Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

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

 

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

 

The entry to Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The art of a wiseman.

 

All three wisemen in a corner of the sanctuary.

 

I looked at the Christmas decorations

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Entrepreneurs Elizabeth and Sophie vending their slime.

 

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

 

The sisters’ slime.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about loons in Otter Tail County & beyond in Minnesota October 28, 2019

The world’s largest loon sculpture in Vergas, Minnesota.

 

IN MINNESOTA WE HAVE the comedic and musical actresses the Looney Lutherans, who showcase our ya, sure you betcha Scandinavian image. We decorate our Up North cabins with loon décor in honor of our state bird. Minnesota writer Gerald Anderson features the loon in Murder Under the Loon as part of his An Otter Tail County Mystery series. And if all that loon madness isn’t enough, the village of Vergas boasts the world’s largest loon sculpture.

 

 

Look closely at the sign in the photo above and you will see this rock art balancing on the sign.

 

This rock art left on the dock by the FM Rock Hounds made me smile.

 

Aquatic life up close in Long Lake.

 

Recently I sought out that roadside art while in Otter Tail County. I always appreciate kitschy art that defines a place. And Vergas, population 350, is all about embracing loons. Each August, the community celebrates Looney Daze. The Frazee-Vergas baseball team is named the Loons. And then there’s that 20-foot tall loon statue looming over Long Lake.

 

 

But finding that loon proved difficult, even after getting instructions from a local to follow that road (he pointed), turn right, cross the tracks… No loon. Eventually Randy and I found the loon sculpture dedicated in 1963 to Postmaster Ewald C. Krueger. The Vergas Fire Department sponsored the community project.

 

The only loon I’ve ever seen up close.

 

Now, if I actually spotted a real loon up close, I will have completed my loon fix. But I’ve only ever seen them from a distance, in the middle of a lake. You see, even though the loon is our state bird, it is primarily a central or northern Minnesota bird. Not necessarily representative of the entire state.

 

 

But the loon is representative of one small Minnesota town situated in the lake country of Otter Tail County.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another view of Pelican Rapids, Minnesota October 18, 2019

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A mural on the back of a downtown Pelican Rapids building.

 

VIEW A COMMUNITY ONLY from its public front face and you miss seeing the entire portrait of a place.

 

Pete the Pelican

 

On a recent visit to Pelican Rapids in northwestern Minnesota, a side pathway between buildings led me to the Pete the Pelican sculpture.

 

 

 

 

And more—a unique suspension footbridge

 

 

and art on the backs of businesses.

 

 

Pelican Rapids, as you might rightly guess, identifies itself with pelicans. An early history of the town states that enormous pelicans circled overhead as they moved towards their nesting area at the upper rapids.

 

 

And so the pelican became this town’s symbol…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Pelican Rapids: The symbolic art of the pelican October 17, 2019

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Pete the Pelican in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota

 

OVER-SIZED SCULPTURES, roadside kitsch—whatever term you tag to mammoth outdoor art, I’m a fan. Many Minnesota communities, from Fergus Falls’ otter to Rothsay’s prairie chicken to Garrison’s walleye, identify themselves with public art symbols.

 

The scenic early October drive to Pelican Rapids from Detroit Lakes.

 

Most recently I discovered Pete the Pelican in Pelican Rapids, a northwestern Minnesota town some 50 miles from Fargo, North Dakota. We made a day trip there from Detroit Lakes, where we stayed for a few days recently. Our eventual destination: Maplewood State Park to the east of Pelican Rapids.

 

The horses seem to be galloping off this painting by Marcella Rose, such is the movement she brushed into the scene.

 

Marcella Rose’s pelican art.

 

The varied art of Marcella Rose.

 

We parked downtown, walked around, popped into artist Marcella Rose’s studio and shop,

 

Pete the Pelican

 

Signage about Pete the Pelican.

 

and then looked for Pete the Pelican. The iconic symbol stands 15 ½ feet high and was built from steel, concrete and plaster in 1957. He sits on a concrete base at Mill Pond Dam along the Pelican River.

 

Walking toward the suspension bridge. More info coming in a second post.

 

A nearby park features a unique suspension bridge which also drew our interest.

 

 

 

 

Other, smaller, “friends of Pete” pelican sculptures are scattered throughout the downtown adding to the town’s artsy appeal.

 

Pete the Pelican from another perspective.

 

Pete the Pelican has become a tourist attraction in Pelican Rapids, providing lots of photo ops. This is a town I’ll long remember precisely because of the public pelican art.

TELL ME: Are you drawn to over-sized sculptures? Give me examples of such public art you’ve seen and like. What value do they add to a place?

Please check back for another post from Pelican Rapids.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling