Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Simple, yet powerful: The paper heart March 30, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

IN A WORLD THAT TODAY needs all the love we can give one another, the simple act of cutting out and posting paper hearts in windows is spreading the love. Right here in my Minnesota community.

 

In the window of a house along Second Avenue NW in Faribault.

 

While en route to the grocery store and to a local park to walk a recreational trail on Saturday, I spotted paper hearts. In the front window of a house. On the windows of a bank. And covering doors and windows at Rice County Government Services. Those bright displays made me smile.

 

Hearts cover the doors leading into the Rice County Social Services building in Faribault.

 

I had no idea then that this heart art is part of a movement, spread on social media via “A World of Hearts” and “Hearts in the Window” Facebook pages. A woman from Bismarck, North Dakota, started #aworldofhearts. And another from British Columbia started the second group.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

What a great idea. To uplift spirits. To give joy. To connect people in a time when we are all social distancing and staying home due to COVID-19. To spread the love via a world-wide movement. We need this sense of togetherness.

TELL ME: Have you seen heart art in windows in your community? What’s your reaction to this movement? Are you, or will you, join this effort?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: The art of youth March 6, 2020

A streetscape by Brooklyn, Faribault Lutheran School. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, I tore a sheet from a coloring book, sat down and colored a picture of a butterfly and flowers for my nearly four-year-old granddaughter. Isabelle asked for art, something she can look at when she misses me. She remembered my comment about thinking of her whenever I see her art displayed on my fridge.

As I colored, including Izzy’s favorite purple and pink, I thought of this sweet little girl and how much I love her. And now this art would visually connect us in our absence from one another.

Art is powerful. In this instance, it shows Izzy that I love her, that I am always here for her, even when I’m not.

 

Viewing student art inside the second floor gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This evening marks the opening reception for a favorite annual local art show, Area Student Exhibition, at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault from 5-7 pm. Art created by students from elementary to high school age and from 10 area schools will line hallways and gallery space on the second floor.

The show runs through April 10.

Every single year the work of these young artists impresses me. Part of the credit goes to teachers and parents who guide them. But most of the kudos go to the youth. They are the ones who do the work, although I hope they don’t consider creating art to be work or just some assignment they need to finish. I hope they find joy in the thinking, in the doing, in the creative process.

 

Henry Johnson of Nerstrand Charter School created this vivid work of art. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

For those of us who are artists—and I consider myself one as a writer and a photographer—making art is a passion. I love words and writing, whether a blog post, an essay, a feature story, a poem, a short story or a piece of creative nonfiction. I love using my camera to photograph the world around me. I love telling stories via my images and my words. Creating brings me joy.

Will Izzy create like me some day? Who knows? For now she primarily embraces the performing arts, dancing her way into my heart with her sweetness, her hugs, her “I love you, Grandma,” and the occasional ballet performance.

© Copyright 2020 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

 

A snapshot of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city January 27, 2020

Wisconsin’s capitol sits atop a hill in the heart of downtown Madison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

MADISON, WISCONSIN, is, if anything, a capital city of vast green spaces. At least that’s my observation after visiting several times. Two of my three adult children now live there. So I’m exploring, getting to know this place that doesn’t feel all that much like a large metro area.

 

Downtown Madison, around the capitol, is one busy place on a Saturday morning during the Farmers’ Market. The way some of the streets come together reminds me of the squares in greater Boston. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I’m comfortable here without skyscrapers defining the cityscape. The lovely domed capitol, set atop a hill, centers the walkable downtown. I’ve been to the Dane County Farmers’ Market there, albeit on a rainy Saturday that didn’t lend itself to lingering. We ducked inside the capitol to avoid the rain.

 

Randy stops to check a photo he took inside the Olbrich Botanical Gardens conservatory. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

Madison edges two lakes. Parks along the lakes and elsewhere make this city feel welcoming to someone like me who prefers open spaces. I’ve already visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens three times.

 

Me, thrilled to see my first Andy Warhol original. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Miranda, December 2019.

 

And last trip here, I toured the massive Chazen Museum of Art where I delighted in Andy Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe. The museum, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, has no admission fee but a donation box.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

But something else grabbed my eye while out and about—a pedestrian with a bicycle wheel strapped to his back. Madison is a bike-friendly place with trails throughout the city. So seeing this should not have surprised me. But, still, it did and caused me to laugh. As a back seat passenger in my daughter’s car, I didn’t have the best spot to get a good photo. But you get the idea.

 

During an October visit, I walked along this recreational/bike trail near my daughter’s home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I love this aspect of Madison, this embracing of bicyclists on a great trail system.

TELL ME: Have you been to Madison? What would you recommend I see next visit? I’ve been to the capitol, dined at several restaurants, patronized a cheese shop, but have yet to visit a brewery.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inside an historic Faribault church along Fourth Avenue December 18, 2019

A Christmas star serves as a current focal point inside the sanctuary of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

 

AS A WOMAN OF FAITH, as an appreciator of the arts, as a creative, I hold a fondness for historic churches. That includes Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault, where Hillary Clinton once spoke. I don’t recall the year or reason for her visit, only that my then grade-school-aged daughters, who attended school just blocks away, went to see her. Not for any political reason but because she was the First Lady.

 

The entry to Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

 

Inside the sanctuary of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

 

I remember that bit of history each time I step inside this 1915 church across the street from the Rice County Government Services building. From the exterior, the church appears more courthouse-like than faith center with imposing columns defining the entry. Inside, the sanctuary circles below a dome rather than the expected typical narrow straight-away of churches from that era. Soaring stained glass windows allow in plenty of natural light to offset the dark wood.

 

Just down the street from Fourth Avenue sits the Congregational Church of Faribault, UCC.

 

Sometimes I wonder how many born and raised locals have never stepped inside this lovely space. Faribault has many historic churches, an asset which I think needs more promotion and a deeper appreciation. The history and art, especially in windows like the Tiffany stained glass at the Congregational Church of Faribault, UCC, are local treasures. My church, Trinity Lutheran, and the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour showcase beautiful stained glass also.

 

A seasonal message posted on a hallway wall next to a community bulletin board.

 

But back to Fourth Avenue. After finishing my meal during the annual Community Christmas Dinner there, I walked around the sanctuary, which connects to an educational wing built in 1964.

 

The art of a wiseman.

 

All three wisemen in a corner of the sanctuary.

 

I looked at the Christmas decorations

 

Ready for winter, snow shovels lean against an entry wall.

 

and for nuances that define this as a house of worship in Minnesota.

 

A bulletin board just inside another entry shows a seasonal message and support for Ruth’s House, a local shelter for women.

 

With minimal time, I didn’t poke around as much as I typically do. Still, I photographed enough to show you a glimpse of this house of worship, home to a faith family that always feels warm and welcoming each time I visit.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of the holiday season in downtown Faribault December 11, 2019

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The Holly Days Sale at the Paradise Center for the Arts features a wide variety of handcrafted art like this glass Christmas tree.

 

WHENEVER I SHOP a holiday boutique, a craft fair, a farmers’ market, a local pop-up, a gallery, I’m impressed by the work of creatives. What talent.

 

A sandwich board outside the Paradise promotes two events there last Saturday.

 

I can relate. I understand their passion for the creative process. When I create with images and words, I become fully-engaged in crafting my art. I love what I do.

 

The Winter Wonderland Group Show currently graces a gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

Can you imagine this world without art? I can’t. Not personally or otherwise.

 

A streetscape along Central Avenue shows the restored marquee at the historic Paradise and festive holiday decorations.

 

Sakatah Carvers sculpted this Rudolph ice art during last week’s Winterfest.

 

This mural based on an historic photo of skating on the Straight River hangs on the side of 10,000 Drops Distillery housed in an historic building just off Central Avenue in Faribault.

 

We are blessed here in Faribault to have a thriving arts community and a community which embraces these artists—whether knitters, sculptors, photographers, performers, even those farmers’ market vendors who craft homemade jams and sweet treats. They, too, are artists.

 

The artsy sign promoting a holiday market at 10,000 Drops and Corks & Pints last Saturday.

 

Last Saturday during Faribault’s Winterfest, I perused several creative-focused events with artists vending their wares. Pottery. Jewelry. Paintings. Photographs. Food. And much more.

 

Entrepreneurs Elizabeth and Sophie vending their slime.

 

I met two young sisters from New Prague, Elizabeth and Sophie, selling slime under their brand, Slimey.Unicorns. They’re an ambitious pair who attended a slime convention in Chicago before launching their line earlier this year and selling at farmers’ and other markets. They seem market-savvy with names like You’re a Minty One Mr. Grinch and Egg Nog tagged to mini pots of their homemade slime. I told them I expected to see them on “Shark Tank” some day pitching their product. They looked at me with blank looks.

 

The sisters’ slime.

 

No matter, I congratulated them on their success—the sisters made several sales while I waited to talk to them—and then moved on to view the works of other creatives.

 

This art marks a pop-up shop along Faribault’s Central Avenue.

 

I didn’t purchase anything while on my creative tour in historic downtown Faribault. But plenty of others did, supporting those who are passionate about art. Like me.

FYI: Vendors from the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market will sell at their final market of 2019 from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 21, at the Keepsake Cidery Solstice Market in rural Dundas.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mankato’s emerging massive mural represents diversity & more November 18, 2019

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THE ARTWORK CAUGHT ME by surprise as I looked across the Minnesota River toward the grain towers dominating the riverside skyline in Old Town Mankato.

 

One of many sculptures in Mankato and North Mankato that change yearly as part of the city’s sculpture walk.

 

Yet, the presence of an evolving mural in this arts-centric southern Minnesota city didn’t surprise me. Mankato is a community rich in public art from poetry to sculptures. It is one of the qualities which draws me back to this place where I graduated from college in 1978 with a degree in mass communications and a minor in English.

 

My poem, River Stories, attached to a railing along the Minnesota River Trail. In the background are the Ardent Mills silos and the bridge from which I photographed the in-progress mural.

 

This time I arrived in town to view my latest poem selected as part of The Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Spotting the in-progress mural on the 135-foot high Ardent Mills grain silos was a bonus find. I snapped a few quick frames while crossing the Minnesota River bridge and then while heading onto U.S. Highway 169. Only too late did I notice public viewing areas along the roadway.

 

 

Upon my arrival home, I researched the $250,000 project by Australian artist Guido van Helten. Although specifics of the mural design are elusive, the art will represent diversity and more. I saw that in the image of a young Dakota boy already painted onto the towering canvas. This region holds a rich Native Peoples heritage, making the art particularly powerful.

 

“Forgive Everyone Everything” themes this art in Reconciliation Park. Names of the 38 Dakota who were hung at this site in 1862 are inscribed thereon along with a prayer and a poem.

 

Having grown up some 80 miles to the west, in a region between the Upper and Lower Sioux Indian Communities, I’m aware of the strong Dakota history and also of The U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862. Within blocks of the Ardent Mills silos, Reconciliation Park honors 38 Dakota tried and hung by the U.S. government following that war. The healing continues.

 

 

This latest public art represents so much—history, culture, diversity and a coming together of peoples. And today, more than ever, we need that sense of community, of understanding that no matter our backgrounds or the color of our skin or our history, we are simply people who need one another.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling