Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

One artist’s interpretation of his walk from Minneapolis to Northfield April 4, 2016

An overview of The Via Northfield exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

An overview of The Via Northfield exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

WHEN EXPECTATIONS DON’T MATCH reality, it is initially disappointing. But then, when you reflect, perception sometimes changes and an aha moment emerges. Such was the metamorphosis for me regarding Minneapolis artist and writer Andy Sturdevant’s The Via Northfield project  showing now through April 17 at the Flaten Art Museum on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield.

The introduction to Andy Sturdevant's project.

The introduction to Andy Sturdevant’s project.

I expected a straight-forward documentary exhibit with journaling and photos of Sturdevant’s two-day, 40-mile trek from Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis to St. Olaf in September 2015. The Via Northfield was anything but. And if I’d bothered to research in advance of my recent exhibit tour, I would have realized Sturdevant would not follow my expected path. He walks a detoured path of creativity. And it works in the kind of artistic way that weaves the present and the past, stories with facts, visuals with words, into a multi-faceted exhibit.

A copy of a newspaper clipping summarizes the death of a man in a profoundly succinct way.

A copy of a newspaper clipping summarizes the disappearnace of a man in a profoundly succinct way.

Pinpointing 15 locations (way stations) along his route, this artist focuses on specific place details through photos, newspaper clippings, artwork, stories and atypical items like a lost cat flier and a gravestone rubbing.

This photo of two Carleton students and their story captivated me.

This photo of two Carleton students and their story captivated me.

My personal favorite is a photo of Carleton College students and an accompanying note. The trio walked from Northfield to the Mall of America, stopping to rest on a couch in a supercool yard in Eureka Township. The note, addressed to dear wonderful people, is signed Kathy, Wren and Bettina. The writer in me latched onto those names, especially the poetically-pleasing Wren.

Sturdevant focuses on places as specific as Eureka Township.

Sturdevant focuses on places as specific as Eureka Township.

Sturdevant’s exhibit calls for close study. And, I’ll admit, I didn’t give it the complete focus it deserves as my energy waned at the end of a long day exploring rural Minnesota.

But I caught some details that caused me to laugh—like Sturdevant’s use of the words soybean farms to describe farms upon which soybeans are grown. I’ve never heard the term. I’ve ever only known such Minnesota farms as crop farms. I grew up on one.

And I laughed at a story about a Dundas man’s journey to a Fargo convention and a subsequent question, Is the Corner Bar still there? Yes, Dawn’s Corner Bar remains a corner anchor in downtown Dundas.

A snippet look at The Via Northfield.

A snippet look at The Via Northfield.

These are the types of stories that connect an exhibit like The Via Northfield in a personal way to those who view it.

Sturdevant personalizes, too, by memorializing pedestrians who died along his traveled route. He uses black circles with name, date and sparse details.

A strong visual.

A strong visual at the end of the exhibit.

Even his ripped pants hang on a wall.

At one of two tables, exhibit visitors can sit and file a Pedestrian Report...

At one of two tables, exhibit visitors can sit and file a Pedestrian Report…

...by following these instructions...

…by following these instructions…

...and then using a typewriter...

…and then using a typewriter…

...or a pencil...

…or a pencil…

...to record a personal story.

…to record a personal story.

This exhibit isn’t just about reading and viewing. It’s also participatory. Viewers are welcome to file their stories in a Pedestrian Report typed on a manual typewriter or written in pencil. Not with any pencil, though, but rather with one imprinted:

I WALKED
“THE VIA NORTHFIELD”
MINNEAPOLIS TO NORTHFIELD, MINN.

The exhibit is promoted on a screen outside The Flaten Art Museum.

The exhibit is promoted on a screen outside The Flaten Art Museum.

FYI: You can view The Via Northfield exhibit from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Wednesday, from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday, and from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. weekends at the Flaten Art Museum in the Dittmann Center on the campus of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. Admission is free.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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12 Responses to “One artist’s interpretation of his walk from Minneapolis to Northfield”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Well that was fun. I imagine I would have tired of reading every single placard but the premise is fun and the visuals and participatory nature of part of the exhibit would have helped keep me involved. Did you file a pedestrian report? 🙂

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    A very interesting project.

  3. Thread crazy Says:

    Interesting to say the least. I do so remember that typewriter though…

  4. Carol King Says:

    Well, now! Just by reading your interesting article I feel as if I’ve (somewhat) participated, too!
    What an intriguing project. Just think of all the spin-offs that could come from that. Thank you for telling us about the project.

  5. What a cool idea! That’s an interesting exhibit. I would love to get my hands on that typewriter. And I think I need to plan a long, long walk….

  6. Jackie Says:

    I find it thought provoking that Sturdevant documented (with black circles) the places where pedestrians were killed along his walk…interesting! There are sooooo many different forms of “art”…. aren’t there 🙂


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