Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

International Owl Center auctions more owl art to help Ukrainian kids June 22, 2022

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center helps visitors find the building in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

ITS MISSION SEEMS BASIC: Making the world a better place for owls through education. That’s an expected goal of the International Owl Center based in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Houston.

One of the center’s live owls, photographed during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

But this nonprofit has spread its wings to make life better for the children of Ukraine. How? By raising monies through online auctions of owl art with proceeds benefiting United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to help Ukrainian children.

Promo for the current art auction. (Source: International Owl Center)

The fourth Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids opens at 6 am Wednesday, June 22, and closes on Sunday, June 26. All 48 original art pieces were created through the years by Ukrainian children for the International Kids’ Owl Art Contest and are in the Owl Center collection. The current auction also features one piece of art by a teacher.

Three online auctions of owl art earlier this year, sales of gift card sets and donations have already raised $225,000 for UNICEF relief in Ukraine. Bids reached as high as $8,005 for a single piece of original artwork. A fifth auction is set for August 10-14. Total fundraising goal is $400,000.

Owl art, from all over the world, decorated the Owl Center walls during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

I’m beyond impressed by the ambition of the Owl Center and by the generosity of bidders. And I’m beyond impressed by the talent of these Ukrainian artists who range from preschool age to 18-years-old.

Because most individuals can’t afford to bid hundreds or thousands of dollars on artwork, even if donated to a worthy cause, the Owl Center offers options. The auction includes limited edition prints priced at $100. Those are limited to 25 prints each of four different owl artworks. Note that those prints sell out quickly. Additionally, the online auction site accepts direct donations to UNICEF.

The Center plans to also re-offer sets of 20 blank owl art greeting cards during the International Owl Awareness Day weekend August 5-8. Those must be purchased in-person at the center with any remaining card sets then sold in the Center’s online store.

The International Owl Center in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

As the war in Ukraine continues, media coverage has lessened, replaced by other top news stories. But that doesn’t diminish the pain, the suffering, the fear, the terror, the hunger, the displacement, the destruction, the death…that remain very real for the people of Ukraine. I am thankful that the International Owl Center has partnered with the Houston Area Community Foundation to aid Ukrainian kids. Via these fundraisers, this Minnesota community of 1,040 is offering help, and hope.

FYI: To reach the auction website, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Plainview: Jon Hassler’s “the village in the corn” June 15, 2022

A portion of the Plainview mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

LAND. PEOPLE. ARTS. COMMUNITY. Those words theme a public mural stretching across the Plainview Area Community and Youth Center in the heart of this southeastern Minnesota small town.

The mural graces a wall of the community center, across the street from the former Jon Hassler Theater. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I remember the mural from my last visit here in 2013. I appreciate this public art now as much as I did then, for art can reveal much about a place.

In the heart of the community, the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, now closed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

While Plainview has lost some of its “arts” character with closure of the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, it will always claim title (along with Staples) as the boyhood home (s) of noted Minnesota writer Jon Hassler. He moved to Plainview with his parents at the age of 10, remaining there until shortly after his 1951 high school graduation.

Hassler’s Grand Opening is based on Plainview.

Hassler, one of Minnesota’s most-beloved authors, focused his fiction on small town life. That includes Grand Opening, a novel based on Plainview. As in real life, the main character’s parents buy a run-down grocery store in rural Minnesota.

Source: Afton Press

While I have not yet read Grand Opening, I just finished Days Like Smoke, A Minnesota Boyhood. This is Hassler’s memoir, a manuscript published by Afton Press in 2021, many years after the author’s 2008 death. Edited by friend Will Weaver, another well-known Minnesota writer, this slim volume offers insights into Plainview, into Hassler’s experiences there and how that shaped his writing. He credits his parents’ Red Owl Grocery Store as the training grounds for his writing, the place where he acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist. In that grocery store, Hassler stocked shelves, ground coffee, interacted with and observed customers, and more.

The land (farming) is integral to the economy of Plainview, which is surrounded by corn and soybean fields. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This sentence in Hassler’s memoir is so telling of the influence Plainview had on his writing: I see the villagers passing along the checkout counter like the cast of characters they eventually turned out to be in my novel about this village in the corn. I love that phrase, “village in the corn,” for it fits agriculturally-based Plainview. The community is home to food processors, Plainview Milk Products Cooperative and Lakeside Foods, and celebrates Corn on the Cob Days each summer. Farming centers the local economy.

Two of the people featured on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It’s the people, though, including the characters, who truly define community. And Hassler shares plenty from Plainview, where he lived across from the stockyards for awhile, tried to derail a train, played high school football for the Gophers, watched endless movies at the Gem Theater, bloodied the nose of a third grader, sat at the bedside of his dying 11-year-old friend, biked to the bluffs along the Whitewater River to camp and fish, served as an altar boy…

The mural includes a faith-based dedication to Pauline Redmond. She co-owned the North Country Anvil Magazine/Anvil Press with her husband, Jack Miller. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In his memoir, Hassler remembers St. Joachim’s Catholic Church and Immanuel Lutheran Church standing as sentinels of the soul at opposite ends of Main Street. That’s such an insightful visual. Hassler valued his Catholic upbringing and faith throughout his life. But he also admits in his memoir to the strong current of religious animosity running under the surface of daily life in the village of my youth between Catholics and Lutherans. This comes as no surprise to me, growing up in rural Minnesota with the same denominational tension.

People also define place as noted on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It was that undercurrent—specifically the defeat of Hassler’s father in a school board election—which ultimately caused Hassler’s parents to leave Plainview and return to Staples. He writes: I, newly graduated from high school, loved Plainview too dearly to follow them.

The interior entrance to the Jon Hassler Theater, photographed during a 2013 visit to Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

Hassler’s love for Plainview endured, long after he left to attend college, then to teach, then to write and then to retire in 1997 after 17 years as writer-in-residence at Saint John’s University. Visit Plainview today and you get a strong sense of the place that shaped this writer. While businesses and people have come and gone, at its core, this remains “the village in the corn.”

TELL ME: Have you read any of Jon Hassler’s 12 novels or his nonfiction? I’d love to hear your take on his writing and what books you recommend.

Please check back for more posts from Plainview next week. Be sure to read my previous posts on Plainview published this week.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Revisiting Plainview, a must-visit community in southeastern Minnesota June 13, 2022

A mural themed to people, land, community and the arts graces a corner building in downtown Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

I FELT COMFORTABLY, nostalgically, at home in Plainview, a farming community of some 3,340 in southeastern Minnesota’s Wabasha County.

This Norman Rockwell type scene depicts small town Minnesota, here on a Saturday afternoon in Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Here kids bike along the main drag through town, passing by homegrown shops and other businesses. Here friendly shopkeepers engage in easy conversation that made me feel incredibly welcomed. And connected.

Just a block off Broadway, the local co-op. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

This is a rural community through and through. Home to the Plainview Milk Products Cooperative. Surrounded by farm fields. And, at its essence, home to residents rooted in rural life. Noted Minnesota author Jon Hassler, who penned novels about small town life, grew up here (and in Staples). His parents owned the local Red Owl grocery store.

Right forefront, The Shop on Broadway vends antiques and collectibles. It’s an uncluttered shop with artfully displayed one-of-a-kind merchandise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At The Shop on Broadway, relative newcomer to the area and co-proprietor Sonia spoke about a recently-purchased rural property.

Like a step back in time…J.T. Varieties & Toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At the variety store, the clerk and I exchanged histories of growing up on dairy farms.

Young Love is a combo floral and gift shop, plus small event center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Inside Young Love Floral & Finds, I found plenty of cow art to love.

A close-up of the lengthy mural on a building across the street from the former theater/arts center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Plainview, in many ways, surprised me. I’d been here previously, nearly 10 years ago when a wrong turn led Randy and me to this small town some 20 miles northeast of Rochester. During that brief stop, we popped into the Jon Hassler Theater/Rural America Arts Center. The theater closed soon after and the arts center followed. But both impressed me. This return trip to Plainview revealed a new side, a thriving business district of welcoming, one-of-a-kind shops.

Although I didn’t pop into the quilt shop, Piece by Piece Creative Collaboration, I should have. Next time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Not all were open on the Saturday of my mid-May visit. But I perused enough to get a feel for what this community offers. As cliché as it sounds, Plainview seems an undiscovered gem with its independently-owned shops staffed by friendly folks with time to chat. I felt unrushed in uncrowded stores. Browse at my own pace. Take in the setting and merchandise and down-home feel of being in the moment in rural Minnesota.

J.T. Variety & Toys sells fabric and so much more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

That comes from someone who is not a shopper, who easily tires of mass-produced whatever in Big Box stores. But I didn’t feel that here in Plainview. Inside The Shop on Broadway and J.T. Varieties & Toys, I found nostalgia. Antiques and collectibles in The Shop. And at the Variety store, I stepped back in time, into a mercantile akin to the Ben Franklin or Woolworth’s of my youth. I eased down narrow aisles jammed with merchandise—ran my hand across beautiful cotton fabric layered on shelves, eyed endless knick knacks, appreciated the Little Golden Book storybooks for sale.

Created by Shantelle Speedling at Young Love Floral & Finds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At Young Love Floral & Finds, historic photos, a vintage Mallard Seeds sign (the seed company was once housed here as was a bank) and the First National Bank vault (now a storage space) revealed more about this community. I love this little shop owned by floral designer/creative Shantelle Speedling. The biggest surprise here: wood flowers. Speedling uses them in her floral designs and they are unbelievably beautiful.

The display window at Magnolia Cottage showcases women’s clothing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Another surprise came in finding The Magnolia Cottage Boutique. If this had not been my last shop stop, I may have tried on some of the clothing therein because I loved the styles. But I was tired and it takes a lot for me to try on clothes. The shop also sells home décor, gifts, flowers and more.

From what I read online, this cupcake shop is open only occasionally, It gets rave reviews for its artsy and delicious cupcakes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Next door, Cakes Etcetera was closed, so no cupcakes for me on this Saturday afternoon.

Love this vintage sign marking the bowling alley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

A few doors down, I spotted a vintage sign for Gopher Lanes Bar & Grill. The bowling alley is closed—for the summer. But that didn’t keep me from admiring the sign which is, oh, so Minnesotan. Before Plainview schools merged with Elgin and Millville, their mascot was the Gophers. And just some 10 miles to the southwest of Plainview, the town of Viola celebrates the lowly pocket gopher with an annual community celebration, the Viola Gopher Count. The 148th annual festival is scheduled this week on June 15 and 16. That’s another story and Viola, another place to visit. Just like Plainview.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from Plainview. I’ll take you inside shops, show you signs, art and more discovered on a Saturday afternoon along Broadway. I’m sure I missed a lot of what Plainview offers. So if you are from this town, or have visited, I welcome your insights on places to check out.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Straight River Art Festival features fine art, music & more May 19, 2022

Promotional graphic created by artist Jeff Jarvis. (Credit: Straight River Art Festival)

WE ARE A CREATIVE BUNCH, we Minnesotans. And this weekend, 20 creatives from Faribault, Northfield and the surrounding area will showcase their work at the Straight River Art Festival.

The new event runs from 9 am–6 pm Saturday, May 21, at Heritage Park, alongside the Straight River, just a block from Faribault’s historic downtown. There fine artists will set up booths to vend their art, engage in conversation and, for some, demonstrate their crafts.

An example of Tami Resler’s pottery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)

Featured art includes stained glass, jewelry, pottery, apparel and accessories, photography, hand-blown glass, textile design, painting, drawing, fiber art, quilting and woodcarving. Some of the artists are familiar, others perhaps not as much. Yet each brings talent and enthusiasm to the creative process. To have them all together in an outdoor setting makes their art easily accessible and visible.

Mark Joseph. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Performing artists are also part of the Straight River Art Festival with music by Lil’ Fun Band (11 am-1 pm), Pop Prohibition (1:30-2:30 pm) and Mark Joseph (3-4 pm).

Hands-on art created at a past arts-oriented event in Faribault and unrelated to this Saturday’s festival. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2019)

The Paradise Center for the Arts is involved, too, offering hands-on art activities for kids.

This mural on the back of The Upper East Side in downtown Faribault features the art of Jeff Jarvis, a multi-talented artist at West Cedar Studio, Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021)

Faribault-based food truck, El Jefe, will be on site vending authentic Mexican food. El Jefe has a restaurant just a block away along Central Avenue, next to Fleur de Lis Gallery. Jess Prill, jewelry artist and gallery owner, is one of the key organizers of the art festival, along with Faribault artists Tami Resler and Paula Person. They’ve also tapped into other artists, like Jeff Jarvis, for help with the fest.

Brigg Evans Textiles are fabric pieces printed from original scanned Seri Batiks created by Suz Klumb, aka Brigg Evans. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Prill loves art festivals. And, obviously, art and artists given her creative bend and home-grown Fleur de Lis Gallery. “Faribault is an amazing town with a ton of talent to highlight so I knew this event would be a great way to do that,” she says. She also notes the need for “more fun things for people in the community to do in town.” Her desire to create a new arts festival drew her to Resler and Person, both actively engaged in the arts and with strong connections to local creatives.

Down to Earth Stoneware, pottery by Diane Lockerby. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

“We are all very passionate about the town and the arts and are very excited to bring this event to the community,” Prill continues.

Bending Sunlight Glassworks, artist Sandra Seelhammer. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

I’m excited, too, as I share Prill’s love of the arts. I cannot imagine a life without writing and photography. Both feed my spirit, my soul, my need to create. And this Saturday 20 creatives who share that passion will fill Heritage Park with their art and creative energy.

FYI: For more information about the participating artists, visit straightriverartfestival.com by clicking here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Northfield tunnel art features spring in the Big Woods & more May 11, 2022

Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is featured in a public mural by Adam Turman. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

IN THE UNLIKLIEST of places—in the underpass tunnels of a roundabout—bold, nature-themed murals flash color onto concrete in Northfield. I love this public art created by renowned Minneapolis muralist Adam Turman in the pedestrian and biking underpasses at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 246 and Jefferson Parkway.

The rare Dwarf Trout Lily grows in only several places in the world, including at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

The art is unexpected. It’s vibrant. And it honors the ecologies of the Northfield area with four focused themes: Nerstrand Big Woods, the Cannon River, Oak Savannas and Prairie.

The recreational trail leading to one of the underpasses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

With the exception of winter, the paintings also cover three of Minnesota’s four distinct seasons.

An overview of the Nerstrand Big Woods underpass mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Because it’s spring, I’ll start by showing you the spring-themed art depicting nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The park proves a popular hiking spot with attractions like Hidden Falls, the rare Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily and, in the autumn, spectacular colors.

A rare Dwarf Trout Lily up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Seeing these murals for the first time calls for a thoughtful pace of studying the art, appreciating it and reflecting on how beautiful the natural world in and around Northfield.

Wild geraniums grace the Big Woods mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Vehicles may be passing overhead, but inside those underpasses the quiet beauty of nature prevails.

Adam Turman’s painting of Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

This roundabout came about because of a need for improved pedestrian safety and traffic flow along stretches of roadway used by commuters and kids/families going to and from school. I expect the roundabout, once people adjusted to it, has achieved its goal.

Stepping stones and rock cairn in the Big Woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

And then to have that bonus art beneath, well, what a welcome addition to an otherwise utilitarian project. The public art in Northfield brings to mind another such space that would work well for a nature-themed mural. That’s the tunnel under Highway 371 in Nisswa, a small, but busy, tourist town in the central Minnesota lakes region. Last time I walked through the 371 underpass from downtown Nisswa to Nisswa Lake Park, chalk art marked walls. I can envision Adam Turman’s bold graphic murals brightening this pedestrian and biking route with scenes depicting nature or perhaps Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox of Minnesota northwoods lore.

The artist’s signature. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

“Up North” themes more work done by Turman, who tags himself as an artist, muralist and screen printer. In my community, he’s created, loon, Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness and S’mores art for throws and pillowcases crafted at Faribault Mill (formerly Faribault Woolen Mill). He’s created for many other entities throughout Minnesota and the world. Target. Duluth Trading Company. The Minnesota State Fair. And many more.

Into Nerstrand Big Woods State Park via an underpass mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

For now, I appreciate seeing Turman’s work here in southern Minnesota, in neighboring Northfield.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for posts featuring the other three themed art tunnels in Northfield.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections from Redwood & Rice counties on NATIVE LIVES MATTER May 2, 2022

Part of a temporary public art installation at Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

IN THE GEOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND of my childhood, I knew of the “Indian Reservations” to the northwest near Granite Falls and then to the east near Morton. My hometown of Vesta sits between the two, no longer referred to as “reservations” but as the Upper Sioux Indian Community and the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

A Dakota man and Alexander Faribault are depicted trading furs in this sculpture at Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Ivan Whillock created the sculpture which graces the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain in my community of Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

Today I live 120 miles to the east in Faribault, next to Wapacuta Park. Rice County is the homeland of the Wahpekute (not Wapacuta), a tribal band of the Dakota.

The Earth Day art carried two messages: NATIVE LIVES MATTER and CLIMATE JUSTICE. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

A temporary public art installation at the recent Earth Day Celebration in neighboring Northfield prompted me to reflect on Indigenous people in southern Minnesota. Growing up in Redwood County, my knowledge of area Native Americans focused primarily on “The Sioux Uprising.” History teachers then used that term, rather than the current-day “US-Dakota War of 1862,” which should tell you a thing or ten about how biased that perspective back in the 1970s. How thankful I am that my awareness and understanding have grown and that attitudes are shifting to better reflect all sides of history.

The message grows, blossoms in the Earth Day art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

The NATIVE LIVES MATTER message bannering the art installation at Northfield’s Earth Day event reinforces a Land Acknowledgment Statement adopted by the City of Northfield in November 2020. That reads as follows:

We stand on the homelands of the Wahpekute and other Bands of the Dakota Nation. We honor with gratitude the people who have stewarded the land throughout the generations and their ongoing contributions to this region. We acknowledge the ongoing injustices that we have committed against the Dakota Nation, and we wish to interrupt this legacy, beginning with acts of healing and honest storytelling about this place.

NATIVE LIVES MATTER fits the spirit of the Land Acknowledgment Statement. Those three words caused me to pause, to think, to consider what I’d been taught all those decades ago and how my thinking has shifted as I’ve aged, opened my mind and learned.

Dakota beadwork displayed and photographed at the Rice County Historical Society Museum, Faribault, in 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

The Rice County Historical Society, which exhibits a collection of Native American artifacts in its Faribault museum, shares a statement similar to the City of Northfield’s on its website:

We acknowledge that the land that is now Rice County, MN, was their (Dakota) homeland and for many tribal members today, it is still their home.

In all of this, I feel a sense of gratitude regarding increasing public recognition of the land history and contributions of Indigenous People in Minnesota. In my home area of Redwood County, nearly 1,000 individuals from the Mdewakanton Band of Dakota call the Lower Sioux Indian Community home. To the east in Yellow Medicine County near Granite Falls, nearly 500 individuals from the Dakota Oyate call the Upper Sioux Indian Community home.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

I hope educators in my home area are today teaching students about the local Dakota and even bringing elders into classrooms. I graduated, after all, from Wabasso High School, the name Wabasso coming from a Native word meaning “white rabbit.” I would then go on to attend college in Mankato, site of the largest mass execution in the US with 38 Dakota killed in a public hanging on December 26, 1862.

I would be remiss if I did not share that, during the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862, family members on my mom’s side fled their rural Courtland farm for safety in St. Peter. They later put in a claim to the US government for crop loss.

Details on a sign outside the Cathedral of our Merciful Savior in Faribault. Bishop Henry Whipple, who served here, advocated for the rights of Native Americans and had a strong friendship with them. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

Now, 160 years after that event in my ancestors’ history, I continue growing my knowledge, widening my understanding of Minnesota history and of the Indigenous people who first called this land home.

A graphic of Minnesota is painted on the back of the art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

FYI: Please click here to read previous posts I’ve written on the US-Dakota War (also called Conflict) of 1862.

Also, I suggest you read an article on the Minnesota Public Radio website about efforts to change the Minnesota State flag. The flag depicts, among other details, a Native American in the background riding off into the sunset while a settler focuses the foreground, hands on a plow, rifle nearby. I agree that change is needed. But, as too often happens, the issue has become politically-charged.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glimpse of Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration April 26, 2022

A banner marks Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

WARM WEATHER, albeit wildly windy, drove Minnesotans outdoors on Saturday to embrace a partial-day reprieve from the cold and rain defining this April.

An overview of a section of the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

For Randy and me, that included a short drive to neighboring Northfield in the afternoon to check out the Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. I expected the event to draw a lot of locals and students from Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges. It did.

While the Earth Day Celebration happens behind them, these guys fish. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

In and surrounding Bridge Square, exhibitors shared information on topics ranging from climate change to water quality to composting to healthcare access and much more. Vendors from the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market also set up shop. And kids created at several stations just a stone’s throw from fishermen angling in the Cannon River.

Near the river in Bridge Square, this temporary art installation focuses two messages: “NATIVE LIVES MATTER” and “CLIMATE JUSTICE.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

We mostly meandered, our stay cut short by raindrops. I zipped my camera inside my sweatshirt as we headed back to the van.

Bannering for a cause at the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Yet, even during my brief time at Northfield’s April 23 Earth Day gathering, I felt the passion for taking care of this planet. Of being responsible stewards. Of engaging in conversation. Of doing our part.

A sign on the UPcycleMN tent grabbed my attention. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

It’s refreshing to see, especially when I observe all the exposed winter-tossed garbage along roadways and read about endangered Minnesota rivers, our shorter winters and so many other climate and environmental concerns.

An example of an upcycled blue jean jacket crafted by Kathryn Ness of UPcycleMN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

I delighted in meeting former Northfield librarian Kathryn Ness who identifies herself as “CEO & Head Scrounger” at UpcycleMN. Signage and jean jackets drew me to her vendor tent and a short conversation. She upcycles used jeans into “new” jean jackets, crafts cloth bags and more. Kathy reminds me of my Uncle Bob, who weaves old jeans, bedspreads and more into beautiful, durable rag rugs. They are artists who are doing their part for our earth while creating.

Bridge Square is often a canvas for chalk art, including during the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Attending Earth Day in Northfield gives me hope. Hope because people care about this earth, this place we call home.

TELL ME: Did you attend an Earth Day celebration?

Please check back for additional posts that focus on UPcycleMN and on the temporary art installation.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faith art focus during Holy Week April 14, 2022

The birth of Christ depicted at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Buckman, Minnesota. This is my husband’s home church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020)

STAINED GLASS ART graces many a church. Most often that art depicts the history of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection.

This stained glass window inside the Mother of Good Counsel Votive Chapel at The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse, Wisconsin, depicts Mary and Jesus. I often think of Mary during Holy Week and how great her loss in losing her son. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

So it’s fitting that this week, Holy Week, I share some images from my archives of beautiful stained glass windows discovered in my wanderings. As a woman of faith, an art appreciator and one who values churches, I am drawn to this art form.

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. Stained glass window in the sanctuary of Vang Lutheran Church, rural Dennison, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

My husband, Randy, has dabbled in stained glass art and I know from watching him that creating this art takes time, patience, skill and dedication. He took a stained glass class locally decades ago, has crafted several sun catchers and also repaired aged windows at our church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. I hope that when he retires, he can more fully embrace this art form.

Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha. Stained glass at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Buckman. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

That sidebar aside, I feel such gratitude to those long ago craftsmen who labored to create stained glass windows for churches. Such windows enhance worship, infusing a sanctuary with beauty and a visual telling of biblical stories. Like the birth of Jesus. The agony of his suffering, death and glorious resurrection.

A stained glass window inside Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota, depicts Jesus’ crucifixion. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

Like illustrations in a book, the art of stained glass adds to the words, opens our eyes to better see that which we hear and read.

This stained glass window of the women and angel at Jesus’ empty tomb rises above the altar at Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

Art adds a depth to my understanding and to my faith.

This shows a snippet of the center stained glass window in a trio above the altar at Trinity Lutheran Church, Wanamingo, Minnesota. This section shows Jesus risen from the dead. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

As we near the end of Holy Week, please take time to reflect on the stained glass art here or within your own community.

A photo of Christ’s face from a stained glass window in my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

And may this art bless you as it has me. Have a joyful and blessed Easter!

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the heart of Northfield: A sculpture reflects community love April 12, 2022

Fused glass hearts on the sculpture “Spreading the Love.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

IN SOME WAYS, the “Spreading the Love” sculpture reminds me of a box of crayons. It’s a boldly colorful work of art sidling next to a sidewalk near the corner of Division and Sixth Streets in downtown Northfield.

The sculpture is located along Division Street, near Armory Square and Imminent Brewing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The crayon comparison comes in the mix of colors that combine in fused glass hearts created by Geralyn Thelen. The Northfield glass artist crafted the sculpture in collaboration with Hastings metal artist Dale Lewis as part of the 2020 Artists on Main Street Program.

Against a blue sky, a bold and beautiful multi-hued heart. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Signage explains the meaning of the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The heart-filled tree represents community. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The result is this metal community tree adorned with vibrant heart “leaves.” The heart shape represents love. And the mixed hues of those hearts represent inclusiveness, that all are welcome here.

Many hearts in many colors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

That brings me back to crayons. Remember the thrill of a new box of Crayola crayons? The scent. The sharp points. The rows of neatly packed colors in, oh, so many hues and shades? What kid didn’t want a box of 64 crayons versus the standard 24?

A full view of “Spreading the Love.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Yet, even though we had all those choices in colors, there were expectations. Grade school worksheets directed us to color the sun yellow, the grass green, the horse brown, the heart red, for example. To earn an S+ on a paper, we needed to follow directions. It was a way to teach reading and colors. But that left zero options for creativity, for an opening of the mind.

This shows how metal artist Dale Lewis attached the hearts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

To the child who yearned to use all the colors in the crayon box, following directions stifled creativity in the necessity of conformity. I’d like to think as adults that we consider all the colors in the crayon box. If only that were true.

Geralyn Thelen’s fused glass hearts represent love. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

That’s why projects like “Spreading the Love” hold such value. Art encourages us to see, to think, to open our minds and reflect. To color the sun purple, the grass orange, the horse pink, the heart in a mix of hues. Ours is a multi-colored world of skin tones, beliefs, lifestyles and more. Yet, we all share the commonality of love. Giving love. Receiving love. Feeling loved. And, it is my hope, spreading love.

TELL ME: How do you spread love?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From $221K for Ukrainian kids to top film awards April 5, 2022

The promo for the final owl art auction. (Source: International Owl Center Facebook page)

IN THE MIDST OF WAR and pandemic, inflation and everyday struggles, I want to pause and focus on two recent bits of good news. One comes from the tiny town of Houston in southern Minnesota. The other comes from the glitz and glamour of the entertainment world. Two complete opposites, yet notable in how important each is in this vast connected world of ours.

Let’s start with Houston, where the International Owl Center just concluded its third online “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids.” The final auction of art created by Ukrainian youth for the center’s annual International Kids’ Owl Art Contest raised $48,893 for UNICEF, designated specifically for kids in Ukraine.

All three auctions raised a whopping $221,353. That’s an incredible amount generated from the sale of 190 pieces of original owl art, limited edition prints and direct donations. The giving spirit of those wanting to help youth in war-town Ukraine stretched well beyond Houston, population around 1,000, to a wide world of caring and generous souls. I am heartened by this show of love and support.

And I am heartened to read on the Owl Center Facebook page that staff connected with some of the young artists and learned that they have fled Ukraine with their families and are safe.

Promo for “Summer of Soul” from the “Summer of Soul” Facebook page.

Now the other bit of positive news has nothing to do with war, but rather with film and music. The documentary, “Summer of Soul,” just won the 2022 Grammy Awards Best Music Film. And a week earlier, it landed an Oscar for the Best Documentary Feature.

Generally, I pay no attention to these awards because, well, they don’t interest me. That’s not to diminish the hard work of these artists because their creativity enriches our lives and world. But I cared about “Summer of Soul” Oscar and Grammy nominations after watching a public television airing of the documentary by filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. His film focused on the Harlem Cultural Festival in the summer of 1969. Six concerts over six weeks brought 300,000-plus people together in Harlem to celebrate the Black culture, specifically music. Performers included the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips… But Thompson’s film was about more than the music. It was about the issues facing Black people, highlighted in interviews woven into concert footage. Many of these same issues remain today.

There’s more to this story. Although produced 53 years ago, “Summer of Soul” was only recently released. In promos for the film, it’s titled as “Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” on ABC. I encourage you to view this enlightening documentary. Experience the music, the culture. And then reflect. For in opening our hearts and minds, we expand our understanding of each other in a world that needs to connect and care.

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

To the creatives behind “Summer of Soul” and to the creatives behind the “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids,” thank you for sharing your talent and for your generosity of spirit. I am grateful.

FYI: The International Owl Center is taking a pause from its “Ukrainian Art for Ukrainian Kids” auctions to prepare for the International Festival of Owls April 30 – May 1. I will update you if/when more fundraisers happen. Or check the International Owl Center Facebook page to stay posted.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling