfield, the drama is, he says, an emotional and inspirational experience that prepares him for Easter.

As a young farmer, Luverne jumped at the opportunity to join the original 1963 cast. During his high school years, except for an annual Youth Fellowship play presented in the nearby Nerstrand Town Hall, he had never acted. Farm work and gas rationing during WW II kept him from participating in high school activities.

But once Luverne joined The Last Supper Drama cast, he stayed on for 15 – 20 performances, finally relinquishing his role as James just five years ago. (Casts alternate from year to year.) He still helps sometimes with lighting and the post performance coffee hour.

His lines, however, remain engrained in his memory: “I am James the son of Zebedee, the elder brother of John…”

Like Luverne 50 years ago, all of today’s actors at this rural church come from a farm background. Co-director Pauline remembers her father, Arnold Keller, and her brother Keith practicing their lines while milking cows.

Actors, past and present, will be recognized during the 50th anniversary presentation set for 8 p.m. this Sunday inside the old stone church.

FYI: St. John’s United Church of Christ is located eight miles east of Faribault on Minnesota Highway 60 and then two miles north on Rice County Road 24 at 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

Visit the church website by clicking here.

To read a blog I posted about last year’s The Last Supper Drama, click here. You’ll find many more images of the drama posted here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Clintonville: I survived the 1.5 March 28, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:52 AM
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The Booms Are Back! Residents of Clintonville Are Reporting Very Loud Noises on Tuesday Night!

So screams the headline scrolling across the Clintonville Chronicle website today as this Wisconsin community northwest of Green Bay experiences yet more unsettling booms following a recent 1.5 magnitude earthquake that rattled residents.

Since my second daughter lives in Appleton about 40 miles to the south, I’ve taken a special interest in Clintonville. Geologists determined that a “swarm” of earthquakes, amplified by Wisconsin’s unique bedrock, caused the shaking and sonic type booms that have awakened and frightened residents in this town of 4,736.

Yes, I would be scared, too, if the earth started rattling and rumbling.

And, just for the record, my daughter has been to the small medical clinic in Clintonville for her job as a Spanish medical interpreter, although not recently.

In perusing the newspaper website, I am happy to see that Clintonville is already embracing the economic opportunities that come with being thrust into the national spotlight. T-shirts emblazoned with “I Survived the 1.5” can be purchased in Clintonville or ordered online. Click here for more information about those shirts.

T-shirt sale profits “will be used to beautify or enhance something in our City as determined by the Mayor at a later date,” promo info reads. “This is not meant to make light of a serious situation but to show that we, as a community, came together to get through the events of this week.”

Let me interject here to applaud the folks of Clintonville. This is one of the attributes I admire in small towns. Togetherness.

I expect that the earthquake marks the biggest news event ever in Clintonville. In a typical week, you’re more likely to read top stories like these from the March 20 Chronicle: “Clintonville Sheep Now Famous,” “Christus to Host Spring Luncheon” and “Sheriffs Seek Evidence of Burglary” rather than “City of Clintonville is Booming.” Click here to access the award-winning Chronicle home page.

All of that booming has also prompted some Clintonville residents to purchase earthquake insurance. (Click here to see a map of  March 19 – 21 quake-related reports from Clintonville.) My daughter mentioned the insurance sales to me yesterday during a noon-time phone conversation, just before she headed out the door to a clinic in New London, some 15 miles south of Clintonville.

WHAT ARE YOUR thoughts on an earthquake in Wisconsin, of all places?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thrifting at the mall

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:28 AM
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Terry's Curiosities and Collectables offers mostly collectible glassware, not at thrift store prices, but lower than at an antique store. So for purposes of this post, I'm terming Terry's a thrift store.

LONG BEFORE thrifting became fashionable, I thrifted. I shopped primarily at garage and rummage sales because second-hand stores simply weren’t all that common nearly 27 years ago.

Yes, I’ve been thrifting that long, since before my first-born was born. Baby clothes and kids’ clothes, books and toys comprised those early bargain purchases.

As the years passed, my shopping habits shifted away from the needs of my growing-into-teenagers kids toward myself—to the vintage tablecloths, drinking glasses and prints/paintings/miscellaneous artwork I collect.

And as the years have passed and thrift stores have opened in my community of Faribault, I find myself turning more to those stores than to rummage sales to shop on the cheap.

I also focus more on nostalgia, discovering that which connects me to days gone-by. The older I grow, the more I appreciate my past.

Let me show you some of the merchandise I perused on a recent stop at Terry’s Curiosities and Collectables (sic) and the Salvation Army Store in the Faribo West Mall.

As long as you’re tagging along with me on this shopping trip, let’s play a little game. I’ll show you the goods and you guess which I purchased.

Here we go:

I remember when my mom popped these Sylvania flashbulbs into her camera.

I remember the time my son saw a rotary dial phone in a thrift store and had no clue how to use it. Heck, I remember life without a phone growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

This vintage piece is as much clock as art. I call her "The Girl with Attitude."

A working General Electric alarm clock made from wood.

A hand-stitched rural scene.

I found games packing shelves at the Salvation Army, including this vintage version of Password.

Alright then, have you made your guesses? Which of the above two did I buy?

And which of the above two did I wish I’d purchased?

PURCHASED: The General Electric alarm clock for $4 and the needlework art for $2.

SHOULD HAVE PURCHASED: The Password game at the Salvation Army and “The Girl with Attitude” clock (which I think was out of my thrifty price range) at Terry’s Curiosities and Collectables.

Would you have bought any of these items?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the regional poetry of Minnesota March 27, 2012

THREE APPARENTLY is the lucky number connected with this year’s soon-to-be-released sixth Poetic Strokes anthology published by my regional library system, Southeastern Libraries Cooperating.

At least, on the surface, with 30 poems by 30 poets from 13 communities, all those threes seem to point to that conclusion.

But I don’t bank success on luck—even if my poem of three verses—is among those that published.

Now I’m not privy to the criteria judges used to evaluate the 202 poems submitted by 202 poets from 34 communities within the 11 SELCO counties. But I trust their judgment to select the 30 best works.

Penning a poem worthy of publication takes time, effort and talent. I know. I’ve received my share of dismissals, including last year’s rejection of my three poems submitted to the Poetic Strokes competition. In retrospect, I can see now that those poems needed refining.

While none of us like rejection, it is often the best/only way to show us we can do better. On several occasions I’ve rewritten rejected poems and then had them accepted elsewhere.

I realize, too, that judges’ personal preferences in poetry and the publication itself also factor into acceptance or rejection of a poem. For example, when I’ve submitted to Lake Region Review and The Talking Stick, I’ve considered that these are Minnesota anthologies rooted in the region. I’ve successfully published in both.

Any of you who’ve read my poetry understand that I am a regional writer, with most of my poems connected to the land, specifically my native southwestern Minnesota. I am rooted to the geography of the prairie and to my experiences growing up there. That connection defines my distinct, poetic voice.

Take my poem, “Writing poetry as the sun rises,” just published in Poetic Strokes 2012. At first glance, the title seems to suggest I’ve veered from my voice. Not so. If not for my life-long deep appreciation of prairie sunrises and sunsets (even though I no longer live on the prairie), I may not have looked up from my computer one morning to appreciate the rising sun and then write about it.

Apparently my Minnesota prairie roots voice resonates with judges as I’ve entered numerous competitions and had my poems accepted for publication or display, including in the upcoming Poet-Artist Collaboration XI at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota. Click here to learn more about that gallery show.

Five of my poems have also published in three volumes of Poetic Strokes. Make that six in four volumes. (This year’s competition allowed submission of only one poem.)

Copies of Poetic Strokes 2012 will be available for check-out at all SELCO libraries during the first week of April, National Poetry Month. Because the anthology was funded by the Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the volume will not be sold. Published poets will each receive five complimentary copies.

To read a list of the poets published in this year’s Poetic Strokes—including five from my county of Rice—click here.

As long as we’re talking poetry here, SELCO will launch its Poets at the Library tour with an appearance by Morris-based writer Athena Kildegaard at 7 p.m. Monday, April 2, at the Owatonna Public Library. Kildegaard, a current Minnesota Book Award poetry finalist with Bodies of Light, has also written Rare Momentum. Both were published by the respected Red Dragonfly Press in Red Wing. Kildegaard’s third poetry collection, Cloves & Honey–love poems, has just been released by Nodin Press.

Poets Laura Purdie Salas, Barton Sutter, Su Smallen and Todd Boss—one of my personal favorites—are also part of the SELCO tour. Click here to learn more about Poets at the Library.

Now, I am not so naïve as to believe that all of you like and embrace poetry. But if you haven’t read poetry in awhile, then I’d suggest you try reading it again. Today’s poetry is not the rhyming, elitist poetry of your youth.

