IN THE HEART OF CZECH COUNTRY, in the small southern Minnesota community of Montgomery, population 3,000, the arts thrive.
That’s a testament to the devotion of those who care about the arts and about preserving Czech culture and heritage in this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. (Kolacky are a Czech pastry.)
In a section of historic Hilltop Hall—yes, appropriately named for its hilltop location in the heart of downtown—the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center centers the arts. I love this place, where I’ve attended theatrical performances and viewed exhibits, most recently vintage photos of western U.S. Native Americans photographed by Edward S. Curtis.
After touring that exhibit, I walked toward the back of the narrow room to the gift shop which features Czech, handcrafted and other goods.
There I also spotted portraits of Masopust kings, young men crowned at the community’s annual Czech Mardi Gras. That celebration is set for noon – 5 p.m. Sunday, February 23, at American Legion Post 79 and includes a costume ball, polka music, silent auction and Czech food.
In April, the Legion hosts an Escape Room Experience fundraiser for the Arts & Heritage Center through Tri-City United Community Ed.
I love how people in small towns work together and support one another. At different times from March into May, the arts center will exhibit the artwork of local elementary, middle and high school students.
The arts center is also honoring Montgomery’s rural-ness with a “Celebration of Farmers and Agriculture” exhibit of art at local businesses from mid-May to the end of October. Work from artists, in any 2D or 3D medium, is being sought with a March 1 registration deadline. To entice entrants, there’s a top prize of $1,000. That’s substantial. Prizes will be awarded during Kolacky Days weekend July 24-26.
As I meandered through the Arts & Heritage Center, I noticed portraits of Kolacky Days queens rimming the room near the ceiling. Jane, volunteering her time to staff the center on the day of my visit, pulled down a group photo of past queens riding together on a Kolacky Days float. She’s of Czech heritage. But she couldn’t translate a posting of Czech words I spotted. Not that I, of German heritage, could translate German words, even if I studied German for six years. I understand.
Jane presented a warm welcome to this exceptional small town Minnesota center for the arts and preservation of the community’s Czech heritage. I encourage you to visit Montgomery. Stop at the Arts & Heritage Center, walk through the main business district, shop the small shops, grab a bite to eat, maybe even a beer at the local brewery. There’s so much to appreciate about Montgomery. (Keep in mind that this is a small town and places are open limited hours.)
This community is the focus of my monthly Through a SoMinn Lens photo essay, publishing soon in Southern Minn Scene magazine.
FYI: The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center is open from 2-5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 a.m. – noon on Saturdays. It is supported primarily by memberships, fundraisers and donations. Visit the center’s Facebook page for more info on events mentioned in this post.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Thank you for highlighting Montgomery. We are planning a visit this week.
That’s great to hear. Just make sure you time your visit when the arts center and other places are open. 🙂
Very interesting way to celebrate a culture. I love that quilt
I appreciate when people embrace their culture as Montgomery does.
Yes, the quilt is lovely and I’m only showing you a portion of it.
It’s nice to see the continued connection to ones ethnic heritage. There is a town in western ND that was started by Czechs in the 1880’s from Hradic Kralove, the town is called New Hradic. My wife’s brother in law is from one of the Czech families, his last name is Ficek. We went to Prague with them some years back, it was fun to see his connection. When Ruth and I moved to Shakopee we saw there was a New Prague here. When we talked to townsfolk there we found out they say the name quite different here. I jokingly said to Ruth “Their not real Czechs” 😉
It’s interesting to read your observation about New Prague, Minnesota. Made me laugh.
Preserving your heritage. Love it! 🙂
I love your blog. I grew up in a small farming community in west central Minnesota, but transplanted to South Dakota in 1973. Tabor, SD celebrates Czech Days in a big way.
Thank you, Karen. And thanks for sharing about Tabor’s Czech Days.
Interesting information on Czeck history embraced by the town with their arts center. Never heard of Kolachy Queens but then St. Paul has Winter carnival queens
The things you learn, huh?