FROM MILAN TO MINNESOTA, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” painting continues to leave its imprint. For more than 500 years, this rendition of Jesus’ final meal with his 12 disciples has held a sacred place among those of the Christian faith, including me.
I’ve attended this long-running monologue of each disciple and their relationship with Christ many times. Although the script and music remain the same, the actors change from year to year. Yet, there’s a consistency in that, too, with many of the men switching parts, perhaps taking a year off. I recognize actors’ surnames like Bauer, Keller, Little, Meyer, Wiegrefe and another Keller (Craig) always at the organ.
There’s a sameness to St. John’s presentation of “The Last Supper.” And that is comforting. The darkening of this 1800s limestone church. The mood-setting music. The disciples processing in to sit at a long table set before the altar. The statue-like poses. The spotlight focus on each disciple. The bold, sometimes heart-wrenching, monologues. The emotion. The pain. Then the spotlight shifting to the empty chair representing Christ.
Even after seeing this drama many times, I pick up something I haven’t in prior viewings. I always exit the sanctuary feeling reflective, emotional, even a bit sad. The tone is set for the beginning of Holy Week, transitioning to Jesus’ crucifixion and then, on Easter, his joyful resurrection.
This tradition at St. John’s is part of this congregation’s history. Part of their faith heritage. And a gift to the greater community. To settle into a pew in this country church and watch the drama unfold is to appreciate da Vinci’s art in a way that touches the soul.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I APPRECIATE ART. All of it. From performing to literary to visual, art inspires me, uplifts me, causes me to pause and think. Art makes me feel joyful. I am so thankful I live in a Minnesota community where art is valued.
The Paradise Center for the Arts centers the arts in Faribault. From theatrical performances to concerts to gallery shows and more, the opportunity to embrace the arts awaits me inside this historic venue. How grateful I am for that.
Recently I toured the All Area Student Art Show, an annual exhibit featuring the art of students from area schools—this year eight. From kindergartners to high school seniors, the talent of these students is beyond impressive. Even more, I love that they are given this opportunity to share their work with the public. I often think how this builds self-confidence and encourages these kids to perhaps pursue art, or, at the least, to value it.
As I slowly walked three hallways where student art lines walls and then entered a room exhibiting more artwork, I pondered what I would photograph. I knew I needed to choose samples from each school. I also wanted a range of ages and art mediums, and also to showcase what spoke to me. Art is, in many ways, deeply personal, whether in creating or viewing.
Granted, this art was mostly guided by teacher assignments. But still, that leaves space for each artist to infuse his/her style into a piece. Copying art is different than creating art. These students create art.
Showing you the art I photographed requires more than one post. I took an excess of images, which tells you something about how much I enjoyed this second floor exhibit. Like an editor edits an author’s writing, I had to go through my photos frame by frame and edit. And then I grouped the photos by theme to make this all manageable.
Today’s post is nature-themed. From vivid butterfly to sun-splashed landscape to subdued bird of prey drawn in charcoal, these artistic renditions of our natural world create a sense of wonderment. What a beautiful world we live in, from garden flower to mountain grandeur. These student artists see that, imagine that, create it.
Being in nature takes me to a place that quiets my spirit, feeds my soul, calms me. It doesn’t take much—the rush of water, a vivid blue sky, the silhouette of a tree branch, a blazing sunset. This nature-themed art offers escape, restoration, a momentary respite from our busy lives. I hope these student artists realize the impact of their creativity.
I hope, too, that these teachers realize how much I value their work in guiding and inspiring their students. Art is as important as any subject in school. I think how art provides not only a way to express creativity but how it also factors into mental health. Just the physical act of using one’s hands can diminish anxiety, ground thoughts, perhaps even spark joy. The benefits are endless from both personal and educational perspectives.
My appreciation for this student art show stretches across a spectrum of gratitude. How thankful I feel for these young artists, for the educators who guide them and for the arts center that values their artwork.
FYI: The All Area Student Art Show will run until April 8 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault. Gallery hours are noon – 5pm Wednesday-Friday and 10 am-2 pm Saturday.
Art was photographed with permission from the Paradise. Individual artists hold original copyrights to their art. Please check back for more posts on this student art show.
THEY’VE HAD A 16-YEAR RUN, “they” being the recycled seats filling the Paradise Center for the Arts theater in historic downtown Faribault. Now it’s time for those seats to take a bow, exit and make way for new seating.
The aged chairs landed here as a donation from Albert Lea High School. The Merlin Players theatrical troupe then recovered and repaired the chairs before the PCA opened in 2007. It was the right decision at the time, financially and otherwise.
Since then, thousands have settled into those orangish chairs, including me. I’ve enjoyed plays, musicals, concerts, comedy shows, speakers and even a viewing of the Kentucky Derby while sitting on those chairs. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried while seated here. After years of use, an upgrade to more comfortable seating for 278 is definitely needed.
When I stopped at the Paradise recently to see the current gallery exhibits, I noticed a model of the new seats in the lobby. Days later, I received a news release from the PCA with more info and then followed up with a few questions.
I like the plan to install chairs with more comfort, strength and durability, but also with an appreciation for the past. The current ornate ends and the numbered arm rests will be kept. That’s important to me given the historic charm of the auditorium and also as someone who believes strongly in reusing/recycling/upcycling.
One especially nice addition will be cup holders, placed between the two seats in front of each guest. That will certainly cut down on accidental spillage which can occur when drinks are set on the floor.
Now efforts are underway to fund this $460/chair or $128,000 project via donations. If you would like to donate, go to the Paradise website and click on “Donate,” then “Support,” then specify “chairs” in designating your donation. Or call 507-332-7372. Donors will be listed on a plaque.
I look forward to settling into one of these comfortable new maroon chairs to enjoy the performing arts in my community, inside the Paradise.
FROM WILD ANIMALS to wildly vivid abstracts, the art of creatives fills four first floor galleries at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. What an array of artwork to infuse color, joy and more into these lingering, colorless days of winter in the season of spring here in southern Minnesota.
The incredible talent showcased in these galleries impresses me. Whether created with a camera, a brush, or with a pencil in a sketchbook, this art shows a passion for the craft.
Only a few days remain to view the current exhibits, which close on Saturday, March 25.
When I stepped inside the main gallery at the Paradise to view the bold acrylic paintings of Twin Cities artist Amanda Webster, I simply stopped. Wow! Her large-scale colorful abstracts jolted me into a happy place.
That I saw Webster’s nature-inspired work on a cold January-like afternoon with a strong, biting wind likely enhanced my reaction. I wanted to walk right into those magical settings and leave this Minnesota winter behind. For an artist’s work to inspire that type of immersive response says something.
I envisioned Webster’s work in a corporate space, filling a business with energy. I envisioned her art in a medical setting, creating a positive, healing energy. I envisioned her art in my home, if only I had higher ceilings and a more modern, than traditional, house.
His abstracts are decidedly different than Webster’s. While still colorful, they are more subdued, more geometric, more defined. At least to my eyes. Everyone views art differently. Nagel’s “Sea Glass” oil painting, especially, felt calming to me. Perhaps it was the mostly blue and green hues. Or maybe the very thought of being seaside was enough to carry me into a tranquil setting of warmth and water lapping against shoreline.
It is the eyes which pulled me in close to view a mini gallery exhibit of art by students in the Paradise’s After School Art Club. The club meets a total of six hours in six sessions with local teaching artists. And what they create impresses. I know I never could have made art like this at their age. Not that I ever had the opportunity to learn. I didn’t.
But these students, oh, how fortunate they are to pursue their creativity alongside professionals. To learn technique, to be encouraged, to create art is such a gift.
Another gift awaits visitors to the Paradise Center for the Arts in the annual second floor All Area Student Art Show, which runs until April 8. That is one of my favorite exhibits because I love seeing what our young people are creating. Their work is remarkable. They inspire me. That show deserves a solo focus, which will be forthcoming.
For now, head to the Paradise by Saturday, March 25, to take in the current art in the first floor galleries. The Paradise, 321 Central Avenue North, is open from noon to 5 pm Wednesday – Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturday.
NOTE: All art was photographed with permission from the Paradise Center for the Arts.This post includes only a sampling of the art featured in the gallery exhibits.
DECIDEDLY NONTROPICAL MINNESOTA seems an unlikely place to find wild or captive flamingos. And it is…with the exception of the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley and Como Park Zoo in St. Paul and their resident flamingos. While those two zoos are not all that far from Faribault, we have our own flock right here. Not real, of course, but fake flamingos, which are good enough for me in the midst of a particularly long and snowy Minnesota winter.
In the storefront window of Fashions on Central, a fashionably-dressed headless mannequin grips the leashes of five plastic flamingos wading in a sea of gauzy fabric. With two fish among them and a starfish to the far left, I recognize this as a tropical scene. Yet my imaginative snowbanked mind drifts to snowdrifts enveloping those warm weather birds.
Enough of that thinking.
I appreciate the creative efforts at Fashions on Central, a women’s clothing store owned and operated by Buckham West. Proceeds from the sales of gently-used clothing, shoes and accessories go directly back to the local senior center. I love this environmentally-friendly mission of recycling donated, used clothing. I’ve shopped here and, in fact, found a like-new gray wool pea coat for a bargain $7. It’s kept me warm for multiple Minnesota winters already.
While I’m not in the market for beach clothes like those worn by the store-front mannequin, I know others may be as they plan spring break vacations. No matter, this tropical scene gives me a visual respite. If I focus hard enough and long enough, I can imagine myself ocean-side, hot sun warming my skin, leis layered around my sweaty neck, fish swimming, flamingos flaunting.
And then, if I walk several blocks south from Fashions on Central to Division Street and aim straight ahead rather than turn right to Buckham West, I can escape, too. Inside Buckham Memorial Library, books set in tropical locations await me. Yes, there’s always a way to flee winter in Minnesota, even when you can’t leave.
DURING ONE OF SOUTHERN MINNESOTA’S recent cold snaps, I pulled out my camera to photograph some particularly intricate art. Not artwork in a public gallery exhibit, but rather art displayed in a private space—my upstairs bedrooms.
I live in a 90+-year-old house, built sometime in the 1930s. Locally, it’s the Swanson house, although Randy and I have owned this 1 ½-story structure since 1984. But it will forever be the home of its former owners.
Although we’ve made many improvements through the decades, including installing a new furnace and central air conditioning that included additional duct work, the upstairs remains notably cold in the winter and hot in the summer. A single heat vent opens to both bedrooms. Updated replacement windows installed some 30 years ago also did little to improve cold weather heat retention on the second floor.
And so Jack Frost finds our second floor vacant bedrooms a welcoming short-term studio in the deep cold of a Minnesota winter. With the three kids long-grown into adulthood and us empty nesters for 11 years now, he can settle in as an artist-in-residence without notice.
When temperatures drop into that frigid category of frostbite warnings, tires crunching on snow and extra blankets layered on the bed, Jack Frost arrives. It’s OK hosting him as a short-term guest, but anything beyond a few days and I’m ready to boot him out.
He does some creative work on the canvas of cold window panes. Whether he etches or paints or draws or exactly how he crafts his art remains an unknown to unscientific me. But I’m impressed by the primarily nature-themed work he designs.
In his last exhibit, Jack Frost incorporated mostly branches, grass stems, water and feathers. They were beautiful in their detailed intricacy, a Frost signature style.
When sunlight shown on the eastern window in the morning, the contrast of light and dark in the artist’s art sharpened. Dazzled, almost.
Yet, even in diminished light, the graininess of some pieces produced more introspective and moody scenes.
Jack Frost’s art installations in my second story home gallery are typically short showings of several days. Just enough time for me to pause and appreciate his work before outdoor temperatures rise, the sun melts his art and he vanishes. Poof. I can’t say I welcome him with open arms because I really don’t like sub-zero temps. But I can appreciate Jack Frost’s art as more than just frost accumulating on energy inefficient windows.
MANY DECADES AGO, in a time when gender roles factored strongly into classes a student could and couldn’t take in high school, I learned to carve a design into a linoleum block for printing. Girls and boys traded classes for two weeks with female students allowed into the male-dominated world of shop class. The guys headed to the home economics kitchens to acquire basic cooking and baking skills.
Oh, how things have changed since I was an early 1970s high school student briefly surrounded by saws and tools and other equipment and carving art into a linoleum block. I don’t recall the design I crafted. But I do remember feeling empowered inside that industrial arts shop, my eyes opened to possibilities that stretched beyond societal limitations.
That admiration remains for this artist who observes the prairie world around her and then creates. I feel comfortably at home with her interpretations of rural southwestern Minnesota. Her depictions of prairie flowers, farm scenes, small towns, even laundry on a clothesline, touch me with that sense of familiarity, that feeling of connection to a place I called home and forever hold dear.
For more than 30 years, Kaufenberg, who has art degrees (from the University of Minnesota and Southwest Minnesota State University), who once worked at a tourism center in extreme southwestern Minnesota (she moved following the 2001 high profile murder of her daughter Carrie Nelson), and who is also a realtor, has specialized in tinted linoleum block prints. She colors her printed designs with watercolors. The results are simply stunning. Bold black stamped ink softened by watercolor.
Granite Falls artist Bradley D. Hall does the same, hand-carving linoleum blocks, then hand-printing the inked block design before hand-coloring with watercolors. I also saw his work inside the Marshall Arts Center. While similar to that of Kaufenberg in its rural themes, Hall’s art features finer black lines. Each artist has developed a certain identifiable style with the same basic art form.
Hall, who left southwestern Minnesota for Chicago and worked there for 20 years in factories, returned to his native Granite Falls in 2002 to open a studio. By then he’d already taken numerous art classes, including at the American Academy of Art in downtown Chicago. Upon his return to Minnesota, Hall connected with letterpress artist Andy Kahmann of A to Z Letterpress in Montevideo and learned the arts of linoleum block carving and printmaking. I love that these creatives shared with, and learned from, one another.
More than 50 years ago, industrial arts teacher Ralph Brown shared his linoleum block print skills with me and a shop full of other teenage girls at Wabasso High School. Those two weeks of hands-on learning inside a place typically reserved for male students proved pivotal. I could see the world beginning to crack open to young women, emerging women who would ink life with their designs, their styles, their strong bold lines.
My one regret is that Randy and I didn’t stay overnight, allowing more time to explore local sites without feeling rushed. Forty years have passed since I visited Marshall en route to the Black Hills on our honeymoon. The college and county seat town lies 20 miles to the west of my hometown, Vesta in Redwood County, and 140 miles from my current home in Faribault.
This area of Minnesota is the place of my roots. My prairie roots. It is the place of wide open space, expansive skies, small towns and endless acres of cropland.
The land where I grew up inspired my blog name, Minnesota Prairie Roots. The name fits me as a person and a creative. The sparseness of the prairie taught me to notice details, to fully engage my senses. To appreciate the landscape and people. The vastness of the flat land and the star-flushed night sky and achingly beautiful sunsets. Here I connected to the land—bare feet upon dirt, bike tires crunching gravel, dirt etched into my hands from working the soil. Here I connected to the people—down-to-earth, hardworking, linked to the land.
Tall grasses are often associated with the prairie. Yet, those grasses were mostly missing from the landscape of my youth as cultivated crops covered the earth. But on our farm site, a sliver of unmown grass grew between granary and grove and gravel driveway, stretching high, stems bending in the wind. That Little House on the Prairie (Walnut Grove is 20 miles from Vesta) space opened summer afternoons to imaginative play. I hold many memories rooted in those tall grasses, in the prairie.
Prairie Roots. That name graces a public art sculpture outside the Red Baron Arena in Marshall. Minneapolis artist Randy Walker was commissioned by the City of Marshall in 2018 to create the sculpture reflecting the prairie landscape. I knew in advance of my September visit that I needed to see this artwork if time allowed. We made time. Walker used 210 painted steel poles to represent tall stems of grass, prairie grass. They are colored in hues of yellow, orange, red and green, reflecting seasonal changes and light.
And in between all those steel stems, prairie grass grows, thrives.
I even spotted a grasshopper on a steel stalk, taking me back decades to the hoards of grasshoppers that amassed and hopped through that patch of uncut grass on the farm.
Walker’s sculpture holds visual appeal against an expansive backdrop sky and open field (when viewing the art from the arena entrance outward). Via that perspective, I see the enduring strength of the prairie, and the immensity of land and sky, this place of my Minnesota prairie roots.
Please check back for more posts about my day trip back to southwestern Minnesota in September 2022.
SIGNS, WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY-CREATED, handcrafted or handwritten, provide insights into a community beyond simply identifying information.
I find myself drawn to signs, especially when exploring small towns. Three months ago my attention focused on signage in downtown Pine Island. This community of nearly 3,900 some 15 miles north of Rochester in Goodhue County provides plenty of signs to catch my interest.
Likewise, I am drawn to the town’s historic architecture.
This was not my first visit to Pine Island. I’ve dined here, picnicked at Trailhead Park, followed the Douglas State Trail a short distance, popped into an antique shop and more. I wonder how often motorists traveling along busy US Highway 52, if they have no connection to the community, pull off the four-lane to explore. Pine Island, along the Zumbro River, is worth a stop, a walk, a close-up look, as are most small towns.
As historical accounts go, the Dakota sheltered here in tipis during the winter months, thick pine boughs protecting their temporary homes from the wind and snow. A stand of pines once stood here, like an island in the prairie. The town’s name comes from the Native word wazuweeta, translated to “Isle of Pines.”
My brief walk through the heart of Pine Island revealed none of that Indigenous history. However, I spotted community pride, diversity, entrepreneurship, compassion and more in signs. Signage says a lot about what people value, about a business community, about communicating in a succinct and eye-catching way.
Some of my favorite finds are handwritten or homemade notes posted in shop windows. I appreciate these messages in our fast-paced, technology-based world. A dash of writing, perhaps added art, combine to create meaningful, connective communication that feels decidedly personal.
My interest in signs traces to my love of words and of associated graphics. Both matter to me. I even make product decisions sometimes based solely on either. In Pine Island I noted the art on Taqueria Let’s Go Tacos signs and how that connects with the restaurant’s heritage and food. The same goes for The Little Hair Salon with comb and scissors graphics on signage.
In another location, I needed to sleuth online to decipher the meaning of I.O.O.F. and three other faded letters, FLT, linked in a link on a dirty window pane. The letters stand for Independent Order of Odd Fellows and their mission of Friendship, Love and Truth.
These are the things I discover in small towns, those places often passed by as people hurry from one destination to the next. Each community is unique. I discover individuality in words and art bannered upon buildings, taped on doors and windows, printed on sandwich boards…
I glimpse a town’s personality through signage as I explore places like Pine Island.