Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The art of the portrait by southern Minnesota students March 29, 2023

“Bisa Butler-Inspired Collage Portrait” by Ilwad, Lincoln Elementary School fourth grader. Bisa Butler is an award-winning African American textile artist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

WHAT DO YOU NOTICE first in a human face? Perhaps it’s eyes or a smile, or the lack thereof. Or maybe you see the whole without attention to the details that comprise a face. However you view someone on the exterior, it is the interior which holds the essence of a person.

An assortment of student art lines hallways and a room. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

With that thought, I present selected photos of portraits from the All Area Student Art Show at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. The second floor exhibit of art from eight schools continues until April 8.

Another Bisa Butler-inspired portrait collage, this one by Lincoln fourth grader Rain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

If I could, I would sit down with these young artists and ask: “What do you notice first in a human face? Is the essence of this person in the portrait you created? What process did you use to make this portrait?” I am assuredly an inquisitive writer of many questions. I am a listener, an observer, a gatherer of information. I expect answers to my inquiries would vary.

Students from Bethlehem Academy drew these portraits. They are by Martin, left to right, Dania and Mera. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

But one thing is certain. The artists behind the portraits saw a face—whether in a mirror, a photo, his/her imagination, etc. Then their individual perspectives, interpretations, skills factored into creating these portraitures.

Dexk, a senior at Faribault Area Learning Center, painted this watercolor portrait. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

If I study each work of art, I see personality traits emerging in the subjects. Reserved. Joyful. Tentative. Compassionate. Inquisitive. Even especially creative. I could be right. Or I could be wrong in my observations. Faces can reveal a lot, but can also hide a lot.

A portrait by Yarely, Roosevelt fifth grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I recognize that for these young artists, such deep thoughts may not have presented themselves. And that’s OK. Perhaps just the challenge of creating a portrait was enough without the added distraction of introspection.

Roosevelt Elementary School kindergartner Ruweyda created this joyful portrait. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I admire the talent of these student artists ranging from kindergartners to seniors in high school. While I don’t hold any art training, portraits seem particularly difficult to create. They would be for me, unless I captured a portrait with my camera. And even then I don’t claim to be a portrait photographer, except in the journalistic style.

One in a series of developing portraits by Alaina, Faribault Middle School eighth grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)
Portraits anchor a corner, top row, in the student art exhibit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)
“Winter Self-Portrait Mixed Media” by Evelynn, Lincoln Elementary School first grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

When the youth artists in the Faribault art show look at their work and look in the mirror, I hope they see beautiful, creative faces. I hope they see the talent they hold. I hope they understand that they are unique and valued and supported. I hope, too, that creativity continues to be an important part of their lives, a lens through which they can see the world and then share it with others.

A soulful portrait by Grace, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown School eighth grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Art matters. And so do each and every one of these developing young artists. They are our future, wherever their talents take them in this world.

FYI: Paradise gallery hours are noon – 5 pm Wednesday – Friday and 10 am – 2 pm Saturday. This exhibit runs until April 8. Photos were taken with permission of the Paradise. Original copyrights to the art are owned by the individual artists.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


12 Responses to “The art of the portrait by southern Minnesota students”

  1. wow! Some of these young artists are really talented! 🙂

  2. Yarely’s work has an almost Warhol quality to it. That it’s by a fifth grader is amazing. But then they all are given how they’re just getting started with art.

  3. beth Says:

    these are fascinating and I love that they are such a universal thing to draw, regardless of one’s age. I especially love the one with the crown, so much happiness flowing from this one, drawn by an elementary student.

  4. John Kellen Says:

    Another great piece Audrey! Thanks. I’m writing an article as we speak about art and quality of life in rural communities. One of the questions your article brought up is the cultural differences of drawing/painting faces. I had heard that in some traditions, it is frowned upon to create faces? Likewise, as a photographer, I have encountered some cultures that do not want their photograph taken as there is a believe that part of their essence or soul is being taken in doing so. More questions than answers, yet curiosity prevails…

    • Thank you, John. And thank you for writing that piece on art and quality of life in rural communities. I expect you’ve asked many questions as you have worked on this article. You will have to let me know where I can read it and more about this project. I so appreciate your work in the arts from creating to advocating and informing. And, yes, the question about cultural perspectives on portraits is a good one.

  5. Valerie Says:

    Amazing portraits…by young folk…such talent. Thanks for sharing their work. I, too, wouldn’t know where to begin painting a portrait.

  6. Amazing! I always marvel at the artwork of children —- without that type of artistic ability in myself it amazes me how young artists can create such amazing pieces.

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