Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In mourning on Good Friday April 18, 2014

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St. Michael's Cemetery, Buckman, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, August 2012.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church Cemetery, Buckman, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, August 2012.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.–Isaiah 53:5

Photo copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural revelations in country cemeteries April 17, 2014

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The road past the Vesta Cemetery, which sits just outside of this southwestern Minnesota town of some 330.

To the left lies the Vesta City Cemetery, where my father, grandparents and other family members are buried. In the distance you can see the grain elevator complex in my hometown.

AS A YOUNG GIRL, I remember fearing cemeteries, that place where my paternal grandpa was laid to rest atop a rare prairie hill when I was just nine.

A historical marker in the Holden Lutheran Church Cemetery, rural Kenyon.

A historical marker in the Holden Lutheran Church Cemetery, rural Kenyon.

But my view of cemeteries has evolved over the years so that today I see these earthly resting spots as places of faith, art, history and personal stories.

A fence surrounds the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery in the Sogn Valley area.

A fence surrounds the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery in the Sogn Valley area.

I no longer focus on the bones buried beneath my feet or the newly-departed lying under a heaped mound of dirt. Rather, I find myself reading tombstones, marveling at carved stone, wondering about the lives of those who lie within the often fenced boundaries of graveyards.

The particularly picturesque Valley Grove Church Cemetery near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

The picturesque Valley Grove Church Cemetery near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

In particular, I am drawn to country cemeteries that my husband and I happen upon during leisurely Sunday afternoon drives in rural Minnesota.

Northwest of Faribault in Shieldsville Township sits the historic Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the adjoined Trebon Cemetery.

Northwest of Faribault in Shieldsville Township sits the historic Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church and the adjoining Trebon Cemetery.

Spot a spire spearing the sky and we typically find a cemetery tucked behind or aside the church. Convenient and comforting.

Folk art in the Trebon Cemetery honors Christ and the deceased.

Folk art in the Trebon Cemetery honors Christ and the deceased.

During this Holy Week, when Christians worldwide focus on reflection and repentance and the suffering and crucifixion of Christ, it seems fitting to revisit some of the Minnesota cemeteries I’ve explored.

Just west of New Ulm, at a memorial honoring Milford settlers who died in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, roses were placed on the marker on Memorial Day weekend 2007.

Just west of New Ulm, at a memorial honoring Milford settlers who died in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, roses were placed on the marker on Memorial Day weekend 2006.

There is much to learn here about those who went before us—those we loved and those we never knew.

Fields and a cemetery embrace many country churches like Vista Evangelical Lutheran Church in southern Minnesota.

Fields and a cemetery embrace many country churches like Vista Evangelical Lutheran Church in southern Minnesota.

Words to ponder at a cemetery in Theilman in southeastern Minnesota.

Words to ponder at a cemetery in Theilman in southeastern Minnesota.

A sign at the cemetery entrance.

Handcrafted signs like this one in Cannon City (near Faribault) grace some rural cemeteries.

An art appropriate cannon marks a Civil War Veteran's tombstone in the Cannon City Cemetery.

An art appropriate cannon marks a Civil War Veteran’s tombstone in the Cannon City Cemetery.

A simple grave marker in the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery.

A simple grave marker in the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery.

A well-tended family plot in the Trebon Cemetery.

A well-tended family plot in the Trebon Cemetery.

A compelling statue of the Virgin Mary in Trebon Cemetery.

A compelling statue of the Virgin Mary in Trebon Cemetery.

A beautiful nature-themed tombstone rests in a cemetery on the west side of New Ulm.

A beautiful nature-themed tombstone rests in a cemetery on the west side of New Ulm.

Stone against stone at Hauge Lutheran Church (the Old Stone Church) in Monkey Valley, rural Kenyon.

Stone against stone at Hauge Lutheran Church (the Old Stone Church) in Monkey Valley, rural Kenyon.

My dad's military marker in the Vesta City Cemetery.

My dad’s military marker in the Vesta City Cemetery.

This post was previously published at streets.mn.
© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In praise of Northern Prairie Culture: How Fargo of You April 16, 2014

This water tower is located in West Fargo, an area of shopping malls, restaurants, Big Box stores, hotels, etc.

This water tower is located in West Fargo, an area of shopping malls, restaurants, Big Box stores, hotels, etc. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TWO DAYS AFTER I FINISHED reading Marc de Celle’s book, How Fargo of You, a 10-episode mini series, Fargo, debuted (yesterday) on FX television. Excellent. Timing is everything.

I receive my TV reception from a rooftop antenna, so there will be no watching Fargo for me. Rather I have to rely on synopses and reviews posted online. The series plays off the Coen brothers’ (native Minnesotans Joel and Ethan) 1996 award-winning film by the same name. (Click here to read my review of that movie.) The Coens are two of the executive producers for this new show penned by Noah Hawley and featuring Oscar winning actor Billy Bob Thornton.

The VHS cover of the movie Fargo.

The VHS cover of the movie Fargo.

You can expect dark comedy, crime, stereotypes and that noted, albeit not fully accurate, Fargo accent. About half of the Fargo series is set in fictionalized Bemidji, Minnesota. Since I haven’t seen the new series, I can’t accurately review it.

Marc de Celle's book cover

But I can talk about de Celle’s book. He’s also written a follow-up, Close Encounters of the Fargo Kind, which I’ve yet to read. This is a compilation of others’ stories rather than simply his own.

In summary, de Celle, who moved with his family in 2005 from Phoenix to Fargo, writes about his personal “How Fargo of You” experiences in his first book. That’s the tag line he’s attached to unfamiliar and unexpected positive experiences in his new home.

He’s not a Fargo native, his closest ties to the region in his Wisconsin native wife and her best friend, Melody, who lives in Fargo. That friend initially drew the family to Fargo for a visit. So de Celle views this area of the country with a perspective of someone unaccustomed to, as he defines it, Northern Prairie Culture. And, yes, that includes Minnesota.

The famous woodchipper from the movie, Fargo, is a focal point in the Visitors Center. Other film memorabilia is also on display.

The famous woodchipper from the movie Fargo is a focal point in the Fargo Visitors Center. Other film memorabilia is also on display. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Unlike the film and TV series, this writer promises: “No goofy accents. No murderers on the loose. No weird plot twists. Just real Fargo.”

And that’s exactly what you’ll read in de Celle’s first book—a compilation of all that is good about Fargo folks, and those living within several hundred miles of this North Dakota/Minnesota border town.

Shortly after the de Celle family arrives in their new community just outside of Fargo, they encounter their first Fargo moment in teenagers helping unload their belongings. And the neighbor-helping-neighbor stories and overall niceties of the region’s people just continue from there.

From the pump and then pay at the gas station, to the shared story of a Minnesota farmer assisting college students with a flat tire and the farmer’s wife then preparing a little lunch to motorist merging courtesy to homemade rhubarb pie served at a rural restaurant where a stranger picks up the tab for a cashless de Celle to Fargo residents’ efforts to save their community from the flooding Red River and more, you will read stories that warm your heart.

A scene from November in downtown Fargo.

A scene from downtown Fargo. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This is truly a feel-good book, one which makes you thankful, for the most part, to live in this region of the U.S.

De Celle does note, though, the environmental realities in Fargo’s harsh winters, the flat landscape and the strong and endless wind. I especially laughed at his fly-clinging-to-the-windshield wind story given my son spent his first year of college at  North Dakota State University on Fargo’s particularly windy north side.

In February 2013, I received this text from my then 19-year-old: “This cheap Walmart hat stands zero chance against the Fargo wind.” He then proceeded to order a Russian military surplus fur cap online to replace the mass-manufactured stocking cap.

While at NDSU, my son worked and volunteered in the Technology Incubator as part of an Entrepreneurial Scholarship. He is walking away from two major scholarships at NDSU to attend Tufts University.

The NDSU Technology Incubator referenced in de Celle’s book. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

After that first year, the son left NDSU and now attends college in Boston, where the climate is less challenging and his current university a better fit. While in Fargo, he worked at the NDSU Technology Incubator, which de Celle describes in his book as “the hippest looking building this side of Minneapolis.”

I’ll agree that the modern architecture looks pretty sleek situated next to open fields where the wind does, indeed, blow with determined fierceness.

A view of the 300 block on North Broadway, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more.

A view of the 300 block on North Broadway in downtown Fargo, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In the time shortly before my son moved to North Dakota and in the nine months thereafter, I got to know Fargo somewhat. It is the charming downtown, with its mostly old buildings, which most endears me to this community. And the people. They were, as de Celle has found, always kind and friendly.

He does expose, though, one issue—that of a workforce he terms as “the most overqualified, underpaid, competent and ethical” in the U.S. “Underpaid” jumps out at me, when really “overqualified, competent and ethical” should.