I will be the first to tell you, emphatically, that I find some poetry so totally out there that I have no hope of understanding it. That’s OK. Find a poet whose voice resonates with you and then listen and appreciate the words that touch your soul.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Making mints, not quite like the masters, in March March 26, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:01 PM
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IT WAS TEMPTING, mighty tempting, to pinch off a snippet of dough and roll it between my palms into the shape of a skinny squiggly snake.

But…, instead, I had to, like the others, abide by the rules and turn out molded hearts and roses, butterflies and shells, doves and rabbits…

It is what our aunts and mother, experts in the art of mint-making, would expect. For decades, these women have crafted homemade mints from cream cheese and powdered sugar for special family occasions like graduations, confirmations, weddings, bridal and baby showers, and birthdays.

A new generation of mint-makers crafted mints Saturday afternoon on my sister Lanae's deck. I took a break (that's my empty chair in the front) to photograph the event. Can you believe this is March in Minnesota?

Saturday afternoon nine family members—none of whom were my aunts or my mother—gathered at my sister Lanae’s Waseca home to carry on the tradition of mint-making. Just to be clear, this was a one-time deal since we were preparing the mints for my mom’s upcoming 80th birthday party. We figured she shouldn’t have to make mints for her own party.

We just hope the professional mint-makers aren’t too harsh in judging our mints because, well, quality control ranked below the fun factor during our mint-making session.

For example, my oldest niece claimed that some of the roses I molded resembled snowflakes. But the teacher in her, not wanting to criticize too much, said how nice that snowflakes are each unique. Uh, huh. Even I understood that remark. She wasn’t exactly awarding a star for superior mint-making.

My 10-year-old niece, the youngest of the mint-makers, pushes the powdered sugar/cream cheese dough into a mold. She's mixing colors. Don't you love her nail polish?

Expressing ourselves with multi-colored mints which will now need to air-dry for about five days.

Even the guys, AKA my husband on the left, and my middle brother, made mints.

I suppose you could say we weren’t stellar students. We did not follow the masters’ examples precisely, choosing to exercise our artistic freedom by molding multi-colored mints. “What will the aunts say?” we asked each other, barely masking our laughter.

At one point, someone suggested dipping a mint in salt, rather than sugar, just to shake things up a bit with the experienced mint-makers. But we decided not to rattle the masters too much.

If you’re among those attending my mom’s birthday party open house, enjoy the mints. And remember, these were not made by the master mint-makers.

Do you spot any snowflakes among these roses? I didn't think so.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Blooming on the prairie March 25, 2012

The former Immanuel church, front, was moved and connected to the Bethel church, back in 1951. The original parish was established in 1857. This photo was taken in the summer of 2011.

WHEN I FIRST SAW this country church last summer south of Morristown, I did a double take. It’s not often you spot two churches merged as one. At least not in the way Bethel and Immanuel became Blooming Grove United Methodist Church in 1951.

Rather than close one church and worship in a single facility, the Methodists opted to actually move one building, Immanuel, nearly four miles east to the Bethel site.

That was quite an event and quite a feat. Maurice Becht remembers in the parish newspaper, The Blooming Grove Methodist Visitor:

I had been helping off and on to get the church ready to move. When it was ready, I was standing off to the side looking when, all of a sudden, the front end of the church went down and the bell tower began to swing like a pendulum. Luckily, they had put a cable from the tower to the other end of the church so it didn’t break off. The front wheels had pulled out from under the church when the bolster slipped. We put it back on wheels and were going around the west side of Wilbert Remund’s buildings when we ran into a soft spot that had to be planked…

Wilbert and Marcella Remund recall:

Lloyd Zerck said that when he got the church moving, it had to be kept going, so Willie put his tractor on. That was just enough to keep it moving…

Eventually Immanuel reached its destination and work then continued to physically join the two buildings. Total project cost was around $16,000 with more than 7,000 hours in donated labor.

Blooming Grove United Methodist Church is located in northeastern Waseca County just off county road 10.

In a poem, “Historic Church in Action,” published in the March 1954 parish newspaper, Albert C. Reineke writes in the fourth verse:

In this alluring and peaceful countryside

Stands “God’s Temple” with towers high,

Two houses of worship now unified.

Sweet memories linger of years gone by.

I have no connection to Blooming Grove United Methodist Church. But I certainly do appreciate country churches and their rich and interesting histories.

"This church with its two steeples is a physical symbol of cooperation, compromise and trust," according to the church website. I photographed the church Saturday afternoon. Even on a hazy March day, Blooming Grove blooms on the prairie. My goal now is to get inside and photograph this church.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling