Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Oddities & art at a rural Minnesota flea market September 3, 2013

WHENEVER I SHOP a flea market with my camera, I challenge myself to find and photograph items that rate as unique, odd, artistic. I consider shapes and fonts, weirdness and, really, anything unusual that catches my eye.

Sunday afternoon browsing the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show Flea Market in rural Dundas provided plenty of subject matter.

Here are my top picks for flea market art and oddities, starting with the weirdest, a trio of doll heads in a colander:

Kind of creepy if you ask me.

Kind of creepy if you ask me.

The same vendor, Lou of Mantiques LLC (gotta appreciate that creative name), also offered another odd item, a child’s coffin, for sale. It drew my interest in that unsettled sort of way when you’re curious enough to ask but are uncertain you want to hear the story.

A child's coffin.

A child’s coffin.

According to Lou, who speaks with a thick accent even after 18 years away from Boston, during the diphtheria epidemic parents built coffins in advance, storing the boxes in barns in anticipation of their children’s deaths. Sad. Just plain sad. The coffin Lou was selling has never, obviously, been used but was passed down through the generations. Not in his family; some other. I can’t imagine anyone buying this coffin, but…

Michniewicz Sales presents "Quality Lawn Ornaments" made in the USA.

Michniewicz Sales presents “Quality Lawn Ornaments” made in the USA, in living color.

To balance the melancholy of that story, let me show you a sampling of Bob Michniewicz’ kitschy lawn ornaments. I first met Bob a year ago at the same flea market, photographed and blogged about him (click here to read that post). He was happy to see me again as, apparently, the publicity I gave him last September resulted in the sale of 10 cow lawn ornaments. Bob extended an open invitation to photograph his art anytime I please.

Tool and/or art, you decide.

Tools and/or art, you decide.

Now not all vendors are likely aware that they’ve created art. Or perhaps the art unfolds in the eyes of the beholder. While most flea market shoppers would see open end wrenches, dies, a brush and a turnbuckle hook when viewing these tools, I see something more—a collage.

Historic art.

Historic art.

Ditto for community celebration and homecoming buttons. These are mini pieces of historic art. Mini, however, would not describe the Albert Lea Tigers’ “Stomp the Packers” (as in Austin, not Green Bay) homecoming button. That button is the size of a dessert plate. Wowza.

A vendor's "trailer."

A vendor’s “trailer.”

Finally, my camera lens landed on a vintage Winnebago camper because, yes, sometimes even a camper converted into a flea market merchandise hauler can be a work of art in angled lines and graphics.

There you have it. My top picks from this year’s flea market.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling