Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Montgomery: Featuring the letterpress art of Tin Can Valley Printing February 16, 2022

A promo poster printed by Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

INSIDE AN HISTORIC 1892 BRICK BUILDING in the heart of Minnesota Czech country, a Letterpress Print Show drew me to The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery. The show, continuing until February 26, features the art of Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing Co. in nearby Le Sueur.

The historic Hilltop Hall houses The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery on the right and Posy Floral & Gifts, left. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Inside the center, Kotasek’s prints plaster walls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The artist includes some background info about himself, this sheet focused on his time at The Gaylord Hub. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As a journalist and an art lover especially appreciative of letterpress printing, I delighted in this exhibit of an art now in revival. Not only that, I hold a connection to Kotasek. We both worked at The Gaylord Hub, me as my first newspaper reporting job straight out of college in 1978 and he as an apprentice printer there in 1999. We learned under the mentorship of Jim Deis, then editor and publisher of the generational family-owned newspaper. I’ve never met Kotasek, yet I feel linked via The Hub.

This shows the steps in creating a multi-hued print. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

To view his art is to gain an appreciation for a past printing process. In letterpress printing, movable raised wood or lead letters/type are pieced together in a frame, then secured before inking onto paper via a printing press. That’s a simplistic explanation. If multiple ink colors are required, the process is layered, longer, more labor intensive. Likewise, art carved from linoleum or wood blocks goes through a similar process in creating fine art prints, gig posters and more.

Volunteer JoAnn Petricka with Kotasek’s prints to the left. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

When I entered the narrow room which houses The Arts & Heritage Center in the small southern Minnesota community of Montgomery and saw Kotasek’s letterpress art, memories rushed back. Memories of the strong scent of ink, the clacking of noisy printing presses, scenes of printers Dale and Bucky laboring in stained printers’ aprons, me trying to hear phone conversations with sources. Me pounding out news stories on an aged manual typewriter against the backdrop of all that noise.

Hand-carved blocks were used to create this art titled “Eight-Pointed Star.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

But on this February morning, quiet prevailed as I studied the work of this craftsman, this visual artist. Letterpress is both craft and art.

Kolacky Days queens in framed photos over prints from Tin Can Valley Printing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
One of his specialties is creating posters for musical gigs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Beneath professional portraits of Kolacky Days queens, which ring this room near the ceiling, hang examples of Kotasek’s assorted creations. Gig posters for musical groups (including his own Oxbow Boys band). Fine art prints created with hard-carved blocks. A mix of letterpress and block. And on a shelf, a box of his popular letterpress greeting cards. Another display holds his $10 numbered prints.

A hand-carved block for printing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I feel such an appreciation for Kotasek. His love for the letterpress craft shows in his printing skills, his creativity. To get clear, crisp prints takes patience, practice, time, effort. But before that comes the visualization, the creativity, the ability to bring many elements together in hands-on work.

Type in a tray. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Cans of ink to color his art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Roller and carved blocks to print. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

A tall enclosed cabinet holds some of Kotasek’s tools of the craft. Letters. Rollers. Ink. Wood-cuts. All offer a glimpse into this artist’s world. He’s gathered abandoned, about-to-be-scrapped printing presses and other printing tools from small town newspapers in Minnesota and set up shop in a renovated granary on the family farm just outside Le Sueur. His studio overlooks the valley, home of the Jolly Green Giant associated with Minnesota Valley Canning Company, later Green Giant.

Kotasek has created numerous Green Giant prints. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kotasek pays homage to the vegetable canning company in the name of his printing business, Tin Can Valley Printing. On his website, he offers several explanations, one referencing a farmer who fed discarded canned vegetables to his pigs from damaged cans. As the story goes, the pig farmer tossed those empty tin cans into a ravine. During a massive flood of the Minnesota River Valley in 1965, the cans reportedly floated into town, causing an array of issues. The name Tin Can Valley stuck. I like the historic reference, the memorable moniker.

Featured art includes Jolly Green Giant prints, right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
More food art prints. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
In the corner of my “Niblets of Corn Sign” print. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I found myself drawn to Kotasek’s Green Giant-themed prints. I purchased No. 38 of his 2019 “Niblets Corn Sign” 8 x 10 card stock print. It’s a reproduction of a metal sign that once marked the Green Giant canning factory in Le Sueur. The four-color print, crafted from wood type and hand-carved wood and linoleum blocks, features the legendary Green Giant hefting a massive ear of sweetcorn. The image is iconic rural Minnesota.

This particular poster has an old style newspaper vibe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kotasek represents in many ways the past of newspapers in Minnesota. Early editors printed their papers with letterpress. They also served their communities as print shops. When I worked at The Gaylord Hub, farm auction bills flew off the aged printing presses. Kotasek remembers the endless fundraiser raffle tickets he printed while learning the printing trade.

A poster fitting for the Czech farming community of Montgomery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

If you’re interested in meeting Kotasek, visit The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery, 206 First Street North, between 9 am – noon on Saturday, February 26, during an artist’s reception. The center is open limited hours: from 2-5 pm Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 am-noon on Saturdays. The show closes February 26.

While in Montgomery, be sure to check out the shops (gift, floral, quilt, thrift, drugstore…) and stop at Franke’s Bakery for a sweet treat. You’ll find kolacky there in this self-proclaimed “Kolacky Capital of the World.” The town is also home to Montgomery Brewing and Pizzeria 201 (a popular local eatery with curbside pick-up only currently). I encourage you to check destination hours in advance of a visit to avoid disappointment. Also notice the historic architecture, the photo tributes to veterans and the town mural (across from the bakery). Montgomery rates as one of my favorite area small towns…because of The Arts & Heritage Center and more.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Showcasing the art of Faribault area students in (the) Paradise March 21, 2018

 

ON THE SECOND FLOOR of the Paradise Center for the Arts, along a horseshoe of hallways and inside a classroom space, the artwork of Faribault area students is showcased during a month-long Student Exhibition.

 

Art by Faribault Middle School students.

 

By Zabdy Espinal, Faribault Middle School seventh grader.

 

 

I toured the exhibit recently with camera in hand, admiring the talents of kindergartners through 12th graders.

 

By Faribault Middle School sixth grader Avery Dressen.

 

By Ava Nelson, seventh grader at Faribault Middle School.

 

A potter works down the hallway from art that splashes vivid hues onto a wall.

 

From bold to subdued,

 

By Anzal Abdi of Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

By Ruby H. from Nerstrand Elementary School.

 

By Gracie Molden, Faribault Lutheran School seventh grader.

 

from symbolic to wildly creative, the variety of art in this annual show always impresses me.

 

Each piece of art is tagged with the artist’s name and school.

 

I consider not only the creative minds that drew and painted and shaped these pieces, but the honor of having that work on public view. What an incredible way to encourage young people in pursuing, or simply enjoying, art.

 

Portraits by Lincoln Elementary School third graders Tyrese Monahan, left, and Michael Chappuis, right.

 

 

Art by Cannon River STEM School students, Megan, left to right, Abby and Carrie.

 

Can you imagine the pride Avery or Ava or Tyrese or Anzal or any one of the many students feels when seeing their work, their art, displayed in a community art center?

 

Prince portrait by Jada Fairbanks, senior at Faribault Area Learning Center.

 

These young people are our future. We want them to value art. They are our future graphic designers, our potters, our photographers, our painters, our book illustrators, our patrons of the arts.

 

By Dania Soto, Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

Classroom turned art gallery for the Student Exhibition.

 

Showcased on a window is the art of Faribault Lutheran School first grader Frankie Spicer with other student art in the background.

 

For today, they are our student artists, developing their skills through the guidance and encouragement of teachers and parents. And a community art center that understands and values the creativity of young people.

 

FYI: The Student Exhibition features the works of students from Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Nerstrand Elementary Schools, Faribault Lutheran School, Faribault Middle School, Cannon River STEM School, Faribault Area Learning Center and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind. The show closes on April 14.

Check back for a post on clay artist Layl McDill whose work is showing in the main gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Student art was photographed with permission of the PCA. Artwork is copyrighted by the individual artists.

 

Remembering Pearl Harbor from Minnesota December 7, 2010

MY MOM WAS ONLY nine years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor 69 years ago today.

I asked her about this shortly after 9/11.

She shared how frightened she was because, in her small world and for all she knew, Hawaii was as close as a few towns away from her Minnesota home.

Imagine how terrifying the attack must have been for children, and adults, in a world where communication was not instantaneous.

Rhody Yule wearing his USS Arizona cap.

EVERY DAY THE NUMBER of WW II veterans dwindles. And with the deaths of these former soldiers, a bit of our living history dies too. Some of their stories will never be told for many cannot speak of the horrors of war. Others share their stories only with family members and/or their brothers in arms.

I am fortunate to have met one particular WW II veteran about a year ago. He is 92-year-old Rhody Yule, a truly remarkable man. Rhody, while small in stature, is big in heart. He possesses humbleness, strength of spirit, a sharp mind and gentleness of character that we should all emulate. I cannot say enough good things about my friend.

 

Rhody’s military experience included serving in Nagasaki, Japan, cleaning up after the atomic bomb. He won’t say much about his time there, calling the situation “a mess.” Clearly, he saw more than anyone should ever witness.

I asked Rhody once about the possibility of radiation exposure. He had to do what he had to do, he told me.

I’ve seen photos my soldier-friend brought home from Japan. The utter obliteration of the landscape can only be compared to the most powerful and devastating storm times 100 or maybe 1,000.

Rhody, who is a former sign painter and an artist, created a trio of sketches from his time in Japan. The public will have an opportunity to see those during an upcoming exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

One of Rhody's sketches from Japan during WW II. In the bottom right, you will see an opening into a cave, where Rhody said the Japanese worked on military machining projects.

Another one of the three sketches Rhody did while stationed in Japan during WW II.

I, along with many others, have been working for the past several months to make this show, “A Lifetime of Art, The Rhody Yule Collection,” a reality. The exhibit opens with a reception from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Friday, January 14, and closes on February 26.

In addition to the Nagasaki sketches and many other pieces of art, Rhody is showing a painting he did on a piece of old tent canvas while stationed in Nome, Alaska. He had no other material on which to paint the 1944 circa image of snowplows clearing snow from the military runway. Imagine the history on that piece of canvas, the stories held within the threads of that fabric.

WE ALL HAVE STORIES to tell. Today, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, let us hear the stories of those who remember this day that shall forever live in infamy. And more importantly, let us listen.

Text and photos © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork © Copyright 2010 Rhody Yule

 

Faribault art gallery seeks “Shoe Stories” May 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:11 PM
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HEY, ALL YOU MINNESOTA artists. Here’s your opportunity to get your foot in the door, or at least your shoe in the door, of a southeastern Minnesota art gallery.

The Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault is seeking entries for a juried show featuring artwork related to shoes.

That’s right.

Shoes.

Maybe these shoes, belonging to me, my teenage son and my husband, will inspire you.

Entries must include an image or parts/whole of a shoe or shoes. And, get this—your shoe art must fit inside, and be delivered in, a shoebox.

Deadline to get your “Shoe Stories” in to The Paradise is Tuesday, June 8, 2010. Click here for the rules: http://www.paradisecenterforthearts.org/gallery/

Now, if you’re not from Faribault, you’re likely wondering, what’s with the shoes? This isn’t Grand Rapids, hometown of ruby red slipper tapping Judy Garland.

But the Shaft-Pierce Shoe Factory operated here from 1903 – 1934 and our historic downtown is home to a third-generation family-owned shoe store. That would be Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, which, along with JA Johnson Advisors, is sponsoring the shoe art show. Try saying that three times.

I love Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, an old-fashioned shoe store that caters to customers. Here employees measure your feet, find shoes in your size and slip them onto your feet, check the fit and then when they ring up your purchase, they’ll tie the shoebox with string and add a sucker. Yes, exactly as I remember from my youth.

Burkharztmeyer also repairs shoes and addresses special foot needs.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes is located on Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

As you can tell, I am a bit smitten with this business that speaks to the niceties of yesteryear in today’s fast-paced, self-serve world.

These are my Clarks Shoes, purchased at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. I wear them all the time, as evidenced by their obvious need for a coat of polish.

My 16-year-old, whose feet sweat profusely, was fitted with these breathable shoes at Burkhartzmeyers. He loves them as they keep his feet mostly dry.

Anyway, back to that shoe art show. Entries may be in any artistic medium, but must be prepared for gallery display. Submission by digital images is required. Four prizes will be awarded, including a $100 first place honor. The show runs August 6 – September 25 in the Paradise gallery.

So hop to it, you creative Minnesota types. Box up your magical shoe art and bring, or ship, it to paradise.

Here I am in my kicking-around, well-worn Clarks shoes inherited from my sister Monica, who collects shoes. Maybe these will inspire you.

And last, but certainly not least, my husband's hard-working work shoes. Or, should I say the hard-working husband's work shoes?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes building photo courtesy of Kaylyn Wirz