AS SPRING EASES INTO MINNESOTA, I embrace the transition of seasons in indecisive weather and in the subtle greening of the landscape.
I don’t trust that winter has really, truly, exited. Yet, these early glimpses of spring assure me that the bulk of winter lies behind us.
I saw that in the woods of Falls Creek County Park on Sunday afternoon. Randy and I hiked in this 61-acre park a mile east of Faribault off Minnesota State Highway 60. It’s a relatively unused park, one of the reasons we are drawn here.
Here a dirt hiking path curves along the waterway winding through woods. Access to that path comes via an arched pedestrian bridge. There water rushes over rocks and we always pause to appreciate the soothing sound of rushing water.
And we also always walk to the side of the creek, to examine the water at the bend, before it flows under the bridge. Recent rain left that water muddied. Later we would find the creek flowing clear.
Entering the woods, I determined to photograph signs of spring in the muted landscape. That requires focus. Examples of spring are elusive and seen mostly in vivid green moss carpeting fallen tree trunks.
But I can photograph only so much moss. Thus I expanded my perspective. Nature writes details upon the landscape. Even in a scene of mostly muted browns.
Hillsides of trees rising
and fungi laddering
and dried leaves curling.
And the branches of a tree twisting like antlers.
And felled trees that appear like natural sculptures.
All of these nuances I noticed as we walked, as I stopped to take in my surroundings, as Randy steadied me while I crossed a makeshift branch bridge across a spillway.
There is much to see in this seasonal transition, if only we pause to appreciate. To look. And really see. To hear. And really listen. It’s there. The poetry of wind and water and woods and words.
AS A CREATIVE, I’m biased when it comes to the importance of art in education and in our lives.
Art takes us beyond the functional and necessary basics to a place that feeds our spirits and our souls. That frees our minds.
With canceled concerts, celebrations and theatrical productions, closed arts centers and more during the past pandemic year, we’ve realized just how much we miss, and need, the arts. Or at least I did. I felt especially grateful that Faribault’s weekly outdoor summer concert series continued in 2020. I looked forward to the Thursday evening performances in Central Park where I felt comfortable among socially-distanced attendees. For more than an hour, I could immerse myself in music and relax in the outdoors. And now, with restrictions loosening, access to the arts, in all forms, is slowly returning.
WHEN I STEP OUTSIDE to hang sheets and towels on the clothesline, I feel such gratitude for the arrival of spring in southern Minnesota. Winter gets long in these parts.
I long for sunshine and blue skies and more light than darkness. Birds tweeting. Crocuses unfolding and tulips stretching above the earth. And no more freezing my fingers while hanging laundry in the morning. Early spring brings all of those.
I love hanging laundry outside. The rhythm of pulling items from the laundry basket then clipping and repeating soothes me. The physical task gives pause in my day, reconnects me with generations of women who did the same, connects me to nature via the warmth of the sun and the music of birds.
And then, when I reverse the task in the afternoon and carry the air-dried laundry indoors, I breathe in the scent of nature. The air of spring.
For others, spring signals biking season. And plenty of bikers have been out and about. Some even earlier, in winter.
And the kids, oh, the kids. Taking them outside is so much easier with no snowpants or snowboots to pull on. Randy and I played with our grandkids in the driveway of their home last weekend with Izzy circling on her bike and Isaac jumping, rather than hopping, on chalked hopscotch squares. Then we headed to the neighborhood park with Izzy zooming ahead on her bike and me pushing her brother in the stroller, trying to keep up, but failing. At the playground, we pushed both kids in the swings with Isaac calling for “higher.”
How wonderful this time with our grandkids. To be in the moment. To feel their joy. To watch them soar and climb. To hear them laugh. To experience their delight. I feel blessed in this season of life.
THE ALL AREA STUDENT SHOW rates as one of my annual favorite art exhibits at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. I love viewing the creative efforts of students from elementary age through high school. Their talent always impresses me and this year is no exception.
But the 2021 show, because of the pandemic and mostly distance learning, is scaled back. Way back. Art lines only a section of one hallway rather than multiple hallways and the walls of the second floor gallery.
Not only are fewer pieces of art displayed, but the art, too, reflects the pandemic and distance learning. Students from Bethlehem Academy, for example, drew portraits. Of their masked selves.
I also noticed a lack of copycat art with teachers assigning students to a specific art task and then student after student after student creating the same thing. I observed more creativity and diversity. And I really appreciated that individuality as it allows students to open their artistic wings and soar.
Paradise Center for the Arts Executive Director Heidi Nelson and I briefly discussed my observations. She agreed that distance learning definitely factored into the artwork, noting that some of the art is computer generated/created.
However these students created—whether via a pencil or a brush or a computer or some other method—they share the common denominator of making art. And for that, I feel inspired and grateful.
FYI: The All Area Student Show on the second floor of the PCA continues through April 10. The Paradise Center for the Arts is open from noon – 5 pm Thursday and Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturdays.
The Minneapolis artist creates mixed media paintings in a signature style that appeals to my love of vintage graphics, fonts, old print ads and nostalgia. Kral sources vintage materials from books, magazines, maps and postcards. He then adds colors and texture with spray paint, stencils and ink, according to information on his website. The results are a visual and creative delight.
Faribault residents and natives, particularly, will feel like they are walking down memory lane when viewing “My Hometown.” Kral features primarily Faribault businesses. Like Brand Peony Farms, Fleck’s Beer, King Flour Mills, Farmer Seed & Nursery and Tilt-A-Whirl—all gone. But he also includes art on current businesses like the well-known Faribault Woolen Mill and KDHL radio.
Two locally important early leaders, Chief Taopee and Alexander Faribault, are also included in Kral’s hometown exhibit.
With the historic bend of this show, “My Hometown” seems like a good fit also for a history center/museum, which may draw an entirely different audience. This speaks to the diverse appeal of Kral’s art.
In his bio, Kral shares that he was raised on skateboarding, BMX, heavy metal and art. I see that influence in his art. And I also see his love for Faribault—which I expect comes from leaving his hometown, reflecting and then appreciating the place that grew him as an individual and as an artist.
FYI: The Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue N., Faribault, is open from noon – 5 pm Thursday and Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturdays. While at the Paradise, check out the other gallery exhibits. I will feature some of that art in upcoming posts.
IT WAS THE VIVID COLORS which first caught my eye inside The Grand Artisan Gift Shop in downtown New Ulm. Bold hues flashed, accented by strong lines of color, as if the artist had pulled every crayon from a box of crayons and dashed them across the canvas.
Reagan’s work “offers him a means to illustrate his perspective of the world,” according to a promotional bio I picked up in the gift shop. This young man views life through the lens of autism. He was diagnosed with complex autism as a toddler.
Since 2009, he has created art and is internationally-recognized. I admire Reagan, who rose to the challenges of his autism to express himself and to communicate. Strong colors, simple images and signature “tick marks” (those short dashes of color) define his art. I, for one, am a fan.
The Grand restroom in New Ulm is not artist-themed, but rather an artistic canvas for anyone who steps inside. The lime green walls first caught my eye as I walked past the bathroom. (As a teen, my bedroom was painted a similar lime green.) And then I noticed the chalk art above the tile and thought, what a great idea. Maybe it’s nothing novel for a public bathroom. But it was to me. And, although I didn’t pick up chalk and add to the black canvas, I photographed it. And that, too, is art.
And when I write “small,” I mean “small.” The enclosed box museum measures 31.75 inches wide x 32.75 inches high x 7.5 inches deep. Just enough space for artists, makers, collectors, culture buffs, writers and historians to create a mini exhibit.
I love this concept for its uniqueness and also its public accessibility. Posted outside The Grand, this museum is viewable 24/7. Similar museums, the Hoosesagg Museum (Pants Pocket Museum) and The Smallest Museum in St. Paul, inspired the one in New Ulm. The museum also reminds me of Little Free Libraries.
Local Clay Schuldt curated the first exhibit, “The Stacked Deck,” featuring select playing cards from decks in his long-time collection. His card showcase continues through April 23 and includes a take-home informational sheet explaining his exhibit. For Schuldt, these cards are not just for playing games. He views cards through multiple lenses of art, entertainment, history, storytelling, marketing and more.
This is what I love about creativity. Creatives bring their backgrounds, experiences and individual interpretations into their work. While I considered a deck of cards as just that, a deck of cards, Schuldt views them differently. And now, because of his featured collection and insights, I view cards from a wider perspective.
I look forward to seeing more of these mini exhibits outside The Grand. Creatives, collectors, historians and others are invited to submit museum proposals. You can do that by clicking here and then clicking on the PDF link. Guidelines call for applicants to consider how the proposed exhibit relates to the region, audience engagement and simplicity.
Selected artists receive a $50 stipend for a two-month exhibit.
THE OFFICIAL ARRIVAL OF SPRING today seems reason to celebrate, especially here in Minnesota, the land of long winters. Or, as my California-raised son-in-law once thought, Almost Canada.
From here on, daylight lengthens. And, after this past pandemic year, I’m thankful for the seasonal transition into more sunlight and resulting warmth and melting of snow. That said, this is still March and in Minnesota that likely means more cold and snowy days.
But, as we ease into spring, I feel a sense of renewal. Warm days with temps in the 50s and near 60, like those predicted for this weekend, are freeing, uplifting and promising.
Farmers, I expect, are itching to get into the fields, although it’s way too early for that. I still think like the farm-raised woman I am, connecting seasons to the cycle of planting, growing and harvesting. That will always remain an important part of my identity and continues to influence my writing and photography.
Flash back to 10 years ago and you can read that influence in a poem I penned and submitted to the Roadside Poetry Project. In four lines, each with a 20 character limit, I wrote a spring-themed poem that bannered on four billboards in Fergus Falls. It’s the most unusual spot my poetry has ever published.
Designed “to celebrate the personal pulse of poetry in the landscape,” according to then Project Coordinator Paul Carney, my poem truly fit that mission. I wrote from experience, from a closeness to the land, from a landscape of understanding.
While the Roadside Poetry Project, funded by the Fergus Falls College Foundation, no longer exists, my poem endures in the legacy of my writing. To have written about spring from the perspective of a farmer’s daughter celebrates my rural Minnesota prairie roots. And spring.
AS SOMEONE WHO GREW UP with minimal exposure to the arts, I feel not so much deprived as deeply appreciative of creativity. I consider myself an artist—of images and of words. To write and to photograph, oh, the joy.
I feel gratitude for all the creatives out there who share their talents, whether in published works or performances or art exhibits or whatever in whatever space they choose.
During a brief Saturday afternoon stop in New Ulm, my first must-see destination was The Grand Center for Arts and Culture, housed in a former historic hotel in the heart of downtown. The building itself drew my interest with its appealing signage and lovely architectural details.
A front face plaque summarizes its history. You’ll find such historical info throughout this downtown on plaques, benches and even picnic tables. I appreciate the easy access to history.
Inside the arts center, the first floor features a gift shop brimming with great art and, across the hall, The Grand Kabaret, for entertainment/the performing arts. Downstairs, the basement houses Cellar Press, a letterpress and printmaking studio, which I didn’t see (but must).
A steep flight of stairs leads to 4 Pillars Gallery and studio space on the second floor. The compact gallery, with abundant natural light flowing into the room, feels intimate, inviting, ideal for showcasing art.
Caitlin Lang of Springfield and Sam Matter of New Ulm are the current featured artists in a joint mixed media exhibit, “Intentionally Accidental.” Their show runs through April 3.
What a joy to see the work of these two young artists. Lang specializes in portraits and Matter describes his art as “a small scene from my heart to the viewer.” I love that poetic description.
And I love this center for arts and culture, a must-see in New Ulm.
FYI: The Grand Center for Arts & Cultureis changing its hours starting March 23 and will be open from 11 am – 4 pm Tuesday – Saturday.
Please check back for more photos from the arts center.
FOR THOSE OF YOU who’ve followed my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog for awhile, you understand that I value small towns. They are a favorite destination, an escape of sorts back to my rural prairie roots. To a less-populated place, typically rooted in agriculture.
That said, I recognize that my definition of a “small town” may differ from yours. I view small towns as communities with populations of several thousand or less. I would not, for example, consider my city of Faribault to be small. Others would given its population of around 24,000.
What draws me to small towns, to photograph and write about them, beyond my desire to reconnect with rural places and share my finds?
It’s discovering nuances of character. It’s connecting with people. It’s the architecture and oddities and so much more. Exploring small towns is like taking a basic sentence and enhancing the main subject with adjectives.
Yet, I realize not everyone appreciates language like I do. All too often, small towns are bypassed or driven through—seemingly not a place that would attract visitors. But I am here to tell you they are worth the detour off the interstate, the destination for a day trip, the stopping on Main Street.
Montgomery, Minnesota, for example, is one of my favorite nearby small towns. Why? I love going to Franke’s Bakery, a staple in this community for 100-plus years. The bakery specializes in Czech treats, in this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. Across the street from the bakery, a mural tells the history of this town. Aged buildings line the main business district, with home-grown shops and eateries and bars. The adjectives enhancing the main subject.
The Montgomery Arts and Cultural Heritage Center and Montgomery Brewing also draw me to this Le Sueur County community. And the signs and architecture.
The good folks of Montgomery have branded their community, tapping into their heritage and then building on that to create a place that attracts visitors. I think potential exists in every small town to do the same. And it starts with recognizing the strengths, the uniqueness, of a community. I know that requires time, money and effort. But, oh, the possibilities.
I, for one, love small town bakeries, antique shops, thrift stores, art centers and home-grown cafes with meal offerings that are crafted by hand, not pulled from a freezer and heated. I recently saw a sign for Beef Commercials in New Ulm. I haven’t eaten one—roast beef layered between slices of white bread, topped with a dollop of mashed potatoes and smothered in gravy—for years. Had it been meal time and not a pandemic, I may have stopped to indulge in nostalgia.
Now I know every community can’t tap into heritage like New Ulm and Montgomery. But, each place truly possesses potential to attract visitors. In Ellendale, for example, the award-winning Steve’s Meat Market draws meat lovers. I am partial to Lerberg’s Foods and its worn wooden floor, narrow aisles and aged moose head looming over cans of stacked corn.
I delight in such discoveries. Kitsch. Identity. A strong sense of place and pride. I hope that, by sharing my thoughts and photos, you, too, will view small towns through a lens of appreciation.
TELL ME: Have you discovered a small town that you just love. I’d like to hear.
PLEASE CHECK BACK as I expand on this post with more photos from some of the communities featured here.