Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Contrasts in art at the Owatonna Arts Center September 21, 2018

“It’s a Party!” yardage wall piece; both procion dyes and pigment paints all painted at the same time by Candy Kuehn.

 

I STOPPED AT THE OWATONNA ARTS CENTER specifically to view The Art of Friendship, an exhibit of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota. But I discovered also a second intriguing exhibit, Fabric Fascination by Minneapolis artist Candy Kuehn.

 

From the Big Brothers and Big Sisters exhibit, a simple drawing.

 

Kuehn’s “The Earth Winds,” nassen paste resist on silk charmeuse.

 

The two shows contrast—one a complex swirl of colors, the other much simpler in design.

 

Kuehn’s art extends into the OAC entry exhibit space.

 

One fills an entire gallery and down a hall to a second exhibit space.

 

The Big Brothers and Big Sisters artwork hangs in a hallway cove and around the corner along the hall.

 

The other tucks into and along a short hallway. Yet, whether the work of novices or a seasoned professional, whether many pieces or few, the art in each show deserves attention.

 

Garments and photo art created by Kuehn.

 

“Garden Plaid in Reds,” digitally-printed poly-chiffon by Kuehn drapes across a window, sunlight streaming through the print.

 

More of Kuehn’s art.

 

Kuehn, whose credentials include “a revered member and teacher at Minnesota’s Textile Center” and recipient of many awards in multiple art forms, impresses. As I meandered among the numerous pieces on display, I felt as if I was peering through a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting patterns and colors. The drape and seamless flow of fabric spoke poetry to me. I am not artistically knowledgeable enough to understand the processes of Kuehn’s work. But I see, enjoy and appreciate the creativity of an artist clearly passionate about creating art.

 

Yet more of Kuehn’s signature wearable art.

 

The public can learn more at a presentation and free (but must pre-register) Fascination workshop beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 23, at the Owatonna Arts Center. Attendees will transform plain headbands with decorative items.

 

 

 

 

 

Down the hall from Kuehn’s exhibit, the art of youth and their mentors highlights the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. In the artwork, I see friendships forged, joy in bold colors, the authenticity of an artist in handprinted block letters. I especially like the featured quote: Art is everywhere—even in the simplest of friendships.

 

Fitting for the season, art from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters exhibit.

 

Art truly exists everywhere, if we choose to see it. And I, for one, see it—in simple lines drawn by a child, in complex patterns created by a professional artist and now, in this season of autumn, outdoors in the landscape of the land.

TELL ME: Where do you see art?

FYI: If you want to see these exhibits, stop at the OAC soon. They close on September 26 and 30.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Faribault history takes center stage in a must-see play by two high school students September 20, 2018

 

An original play about historic Faribault opens Friday evening, September 18, at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault.

 

REVEALING. THOUGHT-PROVOKING. POWERFUL. Authentic. Relevant.

All describe a debut play, A Celebration of Faribault: The 1855 Live Show, written and directed by high school seniors Logan Ledman and Samuel Temple. I attended a recent press screening of the Paradise Community Theatre production, set to open Friday evening at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

 

The cast of A Celebration of Faribault: The 1855 Live Show. Writers and directors are Samuel Temple of Faribault, left center row, and Logan Ledman of Northfield, right center row.

 

Featuring town founder Alexander Faribault, Bishop Henry Whipple, long-time Judge Thomas Buckham and his wife, Anna, as the lead characters, this play personalizes my southeastern Minnesota community’s early history. By the end of this lengthy show, I felt like I really knew the people I’ve read about in historical accounts. The directors/writers tackle real-life issues of the era head-on in a sensitive and relate-able way. They do that in intimate dialogue, in reading of letters exchanged between the Buckhams, in newspaper editorials, in a dramatic battlefield setting, in one especially powerful scene that closes the first act… I won’t share that closing. It needs to be seen and heard. Experienced really.

 

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers who were killed in the area during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Located along the eastern edge of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Milford had the highest war death rate of any single township. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The Loyal Indian Monument at Birch Coulee Monument near Morton honors Native Americans and features strong words like humanity, patriotism, fidelity and courage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The content of this play takes me beyond Faribault and back to my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, at the epicenter of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, a focal point in this production. I know well the history of that war, which I studied decades ago and once researched. Ledman and Temple clearly did their research, too, in writing this play.

 

The youth orchestra plays original music by Sam Dwyer, back in the headset.

 

The crew weaves in audio details that, with a surround sound system, amplify the impact of the script. Mood-setting music written by area high school student Sam Dwyer and performed by an all-youth orchestra enhances the production. Likewise lighting and varied ways of presenting content keep the play interesting and entertaining.

 

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault meeting with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As I listened and watched, I considered how, 150-plus years later, my city still struggles with issues similar to those in frontier Faribault. Back then, town founder and fur trader Alexander Faribault, whose mother was the daughter of a Dakota chief and who married a part Dakota woman, welcomed the Dakota into his home, onto his land. Likewise, Bishop Whipple welcomed those native peoples into his church as friends. After the U.S.-Dakota War, locals were no longer so accepting of the Dakota presence here or in other parts of Minnesota.

 

A flag ceremony during a past international festival features national anthems and information about the countries from which Faribault residents have originated. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today Faribault faces some of those same challenges with immigrants in our community. They have not always been welcomed. But I see that changing as time passes, as cultures adjust, as acceptance grows. So this play, though historically-themed, remains relevant. I would like to believe that Alexander Faribault (as scripted in the play) was right in his assessment: “We are neighbors in the human race. That is the community of Faribault.”

The deeply personal aspects of A Celebration of Faribault come in letters written between Thomas Buckham and his wife, Anna. The teen writers/directors spent hours at the Minnesota Historical Society reading those exchanges. With reluctance, Anna left her family on the East Coast to resettle in Faribault, only to return and care for her ailing sister. The Buckhams would be separated for 17 years with Anna returning to Minnesota upon her husband’s death. At times I felt uncomfortable witnessing the conflicts within this marriage and the choices made. But that says a lot for the script, for the acting, that I experienced those emotions. These were real people torn between family and place. Anna truly never felt at home in Faribault.

 

Anna Buckham gifted the city of Faribault with the Art Nouveau/Greek Revival style Kasota stone Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library. It was constructed in 1929-1930 for $240,000. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Still, she left a legacy honoring the husband she loved even through physical separation. That legacy stands just blocks from my home, at the site of a former livery stable. It is the Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library, complete with Greek murals celebrating Thomas’ adoration of the Greeks, the Greek language and culture, and Greek classics.

 

This bronze sculpture of Thomas Scott Buckham hangs above a fireplace in the library’s second floor Great Hall meeting space. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As someone who grew up in a rural community without a library, I deeply appreciate this gift to the city I’ve called home for 36 years. I value Buckham library and the content therein from magazines to books to the art gracing walls to a stained glass window crafted by Charles Connick of Boston. Today my son lives and works in greater Boston. Growing up, he visited the library often, checking out books to teach himself computer programming. He would not be where he is today professionally without the resources of Buckham library. Likewise, my daughters worked as pages there, experiences that would later land them library jobs as college students. The library holds personal significance in my family’s history. Thus I appreciate its prominence in A Celebration of Faribault and its continued importance in my community as a welcoming place for all peoples.

 

High school students Logan Ledman, left, and Samuel Temple produce “1855: A Faribault History Series on FCTV” in Faribault. File photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

Exiting the Paradise Center for the Arts theater following the performance, I felt a sense of gratitude to the young men who care enough about Faribault to research and embrace its history and then share their discoveries with others. Ledman and Logan are also creators of 1855, an acclaimed history documentary series aired on local public television. It’s hard to believe these two are still in high school. There’s no doubt these 17-year-olds possess a clear and deep love of history, of heritage and of this place we call Faribault.

FYI: Performances of A Celebration of Faribault: The 1855 Live Show are set for 7:30 p.m. on two Fridays, September 21 and 28, and at 2 p.m. on two Sundays, September 23 and September 30. Click here to purchase tickets.

A $3,000 grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council helped fund this production.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finally, I’ve graduated September 19, 2018

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The Art of Recovery (soft yellow putty, medium green putty and firm blue putty).

 

THREE MONTHS AND TWO DAYS after suffering a closed colles fracture of the left radius followed by open reduction with internal fixation of the fracture, I am done with medical appointments.

Now, let me write that in an understandable language. Three months and two days after I broke my left wrist followed by surgery to implant a titanium plate with 10 screws, I am done with medical appointments.

Yes!

But that doesn’t mean I am fully recovered. After twisting on my wrist (yes, it was painful) during my final therapy session on Tuesday, my occupational therapist sent me home with several new exercises, a container of firm putty and instructions to continue my strengthening efforts. I tested several weights before Annie decided I should work with a 3-pound weight. That’s up from the pound I have been lifting. Prior to my injury, I was lifting a 10-pound weight.

Recovery takes time, hard work and lots of patience. And a great medical team.

Following therapy, I had my final evaluation with my orthopedic surgeon. He cleared me to slowly resume normal activities with a specific example of what not to do yet. “Don’t go pulling a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator,” he said.

But he said I could use my camera. “I already am,” I said, noting that I nearly pitched forward and fell the other day while pursuing a photo at the Valley Grove Country Social. He gave me a look. We agreed that I should try to stay out of his office for awhile. A year ago I was recovering from a broken right shoulder. As much as I like Dr. Armitage, it is my intent to keep my bones intact.

To all of you who have supported and encouraged me during this three-month recovery process, thank you. I am grateful for your kind words. And I am grateful for my loving husband who helped me through this lengthy process of healing and recovery with personal care assistance and taking on extra responsibilities at home. I am blessed. Even in challenges, there are reasons to be thankful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating heritage & history at the Valley Grove churches September 18, 2018

I propped my camera on the grass and tilted it up to snap this photo of the 1894 Valley Grove church, rural Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

MID-SEPTEMBER AIR HUNG HEAVY with humidity, more summer-like than autumn on this Sunday afternoon at two country churches in southeastern Minnesota.

 

A view of a section of the Valley Grove cemetery through a partially open window in the wood-frame church.

 

But, inside the sanctuary, Randy and I sat near a window cracked open to the cemetery, wind fanning a breeze, and at one time a wasp.

 

Duo churches grace the hilltop, the clapboard church replacing the original stone church for worship.

 

Inside the 1894 church with Doug Ohman’s equipment set up for his talk about country churches.

 

Visitors take a guided walk of the restored prairie.

 

I shifted, trying to find comfort on the hard wooden pew inside the 1894 church at Valley Grove, one of two built on a hilltop offering sweeping views of the countryside, Nerstrand Big Woods State Park next door and the small town of Nerstrand just miles to the southeast. Both church buildings remain, preserved, sanctuary doors opening to one another across a short swatch of lawn.

 

The arched entry gate to the church and cemetery grounds.

 

Imagine how many preachers preached from this pulpit. Ohman ended his talk with a short “sermon” advising us to view people and situations from the inside rather than the outside. He used a visual–that of a stained glass window appearing unimpressive from the outside but beautiful when seen from the inside.

 

Altar details hold history.

 

We joined others here for the Valley Grove Country Social, an annual autumn event that celebrates this place. On this day, noted Minnesota photographer Doug Ohman blessed us with his storytelling and photo presentation on selected historic churches of Minnesota. “Valley Grove,” he said, “is one of my favorite spots in all of Minnesota. You can feel the history.”

 

The Valley Grove churches and cemetery.

 

And that’s saying something. Ohman has photographed 3,000 plus Minnesota churches, many featured in his book Churches of Minnesota published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press as part of the Minnesota Byway series that also covers barns, courthouses, schoolhouses, cabins and libraries.

 

Vintage photos and artifacts were propped on windows in the stone church.

 

As Ohman talked of the early immigrants, like the Norwegians who founded Valley Grove, he noted “…communities were being knit together in the shadow of the church.”

 

Visitors observed and participated in the craft of rope making.

 

A woman demonstrated the art of making krumkake, a Norwegian cookie, available for sampling.

 

Old buggies on the grounds added to the sense of history.

 

A strong sense of history certainly exists at Valley Grove. Although I have no personal connection to these historic churches, I appreciate them. Like Ohman. “The church,” he said, “is a symbol of our heritage.” I agree.

 

Valley Grove is an oft-photographed site with photos and artwork of the churches gracing notecards for sale at the country social.

 

This photographer not only documents with his camera, but he gathers stories, too. Ohman is a master storyteller. He regaled us with humorous and poignant stories—of retrieving a church key from an outhouse, of stringing 600 feet of extension cords from a farm to Lenora United Methodist Church so he would have electrical power to present, of a $70,000 check gifted to a central Minnesota bible camp to relocate Marble Lutheran Church 100 miles…

 

 

He personalized, as did Jon Rondestvedt, another storyteller who shared cemetery stories following Ohman’s talk. Rondestvedt spoke of Oscar and Clara Bonde, a couple buried in the cemetery adjacent to the two churches. Clara, he noted, was a teacher within the Normal School system before her marriage to Oscar. She loved raspberries, hated moles. She was known for her green thumb skill of growing African violets. And Oscar, well, he was known as a cookie thief, a tag that caused us to burst into laughter.

 

A snippet of the musical group Hutenanny, which performed under a sprawling oak.

 

Such stories reinforce Rondestvedt’s opening statement that tombstones are “testimonies to people who lived, breathed and mattered.” I like that word choice, mattered. “It’s up to us to remember them,” this storyteller said.

 

Jon Rondestvedt talks about the Hellerud family at their gravesites.

 

Later he moved from the shade of a sprawling burr oak to the sun-drenched plots of the Hellerud family. There he explained how husbands sometimes chose to honor their wives via only the woman’s name engraved on a large tombstone, the man’s grave marker nearby, a simple flat stone laid flush to the ground. “She was seen as a treasure by her husband,” Rondestvedt said. This was a new piece of information I will take with me now in my stops at country cemeteries.

 

As I watched draft horses pull a wagon through the prairie, I imagined immigrant families traversing the prairie also.

 

I left Valley Grove, too, with a desire to read Giants of the Earth, a classic by O.E. Rolvaag about Norwegian immigrants settling in America. Rondestvedt read selected passages at the burial sites of the Helleruds, the wind ruffling pages of the aged novel.

 

Packets of milkweed seed ready for the taking.

 

Shortly thereafter we gathered around the grave marker of Hannah Stenbakken Hellerud, a school teacher so beloved by a young boy that he said she was the first person he wanted to see in heaven. A monarch butterfly dipped and rose, circling our group. The butterfly seemed a symbolic ending to the afternoon, coming full circle to my first stop upon arriving at the Valley Grove Country Social. I’d stopped initially to check out a booth about monarchs. I left with a packet of swamp milkweed seeds which I will seed near the common milkweed already growing in my yard.

 

Efforts have been onging since 2007 to restore the 1862 limestone church.

 

Inside the plain stone church, a rebuilt chandelier adds elegance.

 

The Valley Grove Preservation Society has worked hard to restore both churches. Valley Grove is on the National Register of Historic Sites.

 

It is up to us to preserve—a population of threatened butterflies, country churches atop a hill, stories from churches and cemeteries…all that which holds our history, our heritage.

 

Every celebration calls for cake, including this cake served inside the stone church at the Valley Grove Country Social.

 

And it is up to us also to celebrate that which has been preserved.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating a moment in life in Cannon Falls September 17, 2018

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THE NUANCES OF RURAL MINNESOTA delight me.

On a recent Saturday afternoon stop in Cannon Falls, population around 4,000, I spotted a John Deere tractor driving through the heart of downtown, wagon in tow. A bride and groom sat on straw bales as the tractor paraded past First Farmers Merchant Bank, Brewsters Bar, antique shops, the side street leading to a winery and brewery, and on down the road.

I love moments like this when I can pause to take in a joyful scene, to smile, to celebrate the happiness of another, to appreciate the rural character of southeastern Minnesota. This is why I live where I live, why I document people and places and events and life in general. It isn’t always the big things that define life, that mean the most. It is the moments of unexpected delight that bring me joy. And if I have my camera in hand, I delight in sharing these snapshots with you. In today’s world, we need more of this—more reasons to pause, to just stand there, to take it all in, to feel moments of joy.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When your kids live far away September 13, 2018

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WHENEVER I HEAR OTHERS talk about family vacations with all of their grown children, I feel a tinge of jealousy. Likewise I struggle at family reunions or holiday get-togethers, when often only my adult kids are missing. I experience sadness at their absence while everyone else is surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

I’m happy for families that have these cherished times together. But I don’t have that. Two of my three adult children live outside of Minnesota—one in the Boston area and the other several hundred miles away in eastern Wisconsin. More than a year has passed since we were all together. Maybe we’ll be together at Christmas. I’m hopeful, but not too hopeful. I’ve learned to hold my hope in check to tamp the disappointment.

Such is life with kids branching across the country. I want my son and second daughter to live where they choose, which, right now, is not Minnesota and likely never will be. I am thankful that my eldest daughter and family remain in Minnesota, just an hour away.

Technology keeps us connected. It helps. But how I’d love, too, to have a week with them. Solo or together. Or a few days. Yeah, I’d be happy with that.

 

TELL ME: If you have adult children and grandchildren living a long distance away, how do you stay connected in creative ways? And how do you handle family gatherings when no one seems to notice that your adult kids are absent?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts for my friend on a notable birthday September 12, 2018

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Smile, even when you’re turning sixty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY FRIEND, I’LL CALL HER JULIE, turns sixty today. I know she’s not particularly excited about that number because, as she says, “It sounds old (compared to 59).”

I remember feeling the same when I reached that landmark birthday. And to think I struggled with turning forty. I wish now that I was only four decades, rather than six-plus decades, old.

But there’s something to be said for this age. And I can summarize that in a single powerful, joyful word: grandma. Julie and I, who have been friends since our kids were in grade school, are both relatively new grandmas. Her grandson is 14 months younger than my almost 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter. We trade stories now about grandchildren and share images of the cute little ones who bring us much happiness.

Julie and I have been through a lot together. Joyful times and difficult times. We listen to one another and trust each other. With anything. What a blessing she has been in my life through rearing children and now into loving grandchildren.

On this her 60th birthday, I want Julie to realize that turning sixty is really not all that bad. Especially when you have a grandchild to spoil and love.

Happy birthday, dear friend! I wish you many more years of joyful living.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling