Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota Faces: The butterfly-loving bookseller March 13, 2015

Portraits #11 & 12: Russell Mattson, purveyor of books

My first portrait of Russ, taken in October 2011.

My first portrait of Russell, taken in October 2011.

His eyes hold a certain depth of sadness that I can’t define. Or perhaps his eyes simply hold stories of hard times or too many good times, or wisdom that comes with aging.

Russell Mattson, St. Paul, Minnesota, native and owner of Chandler’s books in the Mississippi River town of Stockholm, Wisconsin, seems a free spirit, a character, a former hippie type.

I first met him in October 2011 at his cluttered bookstore along Stockholm’s main drag. I learned that he’s an amateur photographer, a candle maker, a car nut, a lover of Monarch butterflies and, clearly, a bibliophile.

Russell three years later in October 2014.

Russell three years later in October 2014.

Last fall I revisited Stockholm and Russell. I found him behind the counter of his book shop, the same blue print do-rag bowling his head, the same FUN METER button pinned to his apron.

Russell was still offering customers free milkweed seeds to maintain the Monarch population. Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweed, making the plant essential to the butterfly’s survival.

Personalities like this shopkeeper intrigue me for their individualism, their eccentricities, their uniqueness—all of which are synonyms really. The Russells of this world offer interesting portraits, interesting conversation, interesting studies in small town life.

I find a certain hope in meeting individuals like Russell who care about something as simple as Monarch butterflies.


This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


32 Responses to “Minnesota Faces: The butterfly-loving bookseller”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I love that he loves Monarch butterflies and has made it his mission to help promote their health and habitat. I saw kindness in his eyes. I think books do that to a person —-they give your spirit a kindness because of the stories that they hold that you can share with others. Happy Friday.

  2. sheketechad Says:

    Great capture of greater subject !

  3. Marneymae Says:

    I love this for so many reasons
    Thank you
    Sending to friends

  4. Almost Iowa Says:

    A modern day Johnny Appleseed. Bless his heart.

  5. I’m having fun comparing the two photographs to see what’s changed in that shop of Russell’s. Just as an aside, we grow milkweed in our yard that began as seeds from my husband’s uncle’s farm. I get it about Russell’s butterfly mission!

  6. Great Captures – I see kindness and spunk in his eyes and being of service in his hands 🙂 I love providing a good habitat in my yard for the birds, butterflies and bees – great cause and their populations, especially butterflies and bees have a huge impact on our natural environments too – can tell the health of the environment.

    I will share a tip about birdbaths – have a birdbath for the birds and another birdbath for the bees and the butterflies. So they do not drown place rocks or marbles or something they can land on and make sure the water is just below the rocks – might have to check when it rains to make sure the levels are accurate.

    Happy Weekend 🙂

  7. I like guys like this. True individuals. And I grow milkweed for the monarchs.

  8. 01rena Says:

    Sounds like Russell sows more than Milkweed seeds – seeds of kindness, seeds of life, perhaps? I love different, I love quirky, and I certainly love anyone who does those “small things” for the sake of God’s small creatures. Yeah Russell!

  9. treadlemusic Says:

    His eyes reflect a depth of living life in the moment…fully…completely. I’ve seen that look in old bikers we’ve come across (who are true bikes), Living simply and loving the “basics” and rejoicing in the little things that most don’t even notice. With the wind in their faces and the pavement racing by under their tires. they have all they need…………………..

  10. Mary Redding Says:

    Mr Hustad in downtown Mankato
    (Originally from Redwood Falls )
    Is also a bookseller . His shop is several doors down from the Wagon Wheel Cafe (which is a must to visit and has rich historical value ). Mary

    • I’ve heard of the Wagon Wheel Cafe. Thanks for the tip on that and the bookseller. I need to meet that fellow Redwood County native.

      • Mary Redding Says:

        I am living in Winnebago but my family farmed in Milroy and Lucan . We then moved to Redwood as my Dad had heart
        trouble . That was the expression in the 50’s . I have a very dear friend in Vesta. Holly Rohlik. We worked side by side in a State Crisis home and then a State
        group home in Redwood . I enjoy
        your blog very much ! I also take care of the Monarchs . I have another photo/story for you in Amboy …. Not far from the cottage cafe . I ll get the street
        address. Have you read Nichole
        Helget’s books ? She came off the farm from Sleepy Eye and
        I marvel at how her mind works. .
        She’s a rebel and now calling on a college she taught at in Mankato to be truthful . I’m not
        sure who is right and who is wrong but I’m sure she will prove her point . I’d like to visit the orphanage museum in Owatonna . Have you been there ? Hope to meet you sometime ! Mary

      • Mary, thank you for being a faithful follower of Minnesota Prairie Roots. I always feel a connection with those like you who are from my home area. And, yes, I know Holly. She helped my mother out when she was still living in her home. So grateful to Holly for all she did.

        And, yes, I’ve read Nicole’s The Summer of Ordinary Ways. And I read about her latest position on the situation at the colleges.

        I have been to the orphanage museum in Owatonna and have written about it here: https://mnprairieroots.com/?s=orphanage

        The museum is definitely worth a visit. Make sure you tour the cottage also.

  11. Jackie Says:

    First of all I really like the first photo, not only of Russell but the crazy clutter all around him. Where is there room for him to do his work? Did he remember you Audrey, on your 2nd visit?

  12. Virginia Updegrove Says:

    What a wonderful story. Is there anyway I can get some seeds from him? I am in the process of getting a little house in Idaho for my daughter. I’ll have a room there also. I learned of your blog by googling Stockholm. A young fellow in Sweden was the one that told me about Stockholm. Hopefully one day in the not to distant future I can visit there. It’s on my bucket list of things to do. Nothing would thrill me more than having seeds from there. She and I both love butterflies. By the way, how do you like your new camera now?

    • If I return to Stockholm, I’ll get you some seeds, Virginia. Or, readers, do any of you have milkweed seeds for Virginia? Do you care where the seed source may be?

      Interesting that you found me through my blog post on Stockholm. I sometimes wonder how readers discover my work.

      As for the camera, I took the 7D back and purchased the 20D from my friend. I’ll update readers on my decision soon and the reason behind it.

  13. Sue Ready Says:

    Audrey, your blog posting has touched the hearts of many readers judging by their recent comments. You have certainly have captured the heart and soul of this man by your very ASTUTE observations. Well said!

  14. Virginia Updegrove Says:

    No, I don’t really care where they come from. Just prefer some from that area instead of getting seeds at Home Depot for instance. This project we have is going to be fun. I’m sure I’ll be making other trips up shortly.

  15. hotlyspiced Says:

    I love monarch butterflies too. It’s so sad how they have such a short life. This is a man with a lot of lovely interests xx

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