Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating the art & architecture of a business block in historic downtown Faribault August 31, 2018

A side view of an artsy window display at Fleur de Lis Gallery.


STOREFRONT WINDOWS ARE LIKE A CANVAS, a creative space that can cause passersby to pause, then perhaps step inside a business. Or at a minimum, to value the visual efforts of a shopkeeper.


A full front view of that Fleur de Lis window art.


Historic buildings reflect in the front window of Ruf Acres Market, one of Faribault’s newest businesses. Ruf Acres won the 2017 Downtown Faribault Business Challenge to launch new businesses.


A colorful flier promotes Pawn MN.


During a brief walk in the 200 block of Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault on a recent Sunday afternoon, I discovered visual delights in window displays, splashes of color, wordage, architecture and more.


Nona has created this eye-catching Wash Day window displace at Keepers Antiques.


I appreciate the efforts of local shopkeepers to create window art that enhances our downtown.


In the window of Ruf Acres Market, egg cartons promote eggs from Graise Farm in rural Faribault.


Mallory of Grit & Grace uses a Rolling Stones quote to draw people into her new Faribault shop of merchandise and much more.


At The Upper East Side, Suzanne offers guests the option of painting totes and more. Love this artsy Faribault tote made at the sip and paint shop.


I appreciate those who value and promote local.


Ruf Acres signage highlights historic Faribault.


Markers like this tag historic buildings throughout downtown Faribault.


Historic architecture reflected in the window of a van.


I appreciate, too, those who long ago decided our historic buildings were worth saving. “You have a beautiful downtown,” a woman from Jackson noted to me as she and her friend explored Central Avenue while I shot photos. I welcomed them, invited them to return when shops are open.



I appreciate also the energy and enthusiasm of shopkeepers like Jessica at Fleur de Lis Gallery and Suzanne at The Upper East Side. Both possess a passion for art that adds to the growing art presence in my community.



A close-up of that Wash Day window display at Keepers Antiques with historic buildings reflected in the glass.


Fette Electronics is a long-time business in downtown Faribault.


From the Paradise Center for the Arts to local shops to new public art installations to historic murals, this southeastern Minnesota city is stretching its creativity and emerging as a place for the arts. For that I am grateful.


A section of the 200 block of Central Avenue in the business district of historic downtown Faribault.


It is through the lens of art—whether visual, literary or performing—that we see beauty in a place. And today that place is Faribault.


FYI: Check back for a close-up look at The Upper East Side, a paint and sip business and more.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Welcoming signs of change in Faribault August 30, 2018

One of many photo signs extolling virtues and posted in the downtown Faribault business district.


I INTENTIONALLY CHOSE ONE BLOCK in the central business district of my southeastern Minnesota community to look for Faces of Faribault—Downtown posters in storefronts. I found several placards featuring photos of downtown business people and a chosen virtue. But I also discovered much more. I found inspiring quotes and welcoming signs that show a city working hard to effect a change in attitudes, to embrace all who live here, no matter their ethnicity.


Many Somali immigrants live in apartments above downtown Faribault businesses. They often gather on street corners to socialize. That has resulted in complaints from some locals who claim to feel unsafe and intimidated. I’ve never felt that way, choosing instead to say hello and smile. I recognize that, because these immigrants are not living in ground level apartments, they need an outdoor space to meet and talk.


We are a diverse community of some 23,000. Home to Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, Somalis, Sudanese, Asians and more. It’s been a struggle for newcomers to gain acceptance, for locals to adjust to immigrants settling here to work, to start new lives. Differences in language, in social behavior, in dress and more have created a sense of unease. And conflict.


On the Sunday afternoon I shot these images, a couple celebrated their wedding at the 3 Ten Event Venue, recently opened in an historic building in the heart of downtown Faribault.


It takes effort to connect, to begin to understand one another, to see each other as individuals rather than as locals or foreigners, to celebrate our differences.



I applaud business owners who are reaching out with strong messages of acceptance posted right there on their shop windows. In a small-ish city like Faribault, there’s always the risk of losing business over taking a stand. But it’s the right thing to do, to declare that The only thing that should be separated by color is laundry.



Or to say, We stand with refugees and immigrants in our community.



One of many photo virtues signs posted in shop windows throughout the downtown business district as part of Faces of Faribault.


Yet another Faces poster.


These are positive signs, as are those Faces of Faribault posters, a project initiated by Cindy Diessner, who serves on The Virtues Project—Faribault Steering Committee. Her Faces endeavor is funded by an Artists on Main Street grant.



When we get to know each other as individuals, then the walls that separate us fall. We begin to understand that we are all just human. We may differ in skin color, language, dress, customs and more. But we still live under the same sun, the same moon.


FYI: A St. Paul-based theater company will present a free one-act play about an immigrant family’s daily struggles to follow the American dream at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 12, at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. A cast Q & A and an appetizer reception follow the performance of Help Wanted by Teatro Del Pueblo. The nonprofit, Latino theater company promotes cultural pride in the Latino community and cultural diversity in the arts. The play is based on a true story.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From Faribault: Closing cultural gaps through public art August 29, 2018


One of 10 mirrored virtues signs along a trail that runs next to train tracks and the Straight River in Faribault’s Heritage Bluff Park. The trail is east of Heritage Bluff Apartments and south of The Depot Bar & Grill.


FINALLY, I’M SENSING A SHIFT in attitudes toward immigrants in Faribault. It’s been a long time coming, but certainly not for a lack of trying. There are good people in this community who have been, for years, working to welcome Somalians, Hispanics and others into this once mostly all-white southern Minnesota city. People like Dee and her sister Ann. And Lisa, Peter, Virginia, Suzanne, Carolyn, Cindy, Delane and many more. They’ve been there, reaching out, educating, welcoming, connecting, making a difference.



There are tangible, visible signs of those efforts, the latest in the installation of the Virtues Trail Project at Heritage Bluff Park near our historic downtown and along the banks of the Straight River.






As a creative, I appreciate this public art project featuring 10 mirrored signs highlighting 20 virtues like honesty, patience, kindness and, yes, tolerance. The signs edge a recreational trail, an unassuming natural setting where people can pause, view their reflections and consider words of positivity written in three languages—English, Spanish and Somali.



Here’s how it works…



Two simple words—I am—jumpstart the thought process.



An Artists on Main Street grant from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota in partnership with Springboard for the Arts and with support from the Bush Foundation funded the project developed by Wanda Holmgren, a Faribault elementary school teacher. Faribault is among three Minnesota cities receiving grant monies to address community challenges. Twelve more arts-based endeavors are planned, or are already in place, in my city.


Colorful posts support, and reflect in, the signs. Even the chosen art reflects the virtues.


Across the tracks is a foot bridge over the Straight River, a peaceful setting unless a train is roaring through.


You’ve heard the phrase “other side of the tracks.” While tracks run parallel to the Virtues Trail, they (to me) symbolize connection, not division.


The Virtues Trail is a simple concept really, one that makes sense. Language often serves as the first hurdle in connecting cultures. If we can’t communicate, an instant divide exists. Yet a smile is universal. As are virtues.



As I walked from sign to sign with camera in hand, I intentionally avoided photographing my reflection. That wasn’t particularly easy. In a way, my evasiveness mirrors the challenges Faribault has faced in a failure to accept differences in skin color, religion, language and culture. Now I see that we are beginning to look at each other in a new way—with understanding, kindness and, yes, perhaps, finally, acceptance.




As I photographed the Virtues Trail, a bridal couple and their photographers walked the trail. I thought they were going to stop at the sign that reads “I am loved.” But they kept right on going, never pausing.


They were headed to the Straight River foot bridge, which offers a scenic view of the river and Faribault’s historic viaduct.


What an opportunity they missed to use this sign as a wedding portrait backdrop.


FYI: Please check back as I show you more ways in which my community is striving to be more welcoming of many cultures.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Exploring Red Wing Part III: Down by the river August 28, 2018

RED WING IS ABOUT POTTERY and shoes and history. But it’s also about the river. The Mighty Mississippi.


A view of Red Wing from the Bay Point Park area shows Barn Bluff and the bridge connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin.

A view of Red Wing from the Bay Point Park area shows Barn Bluff and the bridge connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin.


A brief visit to this southeastern Minnesota river town in the fall of 2014 led me to the water, to Bay Point Park, a lovely riverside respite. Here, on an afternoon when the autumn wind blew brisk with cold, I photographed boats, bluff, bridge, bins and boat houses.


Recreation (boats) and commerce (grain elevator and bins) mingle here.

Recreation (boats) and commerce (grain elevator and bins) mingle along the Mississippi.


Red Wing is one of those naturally beautiful communities where the muse of the river lures you in. Water does that. Here, standing in the park, I could see the commerce, the recreation, the history, the appeal and importance the Mississippi River holds in Red Wing.


Another view from the Bay Point Park area.

Another view from the Bay Point Park area.


And I considered then what power this waterway possesses, flowing 2,350 miles from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota, through towns like Red Wing, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.




The historic Boat House Village draws lots of interest.

The historic Boat House Village draws lots of interest.



This sculpture of a young Charles Lindbergh, famous aviator born in Little Falls, MN., stands in Bay Point Park.


Lots and lots of boats.

Lots and lots of boats. The city of Red Wing operates the Ole Miss Marina, in two locations in the city.


Trains run along the river by the grain elevators.

Trains run along the river by the grain elevators.


The side tourists don't always see, or photograph.

The side tourists don’t always see, or photograph.


The iconic Red Wing logo graces a grain elevator.

The iconic Red Wing logo graces a grain elevator.


FYI: Click here and here to read my previous posts on Red Wing.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Exploring Red Wing, Part II: Red Wing Shoes August 27, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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MY HUSBAND IS A HARDWORKING automotive machinist, on his feet all day resurfacing heads, turning brake rotors, rebuilding engines and more. His work is always in demand because so few do what he does and he’s good at what he does. Really good.


Step inside the Red Wing Shoe Store

Step inside the Red Wing Shoe Store in downtown Red Wing and this gigantic 20-foot long by 16-foot high, 2,300 pound replica Red Wing work boot grabs your attention. It’s in the 2005 Guinness Book of World Records.


He needs sturdy work boots that offer comfort and support and protection from grease, oil and dirt. Sometimes he’s worn Red Wing boots, sometimes boots from Mason Shoes across the border in Wisconsin.


Night-time outside the Red Wing Shoe Store.

Darkness descends outside the Red Wing Shoe Store.


On a 2014 visit to Red Wing, the Red Wing Shoe Store and its on-site second floor museum were on our must-stop list. Randy was having problems with a pair of Red Wing boots not fitting properly. He’d tried to get the issue resolved at our local Red Wing shoe provider. But still, the problem persisted. Go straight to the source, he decided.


Randy stepped onto a machine which determined pressure points on this feet and projected the results onto a screen.

Randy stepped onto a machine which determined pressure points on his feet and projected the results onto a screen.


The search began for the right boots.

The search began for the right boots.


Randy received great one-on-one attentive customer service.

Randy received great one-on-one attentive customer service.


That was the right decision. While Randy’s feet were measured and checked for pressure points and he tried on numerous boots, I meandered. Through the outlet store, through the museum. Eventually Randy found boots and the old ones were determined defective, just as he thought all along. We spent a lot of time at the store, but left satisfied customers.


The iconic Red Wing shoe logo.

The iconic Red Wing Shoes logo.


Since 1905, when Red Wing Shoes was founded in this Mississippi River town in eastern Minnesota, this shoe company has been crafting shoes for hardworking people like my husband. Footwear in the company’s Heritage Collection is made just as it was originally, handcrafted from premium leather.


A museum map

A museum map shows Red Wing’s global market.


But, I discovered, not all Red Wing shoes are made in Minnesota. Those new boots Randy got, well, they are made in China, says so on the label inside the tongue. To be honest, we both felt a bit betrayed, thinking he’d gotten American-made boots. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.


Rows of boots line a wall leading to the second floor museum.

Rows of boots line a wall leading to the second floor museum.


Even given that discovery, my husband remains loyal to the Red Wing brand. He likes his new boots, which I convinced him not to wear to work. He looks really good in his 435 Men’s 6-inch boots. They’re much sexier than sloppy tennis shoes. That left him without work boots. So he ordered a pair from across the border.


Even Hollywood chooses Red Wing shoes, according to this info in the museum.

Even Hollywood chooses Red Wing shoes, according to this info in the museum.


Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. So much for customer loyalty. His new boots from Wisconsin aren’t fitting all that well. Maybe he should have gone Red Wing again, stuck to the iconic workhorse boots which sometimes, and sometimes not, are made in a Minnesota river town.



Red Wing boot sculptures can be seen in downtown Red Wing.

Red Wing boot sculptures can be seen in downtown Red Wing.


A letter is posted in the museum from a long ago customer.

A letter is posted in the museum from a long ago customer attesting to the quality of the shoes.


I slipped into a Red Wing boot in the dress-up section of the museum.

I slipped into a Red Wing boot in the kids’ dress-up section of the museum. Kids are encouraged to try on an outfit and Red Wing shoes.



In 1912, The Red Wing Shoe Company began using the “Chief” logo to promote a new line of “Chief” products. Inspiration for the “Chief” graphic came from an employee’s childhood photo collection. The logo was used until 1928, when it was replaced with the red wing logo design.


In the gift shop, I spotted this beautiful Red Wing Pottery bowl.

In the gift shop, I spotted this beautiful Red Wing Pottery bowl.


A lovely old door in the shoe store.

A lovely old door in the shoe store.


FYI: Click here to read the first in my series of stories from Red Wing.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Enough August 24, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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I EXPECTED IT. As soon as I read that the suspect in the murder of small town Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts is an alleged illegal immigrant, I knew this would become a political issue. I knew, too, that the venom of hatred in this country would strike like a coiled snake.

From the President to too many politicians (including right here in Minnesota) to everyday Americans, the poison is spreading. A young woman is dead and that seems to have been lost in the spewing of anger and hatred and pushing an agenda for immigration reform.


Beyond that, the family which operates Yarrabee Farms, where the suspect was employed, is receiving death threats, threats to burn down their buildings, even threats to kill their dog.


What has happened to common decency in this country? What has happened to respect for a grieving family? What has happened to the ability to see crime as crime and not something linked to an individual’s skin color or residency status?

I know there are those who will disagree with me, who will jump all over this post and argue. But, because this is my personal blog, I will not give hatred a platform. I choose to honor Mollie.

In the words of Yarrabee Farms co-owner Craig Lang, also a Republican candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture this summer: “…now is not the time to discuss immigration.”

Now is the time to respect a family and community which are grieving. They, and Mollie, deserve more than the politicization of her death.


NOTE: I moderate all comments. I decide what publishes here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oh, happy day August 23, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:46 AM
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A selfie taken shortly after going splint-free. You can see the scar on my wrist from the incision to implant a metal plate on June 25.


NEARLY 10 WEEKS OUT from shattering a bone in my left wrist which required an implant with 10 screws, I got the news I’ve been wanting. I can ditch my splint. My hand, my wrist, are now free of any supportive locking device. And I am one happy person/photographer/writer.


After two months in this splint, I no longer need to wear it.


I did not expect this news from my cautious orthopedic doctor during a routine check on my healing bone Wednesday morning. During a previous visit, he’d given me a splint time-frame that would have taken me to almost the end of September.


This is a photo snapped with a cellphone of an x-ray of the implant in my wrist. Ten screws (count them) hold the metal plate in place. The broken bone, my ortho doctor said, “looked like gravel’ following my June 16 fall.


But after reviewing my current and past x-rays and asking me to pass some range of motion tests, he told me I don’t need to wear the splint anymore. I asked him to repeat what he’d just said, not believing this could possibly be true.

He qualified. “I don’t want you doing anything silly.” He knows me well, that I wanted to be doing whatever yesterday. Yet, he apparently trusts that I will recognize my limitations and not push my weak wrist. I asked about using my Canon DSLR camera. He okayed that usage after I explained that I support the lens with my left hand. I don’t expect to do extensive photo shoots but slowly ease back into photography.

Upon arriving home from my medical appointment and occupational therapy, I tested my left hand while putting away dishes. Much to my dismay, I didn’t have the strength to pull open a cupboard door or to lift a small bowl. But I could lift a small rectangular plastic food storage container. It’s not much, but something.


Me, several hours after my June 25 surgery to repair my broken left wrist with a metal plate. The splint and wrap in this photo were replaced a week later by a removable (only for showering and therapy) Velcro wrist splint, the one I now no longer need to wear.


I expect to start strengthening exercises at my next therapy session on Friday. Up until now I’ve done only range of motion exercises. I’ll work hard to strengthen and regain use of my hand and wrist. It’s a slow process that requires time and much patience. I’m determined. And that’s a good thing. Determination and tenacity coupled with prayer and the support of a really great medical team and a loving and caring husband equal recovery.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling