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

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28 Responses to “Mankato photographer focuses on hands and water in new exhibit”

  1. Marneymae Says:

    I really wish I could see these exhibits…
    Hands have been a main focus in my drawings for the past 20+ years…
    Just yesterday a friend (& dairy farmer) shared a gorgeous image of her son’s hand as an infant (he’s now grown & the does all the tractor maintenance & field work, some milking) with his great-grandmother’s hand…
    It was a quiet, but striking image…
    How fortunate your community is to have this artists/photographer in your midst!
    Thanks for sharing about the event

  2. treadlemusic Says:

    “Snippets of life” caught on “film” that almost demand that we pause to consider all the “basic indicators” that surround us giving us clues into life’s riches that most often go unnoticed as we race along our own life continuum……………..

  3. Dan Traun Says:

    Interesting project.

  4. I am like you in that I love photos that tell stories 🙂 When I think of hands I think of my grandmother’s hands – hardworking, but oh so soft. I would love to see this exhibit and love art, especially photography – thanks so much for sharing this artist and her work. Happy Day – Enjoy!

  5. What a fantastic project/exhibit! I often look at people’s hands, notice things like dirt under nails, paint, chewed nails, wedding rings, tattoos, grease, wrinkles, brown spots, etc. I’m someone who talks with my hands. Congratulations on being one of the poets who is going to read at the opening.

  6. Very interesting pictures

  7. Littlesundog Says:

    What an interesting project! My hands look much like the photo of your left hand. I’ve always called them “working” hands. So many women in the South have “Lady hands”, soft and unmarred, with pretty painted nails. I like what Kathleen had to say about what she notices about the details of people’s hands. I believe these types of scrutiny give the observer a lot of information about a person. I find the details highly fascinating!

    • I polish my nails only if absolutely necessary, like when my eldest daughter was married two years ago. Polish doesn’t last and I am not that interested in polished nails anyway. I’ve never had a manicure nor a pedicure.

      Kathleen is spot on correct.

  8. chlost Says:

    I have always found hands to be fascinating. They tell such a story of a person. When I see very elderly hands, I think of all of the things those hands have done over the course of their life-hard work, making love, caring for children, cooking, soothing. It is fascinating to think of an entire exhibit. I especially noticed the hands of the actress Jane Fonda in a recent television show. Her face and body look quite young, but her hands show the entirety of her 70+ years of life.

  9. hotlyspiced Says:

    I look at my hands and I can see they’re ageing! Not good but what can you do. I do love the image you took of the hands turning the pages of the book. Best wishes to you for the poetry reading xx

  10. Kay Herbst Helms Says:

    I love the image of poetry flowing from your fingertips. Maybe I could make that into a photograph. Thank you so much for your thoughtful posts and comments about my exhibit and hands in general. I’m looking forward to hearing the readings and music Thursday.

  11. Beth Ann Says:

    One of my favorite things about my husband is his hands. I have always loved them because they are good hands—I think when I first really noticed how great his hands were was when he played piano for me. Isn’t it interesting how hands can tell such a complete story of a person ? I wish I could attend this event to hear you read (congrats) and to see the exhibits but I will be there in spirt. This is a lovely idea for an exhibit and I am sure it is going to be quite a popular one. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Sue Ready Says:

    Congratulations being one of the featured poets today. Your posting was reflective, introspective and creative. I hope your readers will see a future posting of your water poem from the reading.


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