Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In which I meet Amish quilter Fannie Miller on her Lenora farm October 11, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

THE AMISH HAVE ALWAYS intrigued me. I can’t explain specifically why, except to admit that perhaps I am a bit envious of their minimalist lifestyle, one likely similar to that of my farmer forefathers.

Never have I gotten a closer look at Amish life than on an early October 2012 day trip to the Lenora/Canton/Harmony area of southeastern Minnesota.

My first glimpse of the Amish began in unincorporated Lenora in southeastern Fillmore County where my husband and I were searching for the historic Lenora Methodist Church. Unable to initially locate the church (how we could miss it in tiny Lenora is beyond me), we stopped at Summer Kitchen Antiques, which was closed, and then began driving east onto a gravel road.

An Amish buggy approaches our car just on the outskirts of Lenora.

Just barely past the antique shop, an Amish buggy came into view and I raised my camera to snap two quick photos through the passenger side windshield. Now I know how the Amish forbid face photos, and I am (mostly) respectful in their close presence. But when they are traveling on a public roadway in a region that markets itself as a “see the Amish” destination, from which the Amish benefit financially, I do not feel obliged to keep my camera tucked away.

A close-up look at the approaching buggy shows a young Amish boy reading a book to his little sister as their mother guides the horse and buggy down the gravel road.

After that initial sighting, we came upon a roadside sign advertising quilts and table runners less than one-quarter of a mile from Lenora. My excitement heightened as we turned into the Amish farmyard, even though I was acutely aware I’d need to keep my shutter button finger mostly still.

That proved to be a challenge as I desired more than anything to photograph the red-haired pre-teen Amish girl with the pinkish birthmark splotched across her right cheek lolling on the feather-littered lawn next to her younger brother with the bowl-cut auburn hair.

When I cannot take a photo, I imprint visual details upon my mind.

Fannie Miller’s brick house is on the right, her shop in the attached lean-to just to the left.

The siblings directed us toward a lean-to attached to a stately and aging brick house adjacent to a wood-frame house. Dogs roamed while a third one, tethered to a thick chain in a pole shed next to an Amish buggy, barked with a ferocity that made me thankful he was restrained.

My first glimpse of the Millers’ dog chained in the pole shed.

The pungent smell of silage wafted across the yard as, across the gravel road, a farmer pushed the fermented corn with his tractor and loader.

Stepping onto the lean-to porch, I eyed a handwritten “no photos” sign and pulled my camera close to my side. Randy made a point of pointing out the warning to me, as if I couldn’t see it.

And then we met Fannie Miller, whose name aptly describes her rotund physical appearance. She settled onto a chair and watched as I caressed her fine handiwork, praised her stitching. I admired the sturdy, blue built-in wall of cupboards in the corner and told Fannie so.

I wished, in that moment, that I could photograph the entire scene before me and through the doorway into the next room where Fannie’s husband napped in a chair by the wood-burning stove. His chin dipped, his scruffy beard defining my side view of the old man sleeping. In the corner I spotted a patchwork quilt snugged across a single bed. I dared not look more for fear Fannie would banish me from her home.

I hang my laundry outside, so I was particularly intrigued by this circular drying rack onto which handkerchiefs were clipped on the porch of Fannie’s house.

I remember thinking, though, before exiting Fannie’s shop, before asking her if I could photograph hankies drying on her porch on this Monday wash day in October, how perfect and lovely the natural light that filtered into the two rooms of her house.

The children ran into this house after I stepped out of Fannie’s shop.

She granted me permission to photograph outside, as long as I did not photograph the children. I told her I would respect her request, then watched the red-haired siblings scamper inside their house.

Just another buggy parked on the Miller farm. I was surprised to see the round bales.

I snapped several more building and buggy photos, though not too many as to overstay our welcome, before passing by the now placid chained dog and turning onto the gravel road back to Lenora.

My final photo on the Miller farm, of the dog turned docile.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for another post about the Amish in the Canton and Harmony areas.

Click here to read my previous post about the historic Lenora United Methodist Church.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


35 Responses to “In which I meet Amish quilter Fannie Miller on her Lenora farm”

  1. Erin Says:

    I, too, am intrigued by the Amish. I have visited the Lanesboro area a few years ago and did the Back Roads CD Tour. The Tour took us to about 9 different Amish farms with baked goods, produce, sweets, quilts, and woodwork. Overall, the families were very welcoming and willingly answered our questions. In fact, one young girl, asked if we had any questions for her.

    Our family is participating in a CSA with a young Amish family near Mora, MN and not only is it great, locally grown food, I also feel wonderful supporting this family. I can completely understand how difficult it is not to take pictures. The first few times I visited their farm, I would have my camera in my vehicle. I have taken a few pictures of their place from a distance. I would love to take some pictures of the young Amishman plowing this fall as it’s so picturesque (of course, the combine is harvesting in the field just across the road!). Now, I have built up a trust and relationship with them, that I don’t even bring my camera along anymore. You really captured some great photos. I look forward to your next post!

    • Erin Says:

      The round hale bales are interesting. I can’t say I’ve ever seen them at an Amish farm before. I usually see bundles or shocks. Maybe they bought them to feed their horses?

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I don’t recall seeing horses either, although they must have been somewhere. This visit was a year ago. Details elude me.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Next trip we may do the CD tour. This was just a hit and miss discovery.

      Sounds like you have a wonderful relationship with the Amish family near Mora.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Amish farms always seem so neat and tidy to me—with limited belongings I guess it is easier to make sure that everything is in its place. I am sure her handiwork was lovely. I am curious as to what she was charging for her quilts and runners. I am sure the work was beautiful and yes—I would have loved to have seen pictures of those but am so happy that she allowed you the pictures that she did.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I can’t recall what she charged for quilts and runners.

      This Amish farm site did not seem particularly neat and tidy to me, although I expect that most are.

  3. Mere Frost Says:

    I have taken photos of their barns, but nothing else. Don’t want to be the paparazzi! In PA., I visited Lancaster where the PA Dutch Amish live. They have hex signs on their barns and I found this to be intriguing. To ward off evil. Shoofly pie and smorgasbords! All that yummy food! Barn styles across the country are so very individual and so are hay bales!
    In New England many of the the old tombstones have scary looking angels on them to keep out evil. Very superstitious people of long ago.
    Here in North Dakota we have Hudderites and Two by Twos. Their mode of dress is interesting to me. Long dresses and head coverings. The Two by Twos wear their hair long and up too, but uncovered and their dresses are long as well. Men have beards and wear black pants with suspenders! I think suspenders are most handy! 😉
    Very friendly people and we have a lot in common when it comes to living off the land. I enjoy the friendship and the sharing nature. I too, like the simple life. How much does one really need after all! Too much becomes clutter.
    I love barns and hay bales! And old farm equipment, dishes, bowls and handiwork. Such talent! Fine workmanship and artistry lost to cheap mass production.
    I have not been to many parts of Minnesota, but I would love to take some time and explore! It is such a beautiful state. I love the rolling hills, lakes and all the trees! 😀 Oh how I love trees!
    I would love to go back in time and ride in a horse drawn buggy!!! With sleigh bells in the winter! 😀

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’ve been accused on more than one occasion, by family members of being a paparazzi. I can’t help it. I love to take photos.

      Sounds like you’ve had some great experiences with those who lead a simpler life.

      By all means, cross the border anytime into Minnesota. Our landscape is diverse from prairie to woods to flat to rolling hills to lakes to no lakes.

      • Mere Frost Says:

        LOL!!! I know it is hard to resist! Ever since my Dad bought us this lovely camera for Christmas… 😉 My really good camera I accidentally laid down and forgot to pick it up. Sigh….sure wish someone would have turned it in! Oh well…I hope they enjoyed our family photos of Disney!!! 😉
        I have driven through Minnesota and Wisconson and Ohio!!! Beautiful country! Time! I needed more time to spend in so many places!!!! Lots of Germans from Russian here in ND! Good people and I have learned so very much from them about canning and gardening! And dusting!!!! 😀

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I really appreciate the humor you bring to Minnesota Prairie Roots via your comments. Dusting, indeed.

  4. Mere Frost Says:

    Our farm is meticulous! Everything in it’s place! 😉 My hubby’s family are Germans from Russia. All machinery is spic and span clean and housed! Rows are without weeds and all straight! This takes a lot of work and time! Benefits are great! My gardens are organic.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      My husband’s family are Germans from Russia also.

      I’m just of German background.

      Your farm sounds wonderful.

      • Mere Frost Says:

        I have Scottish, Irish, English and French heritage! I love history and geneology! Roots! Fascinating! My maiden name is an ancient name. My name Meredith is Welsh. But all my friends and family call me Mere! 😀 It took me a while…but my hubby is mushie now! LOL No more country corn flakes serious unsmiling faces in photos!!! 😉 For the longest time when I asked if a meal was good…I got…”it’s alright! 😀

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        You learned quickly, Mere, ere Meredith.

  5. Hi Audrey, I certainly identify with your desire to capture what you saw with your camera. But sometimes we sink into a scene differently without our cameras, experience what matters through unfiltered interactions with people and animals and the light in the room. You have a good eye for photos, but you also have a good eye in your heart.

  6. Jackie Says:

    I’m always giddy with excitement when ever we pass by an amish buggy down in Southern Mn. It would be so fun to really sit down with them and have a visit (with lots of questions) I always feel a little intimidated….afraid I’m intruding, or prying too much into their private lives. ON a couple occasions I have been to the amish home that my dad was born in. The old Amish lady tells us.. the twins (my dad and Uncle) were born over there, pointing to a corner room 🙂
    I really like the photo of the round hanging contraption, I wonder if they made that?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I don’t know either if that contraption is handmade. I think we can learn much from the Amish, and I their lives are not unlike the way our forefathers lived.

      • Mere Frost Says:

        This is why they intrigue me so much! I should have been born 100 years ago! LOL Born into the wrong century! 😉
        Do you believe in genetic memory? I have such an affinity for life in the past. Going all the way back centuries.
        I appreciate modern medicine…but disease seems to be a byproduct of pollution of our waters, air and land…sigh….
        I know…warfare and injuries and food poisoning from uncooked and ill stored foods killed people too, but there were healers who didn’t require synthetic medications ($$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$) to help the sick either.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Yes, I often think I should have been a mom during the 1950s, when my mom was raising her family. Not easy because so much more physical work. But a much simpler lifestyle unencumbered by many of the problems in today’s world.

  7. Beautiful Captures – thanks for the tour too:) Happy Weekend!

  8. treadlemusic Says:

    Ah yes, almost out my back door! You captured the ‘feel’ of our area perfectly. When choosing days/roads to ride my motorcycle, I find that the weekends can be a might dangerous on those roads. Saturdays are the days when the younger men are allowed to take the buggy to visit friends and “court” (if of the proper age) and Sundays are church days. Their meetings, generally, change location from Sunday to Sunday and last most of the day. Mondays are “back to work”/laundry days and are good days to ride……..work at home is the main focus. Loved the post, Audrey!!!!! Hugs………

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I expected you might have something to share about the Amish. I was on the watch for them Friday and today as we drove through the Coloma region of central Wisconsin. Saw only an Amish man with his team of horses and wagon along Wisconsin 21, a busy state highway. Made me nervous to see him out there among all the traffic, including lots of semis.

  9. Ok, so I imagine that all of your readers feel like I do: I WANT TO SEE PHOTOS. BUT I truly understand why there aren’t more of the people. And well done on sticking to your word. I LOVE the one of the buggy and the boy reading to his sister, though – how sweet is that?!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’m glad you caught that Gretchen, the reading to his sister. I thought that incredibly sweet also.

      Oh, you cannot imagine what a struggle it was not to take photos. But, I’m always true to my word. In fact, this weekend, after shooting numerous images inside an antique store in Wisconsin, I was asked not to post any photos. It was the strangest and most awkward situation with a testy shopkeeper that still leaves me wondering why he was so unkind to me. As Randy and I drove away from the shop, I was already deleting all those wonderful images.

  10. What a wonderful opportunity! Like you, I would have had a hard time keeping my finger off of the shutter button- but I also respect their ways. You brought me into the home with your words… Thank you

  11. Carolyn Straub Says:

    In the summer of 2005 we also visited this farm and purchased one of Fannie Miller’s Double Wedding Ring quilts. It’s still beautiful today. Now we’re wishing to find another small handmade chest such as the one we purchased nearby. We’re in Southern California so we have no way to ‘go shopping’ there. If you or anyone has any leads for us, we’d love to hear. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.