Then de Celle balances this with his summation that the majority of folks in Fargo value relationships over stuff. That apparently partially explains why people choose to live in Fargo when they could earn more money elsewhere doing the same job.

Now that’s my kind of place, my kind of people.

The landscape: flat and into forever.

The landscape: flat and into forever in the Fargo area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But I’m going to be honest here. Even though I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, which I thought to be about as flat and open sky country as exists, I found the landscape of Fargo even flatter, the wind more fierce, the environment harsher.

Every visit to Fargo, I felt unsettled. Like my son before me, I doubt I could last more than a winter in North Dakota. Rather, I live across the border nearly 300 miles to the south and east, still within Northern Prairie Culture in a state known for “Minnesota Nice.” Probably a lot, I’ve concluded, like “How Fargo of You” nice.

Disclaimer: Author Marc de Celle purchased one of my photos for usage on his website and gave me complimentary copies of his two books. That, however, did not influence my decision to write this review or the content therein.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Go fly a kite April 15, 2014

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Sign in the window of Horsfall's Lansing (Iowa) Vareity. Photographed in July 2013.

Sign in the window of Horsfall’s Lansing (Iowa) Variety. Photographed in July 2013.

THERE ARE DAYS when I’d like to share exactly what’s on my mind. I’d spew: “Go fly a kite!”

And some days I’d like to fly a kite—to stand on the edge of a stubbled alfalfa field, ball of string gripped in one hand, kite in the other. I’d run like the wind (although I’ve always wondered how the wind runs) with kite held high until the breeze catches and carries her upward.

I’d stop then, plant my feet upon the earth, feel the tug of wind on cotton cord as the kite dips and soars high above me in frenzied flight.

Ah, to be so free and fearless, unencumbered by the weight of misspoken and unspoken words.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mistaken identity April 14, 2014

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dog

One of the dogs spotted in a truck at the alpaca expo. Photo edited to make the dog more visible through the side passenger window.

EXITING OUR VAN at the Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna recently to attend the Minnesota Alpaca Expo, my husband and I did a double take.

An alpaca appeared to be seated in a Ford Excursion hitched to a livestock trailer.

But, no, that couldn’t possibly be.

And it wasn’t. Upon closer inspection, we discovered two shaggy dogs (sorry, I don’t know breeds) inside the SUV.

 

Eyes buried in fleece.

An alpaca.

From a distance, though, they look remarkably similar to alpacas.

Now lest you are concerned that these canines were in danger and we should have phoned animal control, not to worry. Windows were open and temps were in the low sixties.

They did not appear to be in any distress. Just confusing folks like us with their shaggy locks…

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

 

 

 

A photographic connection to my rural roots April 12, 2014

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Rural Minnesota, farm site

 

I INFORMED MY HUSBAND that I would focus on photographing houses, rather than barns, on a recent 600-mile round trip from Faribault, Minnesota, to Appleton, Wisconsin.

He didn’t believe me. And he was right not to believe.

 

Rural Minnesota, red barn and red building

 

Yes, I snapped images of houses. But I could not, no matter how I tried, keep from lifting my Canon DSLR to capture photos of farm sites as we traveled.

 

Rural Minnesota, turquoise barn

 

They are like a magnet for someone such as myself with rural roots. Having left the farm 40 years ago upon my graduation from high school, I rely today on memories and visual connectedness to fulfill my longing for the land. That and my writing, especially my poetry.

 

Rural Minnesota, machine shed and bin

 

Few people I know farm anymore. No one in my immediate extended family farms, although two brothers remain rooted to agriculture, one via co-ownership in a farm implement dealership and the other as CEO of an ethanol plant, both in my native southwestern Minnesota.

 

Rural Minnesota, farm behind hill

 

The farm where I grew up near Vesta is rented out. Thus I have lost that touch of feet on the farm, familiar creak of the barn door—that direct connection to the place of my youth.

My natural instinct now is to seek out, with my eyes and camera, that which is no longer mine.

(All photos were taken while traveling three weeks ago along Interstate 90 between Rochester and the Wisconsin border. Yes, the snow has since melted. Yeah!)

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

For 52 years: A rural Minnesota church prepares for Holy Week with Last Supper Drama April 11, 2014

FOR CHRISTIANS LIKE MYSELF, Holy Week marks a period of reflection and repentance as we remember the final days in the life of Christ before his crucifixion and resurrection.

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 Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor 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.

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 Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor 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.

