Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating the birthday of Charles M. Schulz November 26, 2022

Peanuts characters adorn the former Kay’s Floral building in downtown Faribault during a 2015 holiday decorating contest. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

IF YOU READ A COMIC STRIP TODAY, November 26, you may notice something different. Something that honors Minneapolis-born cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Cartoonists are celebrating what would have been Schulz’s 100th birthday by incorporating tributes into their comics today. I love this idea. It seems fitting for the Peanuts’ creator who died in 2000.

Generations have followed the antics, trials and stories of the Peanuts characters, 70 strong, since the comic strip debuted in October 1950. The beloved Charlie Brown. Vocal Lucy. Security blanket carrying Linus. Inquisitive Sally. Piano pounding Schroeder. The imaginative Snoopy. The list goes on and on.

When our kids were little, they sprawled across the living room floor on Sunday afternoons aside Randy as he read the funnies to them. I would watch from a corner of the couch, content and smiling as they progressed through the Sunday comics, Peanuts a favorite.

Linus greets visitors to the Dyckman Free Library in Sleepy Eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2015)

Schulz and his cast of characters will always hold a special place in the hearts of Minnesotans. Minneapolis-born, Schulz grew up in neighboring St. Paul. Eventually, he taught at Art Instruction Schools in Minneapolis, where he initially studied art through a correspondence course. There he met Linus Maurer, a native of Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota. Maurer also taught at the school and was a successful syndicated cartoonist, magazine illustrator and painter. And, yes, Schulz honored his friend by naming one of his characters Linus van Pelt, brother of Lucy and best friend of Charlie Brown.

I lived and worked in Sleepy Eye for six months in 1980 as a journalist. Whenever I return to my home region, I typically go through Sleepy Eye, passing by Dyckman Free Library. A statue of Linus clutching his blue blankie and a red heart proclaiming love for Sleepy Eye sits on the library lawn bordering the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway/US Highway 14. Next time I need to stop, see Linus up close, step inside the library if it’s open.

Lucy van Pelt at MSAD. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Here in Faribault, I discovered a statue of Lucy van Pelt while wandering the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus earlier this year. There an over-sized rural-themed Lucy stood outside the entrance to Quinn Hall. It has since been relocated during a renovation and construction project. I don’t know the backstory on how Lucy came to be at MSAD. But I believe she is part of the 2002 “Peanuts on Parade, Looking for Lucy” artistic endeavor.

When I last stopped by the post office for stamps, I picked up a sheet of Peanuts stamps, not realizing at the time why Schulz and his characters were selected for postage stamp publication. I overlooked the “CHARLES M. SCHULZ CENTENNIAL 2022” wordage. But today I’m not overlooking this Minnesota-born creative who brought so much joy, so much insight (yes, insight), so much happiness into the world. Yesterday. And still today, 100 years after his birth.

TELL ME: Who’s your favorite Peanuts character and why?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At Buckham Library: Portraits honor Faribault’s founding fathers November 21, 2022

“Faribault’s Founding Fathers,” Alexander Faribault (left to right), Chief Taopi and Bishop Henry Whipple, painted by Dana Hanson. “Yuonihan” means honor or respect. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022. Art copyrighted by Dana Hanson.)

MY LIBRARY, BUCKHAM MEMORIAL in Faribault, features dozens of art pieces by local artists scattered throughout the building. I’ll admit that I really don’t even notice the art any more in my frequent visits to the library. Like anything, after time, familiarity begets overlooking.

But that all changed recently when I looked across the library to the west by the adult fiction and saw a work of art I hadn’t previously noticed. It’s been there for about a year. Yet, just now, I happened to see Dana Hanson’s original art piece, “Faribault’s Founding Fathers.” I strode across the library toward the high-hanging portrait piece and took pause.

Dana Hanson’s artist statement posted at the 2016 Artgo! art show at Buckham Center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2016)

I first met Dana, who specializes in portraits, in 2015 during Faribault’s summer Concerts in the Park weekly outdoor music series at Central Park. Local artists were invited to paint on-site and Dana was among them. She has since moved away from Faribault.

A close-up of Dana’s “The Native Man, His Eagle & His Chanupa,” an oil painting exhibited in Owatonna in 2018. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

Eventually, her art started showing up in exhibits—at Buckham Center, at the Paradise Center for the Arts and at the Owatonna Arts Center. Her work ranged from faith-inspired to celebrity (like Bob Dylan, Prince and Judy Garland) and Native American portraits and more. In Owatonna, her “Healing the Land” exhibit several years ago focused on the Dakota people.

Up close with Chief Taopi, center, and Bishop Henry Whipple, right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

So when I saw the recently-donated 2019 painting of Faribault’s founding fathers, I was not at all surprised. Dana holds a heart full of gratitude, love and compassion for Indigenous peoples. That shows in her art, including in these portraits of Chief Taopi, a member of the Little Crow Band of the Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe; town founder Alexander Faribault, “friend and protector” of the Dakota; and Bishop Henry Whipple, “Spiritual Father and Humanitarian” and “Advocate for the Native Americans.”

Another example of Dana’s art, MESSENGERS OF HOPE with the horses subtitled, from left to right, “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace.” These were exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2017. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2017.

Indigenous peoples were the original inhabitants of Faribault, of Rice County, a fact now only beginning to be widely-acknowledged and honored. The Wakpekute, part of the Dakota Nation, placed their dead on scaffolding on the hill just up from my house in today’s current-day Wapacuta (sic) Park, a fact I only learned this fall at an historical presentation. Eventually, they were buried in Peace Park, a triangle of land near the library. There’s so much rich local history I am beginning to learn.

“Protector of the 38 + 2,” an oil on canvas by Dana Hanson and previously displayed in Owatonna. Her art honors the 38 Dakota men who were hung in Mankato following the US-Dakota War of 1862. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

Chief Taopi, who centers Dana’s portrait trio, was a leader among his people and a member of a Peace Party during the US-Dakota War of 1862. Eventually he landed in Faribault, living on land owned by founder and fur trader Alexander Faribault. Taopi and the Bishop forged a strong friendship also. The Dakota chief died in 1869 and is buried at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Faribault.

Now, to see these three men honored via a painting in a place of learning, a place of connection, a place where history writes onto pages, reminds me of their importance in my community. In the familiarity of the library and during this, Native American Heritage Month, I need to pause, appreciate and respect those who shaped this place I’ve called home for 40 years.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About recycling, a hard truth & what we can do October 27, 2022

A graphic on a recycling dumpster in Northfield inspires. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

JUST INSIDE OUR GARAGE, a green plastic tote rests on a shelf. It’s located a few quick steps from the kitchen door, providing easy access to our temporary recycling box. Once the box fills, Randy dumps the contents into the official hideous dark-blue-with-bright-yellow-lid plastic recycling bin. Every other week the refuse hauler picks up our recyclables for delivery to the Rice County Recycling Center.

The City of Northfield “Youth Live Green Recycling Team” program aims to get youth involved in recycling corrugated cardboard. Participating groups get monetary funds for monitoring the public recycling containers, keeping the area clean and informing the public about cardboard recycling. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Now I should feel mostly good about that, right? I’m placing milk jugs and other plastics, cans, newspapers, envelopes, an excessive amount of campaign mailings, other paper products and more into recycling. I’m doing my part to keep stuff out of the landfill, to protect the environment.

Rules on a recycling container in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But when it comes to plastic, most of my efforts may be for naught, according to a recent report by the environmental education and awareness group Greenpeace. The nonprofit shared that less than five percent of recycled plastics are made into new products. Why? Simply put, it’s costly to collect and sort the plastics. I’m not surprised by that explanation. Money factors into most business decisions.

Youth and adults painted a mural on Just Food Co-op, Northfield. Among the themes, Mother Earth. Rice County Neighbors United led the grant-funded project. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Yet, I’ll continue to recycle and hope for an environmentally-friendly shift in attitudes on both consumer and corporate levels. We as consumers need to consciously choose non-plastics. I’m as guilty as anyone else in not thinking often enough about what I personally can do to reduce my use of plastics, focusing on reduce before I focus on recycle.

Mother Earth in progress on the Just Food Co-op mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

What am I doing right? This has nothing to do with plastic, but rather with reducing energy use. I either line dry my laundry outdoors or indoors on drying racks, with the exception of sheets and towels in the brutal cold of winter. Come a 40-degree sunny January day, though, and you will find my laundry on the line, snow layering the ground.

Mother Earth a month later. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I also buy used. And I donate or give away—rather than toss—items I no longer need. The boulevard along our busy street has proven an ideal location to give away a swing set, bookcase, headboard, recliner and much more. Recently Randy and I hauled several purple dove tail drawers from a vintage school art table to a downtown shop, Lily of the Valley. The owner sells repurposed furniture, gifts, clothing and more in her boutique and I figured she could use the drawers to display merchandise or come up with some other creative use. We kept the maple top to possibly reuse ourselves.

Then there’s our yard. We live in a city with a compost center, a place to haul leaves and plants that are composted, basically recycled back into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer for flowerbeds and gardens. This time of year we make multiple trips to the compost site to dump off mulched leaves fallen from the single tree on our property and from neighborhood trees. I feel good that we are keeping yard waste out of the landfill. I use some of the leaves as winter mulch for my flowerbeds.

A shopper rolls out her cart of purchases in reusable bags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Sometimes I use cloth tote bags while grocery shopping, but sometimes I don’t. I could do better.

Northfield’s recycling containers are outside two grocery stores. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My efforts may not seem like much in the all of the environment. Yet, I know the recycling, the reusing, the things I do matter. What you do matters. Together we can make a difference by our choices.

TELL ME: Do you recycle? I’d like to hear more about your efforts to protect the environment.

FYI: To read the Greenpeace report on plastic recycling, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So many reasons to value the arts in southern Minnesota & beyond October 26, 2022

“Rain” by Ivan Whillock priced at $3,000 and exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

TO HAVE ACCESS TO THE ARTS, whether visual, literary or performing, here in southern Minnesota is such a gift. The arts enrich our lives, open our minds to new ideas and experiences, feed our souls, entertain us and, for me, also inspire.

As someone who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal exposure to the arts, I especially value galleries, theaters, libraries, and any place that gives me access to creativity. Creating with images and words is my passion and my life’s work. I embrace the work of fellow creatives, who, like me, must create.

Woodcarvings fill the main gallery at the Paradise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Recently, I stopped by the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. The PCA centers the arts in my community with four galleries, theater, music, art classes and more. Here in this space, creatives converge. And we as a community are the better for that. I hope those in neighboring Northfield, Owatonna, Waseca and even small town Montgomery, feel the same gratitude for their arts centers.

“Eileen” by Ivan Whillock, priced at $1,500. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The arts broaden our perspectives, make us think, laugh, cry, ponder… When I write and photograph, I feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment if my work resonates, prompts emotions, stirs interest and more. I expect the artists currently exhibiting at the Paradise feel the same. There is joy in getting art out there into the community, joy in connecting.

Marv Kaisersatt specializes in caricatures such as “Portrait of a Pig,” displayed but not for sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

As I meandered through the Paradise’s current exhibits, I observed incredible talent and variety in the art displayed. Inside the largest gallery, I meandered among woodcarvings by three Faribault artists, two carving for more than 40 years. Ivan Whillock and Marv Kaisersatt, are award-winning long-time carvers, nationally and internationally-recognized. Their work is decidedly different, but their creative skills decidedly the same—excellent. Both are quiet, humble men.

“Wood Spirit” by Chris Whillock, priced at $40. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Chris Whillock, Ivan’s son, is a talented carver in his own right. The pair create at Whillock Studio in Faribault and operate the Whittling Shack, source for woodcarving supplies, their art and more.

The plant-filled installment by Shelley Caldwell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In one of the most unusual installments I’ve ever seen is the art of Shelley Caldwell who lives in rural Faribault County near the Iowa border. Her artistic use of plants to shape art left me standing temporarily immobile, wowed by her imaginative creativity. Peace comes in connecting with nature and I felt that in the scene before me—all that green interspersed with light, air and a sense of movement. Her exhibit also includes mixed media drawings.

Photos of Autumn Carolynn line a gallery wall at the Paradise Center for the Arts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The images of Minneapolis-based travel photographer and writer Autumn Carolynn are displayed in another gallery. Studying the work of other photographers, especially one as talented as Autumn, helps me grow my skills, even if I’m not a world traveler. Her images take me to places I have never seen and never will. She expands my world through her photos and that, too, is an artful purpose.

This is an untitled acrylic and latex on canvas by Bethlehem Academy senior Tyler Hogate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In the final gallery, the art of selected students from Bethlehem Academy in Faribault is highlighted. I never fail to be impressed by the talent of these young people. I feel gratitude to their teachers, the PCA and others who support them in their creative pursuits. Now, more than ever, students need the arts as an outlet, a way to express themselves, a way to connect.

This shows a snippet of Ivan Whillock’s “He’s Late,” priced at $6,000. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

And now, more than ever in these unsettled times, we as a community, a state, a country, a world, need the arts.

FYI: The exhibit by artists featured here continues until November 12.

TELL ME: What do you appreciate about the arts?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fish art along the Mississippi in Monticello October 20, 2022

The Mississippi River in Monticello, MN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

ALMOST ON A DAILY BASIS now I hear and read media reports about the Mississippi River, reportedly at its lowest level in a decade. Lack of rain led to this situation which is now causing shipping problems, concerns about drinking water supplies and issues with salt water creeping into the river.

Fish art along the Mississippi in Monticello. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I need only look at lakes, rivers, streams and creeks in southern Minnesota to see how drought is affecting our waterways. Dry creek beds, exposed rock, clearly low water levels raise my concern.

Arrows on the public art list locations along the Mississippi. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Some 270 miles to the north of Faribault in Itasca State Park, the Mississippi River begins. Like most Minnesotans, I’ve walked across the headwaters. The Mississippi starts as a narrow, knee-deep river that widens and deepens and flows 694 miles through Minnesota. It passes through communities like Bemidji (at its northern-most point), Brainerd, Little Falls, St. Cloud, Minneapolis, Hastings and many towns and cities in between before spilling into Iowa on its 2,350-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

These lovely homes are next to the park by the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Recently, on a return trip home from a family member’s lake cabin in the Brainerd Lakes area, Randy and I stopped for a picnic lunch at West Bridge Park in Monticello. On the northwest edge of the Twin Cities metro, this community hugs the Mississippi. The park, just off State Highway 25 by the river bridge, is easily accessible, but noisy with the steady drone of traffic.

Community members designed and painted the individual fish for this project. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The creativity in these fish is unique, a reflection of the community. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Another version of funky fish from community creators. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Yet, even if not peaceful, the park is worth visiting. I discovered here a MontiArts Community Project, “The Funky Fish Sign.” Wooden fish cut-outs painted by community members are attached to the trunk of a dead oak as are wooden arrows crafted from old park benches. Those arrows list destinations and river miles from Monticello. To Lake Itasca, 443 river miles. To St. Paul, 43 river miles. To New Orleans, 1,776 river miles.

Public art posted on a dead oak removed from a local cemetery and “replanted” along the Mississippi River bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This riverside fish tree meets MontiArts’ goal of “using the arts to build community.” This truly was a community project with residents, interns and city employees working together to create public art that connects Monticello to the Mississippi from beginning to end.

I especially like the buffalo plaid on this fish. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But this is about more than a river and geography. In an online video about the project, I learned that the variety in the painted fish represents the differences in people. We are each unique.

From afar, “The Funky Fish Sign” blends into the riverside landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As individual as we are, though, we are collectively all residents of Earth. We are tasked with caring for natural resources like water, like the mighty Mississippi. This beautiful, scenic, powerful waterway is vital to our economy, vital to our water supply, vital to our leisure, our enjoyment, and, in Monticello, to connecting creativity and community.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on harvest from fields to art October 13, 2022

Harvesting, left, in a field along a gravel road near Dundas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

DUST HANGS OVER THE LANDSCAPE like smoke. Hazy. The air dirty with debris kicked up by combines sweeping across corn and soybean fields in southern Minnesota. Harvest is well underway here as farmers bring in the season’s crops.

Trucks haul harvested crops from fields to bins and/or grain elevators. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

From back country gravel roads to the interstate, I’ve witnessed this scene unfolding before me in recent weeks. Combines chomping. Harvested corn and beans spilling into grain trucks.

Harvesting beans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

Farmers work all hours of the day and night in the rush to finish gathering crops before winter arrives. In the dark of night, bright headlights spotlight fields. In daylight, sunlight filters through clouds of dust.

A grain truck pulls into a farmer’s grain drying and storage complex. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Harvest is part of my DNA by having been raised on a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farm. Decades removed from the land, I still take notice of the harvest. The smell. The hues. The hurry. I understand this season in rural Minnesota.

“Harvest” by Raymond Jacobson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In nearby Northfield, I recently happened upon a bronze sculpture, “Harvest,” which had gone unnoticed by me. It’s been there since 2008 at Sesquicentennial Legacy Plaza along the Cannon River, near the post office, near Bridge Square. In all my visits to Northfield, to the Riverwalk area, I missed this public art created by Raymond Jacobson.

Close-up details of the wheat incorporated into “Harvest.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The historic Ames Mill along the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

An interpretation of a stone grist mill for grinding wheat into flour is included in the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

It’s beautiful, fitting for a community rooted in agriculture. The 3,000-pound sculpture symbolizes Northfield’s heritage of wheat farming and milling. Just across the river sits the Ames Mill, where the gristmill in the late 1860s produced 150 barrels of wheat daily.

Malt-O-Meal was a major funder for the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In 1927, John Campbell of the Campbell Cereal Company took over the mill and began producing Malt-O-Meal hot cereal. Today Post Consumer Brands owns the mill and still makes that hot cereal. Dry cereal is manufactured at a nearby production facility. Many days the scent of cereal wafts over Northfield.

Harvested wheat and a plowed field cast into bronze. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

All of this—the smell of cereal, the “Harvest” sculpture, the historic Ames Mill—reminds me of the importance of agriculture in our region. It reminds me, too, of my rural roots. I am grateful for my farm upbringing. I am grateful, too, for those who today plant, tend and harvest crops. They are essential to our economy, feeding the world, providing raw product.

Wheat stalk details on an informational plaque which is nearly impossible to read due to weathering of the writing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

That this season of harvest is honored in a “Harvest” sculpture shows a deep appreciation for history, heritage and agriculture in Northfield. The public art gives me pause to reflect on inspiration in creativity. Today I celebrate the artistic interpretation of harvest displayed along the banks of the Cannon River.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault celebrates community on the first day of October October 2, 2022

Plenty of people turned out to sample chili in downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

DOWNTOWN FARIBAULT PROVED a busy place Saturday afternoon. It was good to see people out and about on a sun mixed with clouds kind of first day of October.

Some chili makers got creative with their serving stations. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Serving up “MARVEL-ous chili. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

MARVEL characters guard the chili. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The Faribault Main Street Chili Cook-off drew me downtown to sample chili served outdoors in front of nonprofits and businesses and even on a street corner. For me the event was as much about socializing as tasting chili.

Chili servers get in the Halloween spirit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Food always brings community together. And the cook-off effectively does that. I saw people I haven’t seen in a long time. Staying connected matters to me.

Mayor Kevin Voracek flanked by city councilmen Peter Van Sluis, left, and Royal Ross converse and serve chili. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Even the mayor made and served chili with city council members assisting. I appreciate their community involvement, this everyday kind of interacting. As I spooned the mayor’s chili, a woman praised the naming of a new city park as Fleckenstein Bluffs in honor of a long ago brewery. Hearing her positive comment encouraged me as I expect it did our elected officials.

An out-of-town team works on finding answers to clues during a scavenger hunt in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The all-around vibe along and off Faribault’s Central Avenue on Saturday felt positive, welcoming, inviting. When I observed groups of people in matching tees and carrying clipboards, I finally asked what they were doing. They were part of an invitation-only scavenger hunt, HÖDAG, through southern Minnesota. I welcomed them to Faribault and invited them to return and spend more time in our city.

Serving chili with a smile. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

I’m a firm believer in making others feel welcome with a smile, friendly words and encouragement to return to Faribault.

Tami Resler’s art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)
Johnnie Walker’s pottery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Pet portraits by Julie Fakler. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

After eating and greeting, I headed to the Paradise Center for the Arts and the annual South Central Minnesota Studio ARTour. There I not only viewed the work of six talented artists, but also got some camera first aid from Johnnie Walker, a photographer and potter. While at the Paradise, my zoom lens locked and Johnnie, who teaches photography at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, offered to take a look. He couldn’t fix the sticky lens problem, but he semi-eased my mind and promised to reconnect with me about getting a different lens. I tend to panic if anything goes wrong with my camera gear given my limited knowledge of equipment. Johnnie’s kindness reaffirms for me that there are good, kind people in this world.

Spotted on the windshield of a jeep, identifying the owner as a scavenger hunt participant. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The events in downtown Faribault on Saturday brought a whole lot of people together. To serve and sample chili. To converse and explore. To follow clues in a scavenger hunt. To showcase and appreciate art. But, mostly, to connect, to build a sense of, and an appreciation of, community. And that is how, from my perspective, the first day of October unfolded in historic downtown Faribault.

Outside the entrance to the Paradise Center for the Arts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

FYI: The South Central Studio ARTour continues from 10 am – 5 pm Sunday, October 2, featuring 35 artists at 18 studios in Faribault, Northfield, Nerstrand and Farmington.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting, celebrating & more at Valley Grove Country Social September 21, 2022

Vehicles line the gravel driveway leading to the hilltop Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand, during the September 18 Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A COUNTRY SOCIAL EVOKES an essence of history, of community celebration, of activities that hearken to a bygone era. The Valley Grove Country Social held on Sunday afternoon high atop a hill near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park fits that and beyond. This site, the location of two historic churches and an adjoining cemetery, marks one of my favorite places in rural Rice County for its history, natural beauty and peace.

Inside the stone church, now used for fellowship, folks grab refreshments, converse and view historical information and art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Among the newest additions to the stone church are four tapestries woven by Minneapolis artist Robbie LaFleur and reflective of Valley Grove. This one is titled “Pastor Quammen Skis between Parishes.” He was the longest serving pastor at the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A vintage buggy adds another historic aspect to the Valley Grove Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On this September afternoon, I delighted in an event that brings people together to celebrate Norwegian heritage and history, people and place, stories past and present, the arts, and, oh, so much more.

Bouquets and vintage photos edge window sills in the oldest church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An organist and violinist play during a recital in the newer church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Horse-drawn wagon rides onto the prairie drew many passengers throughout the afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Grinding corn as part of the hands-on learning opportunities. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Northfield artist David Allen brought his brushes, watercolors and paper to paint on-site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

From garden and prairie flowers tucked into Mason jars set atop window sills in the 1862 stone church to a recital inside the 1894 church to horse-drawn wagon rides to kids grinding corn to an artist painting, the scope of activities proved broad. There was something for everyone from the youngest to the eldest. Generations mingled, connected. One taught, the other learned.

From cemetery’s edge, the open prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Rope making, a nod to Valley Grove’s agrarian roots, was part of the Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
All ages were drawn to these two goats. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

To observe, to converse, to listen, to feel, to experience all of this imprints upon my soul gratitude for those who know this place, this Valley Grove, is worth preserving and sharing. Although I hold no personal connection here, I feel connected. It is my faith, my love of the land, especially the surrounding prairie and farmland, and the quiet of this remote rural location which cause me to feel comfortably at home, at peace.

One of David Allen’s paintings of Valley Grove. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

If you’ve never visited Valley Grove and live near enough to tour, then do. I’ve been here many times to walk the cemetery and grounds, to hike through the prairie, even once sitting on the front steps of the wooden church for a picnic lunch. The churches are locked when not open for events or special services like a wedding or Christmas Eve worship.

A musician performs with the group Hutenanny under the oak trees in the cemetery.

Still, whether inside or outside the two churches, a sense of the past prevails. Gravestone after gravestone bears the names of Norwegian immigrants and their descendants. Study the markers and stories begin to emerge, whether real or imagined. I can only imagine the joys and sorrows shared here.

Toys of yesteryear were available to try. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Valley Grove is about more than a place where historic churches stand next to a cemetery. It is a gathering spot for those who are celebrating, those who are grieving, those who are remembering and, on this afternoon of a Country Social, a place of connecting with community.

Please check back for more photos from the Valley Grove Country Social. And click here to read my first post from the event, a personal piece about a young man named Bjorn.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with community, history & art at Fall Flea Market September 17, 2022

Shoppers peruse the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

SATURDAY MORNING FOUND ME wandering among vendors at the Rice County Historical Society Fall Flea Market in Faribault. It was, as always, an enjoyable event, marked by conversations with friends I haven’t seen in awhile, conversations with vendors and reflecting on the past.

A handwritten sign along Second Avenue points to the flea market in the parking lot and on the grounds of the RCHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A RCHS Faribault sign provides the backdrop for a vendor’s book display themed primarily to Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

One vendor was giving away these plastic bags from the now closed Farmer Seed & Nursery in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Really, this is what local gatherings are all about for me. They’re about community and connecting, about embracing and appreciating this place I call home.

Beautiful bouquets from Erin’s Acre. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I was especially delighted to find, among all the vendors of miscellaneous merchandise, several artists. That includes Erin Sellner Honken of Erin’s Acre at Honken Farms. Erin creates with flowers she grows, tends, harvests and arranges into stunning bouquets for CSA subscriptions and special events. With an abundance of flowers right now, she decided to do a pop-up sale at the flea market featuring $10 dahlia mixed bouquets.

The stunning “river” table by JS Woodcrafts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Just down the way by the historic schoolhouse, I discovered Jeremy of JS Woodcrafts. It was his “river” table which drew my attention and admiration. If I could afford the $500 price tag, this maple top table with stones and pebbles epoxied in the middle like a river, would be mine. Love, love, love this work of art.

Spanky’s Woodshed art made from pallets. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

John “Spanky” St. Clair of Spanky’s Woodshed also specializes in woodcrafting. I learned that he uses pallets and aged barn wood to create. Anyone who recycles to create earns my praise.

A flower created by recycling spoons and forks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An eye-catching Louie Armstrong. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I almost bought the pheasant paint-by-number, one of a trio of paintings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I found more art in spoon flowers, in a Louie Armstrong figure, in paint-by-number paintings, in an endless array of merchandise.

Playing a woodwind in A Fun Lil’ Band. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Propped against the barn near the band (seemingly listening), cut-outs of Ed and Frank, spokesmen for Bartles & Jaymes winecoolers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The band that loves to make music. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

And while I walked I heard music rising from A Fun Lil’ Band in Rice County with a sign declaring WE JUST LOVE TO PLAY MUSIC!! Their music added an extra touch of joy to the morning market.

The RCHS was selling collector limited edition bottles of Fleck’s grape soda. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A view through a vendor’s booth featuring old toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A vintage toy tractor reminded me of the farm toys I played with as a child. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This event is a fundraiser for the Rice County Historical Society. But history is also very much a part of the market in aged and vintage merchandise vended. I reminisced over old farm toys, a baby stroller, a yellow Pyrex mixing bowl. I picked up a few items, pondering whether I should buy, but, in the end, held steady in my determination not to acquire more stuff. I’m at that age…

This colorful character caught my attention. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Parked along Second Avenue at the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
I was pushed in a stroller like this, except the stroller was blue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Instead, I collect with my camera, gathering images to tell a story, to share this market, to showcase the works of creatives, to express my appreciation for my community, this place I’ve called home for 40 years.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So much to appreciate about Northfield’s Bridge Square September 7, 2022

An overview of Bridge Square looking toward Division Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

BRIDGE SQUARE IN THE HEART of historic downtown Northfield holds a yesteryear appeal as a long-time community gathering spot along the Cannon River. Today its purpose remains as relevant as ever. I’ve observed festivals and concerts here, focused events like Earth Day and the Riverwalk Market Fair, read poetry here, heard music, watched college students chalk messages onto concrete. Individuals, too, pause here to enjoy the fountain sculpture and other art, to picnic, to simply embrace this beautiful spot.

A banner in downtown Northfield promotes the community’s annual celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This park centers Northfield, home to many home-grown shops and eateries and best-known perhaps for the September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank by the James-Younger Gang. This week Northfield honors the long ago townspeople and a heroic bank cashier who stood up to the outlaws. The town will buzz with activities and people, all here to celebrate Defeat of Jesse James Days. That runs September 7-11.

The Northfield Historical Society by Bridge Square once housed the First National Bank. The bank entry is around the corner and not shown here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Weeks before this event I was in Northfield, first touring the Northfield Cemetery to view the gravesites of bank employee Joseph Lee Heywood and Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson, both shot and killed by the outlaws. Gustafson, at the time of the raid, was vending vegetables in, I believe, current day Bridge Square. The First National Bank is located around the corner.

The popcorn wagon has set up in Bridge Square since the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Popcorn boxes lined up in the wagon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The popcorn wagon brings back memories of Vern’s Popcorn Stand in my hometown of Vesta. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My focus on that afternoon was not on the historic robbery, but rather on Bridge Square. I noticed first the 1918 popcorn wagon which is open from mid-May to mid-September and operated by FiftyNorth, the local center for seniors. It was closed when I was there. But I could imagine the sound of popping kernels, the scent, the taste of buttery popcorn scooped into boxes. There’s something about a popcorn stand that hearkens to bygone days.

“How much for that doggie in the window?” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And there’s something about an old-time barbershop such as Bridge Square Barbers with a barbershop pole and then, bonus, a doggie in the window. I spotted the dog lying on a fleece bed in a corner. Seemingly content, only lifting his head when I approached for a close-up photo.

Love this barbershop dog photographed through the window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Earlier this year a sign in that barbershop window prompted me to write a story, “Barbershop Prompt,” which I submitted to a writing competition. My story earned second place in creative nonfiction and will publish in volume 31 of The Talking Stick, a northern Minnesota-based anthology. I also earned an honorable mention in fiction. Once the book publishes, I’ll share more.

Beautiful flowers circle an art installation in Bridge Square near the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I also took in the art of Bridge Square. Northfield is big on the arts with an Artists on Main Street program, sidewalk poetry and other art installations in addition to the performing arts.

The historic Ames Mill sits along the Cannon River. Originally a flour mill, the mill later was used to produce Malt-O-Meal hot cereals and is today owned by Post Consumer Brands. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And then there’s the history. Aged buildings like the riverside Ames Mill. The river running through is a real asset to the downtown, especially with a river walk behind buildings hugging Division Street.

Detailed top of the art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

At the heart of all of it is Bridge Square—a place which melds history and art, land and sky and river, commerce and individuality. Most importantly, the village square brings peoples together to converse, to celebrate, to honor, to discuss, to disagree, to buy popcorn from the popcorn wagon, to simply be.

Bird in flight in the Bridge Square sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

TELL ME: Does your community have an outdoor gathering spot like Bridge Square?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling