Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Montgomery: Historic photos of Native Americans by Edward Curtis January 31, 2020

Prints of Edward Curtis photos now exhibited at the Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center.

 

BENEATH PORTRAITS OF KOLACKY DAYS queens, early 1900s era sepia-tone photos stretch along walls and grace tables in the narrow room. Prints of images taken by a man considered one of America’s greatest photographers. Edward S. Curtis.

 

A permanent exhibit of Kolacky Days queen portraits hangs above the temporary exhibit of Edward Curtis photos of Native Americans.

 

A photo of Edward Curtis with info about this noted American photographer.

 

Visitors are welcome to sit and page through Edward Curtis books.

 

Despite his outstanding photographic reputation, Curtis was previously unknown to me. But no more. Recently I visited an exhibit of around 60 selected photos from his “The North American Indian” collection at the Arts and Heritage Center in Montgomery. His entire body of work encompasses 40,000 photos, many published in 20 volumes.

 

Historic Hilltop Hall houses the Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center on the right and a floral and gift shop on the left.

 

To see these photos, termed part of the “most complete visual record of Native Americans west of the Mississippi,” right here in rural Minnesota is such a gift. A $4,000 grant from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation funded the exhibit in Montgomery, a community of some 3,000 just 20 miles northwest of Faribault.

 

Edward Curtis photographed Native Americans of the west over a 30-year period.

 

Displaying Curtis’ photos here brings the photographer full circle back to Le Sueur County. At the age of five, he moved here with his parents from his native Wisconsin, eventually settling in Cordova. Here he grew up to appreciate the outdoors as he canoed with his preacher father along the Cannon River. By age 17, Curtis was working at a photography studio in St. Paul. In 1887, he moved to Seattle.

 

A snippet of a 1906 comment about Edward Curtis by President Theodore Roosevelt.

 

That’s the backstory of a photographer who earned the praise and financial support of President Theodore Roosevelt, who called Curtis a “close observer.” That is evident in the documentary photos of the Native Americans Curtis came to know well and to, clearly, value and love.

 

“Wishham girl,” 1910

 

Text accompanies the “Wishham girl” photo.

 

A portion of the portrait of “Chief Joseph– Nez Perce”, 1903

 

His portraits of western Native Americans document not only a culture, but also history and personalities. As I studied the photos, I admired faces weathered by wind and sun, steady strength in profiles, joy and sadness in eyes. I admired, too, the artistry of woven baskets, handcrafted pottery, curved canoes, feathered headdresses and detailed beadwork.

 

An insightful and beautiful quote by Edward Curtis.

 

I expect if I was to revisit this exhibit, I’d notice details I missed. There’s just so much to see, to take in, to appreciate, to contemplate. A culture. A people. A way of life. A history. A connection to nature.

 

More photos from the exhibit.

 

I am grateful to long-ago photographers like Edward Sheriff Curtis for his efforts in connecting personally with his subjects, for caring and for documenting with his camera. His work is truly remarkable.

 

Info about Edward Curtis included in the show.

 

FYI: “The North American Indian” exhibit at the Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center continues until Saturday, February 29. The arts center is open from 2 – 5 pm Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 am – noon Saturdays and is located at 206 First Street North in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Warming heads, hands & hearts in Faribault January 29, 2020

Photographed just days ago outside The Nook and Cranny, Faribault.

 

OUTSIDE THE FORMER St. Lawrence Church, where parishioners once ascended steps to front doors opening under a banner WELCOME sign, those in need find a warm welcome.

 

 

 

 

A handwritten sign invites them to take whatever they wish to stay warm. A hat. A scarf. Mittens. The winter neck, head and hand wear drapes benches and hangs clipped to clothesline rope.

 

A Little Free Library, left, also sits outside The Nook and Granny gift shop.

 

But this is much more than a give-away by The Nook and Cranny, the boutique/gift shop/craft center housed inside the former church. I view this as an act of kindness, care and compassion extended to my community.

Faribault is not a city of wealth. Rather, we are a primarily blue collar community, home to many immigrants, a place where people work hard and often struggle to make ends meet. But we are also a generous community—supportive of fundraisers, volunteering, giving to charities, helping our neighbors…

 

 

And here, in the deep of winter, one business located along one of Faribault’s busiest streets at 725 Second Avenue Northwest, reaches out, warming heads, hands and hearts. I can’t help but think that St. Lawrence, the patron saint of the poor, would be pleased.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Repeat: Be still January 28, 2020

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I ARRIVED A LITTLE EARLY at church Sunday for the 8 a.m. worship service, giving me extra time to view art, writing and more created by students at Faribault Lutheran School and displayed in celebration of National Lutheran Schools Week.

Once upon a time I was actively involved in that event, in planning an annual Book Fest. But that was decades ago when my kids attended FLS.

So this display offered an opportunity to reconnect, to learn more about students, classes and FLS community service projects.

As I browsed the display, my eyes landed on the art of a first grader. My mouth actually dropped. The young student drew a simple picture illustrating Psalm 46:10. That scripture emerged as “my verse” in recent months, popping up in hymns, on a handcrafted paper angel, on a print in my mom’s care center, in devotions… And now here.

As a woman of faith, I see this not as coincidence, but as God desiring to put those words before me. Words I need to see or hear or speak, to comfort me, to bring me peace, to remind me that God is always with me. In deeply challenging days—of which I’ve experienced many in the past year—I feel uplifted yet again.

TELL ME: Have you experienced a similar repetition of scripture, meaningful quotes or such in a time when you most needed them?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A snapshot of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city January 27, 2020

Wisconsin’s capitol sits atop a hill in the heart of downtown Madison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

MADISON, WISCONSIN, is, if anything, a capital city of vast green spaces. At least that’s my observation after visiting several times. Two of my three adult children now live there. So I’m exploring, getting to know this place that doesn’t feel all that much like a large metro area.

 

Downtown Madison, around the capitol, is one busy place on a Saturday morning during the Farmers’ Market. The way some of the streets come together reminds me of the squares in greater Boston. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I’m comfortable here without skyscrapers defining the cityscape. The lovely domed capitol, set atop a hill, centers the walkable downtown. I’ve been to the Dane County Farmers’ Market there, albeit on a rainy Saturday that didn’t lend itself to lingering. We ducked inside the capitol to avoid the rain.

 

Randy stops to check a photo he took inside the Olbrich Botanical Gardens conservatory. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

Madison edges two lakes. Parks along the lakes and elsewhere make this city feel welcoming to someone like me who prefers open spaces. I’ve already visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens three times.

 

Me, thrilled to see my first Andy Warhol original. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Miranda, December 2019.

 

And last trip here, I toured the massive Chazen Museum of Art where I delighted in Andy Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe. The museum, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, has no admission fee but a donation box.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

But something else grabbed my eye while out and about—a pedestrian with a bicycle wheel strapped to his back. Madison is a bike-friendly place with trails throughout the city. So seeing this should not have surprised me. But, still, it did and caused me to laugh. As a back seat passenger in my daughter’s car, I didn’t have the best spot to get a good photo. But you get the idea.

 

During an October visit, I walked along this recreational/bike trail near my daughter’s home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I love this aspect of Madison, this embracing of bicyclists on a great trail system.

TELL ME: Have you been to Madison? What would you recommend I see next visit? I’ve been to the capitol, dined at several restaurants, patronized a cheese shop, but have yet to visit a brewery.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating William Kent Krueger’s latest bestseller, This Tender Land January 24, 2020

I’VE LONG BEEN A FAN of Minnesota writer William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mystery series and stand-alone book, Ordinary Grace. But now I can add another title to that list. This Tender Land.

Ten days after I picked up the book from Buckham Memorial Library, where I’d been on a waiting list for months to get the 2019 release, I’d finished the novel. And I didn’t start reading it immediately as I had to first finish The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal.

In a nutshell, This Tender Land tells the story of orphaned brothers, Odie and Albert, who are sent to the Lincoln Indian Training School, although they are not Native Americans. Yes, such schools really existed long ago. The school is not so much a school as a prison with cruelty and abuse defining life there.

This fictional book, set primarily in southern Minnesota along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, weaves actual history into the storyline. Much of that history focuses on the mistreatment of native peoples during and following the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862 and how that carried through to subsequent generations. I’m familiar with that history having grown up in Redwood County, at the epicenter (along with Brown County) of that war. Krueger clearly did his research and then took that information and made it personal through characters, scenes and setting.

But this is much more than a historically-based book of fiction. This is a story about family and friends, about searching and discovery, about hope and despair, about love and loss, about cruelty and kindness, about redefining rich and poor, about anger and spirituality and forgiveness and finding one’s self. This book really makes you think as the story twists and turns and all those themes emerge.

At one point, after reading a line on page 288, I cried. When was the last time you cried while reading a book? I cried at 12-year-old Odie’s observation of women who’ve suffered and yet never given up hope, who’ve forgiven… It was a powerful sentence for me personally.

When a book can move me like that, I feel a deep respect for the author, for his talent, for his writing. There’s a reason William Kent Krueger’s books are bestsellers and in demand at libraries. He writes with depth and authenticity in ways that resonate.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memory in flight January 23, 2020

The fighter jet sculpture located at The Owatonna Degner Regional Airport. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

 

SOME MEMORIES REMAIN, decades after the event, forever seared into our minds. But often they stay in the subconscious, surfacing only when triggered by something heard, seen, smelled, tasted, thought.

I hadn’t thought in a long time about the plane. Until I researched the story behind an airplane sculpture at The Owatonna Degner Regional Airport. I photographed the trio of T-38 Talon Thunderbirds while passing by on Interstate 35 as day broke on a recent Sunday morning.

My mind didn’t shift then to the afternoon decades ago when a fighter jet roared over my childhood farm outside Vesta in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota. Rather, my thoughts focused on my mom. We were en route to visit her at a care center in Belview.

But now, weeks later, I sorted through photos taken on that 2.5-hour drive and remembered a summer afternoon in the 1960s. I was outside when the fighter jet flew low and fast over the farmyard, causing me to dive under the B Farmall tractor and the cattle to escape their fence. The sight and sound of that plane terrified me. We seldom saw planes, mostly just the trails of invisible or barely visible slivers of silver jets.

To this day, I don’t know from whence that mystery plane came or why the pilot chose to fly at such a low altitude. I can only speculate that he was on a training mission. And why not conduct that in a sparsely-populated area? Never mind the people or livestock.

That experience resurfaced as I sought out info about the three fighter jets artfully positioned at the Owatonna airport. Initially, they stood outside nearby Heritage Halls Museum, now closed. Museum founder and local businessman and pilot, R.W. “Buzz” Kaplan, led efforts to bring the retired U.S. Air Force jets to the area. Eventually the planes would land permanently at the airport, highly-visible to those traveling along the interstate.

Kaplan, on June 26, 2002, died at this very airport after the plane he was piloting, a replica WW I JN-4D “Jenny” biplane, crashed shortly after take-off. This airport has been the site of several fatal crashes, including one in 2008 which claimed eight lives. I hadn’t thought about that crash either, one of the worst in Minnesota, in a long time.

It’s interesting how the split-second decision to photograph a sculpture of three fighter jets along an interstate can trigger-roll into more than simply an image.

Life is that way. Memories, rising in unexpected moments, connecting to today.

TELL ME: Do you have a long ago memory that sometimes surfaces? I’d like to hear your stories and why that memory remains and others don’t.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learning to listen January 21, 2020

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I took this photo at an outdoor concert in Faribault several years ago. To me, it illustrates the art of genuine listening. The smile on the woman’s face, the tilt of her head, tell me she is actively listening. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

 

YESTERDAY IN MY POST honoring the work of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., I emphasized the importance of listening.

Today, in a blog post published on Warner Press, I also emphasize listening. I wrote this post weeks ago, long before I penned the MLK piece. I encourage you to click here and read “Learning to Listen.” I can’t stress enough the importance of this skill in building and improving relationships, in making this world a better place.

Thank you for listening.

Disclaimer: I am paid for my work as blog coordinator and blogger for Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publishing company.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling