Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Why I appreciate the arts in Minnesota May 11, 2017

A snippet of the colorful and whimsical mural created by Lynette Schmidt Yencho for the Owatonna Arts Center library. Art surrounds these children.


GROWING UP IN RURAL southwestern Minnesota many decades ago, my exposure to the arts was minimal. I don’t recall attending a single art show, concert or theatre production outside of a public school. If such opportunities existed, I was either unaware of them or my parents had no money for such extras.


During a one-day fundraiser, the Owatonna Arts Center sold original serigraphs (silkscreen prints) produced by Alice Ottinger and Jean Zamboni of OZ Press in Owatonna. The press no longer operates. If you are interested in a print, contact the art center.


Opportunities to develop my creative interests did not extend much beyond English, music, art and home economics classes, except for the two weeks of shop class in which I crafted a linoleum block print. I always wished I could play piano or an instrument. But there was no time or money for either. I still cannot read a single note of music.


Fruit bowl art in the Owatonna Arts Center library.


I don’t begrudge my parents for not exposing me to the arts. They had to keep the dairy and crop farm running and a family of eight fed. Finances were tight.


The 65th Annual Steele County Art Exhibition is currently showing at the Owatonna Arts Center. Here’s a sampling of art in that show.


Early on I learned that, if I wanted new clothes, I would have to sew them. This was back in the day when sewing clothing was far less expensive than buying ready-made. If I got store-bought clothes, they always came from the sales rack. I loved the sewing process—paging through thick volumes of Simplicity, Butterick and McCalls patterns; perusing bolts of fabric; and then cutting and sewing the fabric into wearable clothing.

In some small way, I created art. Not of my own design. But I could express myself through fabric selection and pattern choice.


Another section of the Owatonna Arts Center library mural by Lynette Schmidt Yencho. My love of reading as a child spurred my interest in writing.


I also created art in my writing. No teacher encouraged me, other than to praise my near-perfect penmanship, spelling and excellent English language usage skills. My writing was limited to class assignments and later writing for the high school newspaper, The Rabbit Tracks. I attended high school in Wabasso, which means “rabbit” in Ojibwe. Our mascot was a white rabbit.


A room of books and art…in the Owatonna Arts Center library.


Why do I tell you all of this? I share this because my background explains why I have such a deep appreciation for the arts. That cliché of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” can be applied to the near absence of art in my life early on.


Doors open into the OAC gallery housed in an historic building.


Today, living 120 miles to the east of my hometown, I have many opportunities to enjoy the arts locally in Faribault and neighboring Owatonna and Northfield at arts centers, public schools, colleges and more. I am grateful that the visual, literary and performing arts hold such high value in Minnesota.


More art in the Steele County artists’ show.


Some would argue that the arts are not necessary. I contend that they are. We all have within us that innate need to connect with others. The arts offer that interconnection, that weaving together of creativity, of humanity, of a desire/need to express ourselves. I am grateful to be part of the community of artists through my writing of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and blog posts and through my photography. I am thankful, too, for the art opportunities available to me right here in my backyard and throughout Minnesota.


TELL ME: Do you embrace the arts either/and or by creating or enjoying them? Please share specifics.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork photographed with permission of the Owatonna Arts Center. Art is copyrighted by the artists and may not be copied and/or reproduced.


18 Responses to “Why I appreciate the arts in Minnesota”

  1. Kiandra Judge Says:

    I also feel the arts are an important part of our lives and communities. They offer a way of expression to what we are feeling and a connection to each other. I grew up in South Minneapolis (currently living on a farm in rural Cannon Falls, MN) so we had access during my childhood to museums, theater and concerts. My dad is an artist so he instilled that love of art and creativity in my sister and myself. My sister is very good at projects she has in her home and restores old furniture to make a new creation. My dad is skilled at pencils drawings and has had some pieces in his church art shows. My favorite way to create is through photography with a more abstract approach. I also have a poetry piece that was featured at the Walker downtown Minneapolis when I was in college. I think that art can take on many forms and can be an extension of the person creating. It can speak to different personality styles as it does in my family. It can also be a helping tool! I love to use my photography to volunteer with the Special Olympics.
    Many ways to express that I am hoping to pass on to my 3 year old son!

    • Kiandra (beautiful name, BTW), thanks for sharing your detailed reasons for loving the arts. What a wonderfully artistic family. Congrats on the poetry at the Walker. And keep on following your passion in photography. Do you have a blog or website to show us your photos?

    • Kiandra Says:

      Thanks for all the compliments! I used to post on Capture Minnesota but haven’t for awhile. Maybe I’ll start up again thanks to your post!

  2. Lover of the arts in all medias (i.e. photography/painting, writing/poetry, theater/music, architecture (love those doors), etc. I enjoy spending time with murals because you see something different each time you look at it. The Dali Museum is here and boy can you look at his art for some time due to seeing something different from the way you look at it. I love a good photography museum as well as museums in general. California Academy of Sciences in San Fran is a must see – loved exploring it. Thanks for sharing. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    Nice post, Audrey. I rarely make the time to visit galleries and art fests since we’re often busy outdoors most of the year. But when we are on vacation we take in art and creative venues wherever we might be. Every region of the US seems to have its unique feel for the arts. I think my favorites are of course all aspects of nature. I also love architecture. While in NYC this last time I did not revisit the major museums of art, but rather enjoyed street murals in various areas, and spent a lot of time looking at historical photography exhibits. That’s the lovely thing about art.. it’s everywhere and there is something for everyone to experience.

    • Well said, Lori. It sounds like you’ve had some wonderful exposure to the arts. Somehow, though, I just can’t picture you in NYC. I was there once, while in college, and have no desire to return to such an overwhelmingly big city.

      • Littlesundog Says:

        As a kid in Nebraska, growing up in a family where art exposure was not even considered. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I began to explore that world. FD and I take advantage of every opportunity to experience life in other places and we do love the energy and opportunity to explore in big cities… but we always yearn to be out in nature. That is why Central Park in NYC was my favorite place to be. It wasn’t far from our hotel so we could hoof it over there often. Our favorite trips are to places where we can enjoy the beauty that only the outdoors can bring.

      • That’s wonderful that you can embrace big cities while keeping your toes touching the natural world therein.

  4. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I personally think that the arts are an important creative outlet especially for people with anxiety issues. I can’t imagine how I would have made it through the last several years without it.

  5. valeriebollinger Says:

    I enjoy the arts too but I’ve never looked back to figure out why.
    I do identify with you sewing your own clothes. I did too…when it was cheaper. Looking through the patterns and finding fabric…sewing on a Singer sewing machine…brings back lots of memories.

  6. **Some would argue that the arts are not necessary.**

    those “Some” are obviously ignorant. ( I had to say it )

    For me, I see ART in life…

    I even see it when I watch my husband’s team play soccer, or in baking chocolate chip cookies, or in how some people walk.

    Writing words is “ART.”

    Of course!

    “YOU” are ART, darling. x

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