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


24 Responses to “Oddities & art at a rural Minnesota flea market”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Doll heads in a colander + child coffin = very creepy. Glad you turned the post around with the cute lawn signs (I remember him from last year! Fun post, Audrey! I think you captured this flea market perfectly!

  2. I will pass on the doll heads! Love digging for treasures….makes me itchy for a flea market or good auction!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, yes, there were more than a few treasures at this flea market. I think my husband suggested we take our car instead of the van so I didn’t buy anything. Ha. I purchased an old alarm clock like my mom once had. It doesn’t work. But it was only $1 and I will use it as art.

  3. Some people don’t like for you to take pictures at a flea market. For you to get this shot though, it probably wasn’t hard to do. It’s kind of creepy, but yet, it has a vintage kind of a feel because of the black and white touch. I like how the middle doll head is peeking through with one eyeball. Are the heads in a strainer?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Lou was fully aware I was taking photos of his dollheads and the child-size coffin. He even opened the coffin for me and shared its story. If something at a flea market is original art, such as the lawn ornaments made by Bob, I always ask permission to photograph.

      Yes, the dollheads are in a strainer (colander).

  4. westerner54 Says:

    Great post. I wonder if it’s true that folks would make a child’s coffin ahead of time? Actually, I wonder if that was supposed to be a coffin at all… Anyway, love the tool picture – definitely art!

  5. Ok, that coffin is terribly sad…yet also rather fabulous. I knew someone in WI who built simple wood coffins as an alternative to the expensive ones from funeral parlors. I sometimes wonder if he still does. I think I’d prefer that type to the gaudy, heavy, ornate kind.

  6. Way to Kick Off the Creep Factor in this post – dolls with eyes that close are right up there with clowns for me – ha! Great Captures – Happy Tuesday:)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      OK, can’t help it, but I am laughing.

      • It is so not funny and yet it is so funny too – ha! A family friend has this creepy doll in their guest room – pretty bad when you have to cover it to sleep at night even Mr. Craves is creeped out by it.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Now I am laughing again. What’s the story behind your friend’s creepy doll? For years a man in nearby Janesville had a doll in his attic, peering out the window onto now old Highway 14. The doll is the stuff of legends. He recently died and I can’t recall what happened to the house and/or the doll.

      • I cannot explain it, it is just creepy, especially the eyes – feels like you are being watched and I may be imagining it but I swear the eyes have closed while it was in a seated position. The doll sits in a child-size rocking chair and is positioned to look out into the room and at the guest bed. Mr. Craves has stated to me that the doll has a history, but no more detail has been given (a not so happy history with the doll and its owner). I think my crazy mind just goes into hyperdrive when around it – need to stop watching horror movies with dolls or small children!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        OK, now you’re starting to creep me out.

      • By the way – dolls peering out of windows – SUPER CREEPY – reminds me of the movie Psycho!!!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        That was one frightening movie.

  7. Jackie Says:

    Crazy stuff Audrey, doll heads in a colander? I bet you had a great time looking at all the treasures and photographing the “unusual”. I enjoyed looking at your odditites!

  8. Grace Says:

    The doll heads and the coffin are indeed very creepy. But your photos gave an artistic twist to it.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Exactly what I was attempting to achieve with my doll heads image specifically. Glad you enjoyed the photos. And thank you for stopping by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

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