Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What I’m drawn to photograph in rural Minnesota January 7, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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One of my favorite Minnesota barns is this especially well-maintained one along a back county road west of New Ulm.


I FIND MYSELF, all too often in my on-the-road rural photography, focusing primarily on barns. My eyes gravitate toward these agricultural icons that I fear will vanish within the next 50 years, fallen to abandonment and/or replaced by nondescript cookie cutter metal polesheds. That saddens me. But it is the reality of the times, of the decline of the family farm.


Massive polesheds have replaced traditional barns on some farms, including this one along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.


I will continue to photograph these beloved landmarks, symbols of a bygone era of farming. Barns hold personal value to me as a farmer’s daughter. I grew up working in the barn—feeding cows, bedding straw, shoveling manure, lugging pails of still warm milk from cow to bulk tank and much more.


An abandoned farmhouse near Morristown, Minnesota.


A tiny, colorful house in Morristown, Minnesota.


Just blocks away in Morristown, newer homes cluster in a housing development. A tornado hit this area in 2018, destroying and heavily damaging houses.


While documenting these centers of farm life, I’ve mostly neglected to photograph the homes of rural Minnesota. They vary from abandoned houses with broken windows to modern-day structures.


In southwestern Minnesota, an aged farmhouse so familiar to me.


It is the decades-old farmhouses that appeal to me most, no matter their conditions. My childhood home until my early teens was a cramped three-bedroom 1 ½-story house without a bathroom. A hulking oil burning stove in the living room heated the structure. A trap door in the kitchen opened to stairs leading to a dark dirt-floored cellar where salamanders lurked. Mom stashed the bounty of her garden in fruit jars lining plank shelves.


A southwestern Minnesota farmhouse.


I am thankful to have grown up in a minimalist house, in a poor farm family. We may have been poor materialistically. But our family was rich in love. I never realized until I became an adult that I was raised in near poverty. Because of that background, I’ve never needed the most, the best, the newest.


In Kenyon, Minnesota, a brilliant turquoise makes this house stand out.


On recent road trips, I intentionally aimed my camera lens at houses. Both in small towns and in the countryside. These are not just houses. They are homes. Or memories of homes. Worthy of preserving with my camera as part of rural Minnesota history.


A home in the small town of Morristown, Minnesota.



© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “What I’m drawn to photograph in rural Minnesota”

  1. I grew up on a farm that had a beautiful barn. The house was a ranch and not a traditional farmhouse. My grandfather’s farm was also a ranch with no barn. He had a beautiful chicken coop. I remember the gardens the most and the abundance they provided. There is just something about a traditional farmhouse and a red barn that still speaks to me to this day. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  2. Jillian Says:

    I love your photographs of the country. I grew up in a rural suburb of Minneapolis near Anoka, MN. I traveled many many times from there to Fargo, ND to visit family. Driving across the plains looking at the farms and land producing vegetables, farmers working hard to turn the land. I miss those trips. I live in Arizona now as the MN cold it too hard on my arthritis. I miss seeing the farms, the land and living in the quiet. Down here the change has been different. AZ used to be filled with orange groves and cotton farms. The orange groves have disappeared in the mid 2000’s turned into strip malls and apartment complexes for ” new growth in the economy” and often these new developments sit empty and abandoned.
    I often wonder why they destroyed them farms to create new empty buildings that destroyed the landscape. I enjoy all of your pictures of small towns during your travels. It reminds me of home so much and I use them often as point of focus to calm my mind in these busy times in the world.. So thank you for your thoughts and photographs. Please keep them coming!

    • Jillian, your sweet appreciation for my work moves me nearly in tears. Thank you. That my photos can calm your mind is probably the highest compliment I’ve received for my photography. I will definitely keep the photos coming.

      I’m sorry to hear how the landscape has changed in Arizona, a place I’ve never visited. But I can picture in my mind those empty and abandoned buildings. The concrete jungles. Hopefully you can find a natural place that gives you joy.

  3. Dear Audrey,
    Once again your love of rural MN grips my heart!
    Living in Norway is wonderful, too. Yet my MN farm growing up years are an important part of who I am. I love that you refresh my memory!

  4. I love older homes. Your photography of these is lovely. So nice to see this kind of beauty around you!

  5. valeriebollinger Says:

    I, too, love seeing homes…inside and out. This is a great photo essay.

  6. Norma Schmidt. Says:

    Is your childhood home still standing? I have two photos of my grand mothers home where she was born and raised, in Ash Flat Arkansas. I had the privilege to see and go inside several years ago. No one resided in it, and it was very fragile. It was still in the family at that time, so I wasn’t trespassing. It housed many children, as grandma came from a large family. Very small, and unpainted, but I’m sure there was lots of love in it. She was born in the 1860’s. I’ll never forget that old farm house. The pictures are hanging in my present home.

  7. You and I think a lot alike when it comes to capturing “Days-gone-by” I love love love the old barns with stone foundations and old farm houses. The one you grew up in remonds me alot of my grandma’s only you had to enter the dirt floor cellar from outside. I remember the old wood stove and the old crank telephone on her dining room wall. The best part though was the kitchen floor that was not level, oh and her pantry…such a fun old house to remember

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