Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How a small Minnesota town celebrates the arts & its Czech heritage February 4, 2020

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center in small town Minnesota.


IN THE HEART OF CZECH COUNTRY, in the small southern Minnesota community of Montgomery, population 3,000, the arts thrive.


Photographed in the arts center gift shop.


That’s a testament to the devotion of those who care about the arts and about preserving Czech culture and heritage in this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. (Kolacky are a Czech pastry.)


Beautiful Hilltop Hall with the arts center on the right and a floral and gift shop on the left. A performing arts space is located on the second floor.


In a section of historic Hilltop Hall—yes, appropriately named for its hilltop location in the heart of downtown—the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center centers the arts. I love this place, where I’ve attended theatrical performances and viewed exhibits, most recently vintage photos of western U.S. Native Americans photographed by Edward S. Curtis.


The Edward Curtis exhibit in the foreground and the gift shop in the back.


Czech glassware in the gift shop.


After touring that exhibit, I walked toward the back of the narrow room to the gift shop which features Czech, handcrafted and other goods.


Portraits of past Masopust kings in Montgomery.


There I also spotted portraits of Masopust kings, young men crowned at the community’s annual Czech Mardi Gras. That celebration is set for noon – 5 p.m. Sunday, February 23, at American Legion Post 79 and includes a costume ball, polka music, silent auction and Czech food.

In April, the Legion hosts an Escape Room Experience fundraiser for the Arts & Heritage Center through Tri-City United Community Ed.

I love how people in small towns work together and support one another. At different times from March into May, the arts center will exhibit the artwork of local elementary, middle and high school students.

The arts center is also honoring Montgomery’s rural-ness with a “Celebration of Farmers and Agriculture” exhibit of art at local businesses from mid-May to the end of October. Work from artists, in any 2D or 3D medium, is being sought with a March 1 registration deadline. To entice entrants, there’s a top prize of $1,000. That’s substantial. Prizes will be awarded during Kolacky Days weekend July 24-26.


A sampling of Kolacky Days queen portraits.


Jane shows me a group photo of Kolacky Days queens.


Czech words I inquired about.


As I meandered through the Arts & Heritage Center, I noticed portraits of Kolacky Days queens rimming the room near the ceiling. Jane, volunteering her time to staff the center on the day of my visit, pulled down a group photo of past queens riding together on a Kolacky Days float. She’s of Czech heritage. But she couldn’t translate a posting of Czech words I spotted. Not that I, of German heritage, could translate German words, even if I studied German for six years. I understand.


Volunteer Jane stationed near the front door.


Jane presented a warm welcome to this exceptional small town Minnesota center for the arts and preservation of the community’s Czech heritage. I encourage you to visit Montgomery. Stop at the Arts & Heritage Center, walk through the main business district, shop the small shops, grab a bite to eat, maybe even a beer at the local brewery. There’s so much to appreciate about Montgomery. (Keep in mind that this is a small town and places are open limited hours.)


Quilt art honoring Montgomery’s Czech heritage hangs in the gift shop.


This community is the focus of my monthly Through a SoMinn Lens photo essay, publishing soon in Southern Minn Scene magazine.



FYI: The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center is open from 2-5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 a.m. – noon on Saturdays. It is supported primarily by memberships, fundraisers and donations. Visit the center’s Facebook page for more info on events mentioned in this post.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Embracing the arts at a former Carnegie library April 27, 2012

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Crossings at Carnegie, an art center located in Zumbrota sits across the street from Quality Siding and Window Inc. and ACE Hardware and just down the block from the State Theatre and a picturesque white-steepled church.

IT’S TYPICAL Carnegie library with steep front steps and double columns and a gracious, arched doorway fronting a brick building.

But today in Zumbrota (and since 2001), the 1908 Classical Revival style building houses an art center. Crossings at Carnegie, with a gallery and gift shop, with a clay studio and with classes in theater, writing, art and more, and with an array of concerts, centers culture in this southeastern Minnesota community of 3,200.

Colorful yarn wraps a front exterior stairway railing.

Saturday evening I climbed the steps into this privately-owned art center for the first time, into a space that visually overwhelmed me. With elbow-to-elbow people squeezed into the former library and with art crammed everywhere, I admittedly escaped twice—down stairs to the basement and down stairs to the outdoors.

The charming exterior front door leading into Crossings.

An estimated 1,500 visitors walk through the art center doors each month, according to the Crossings website, rating this as one popular spot for shoppers, art lovers, students of the arts and more. Saturday night drew a crowd as Crossings celebrated its 11th annual Poet Artist Collaboration. I was among the 26 participating poets. Click here and here to read two previous blog posts about this event.

I noticed art leaning on the piano as musician Matthew Rivera played the piano at Saturday evening's Poet Artist Collaboration XI gala reception. He also strummed the ukulele later.

In the midst of mingling and weaving and escaping, I tried to notice details like the yarn wrapped around a railing post, the colorful exterior signage, art propped upon the piano, the misspelled sign welcoming dogs…

In the end, I decided to return in the solace of a non-event day to this place which celebrates the arts with such exuberance.

A welcoming misspelled sign on a front window at Crossings.

Vivid colors and outdoor art define Crossings as an art center.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Crossings at Carnegie, 320 East Avenue, Zumbrota.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling