Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mary Welke’s art reconnects me to my rural roots March 8, 2022

Corn husks define Mary Welke’s mixed media on canvas, “Shucks.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I FELT CONNECTED, oh, so connected to Minneapolis artist Mary Welke’s art as I viewed her exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

The lower portion of “Roots” shadows on the gallery wall. These are dry corn roots. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Welke’s mixed media art is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It resonates with me, reconnecting me to my southwestern Minnesota prairie roots. To the farm. To the land. The place that shaped me as a person, writer and photographer.

Nature inspires Mary Welke as seen in these oversized mixed media art pieces. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

That I experienced such a strong emotional reaction is a credit to this artist, who grew up near the Mississippi River in northeast Minneapolis. Her childhood exploration of river and fields and time with her grandmother in a sprawling vegetable garden instilled an early appreciation of nature, which inspires her art.

“Autumn Yield” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Understanding that background explains how this urban resident came to create “Field and Farmland,” a project funded by a 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. She also did her homework—visiting, researching and documenting the prairie and meeting with farmers. The result is art reflecting the prairie, prescribed burns and farmland restoration.

“Spring/Summer Renewal” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

The incorporation of organic materials like soil, corn roots and leaves, other crop residue and more drew me into Welke’s art. I felt as if I was back on the farm, watching my dad turn the rich black soil toward the sun for spring planting. I felt, too, like I was walking the rows of a harvested corn field, the scent of autumn lingering in the prairie wind.

I didn’t note the title of this art featuring burlap and twine. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
So much texture in “After Harvest” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Corn husks up close in Mary Welke’s “Shucks.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Welke’s art is layered. Textured. It holds not only a visual depth, but a depth of connection to the land, to farming.

Mary Welke’s “Topographical Prairie Lands” scattered across a black surface. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

This is what I love about art. The ability to relate. To stand in a gallery and contemplate. Remember. Appreciate. And, with Welke’s work, especially, to feel rooted in the land.


NOTE: Please check back for more posts on other exhibits currently at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Artists Mary Welke, Kate Langlais, Michael Stoecklein and Summer Heselton will participate in a Visual Artists Talk at 6:30 pm on Thursday, March 10. See the Paradise Center for the Arts Facebook page for more info. The art of all four will be on display at the Paradise through March 19.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


12 Responses to “Mary Welke’s art reconnects me to my rural roots”

  1. beth Says:

    her art is so unique and beautiful

  2. Ruth Says:

    My parents (from Illinois) would have related to this exhibit as you did, Audrey. I remember asking my grandmother on our annual trip “who waters the corn?” She answered, ”Providence.”

  3. Valerie Says:

    This looks like a very interesting art exhibit. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I love it! Farm art, I can connect with that. Loved the three D textures of the pieces you chose to highlight.

  5. Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this it’s remarkable!

  6. Bernadette Arlene Thomasy Says:

    My favorite is the first piece, Shucks, so simple in concept yet so detailed in nature’s work, fashioning each individual shuck. Of course, I did not recognize that beauty when I was shoveling ear corn to the pigs on the farm in the 1950s. Happy to appreciate it now. Thanks for sharing.

    • Bernadette, I figured you might enjoy Mary Welke’s rural-themed art. Like you, I didn’t recognize the beauty right there before me on the farm, in something as basic as an ear or stalk of corn. How time and age and distance change perspectives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.