Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on September 11 in photos from NYC, thoughts from Minnesota September 11, 2020

My son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11. He was a third grader in a Christian school and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us.

 

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. The date is forever seared into our memories as the day terrorists targeted the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a jetliner flying over Pennsylvania. When those planes crashed. When those towers fell. When fires raged. When thousands died, we grieved. Individually. And collectively as a nation.

 

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumni, Ann Nelson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

Yet, as a Minnesotan nearly 1,200 miles removed from New York City and D.C. and Pennsylvania, I did not experience the same depth of fear and grief as others much nearer to the target sites or with loved ones lost.

 

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Sure, I remember where I was—at home with my kindergarten age son and another boy in my care. I remember how the boys stacked wooden toy blocks and then crashed toy airplanes into the two towers, copying the scenes played and replayed on television because I could not bring myself to shut off the TV.

I recall, too, the eeriness, the feelings of uncertainty and worry and disbelief.

 

The Faribault firefighters pay special tribute to the fallen New York firefighters on their memorial sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But none of this, none of this second-hand experience, compares to those who lived it and saw it. Like NYC photographer Keith Goldstein, a gifted creative whose work I follow on his blog, Far Earth Below. Keith excels in portrait photography. On the street, not the studio. Real. Everyday life. Raw and emotional and difficult sometimes to view. But honest in every way.

Keith was there on 9/11. He saw the devastation, destruction, death as he headed from his East Village home toward the towers. He found himself unable to photograph the horror unfolding before him. But several years later, as construction began on the Freedom Tower, he lifted his camera to undertake a project, “Looking On, Watching the Building of the Freedom Tower.”

The photos of people watching construction of the tower are signature Keith Goldstein. Honest. Emotional. Real. Every time I view Keith’s work, I wonder how he does it. How does he manage these focused, powerful images without his subjects noticing his presence? It’s a gift, a talent honed from years of experience.

That talent was recognized by Olympus Passion, which published a portion of his “Looking On” project in November 2018. Keith shared that publication on his blog today and I invite you to study his images and read the story he wrote about his 9/11 experiences. I expect you will be as impressed as I am by his work and the insights his photos provide.

I invite you also to continue following Keith’s photo blog. I appreciate how his images show me a world far removed from my Minnesota home. A world much different. Yet, a world I need to see because, even though my life and world are much different than his, we still live in this place called America.

Keith is as kind and decent and caring as they come. We’ve communicated occasionally via email, so I know this to be true. Several years ago he gifted me with a colorful print on aluminum of an immigrant vending t-shirts. My choice of photos. Choosing an image proved challenging. But I wanted a portrait. Signature Keith.

As different as we are, we are connected by our love of photography. And by our desire to share the world we view through our cameras.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My writing publishes in The Talking Stick, Volume 29

Two stories and a poem I wrote just published in the latest The Talking Stick literary anthology.

 

AS A WRITER, getting one’s work published always validates personal creativity.

I’m honored to once again have my writing selected for publication in The Talking Stick literary journal, an annual project of the Park Rapids area based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc.

This year my short story, “Josephine Holding Deloris,” earned honorable mention in creative nonfiction. The story connects a 1 ½-inch square vintage family photo to my life experiences.

 

The beginning of my award-winning story.

 

Nonfiction judge Jill Johnson, author of several books, including Little Minnesota: 100 Towns Around 100, praises my work. “Thank you for sharing your touching story about your grandmother and aunt. You connected the tiny size of the photo to the small moments of life. You allowed the reader a vivid description of mother and daughter and brought the connection full circle. Keep writing!”

My poem, “Final Harvest,” and second piece of creative nonfiction, “A Quick Guide to Practicing Minnesota Nice,” were also chosen for publication in Insights, The Talking Stick, Volume 29.

This year’s book features 139 poems and stories (selected from 300 submissions) by 92 Minnesota-connected writers. My writing has published many times in The Talking Stick and earned multiple honors.

Copies of the latest book and past volumes are available for purchase at jackpinewriters.com. On the back cover of Insights, the editors note, “In the midst of social distancing, in the midst of mask wearing and Plexiglas shields, we are all grieving the changes in our world. But let’s keep one thing the same—you can still curl up with a good book and read. You can open the pages of Talking Stick 29 and see what your fellow Minnesota writers have written, and some how, perhaps, we can all feel a little bit closer.”

I’d encourage you to order a copy of this collection featuring so many talented writers. That includes Bernadette Hondl Thomasy, a native of Owatonna and a reader of this blog. Her “Mother’s Mojo” also earned honorable mention in creative nonfiction. She co-authored the book, Under Minnesota Skies, with her sister Colleen Hondl Gengler. Minnesota, in my opinion, has produced many gifted writers in all genres. And you’ll find a fine sampling of those creatives in Insights, The Talking Stick, Volume 29.

Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A delightful discovery in Madison: Mini gardens in the Atwood Neighborhood September 10, 2020

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Through the twigs I spotted this mini rabbit by a tree in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin.

 

SOMETIMES IT’S THE SMALL THINGS in life that bring the most joy. And that adage can apply to gardening.

 

An apartment complex under construction in the Atwood area of Madison.

 

This view from my son’s apartment balcony shows the bike trail crossing the street and the residences alongside.

 

Inside the restored historic Garver Feed Mill complex, now a gathering spot for food, entertainment and more in the Atwood Neighborhood. This photo was taken from the second floor, in mid-February, pre-COVID. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2020.

 

On a July trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to see family, Randy and I explored a block square residential area near our son’s apartment in the Atwood Neighborhood. This east-side area offers an appealing mix of single family homes, apartments and multi-family housing mingling with home-grown businesses. Add in the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, bike trails and Lake Monona and this part of the city presents an attractive place to live, especially for young professionals.

 

A water feature at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, Wisconsin, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

A pizza place located inside the historic Garver Feed Mill complex, photographed before COVID-19 related restrictions.. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2020.

 

With UW-Madison located in the heart of downtown, you’ll find plenty of statues of Bucky Badger, the university’s mascot. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

Typically, Randy and I would explore Madison with our son, daughter and her husband. The city has much to offer in the arts, architecture, food and beverage scene, and the thriving Dane County Farmers’ Market centered around the state capitol (except now). But, because of COVID-19, we have limited our activities to walking. The daughter also lives next to a recreational trail on the opposite side of the city. Madison seems a model for getting around by foot or on two wheels versus solely by vehicle. Plenty of green space also defines this city.

 

Lilies bloomed in one yard.

 

From our stroll around the block, I observed how residents value their neighborhood. That shows in well-kept homes and yards, with flowers aplenty replacing the typical lawn. I love that concept of filling one’s outdoor space with plants and flowers. It seems more environmentally friendly and artistically inviting than a manicured, chemical-laced lawn.

 

Among vibrant phlox at the base of a tree, a sweet mini garden.

 

Through the Dusty Miller, I spotted a rabbit gardener.

 

In a neighborhood where many homeowners post inclusive, welcoming signs, I found this mini garden with the sign that rabbits are not welcome.

 

While taking in the nuances of the neighborhood, I discovered a sweet surprise in one yard. Mini garden art. Tiny scenes created with miniature figurines. Mostly rabbits. The unexpected find made me giddy.

 

I love how this prairie dropseed grass rolls.

 

When I looked closely, I discovered Mother Goose and family in the spirals of grass next to a rock.

 

Together Randy and I scanned the yard, spotting these magical scenes among spiraling prairie dropseed grass, at the base of trees, upon and next to rocks. For a few moments I immersed myself in finding and then photographing the mini garden art, all the while almost squealing with delight.

 

I love this simple mini garden art.

 

Randy alerted me that the homeowner was watching through a window. I hope he understood, while watching, just how much I appreciated his efforts that brought joy into my summer afternoon.

 

This scene seemed especially fitting given the bike trail just across the street.

 

Sometimes that’s all it takes. A little effort. A little creativity. A little caring about your neighborhood and about others to make a difference.

 

The mini garden scenes in this Atwood Neighborhood yard provide a delightful moment of escape from reality.

 

Especially during a global pandemic.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Please check back for more posts from a more recent trip to Madison.

 

Oh, so excited to see an Oscar Mayer wiener on wheels September 9, 2020

Heading into Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 14, 2020.

 

SO…WE’RE DRIVING along the interstate, entering Madison, Wisconsin, on a mid-July afternoon. Traffic is getting heavier. Drivers are weaving their vehicles in and out of traffic lanes. Trip after trip to this capital city we’ve noticed the increases in speed and aggressive driving as we near Madison.

But this time something other than the traffic chaos diverts our attention. Up ahead I spot a bright yellow vehicle with what looks like a hot dog atop the roof. Could this be…yes, it is, the Wienermobile.

Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener…

Remember that jingle? I expect you do. The catchy words and tune proved memorable, an advertising success in promoting hot dogs.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 14, 2020.

 

On this summer day, one of six Wienermobiles circulating throughout the US is here, perhaps for a stop in Madison or on its way to Milwaukee or even Chicago to the east. I don’t know. But I smile at the sight of this American icon.

 

In Dane County, Wisconsin, location of the state capital, Madison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 14, 2020.

 

The sighting led me to research the 27-foot-long Wienermobile, first created in 1936. That includes one crafted in Madison in 1969, recently restored and now under ownership of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Too big for the Society’s museum, the iconic “Old Number 7” Wienermobile will be displayed outside the downtown Madison museum during special events and also shown elsewhere in the state.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 14, 2020.

 

Up until the closure of the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison in June 2017, that Wienermobile stood outside company headquarters. When Oscar Mayer’s parent company, Kraft, merged with H.J. Heinz Co., corporate restructuring resulted in closure of the Madison facility. A local business staple for more than 100 years as a producer of hot dogs and lunch meat, this was a big loss to the city. The Madison plant at one time employed 4,000 people, but by 2013, only 1,300. Still, that’s a lot of jobs.

But, at least Madison kept its Wienermobile.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

View from my office window September 8, 2020

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ON A RECENT AFTERNOON, I took a visual break from the computer, a mental break from writing, to glance out my office window.

The view isn’t particularly lovely. Lots of parked vehicles in my line of vision. Almost like a car lot, a repair shop, a junkyard.

And then there’s the street itself, a main artery through Faribault, heavy with traffic. The drone of vehicles and wail of sirens assures few moments of peace.

So, when I take a break from work, that is what I see. I often wish my office was located elsewhere in our house, with a view of the wooded hillside that rises to the south and west. But, unless we move the kitchen or demolish the garage and add on, I’m stuck with this spot, this scene.

But, amid all of this, there is a splash of beauty in the flowers that rise right outside my office window. Phlox in white and shades of pink and purple. And hydrangea that anchor each side of the front steps, their massive flowers so beautiful that people occasionally stop to inquire about them. That includes a neighbor, a trucker, and the last person I would think interested in flowers. I’ve promised him hydrangea roots in the spring. Maybe he’ll give me some of his lovely peonies in return.

 

An Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly feeds on my phlox.

 

My perennials provide the nature perspective I need when breaking briefly from work. And, on a recent summer afternoon, those phlox presented even more—three Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies swooping, hovering, landing among the blossoms.

I grabbed my camera, with no intention of hurrying outside to photograph the butterflies. I knew from experience that they would be gone before I grabbed my shoes, flew outside and rounded the house. So I opted to photograph through the screen window, filthy from all the passing traffic.

The results were not sharp images and I deleted most. But one stood out. Soft. Butterfly feeding upon vivid pink blossoms. Poetic. Exquisite. A natural respite from the clutter that typically defines the view from my office window.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering & honoring my hardworking dad this Labor Day September 7, 2020

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern Kletscher, taken in 1980. He died in 2003.

 

MY DAD WORKED HARD. Really hard. He was a farmer, beginning back in the day when farming was incredibly labor intensive. Pitching manure. Throwing hay bales. Milking cows by hand. Cultivating corn. He worked from the rising of the sun to beyond sunset. Hours and hours in the barn. Long days in the field. Few, if any, days off.

 

The milkhouse, attached to the barn on the farm where I grew up just outside of Vesta, MN. I spent a lot of time in these two buildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

It was a life he knew from childhood, as the son of a southwestern Minnesota farmer. Dad quit school after eighth grade to work on his family’s farm in the 1940s. And when he grew into adulthood, he served on the frontlines during the Korean War, then returned to farm just down the road from the home place. There he worked his own land, milked cows and raised (along with my mom) his family of six children.

 

Some of the acreage my dad farmed in Redwood County, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Like my father, I grew up with a strong work ethic rooted in the land. Walking bean fields to pull unwanted weeds. Picking rock. Throwing hay bales into feed bunks for the Holsteins. Carrying buckets of milk replacer to thirsty calves. Climbing up the silo and forking smelly silage down the chute. The work never ended. And the next day we repeated the process.

 

Corn and soybean fields define southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But it was, in many ways, a good life. Time together. Time outdoors. Time to reflect. Time to learn and grow and stretch, just like the corn stretching toward the sky.

 

Growing up on our crop and dairy farm, my eldest brother, Doug, photographed the cows and recorded details about them. My middle brother treasures this compilation of information from our farm. And so do I. Memories… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Working on the farm made me strong and resilient and fostered a sense of independence. I have always been a self-starter, preferring to work on my own. I trace that to the spirit of independence I observed in my farmer dad, who stood up for what he believed. I remember him dumping milk down the drain as the National Farmers Organization aimed to get better prices. I possess a streak of that feistiness, especially when it comes to those who are bullied/oppressed/looked down upon. I do what I can, with the talents I have, to make a positive difference. To uplift and encourage. And to really listen rather than talk.

I always told my dad I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. He didn’t encourage that thought. None of my five siblings farm, although two work in ag-related businesses. It’s a credit to my parents that each of us pursued diverse careers as a partsman (and part owner) at an implement dealership, as a writer and photographer, a florist, CEO of an ethanol plant, teacher and lawyer. That’s a wide range of occupations among siblings. Our parents did not tell us what to do, and for that I shall always be grateful.

 

Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts.

 

We were not a perfect family. Still aren’t. There were, and are, struggles. Financial and other. We were poor as in outhouse poor and no gifts for birthdays poor and wearing hand-me-downs poor and only rice for dinner poor. And only two vacations my entire childhood—one at age four to Duluth and one to the Black Hills at around age 12. Yet, I never felt like we were missing anything. We had enough. Food. Shelter. Clothes. And hardworking parents—for my mom worked equally as hard as my dad—who loved and provided for us.

My parents may not have hugged us or told us they loved us. But they showed their love by their care, their provision, their raising us in the faith. Their efforts, from parenting to farming, were a labor of love. And I shall always feel gratitude for that.

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CLICK HERE TO READ my post, “Many Reasons to Feel Blessed this Labor Day,” published last week on the Warner Press blog.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A fair alternative September 4, 2020

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Photographed on August 29 in the Ace Hardware store parking lot, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

MINNESOTANS LOVE THEIR FAIRS. County and then state. And right about now, crowds would be converging on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights for the final days of the Great Minnesota Get Together.

But not me; I haven’t attended in nearly 40 years. And not anyone at the fair this year due to COVID-19 and the resulting cancellation of this big food/entertainment party.

While the fair features everything from crop art (gone virtual this year) to farm animals, from carnival rides to marketplaces, from politicians (especially this election year) to princesses, the food seems the draw. Anything on-a-stick. And a lot not on a stick.

To satisfy the hungry masses missing fair food, the State Fair this year offered a drive-through Food Parade at the fairgrounds for $20/vehicle plus whatever the cost for the foods ordered from 16 participating vendors. Tickets quickly sold out for the food frenzy event that continues through Labor Day weekend.

While people are waiting in their vehicles for turkey legs, mini donuts, egg rolls on-a-stick, sno cones, walleye cakes, funnel cakes, Sweet Martha’s cookies and much more, I’m content to avoid the congestion.

I know faithful fair food devotees will tell you it’s not the same…but I spotted this food stand in the parking lot of the local Ace Hardware Store on Saturday morning. Cheese curds and pronto pups vended right here in Faribault. No need to travel to the Cities or pay $20 or wait in line at the fairgrounds.

I already hear the protests. “But it’s not the fair!” And that would be accurate. No crowds pressing in. No feeling of togetherness. No endless food choices. Just a taste of the fair, right in my backyard. In hardware store and other parking lots around Minnesota. Streetside. On fairgrounds in Rice and Steele counties during special food events earlier this summer. And even in some restaurants. It may not be the same experience as the State Fair, but, hey, it’s something. Which is better than nothing during a global pandemic.

FYI: To find pop-up fair food stands in Minnesota, visit the Fair Food Finder Facebook page by clicking here.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring Prince in Henderson September 3, 2020

This bronze statue of Prince, crafted by Brodin Studios in Kimball, Minnesota, focuses a Prince Memorial Garden in Henderson, Minnesota.

 

MY CONNECTION TO THE MUSICIAN Prince, of Purple Rain fame, stretches back to my stint as a news reporter for the Owatonna People’s Press. The girlfriend of my then co-worker Roy was an extra in the movie. In a crowd scene, probably, although I’m uncertain. I don’t recall her name, but she was a quiet and beautiful young woman with hair the color of corn silk.

 

The mural (painted by Moises Suriel) and a memorial bench were the first installations in 2018 with the statue added recently. Donations from fans primarily funded the project.

 

Fast forward to 36 years after the release of that 1984 movie and I found myself in Henderson, where a memorable scene from the movie was filmed on the banks of the Minnesota River. I’ve not seen the movie nor am I familiar with Prince’s music, other than “Purple Rain.” Still, I recognize his value as a musician and his worldwide popularity. He’s an important part of Minnesota’s performing arts history and a draw for those who are fans.

 

An overview of the Prince Park in downtown Henderson, located at 522 Main Street/Minnesota State Highway 19 and next to the busy Henderson RoadHaus, a bar, restaurant and event center (and popular with bikers).

 

For those reasons, I wanted to photograph the latest tribute to Prince, a lovely pocket park in the heart of historic downtown Henderson. The park focal point is a life-size bronze statue of Prince set against a backdrop mural. Purple petunias, purple benches, even a purple mailbox (with guestbook inside) frame the garden honoring Prince Rogers Nelson.

 

Up close with Prince, in bronze.

 

On the Saturday afternoon I visited, Joel King, president of Prince Legacy Henderson Project Inc., presided at the site, purple folding chair open on the sidewalk next to his vehicle. He worked as a cameraman for Graffiti Bridge (the sequel to Purple Rain), has a long credit history in filming and now lives in Henderson. He introduced himself as the man behind the Prince memorial and offered plenty of advice on photographing it. Ever the cameraman.

 

Another look at the Prince memorial.

 

I got a few photos; not as many as I wanted. I decided I would do better to return on a day when no one is around, when I can take my time photographing this homegrown Prince Garden, when Henderson isn’t teeming with people…

 

This billboard stands along the northbound lane of Interstate 35 in Faribault, which is about an hour from Henderson. Paisley Park is only a 40-minute drive from Henderson.

 

FYI: This Friday, September 4, The Relief Sessions Summer Concert Series in Burnsville honors Prince during a “Celebrating the Music of Prince! LIVE!” session from 7:30-8:45 pm by Chase & Ovation. The group bills itself as presenting the “World’s Premier Prince Tribute Show.”

TELL ME: Have you heard Chase & Ovation or seen the Prince park in Henderson or toured Prince’s home and studio at Paisley Park?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Take a (story) walk along Central in Faribault September 2, 2020

 

A page from Eric Carle’s book, From Head to Toe, photographed inside a StoryWalk display case.

 

“I can do it!” What an empowering statement, especially for young children. Those four words refrain in an installment of pages from the children’s picture book, From Head to Toe, now posted on street corners in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.

 

Posted next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes and looking down a side street off Central.

 

I love this latest addition to my community as part of a StoryWalk® CENTRAL project coordinated locally by Buckham Memorial Library. The idea is rooted in Vermont and seems to be a trend right now in the library world. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault and the public library in neighboring Northfield are hosting similar story walks.

 

Looking north on Central Avenue, you can see one of the StoryWalk pages posted next to an historic-themed bench.

 

Last week one evening, Randy and I walked Central Avenue with our four-year-old granddaughter, viewing the colorful story crafted by noted author and illustrator Eric Carle. He is perhaps best-known for his children’s picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’ve long been a fan of Carle’s creativity. He understands how to connect with the littlest of people through colorful illustrations and simple, repetitive and engaging language.

 

Historic Central Avenue provides the backdrop for StoryWalk CENTRAL.

 

Bold colors and strong shapes define Carle’s art.

 

The book engages.

 

It took Isabelle a bit to get into From Head to Toe. But when she observed Grandma and Grandpa wriggling their hips like crocodiles, bending their necks like giraffes and stomping their feet like elephants, she joined in. Carle’s book calls for the reader and listener to actively participate in the book by doing the actions associated with each animal. It’s a great way to get kids up and moving. Adults, too.

 

The thoughts behind StoryWalk.

 

And that, according to information posted on one of the 12 signs, is part of the motivation behind the interactive StoryWalk® concept. The book “combines early literacy learning, family engagement and physical activity.” And promotes brain growth and physical health through exercise.

 

The animals lead the action.

 

The book also highlights diversity in the different ethnicities of the children and in the different animals Carle has created in his story. I especially appreciate that in our diverse community of Faribault. Buckham Memorial Library Director Delane James echoes my thoughts, praising From Head to Toe as a book that “resonates with everybody in the community…anyone can enjoy it no matter who they are.” And that means even those who can’t read or whose native language is one other than English. Like me, she calls Carle’s book “empowering.”

There are plans for more, and longer, book installations, all funded by a federal grant and coordinated with multiple city departments, James says. She noted the joint efforts of library, economic development, engineering and public works staff in getting the first StoryWalk® CENTRAL in place. From Head to Toe will remain posted for several months. This will be an ongoing and evolving public art and literacy project with five years worth of books included in the funding. The library buys multiple copies of the featured books, then removes and laminates the pages for posting in the weather-proof display cases.

 

The 12th, and final, story board is located outside the entry to Buckham Memorial Library. This is looking north toward Central Avenue. The final board is designed to get kids and others inside the library, although the library is currently open by appointment only.

 

I appreciate, in this time of a global pandemic, a safe activity I can do with my granddaughter when she’s visiting. Only after we arrived home did Izzy share, “That’s Isaac’s favorite book.” That means we’ll be back on Central with her 20-month-old brother, wriggling our hips, bending our necks, stomping our feet and repeating, “I can do it!”

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Immigrants, Escape Artists &, yes, Elvis in the house September 1, 2020

“Ashley,” portrait by Kate Langlais.

 

“GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM. GO BACK TO MEXICO AND NEVER COME BACK!”

 

A snippet of Ashley’s story, as posted with her portrait.

 

I intentionally capitalized and boldfaced those angry words spoken to a 5-year-old by a “mean girl.” Can you imagine hearing such awful, horrible words directed at you? Yet, they are all too common. If not spoken, then thought.

 

Kate Langlais, painting at a recent concert in Faribault’s Central Park as part of “Art in the Park.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

 

Ashley, the subject in an art exhibit, “I Am Minnesota,” by Faribault portrait artist Kate Langlais, experienced that hatred. She reported the insult to her mom and her principal. I’m thankful she called out the bully, because no one should have to endure such disrespect, especially a kindergartner.

 

“Faysel” up close by Kate Langlais. He fled war in Somalia.

 

And I’m thankful to Kate, the artist, for taking on this project which features portraits of first and second-generation immigrants living in Faribault and their stories. Her portraits are currently exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault through September 12.

 

The title of each portrait is simple. The subject’s name.

 

Kate invites viewers to “recall what they know about their family’s immigration stories.”

 

Parker, four months, the son of an immigrant who arrived here at about the same age. Portrait by Kate Langlais.

 

But she pushes beyond that to prompt thought about problems immigrants must overcome—language barriers, cultural differences, acceptance (or not) by neighbors.

 

An overview of a portion of the Escape Artists exhibit.

 

After viewing Kate’s thought-provoking portraits and accompanying life summaries, I walked over to a larger gallery featuring art by the Escape Artists. Right away, I connected the two. Not because the art is at all alike. But because of the word “escape.” The subjects in Kate’s portraits escaped oppression, war, poverty and more for life in America. The Escape Artists are a group of artist friends who, 30-plus years ago, began escaping together to create art.

 

A section of “On the Ragged Edge” by Theresa Harsma.

 

As I meandered through the gallery, I considered the Escape Artists’ art with the imprint of Kate’s portraits on my mind. For example, Theresa Harsma writes in her artist’s statement for “On the Ragged Edge” of sorting through her collection of found objects and choosing those that seemed to want to be part of the piece. Just like immigrants want to be part of the piece that is America.

 

“1938 Church Wedding” by Linda Van Lear is based on The Holy Innocents Episcopal Church located at the Rice County Fairgrounds/Historical Society Museum Grounds.

 

I expect LInda Van Lear’s painting of “1938 Church Wedding” includes immigrants among wedding guests, probably even in the bridal party.

 

“Lasso the Moon” by Susanne Crane.

 

And I interpreted Susanne Crane’s “Lasso the Moon” as lassoing dreams. Dreams of a better life for those who came to America, including my forefathers, and probably yours.

 

This photo shows part of “Streams of Consciousness, Rivers of Green” by Theresa Harsma.

 

“Maria” by Kate Langlais.

 

Back to artist Theresa Harsma, another work, “Streams of Consciousness, Rivers of Green,” struck me in its connection to one story in “I Am Minnesota.” Three times Maria attempted to cross the river from Mexico into the U.S. The determination, the exhaustion, the despair—they’re all woven into her story. No matter how you feel about immigration issues, at the very core is a human being, now a Minnesotan, with struggles, hopes and dreams.

 

An overview of the Cash-Elvis exhibit.

 

Julie M Fakler created this piece, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” inspired by Elvis’ song.

 

A close-up of Dan Rathburn’s “A Man in Black” (aka Johnny Cash).

 

Once I finished touring the Escape Artists’ exhibit, I shifted my focus to a Johnny Cash and Elvis pop-up show in a small corner gallery. In some ways, these two musicians were escape artists, too, escaping through their music.

 

“Tree of Life with Mother Nature’s Daughters” by Susanne Crane.

 

I love when art, from a divergence of artists, connects. We are all different. Yet alike in our humanity.

 

The Paradise Center for the Arts marquee.

 

FYI: The Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault, is open Thursday-Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. The above exhibits close on September 12.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling