Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Jack Frost, southern Minnesota artist-in-residence March 8, 2023

“Branches” (or perhaps “Tendrils”) by Jack Frost. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

DURING ONE OF SOUTHERN MINNESOTA’S recent cold snaps, I pulled out my camera to photograph some particularly intricate art. Not artwork in a public gallery exhibit, but rather art displayed in a private space—my upstairs bedrooms.

I live in a 90+-year-old house, built sometime in the 1930s. Locally, it’s the Swanson house, although Randy and I have owned this 1 ½-story structure since 1984. But it will forever be the home of its former owners.

The canvas for Jack Frost’s art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Although we’ve made many improvements through the decades, including installing a new furnace and central air conditioning that included additional duct work, the upstairs remains notably cold in the winter and hot in the summer. A single heat vent opens to both bedrooms. Updated replacement windows installed some 30 years ago also did little to improve cold weather heat retention on the second floor.

And so Jack Frost finds our second floor vacant bedrooms a welcoming short-term studio in the deep cold of a Minnesota winter. With the three kids long-grown into adulthood and us empty nesters for 11 years now, he can settle in as an artist-in-residence without notice.

When temperatures drop into that frigid category of frostbite warnings, tires crunching on snow and extra blankets layered on the bed, Jack Frost arrives. It’s OK hosting him as a short-term guest, but anything beyond a few days and I’m ready to boot him out.

“Feathers” by Jack Frost. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

He does some creative work on the canvas of cold window panes. Whether he etches or paints or draws or exactly how he crafts his art remains an unknown to unscientific me. But I’m impressed by the primarily nature-themed work he designs.

“Feathered intricacies” by Jack Frost. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

In his last exhibit, Jack Frost incorporated mostly branches, grass stems, water and feathers. They were beautiful in their detailed intricacy, a Frost signature style.

“Prairie Grasses in the Morning Light” by Jack Frost. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

When sunlight shown on the eastern window in the morning, the contrast of light and dark in the artist’s art sharpened. Dazzled, almost.

“Drips” or “Tears,” depending on your mood and perspective. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Yet, even in diminished light, the graininess of some pieces produced more introspective and moody scenes.

Jack Frost has a sense of humor, creating this “I Bet You Wish You Were Here” beach art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Jack Frost’s art installations in my second story home gallery are typically short showings of several days. Just enough time for me to pause and appreciate his work before outdoor temperatures rise, the sun melts his art and he vanishes. Poof. I can’t say I welcome him with open arms because I really don’t like sub-zero temps. But I can appreciate Jack Frost’s art as more than just frost accumulating on energy inefficient windows.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


17 Responses to “Jack Frost, southern Minnesota artist-in-residence”

  1. beth Says:

    I can so identify this, as my house (before I moved to my condo a few years ago), was over 100 years old. my upstairs was exactly as you described yours. I absolutely love that you’ve created beautiful art from what you see created by Mother Nature and Jack Frost. they are quite the team.

  2. Ida Fetterer Says:


  3. What a lovely way to look at frost! ❤

  4. What amazing patterns you’ve captured in these photos! Unfortunately you only get these artistic displays in exchange for cold invading your second floor. We’re thankful that our predecessors in our current house installed new windows before they fled back to the West Coast after 9 months in “too cold Minnesota” – so we’re nicely cozy on both floors (now, if they’d only had time to fix the sewer before they left… 🙄). Anyway, I can’t help but think what winters must have been like for my grandparents and their 7 kids in their farmhouse just east of Bismarck back in the early 1900s – no furnace and single pane windows and bitter cold howling across the prairie. 🥶

    • Your comment has prompted me to dig out my mom’s journals, which she kept for decades. I am paging through her entries from the winter of 1964-1965 and will have a post forthcoming. Your grandparents’ farmhouse is the same as my childhood farmhouse on the prairie. Mom always noted the weather. It’s revealing and interesting, affirming my memories of winters in Redwood County, MN.

  5. Valerie Says:

    What stunning artwork from Jack Frost. Something beautiful from something not so good (inefficient windows.) 😉

  6. Michelle Says:

    These are beautiful. Never in my life. We don’t get that kind of winter.

  7. Absolutely a beautiful and awe inspiring art show! Thanks for sharing it with the world. I can understand why he isn’t a welcome guest but at least he pays you in art!😊

  8. I just loved this post Audrey! Jack Frost is the best, and I really enjoyed his art work and your interpretation of his work! He sometimes visits our kitchen window, but not this year. I appreciate you finding the “beautiful” of winter

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