For St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, a presentation of  “The Last Supper Drama” has been a long-standing Holy Week tradition. For 51 years, 52 this April 13, this congregation has presented the drama written by long ago pastor, the Rev. W. Rasche, and based on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting. It’s truly remarkable that a tradition like this would continue for more than five decades.

Twice, if not thrice, I’ve lost count, I’ve attended this Palm Sunday evening drama at this country church northeast of Faribault.

St. John's 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in the sanctuary.

St. John’s 50th presentation of “The Last Supper Drama” in the sanctuary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

As darkness falls, voices hush, mood-setting music plays and a spotlight shines upon 12 performers role-playing the disciples.

It is a profound performance which presents a personal perspective on the relationships between Jesus and his followers.

I’d encourage you to attend. It’s worth the drive, worth your time.

There’s something about sitting straight-backed in a pew in the darkness of a Palm Sunday evening within the walls of an aged limestone church in the company of believers that comforts me and puts me in the proper meditative mindset for Holy Week. And that reaction is, I expect, exactly as St. John’s intends.

The parking lot at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation's annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

The parking lot at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation’s annual performance of “The Last Supper Drama”. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

FYI: St. John’s is located 10 miles northeast of Faribault. Take Minnesota State Highway 60 east for eight miles and then turn north onto Rice County 24. Drive two miles to 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

The drama begins at 8 p.m. on Sunday, April 13, and is followed by lunch afterward in the fellowship hall.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How my poetry inspired a still life painting of lilacs April 10, 2014

POETRY INSPIRING ART. It’s a fabulous concept and even better when you are part of such a pairing.

A poem I penned has inspired art for Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII, which opened March 31 and runs through May 15 at Crossings at Carnegie, 320 East Avenue, Zumbrota.

"Lilacs on the Table" by Jeanne Licari

“Lilacs on the Table” by Jeanne Licari. Photo courtesy of Crossings at Carnegie.

I recently connected with “my” artist, Jeanne Licari, to learn how my poem, “Lilacs,” inspired her to paint “Lilacs on the Table,” an 11 x 14-inch still life oil on linen.

Twenty-six poems were chosen from nearly 210 submissions with 26 artists then selected via a juried process. This is Jeanne’s ninth time participating in the collaboration and my second.

Artist Jeanne Licari

Artist Jeanne Licari in her studio. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Licari.

A mostly self-taught artist who drew and painted as a child, this Rochester resident also furthered her talent through painting classes and workshops. She terms herself a representational oil painter who prefers to paint from life, whether a landscape or a still life.

Jeanne is both plein air—painting outdoors on location—and studio painter.

“My art reflects the beauty I see in mankind and nature,” she says. “My paintings are a direct response to what I see.”

Or, in the case of “Lilacs,” to what she read.

Lilacs

Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May,
I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes,
heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch
and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.

He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs,
to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms,
to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table,
romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.

Such memories linger as my own love, decades later,
pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans,
balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes,
clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of lilacs.

Jeanne explains how she created “Lilacs on the Table”:

“…I wanted to tell the viewer how I felt about lilacs. The poem triggered memories of many bouquets of lilacs in my lifetime. I love the dense bouquet of purple flowers, the beauty of the different pinks and purples against the green leaves, and the abundant fragrance of lilacs. Since there were no lilacs blooming in March, I painted them using memories of lilacs and how they grew, an oil study of lilacs painted from life, and photos.

I painted the lilacs on a table in response to the line, ‘to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table.’ That line, plus the words about farming, made me remember many bouquets of lilacs on our Formica table in my childhood home on the farm.”

How fabulous to know that Jeanne comes, like me, from a rural background. Her words and oil painting show me that she understands and connects to my words in a deeply personal way.

And that is my hope as a poet—that those who read my poetry will connect to it.

A promotional for the collaboration features "Li Bai at the South Fork," art by Mike Schad inspired by a poem of the same name written by Justin Watkins for the 2013 Poet-Artist XII collaboration.

A promotional for the collaboration features “Li Bai at the South Fork,” art by Mike Schad inspired by a poem of the same name written by Justin Watkins for the 2013 Poet-Artist Collaboration XII.

FYI: A reception, poetry reading and slide show honoring the featured poets and artists is set for Saturday, May 10. Mingle and meet for an hour beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Crossings gallery. Then, at 7:30 p.m., move next door to the historic State Theatre where poets will read their works and artists will also briefly discuss their art, shown on a screen.

Another poet from my community of Faribault, Larry Gavin, who has published several poetry collections and teaches English at Faribault High School, will read two of his selected poems, “Ashes” and “Two Cranes.”

Collaboration participants come from Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

The featured artwork is available for sale, including “Lilacs on the Table,” priced at $395. Jeanne Licari’s art is also sold at the SEMVA (South Eastern Minnesota Visual Arts) Gallery in downtown Rochester.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. I love the rural atmosphere with the hardware story and grain elevator just down the street.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

If you can’t attend the May 10 reception, you can view the exhibit during gallery hours from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday; or from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday.

Click here for more details about Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII.

Click here to see how my poem, “Her Treasure,” inspired Connie Ludwig to paint “Pantry Jewels” for the Poet-Artist Collaboration XI in 2012.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Incredible quilt art in Owatonna April 9, 2014

The entry to the Owatonna Art Center

The entry to the Owatonna Arts Center, inside the former Minnesota State Public School for Dependent  and Neglected Children, later renamed the Owatonna State School. The City of Owatonna now owns the site, today called West Hills with the OAC located at 435 Garden View Lane.

HE EXPRESSED IT so well, the quilter’s husband waiting outside the Owatonna Arts Center Sunday afternoon for invited guests to arrive from Rochester.

A quilted work of art bursts with color.

A quilted work of art bursts with color.

Quilting, he surmised, has evolved from a homemaker’s craft to a recognized form of art.

The quilter's husband and the quilter view the extensive collection of quilts.

The quilter’s husband and the quilter view the extensive collection of quilts.

He’s so right.

If you appreciate art and quilts, you will want to see "Quilts in Bloom"

If you appreciate art and quilts, you will want to see “Quilts in Bloom”

“Quilts in Bloom,” featuring around 80 quilts stitched by members of the local Piecemakers Quilt Guild, blossoms in the nooks and crannies of gallery space in an exhibit that runs from now until April 27.

Baskets of blossoms and more.

Baskets of blossoms and more.

This show simply blooms with creativity:

A close-up of the traditional Dresden Plate pattern in the foreground with a second quilt in the background.

A close-up of the traditional Dresden Plate pattern in the foreground with a second quilt in the background.

A contrast of modern geometrical to the traditional Sunbonnet Girls.

A contrast of modern geometrical to the traditional Sunbonnet Girls.

This block from the 1930s Sunbonnet Sue pattern features quilting and embroidery.

This block from the 1930s Sunbonnet Sue pattern features quilting and embroidery.

I really liked this pairing of wood sculpture with quilt art. The wood tone compliments the earthy colors of the quilt.

I really like this pairing of wood sculpture with quilt art. The earthy tones in each complement one another.

For $1, you can buy a chance to win "Stars in My Garden."

For $1, you can buy a chance to win “Stars in My Garden.”

A block in a teapot themed quilt.

A block in a teapot themed quilt.

During the open reception, musicians performed in the venue space, where several quilts are displayed.

During the opening reception, musicians performed in the venue space, where several quilts are displayed.

Whimsical art.

Whimsical art.

Touring the exhibit on opening day.

A Faribault quilter and his wife tour the exhibit on opening day.

Floral design at its quilting best.

Floral design at its quilting best.

Quilt art lines a hallway.

Quilt art lines a hallway.

From the playful to geometric, abstract, traditional, whimsical and more, you’ll discover an array of eye-pleasing colors and patterns here.

Artist Lois Doyle created "Mountain Laurel," a quilt she started 25 years ago. She has several quilts in the show. Laurie Spindler machine quilted this quilt.

Artist Lois Doyle created “Mountain Laurel,” a quilt she started 25 years ago. She has several quilts in the show. Laurie Spindler machine quilted this quilt. Even with arthritic hands, Lois still quilts. Remarkable.

The talent of these quilters impresses me. Truly, they deserve the title of artists.

This sign posted at the quilt show says it all.

This sign posted at the quilt show says it all.

FYI: This marks the 10th annual Piecemakers Quilt Guild show, which is held every three years. You can tour “Quilts in Bloom” during gallery hours, from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday. A $3 donation is suggested. Click here for more information.

BONUS PHOTO: 

While at the show, be sure to stop and appreciate this beautiful space connecting the Owatonna Arts Center to the

While at the show, stop to appreciate this beautiful space connecting the Owatonna Arts Center to the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum. I’d suggest allowing time to tour the museum and nearby cottage. Check hours before coming as they may differ from gallery hours.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Irresistible alpacas at a southern Minnesota expo April 8, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
One of many trailers parked around the Four Seasons Centre.

One of many trailers parked around the Four Seasons Centre.

I SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN SURPRISED by the overpowering odor of manure upon entering the Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna Sunday afternoon. After all, several hundred alpacas sheltered in one place will smell. But I’ve been away from the farm way too many decades.

I learned about the Suri breed of alpaca, which resemble mops to me.

I learned about the Suri breed of alpaca, which resemble mops to me.

Just like any offensive odor, though, after awhile I adapted and mostly forgot about the smell for focusing on observing and learning about alpacas at the 7th annual Minnesota Alpaca Expo.

Snuggling in after judging.

Snuggling in after judging. Look at that sweet face.

You can’t be among alpacas for long without the cuteness factor winning you over. Such sweet faces.

Eyes buried in fleece.

Eyes buried in fleece.

And wonderment about how these animals can even see, many with eyes buried deep within their coats.

I sunk my hands deep into the soft fleece of the brown alpaca and declared I wanted to take the animal home.

I sunk my hands deep into the soft fleece of the brown alpaca and declared I wanted to take the animal home. The smallest from Ocean Road Alpacas near Janesville, MN., earned the highest placing among this trio in competition.

Fleece so soft you want to cuddle these members of the camelid family.

In one of my favorite shots, a woman connects with an alpaca.

In one of my favorite shots, a woman connects with an alpaca.

Curious temperaments cause alpacas to cozy near curious onlookers.

Stickers on a vehicle parked outside Four Seasons Centre.

Stickers on a vehicle parked outside Four Seasons Centre.

Yet, this event is about more than entertaining outsiders like me. This expo is serious stuff with alpaca owners traveling from throughout the Midwest and as far away as Oregon to showcase their animals.

Award-winning alpacas.

Award-winning alpacas.

Coveted ribbons bring respect (and sales) of breeding stock and fleece.

In the show ring.

In the show ring.

As I watched owners line up with their alpacas during judging, I realized the importance of this expo.

In the judging ring.

In the judging ring.

Judges check fleece (for crimp and density, etc.) and even testicles, plus a whole lot more. I didn’t seek out an in-depth education.

Lots of fans were in place to cool the alpacas.

Lots of fans were in place to cool the alpacas.

Rather I was more interested in observing these long-necked creatures who are native to the Andes Mountains region of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. As such, they are comfortable in a cold weather state like Minnesota. On a day when the outdoor air temp hovered around 60 degrees and the inside temp about the same, alpacas risked overheating in their wooly coats. So owners positioned fans around pens, cool breezes fanning across the animals’ backs. I was told that alpaca fleece is warmer than wool.

My husband found the chalk-like alpaca outline on rugs to be rather amusing.

My husband found the chalk-like alpaca outlines on rugs to be rather amusing.

For the most part, alpacas appear laid back and friendly. But then I remembered something about spitting and inquired, lest an alpaca spit on my treasured camera. Forward movement of an alpaca’s ears put me on alert. Seems if I didn’t pose a threat, I’d be OK. So I backed off with the camera a bit just in case a particular animal misunderstood.

Vendors sold alpaca related and other products.

Vendors sold alpaca related and other products.

Interestingly enough, one alpaca tender told me alpacas don’t necessarily like to be petted. At least not his.

A sample of the offerings from Gone Batty Fibers based in Eagan.

A sample of the vendor offerings, this yarn spun from silk, from Gone Batty Fibers based in Eagan.

Cute alpaca toys.

Alpaca toy cuteness.

More cuteness in the softest teddy bears ever.

More cuteness in the softest teddy bears ever.

More stunning hand-dyed yarn, this from Whispering Oaks Alpacas.

More stunning hand-dyed yarn, these from Whispering Oaks Alpacas.

This woman spins fiber into yarn. I also observed two women grading alpaca fiber.

This woman spins fiber into yarn. I also observed two women grading alpaca fiber.

While I stroked several alpacas, I caressed way more shorn fleece, yarn, and clothing and crafts created from alpaca fleece than I did animals.

Pure Goodness, a vendor from Farmington, was handing out samples of handcrafted luxury soap.

Pure Goodness, a vendor from Farmington, was handing out samples of handcrafted luxury soap.  After touching all those alpacas, I probably should have washed my hands before stopping at a downtown ice cream shop later.

And I tried to watch my step for the errant manure missed by the broom.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling