Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mankato photographer focuses on hands and water in new exhibit October 7, 2015

IF I WERE TO STUDY your hands, what would I see? Would I see earth or art, youth or age, strength or weakness…

My left hand, which I photographed in 2011.

My left hand, which I photographed in 2011.

When I look at my hands, I see brown spots sprinkled across skin streaked blue with veins. I notice the slight bump on the knuckle of my right pinkie, a writer’s callous from finger rubbing against paper.

Would my hands show you that I am of the land and also a wife, mother, writer and photographer? Would you see the poetry that flows from my fingertips in both words and images?

Four separate photo projects meld in Kay Herbst Helms' new exhibit.

Four separate photo projects meld in Kay Herbst Helms’ new exhibit. Image courtesy of Kay Herbst Helms.

A Mankato photographer has chosen for the past five years to study hands, to tell their stories through a series of photographic projects. Kay Herbst Helms’ photos come together in “Seeking What Sustains Us: a photographic journey of hands and water,” an exhibit of four photo projects showing at the Carnegie Art Center, 120 South Broad Street, Mankato.

The exhibit opens at 1 p.m. Thursday, October 8. I will join five other area poets—Yvonne Cariveau, Susan Chambers, John Hurd, Derek Liebertz and Gwen Westerman—at 5 p.m. in reading original poems about water. Dick Kimmel will also entertain with bluegrass music.

But it is Kay’s images which will be the focal point. As she tells it, the decision to photograph hands happened in a prophetic way—when she awakened one morning with the single word, hands, in her thoughts. That led to “Blessed Are the Hands That Have Served,” a photo exhibit focusing on the hands of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Viewing Kay Herbst Helms' photos in "What Sustains Us."

Viewing Kay Herbst Helms’ photos in “What Sustains Us.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Her second hands project, “What Sustains Us: considering the hands and the land of south central rural Minnesota,” features the hands of those who work the land and their rural surroundings. It’s an exhibit I viewed in 2012 at the Arts Center of Saint Peter. In that display of black-and-white photos, Kay also shared brief stories of those she photographed.

In her third project, “inner necessities,” Kay photographed the hands of area artists and musicians.

Her fourth hands-themed photo compilation, “Water Vapors,” debuts this week as a consideration of what our hands have done to, in and for water. “We all have connections to each other and to water,” Kay says. “How we manage those connections will determine the future of our great-great grandchildren.”

Several of Kay's images focus on cattle, enhancing the exhibit's rural theme.

Several of Kay’s images focus on cattle, enhancing the exhibit’s rural theme in her “What Sustains Us” photo project. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I expect that I will connect with all four of these photo exhibits because I, like Kay, hold a deep appreciation for storytelling via photography.

An elderly man turns to a hymn in the old pocket-size songbook that's been used for decades.

I shot this hands photo at an old-fashioned mission fest in Marquardt’s Grove south of Janesville in 2012. To this day, it remains one of my favorite photos of hands. It tells a story of enduring faith.

And for hands. (Click here to read one of my most beloved posts about hands, my mother’s hands.)

Activities related to the exhibit. Image courtesy of Kay Herbst Helms.

Activities related to the exhibit. Image courtesy of Kay Herbst Helms.

FYI: Kay Herbst Helms’ exhibit runs through October 24. An opening reception is set for 7 p.m.- 9 p.m. on Saturday, October 10. Additional arts activities include the free “Fish Prints for Kids” at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 15, and “Marbling for All Ages” at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 17 (fee is $5). Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling