WHEN YOU CONSIDER THE WORDpocket, what flashes into view? A side or back pocket in your jeans? A place to tuck your cellphone or keys? A slip of fabric stitched to the front of a shirt? How about a garden? Yes, a garden.
Downtown Faribault features a pocket garden, a mini garden sandwiched in an open space between buildings. I love the concept, the artsy and practical use of a spot that might otherwise exist as unused and unsightly.
In 2018, two sisters and two artists created the 2nd Street Garden next to DuFour’s Cleaners thanks to funding from Faribault Main Street. That downtown-focused group secured a $15,000 grant from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the Bush Foundation for six creative placemaking art projects, including the pocket garden.
With financial support, sisters Dee Bjork and Beth Westerhouse (who has since died) and husband-wife team Ann Meillier and Dave Correll (Brushwork Signs) designed and created the garden. It incorporates metal flowers, real flowers and plants, a bench and floral art.
The result is an inviting oasis that feels tranquil and welcoming. And unexpected.
Recently, I revisited the garden and discovered a mini stuffed bear on the park’s bench. An attached tag invited visitors to take a photo and to use #LovePeopleBeKind. The bear, with red heart connected, fits the garden’s theme of Love One Another.
It’s such a simple concept: Love One Another. But it’s not always easy to do. We say and do things that hurt others. We fail to listen. We blame and criticize and jump to conclusions. And with technology, it’s easier than ever to fire off words in the heat of the moment. Without thinking. Without considering. Without putting our fingers and mouths on pause.
I’d like each of us to step into a pocket garden. To sit on a real or imaginary bench, surrounded by natural and artistic beauty, and to contemplate. To think beyond ourselves. To think of ways we can grow more loving and caring. To consider that what we say, write and do matters. In either a positive way or a negative way. We can hurt people. Or we can choose to love one another. We can choose to show, and grace others with, kindness, love, care, empathy and compassion.
FOR THE GOOD FOLKS of Janesville, the fiery “death” of Frankenstein last Saturday morning equates the loss of a community icon.
The 20-foot tall fiberglass and steel interpretation of Mary Shelley’s monster loomed on a downtown street corner in this southern Minnesota town of some 2,500. Until the early morning hours of June 12, when a 35-year-old man who lives nearby allegedly torched Frankenstein. He’s been charged with felony arson and damage to property. Only the skeleton remains of the sculpture valued at an estimated $14,000.
Janesville’s Frankenstein, originally a Vulcan displayed at the 1988 St. Paul Winter Carnival, was reinvented as a Halloween attraction in the metro before a local businessman purchased him from an auction in 2012. I photographed Frankenstein in 2016, finding him an oddity in this small Waseca County town.
But “odd” isn’t new to Janesville. For decades, “The Doll in the Window” was Janesville’s noted attraction. The mannequin, positioned inside an attic window and visible from well-traveled U.S. Highway 14 (which now bypasses the town), was the stuff of creepy legends. The man who displayed the doll died long ago and, from what I found online, a lot of unknowns remain.
Whether Frankenstein is resurrected remains to be seen. For now, folks are honoring him with flowers and other mementos placed at the base of his skeleton, drawing attention once again to this rural Minnesota community.
Jordyn Brennan signed her “LOVE FOR ALL” mural. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
I love this 85-foot by 35-foot mural which sprawls across the side of a building (and next to a city-owned parking lot) at the corner of First Avenue NW and Third Street NW in the heart of downtown Faribault. The City of Faribault commissioned Brennan to create the public art. It will be celebrated this week during Faribault Heritage Days with a ceremony at 3:30 pm Thursday, June 17, at the mural site. Guest speakers include city officials, representatives from the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind and Faribault Main Street, and the artist.
The setting sun shines on the northwest corner of the mural. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
When I say I love this mural, I should explain, right? I love the vivid hues defining this art. To look at “LOVE FOR ALL” simply makes me happy. And who doesn’t need to feel happy after these past difficult 14 months-plus of living in a pandemic?
LOVE in assorted colors and languages. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The three dots below the L are L in Braille. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The artist took those facets of Faribault and incorporated them into her artwork. You’ll see that in the hands communicating love in American Sign Language with the Braille spelling below. The hands are painted in varied skin tones.
Mums, peonies and clematis. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The rare Dwarf Trout Lily. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The letter L in ASL. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
As a creative and a member of this diverse place I’ve called home for 39 years, I celebrate this newest piece of art. I hope it sparks conversations, creates a strong sense of community and positivity, and reminds all of us that art is powerful. And so is love.
An overview of vendors at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Swap Meet & Flea Market on Memorial Day weekend.Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2021.
I’VEREACHED THAT STAGE in life where I don’t need more stuff (although I would like an updated kitchen). But I’m talking about all the miscellaneous that fills our homes. Not necessarily necessary, but stuff that we like, whether art, antiques, collectibles or whatever.
A beautiful mirrored gazing ball offered by a crafter. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
I’ll always appreciate those extras which personalize our houses and outdoor spaces, which make a place a home.
The event also included a live auction. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
And I’ll always appreciate swap meets and flea markets, a good source for unusual finds. Flea markets, after a year’s hiatus due to COVID-19, are back in my area of southern Minnesota. And recently I attended my second of the season, this one hosted by Rice County Steam & Gas Engines, Inc. in rural Dundas.
My favorite “character” at this year’s flea market. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
I delight in walking among vendors on this spacious acreage. I enjoy the people-watching and the array of merchandise.
And I welcome spotting a tractor or two, which takes me back to the farm.
Love this fish art by Ron Hammond Artworks of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Darlene Wondra of G & D Sales in Montgomery did this handstitched dish towel embroidery. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Beautiful rag rugs crafted by Lito Xydous Hufford of CA2 BY LITOUS. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Often, I pause to chat with vendors, including those who sell crafts or art.
“Snake woman,” found at the booth of Daniel Bell. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
I also search for art in the used merchandise available for purchase. As a creative, I view the world through an artful lens.
Among the unusual merchandise: wigs for sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
The unusual, the oddities, the unique draw my focus.
And then there’s the food, this time mini donuts, my long-time fair food favorite. These were especially good. Warm. Sugary. And not at all greasy.
Some of vendor Daniel Bell’s offerings. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
There’s so much to enjoy about flea markets, even if I’m only looking and not buying. And this year, especially, it feels exceptionally good to be out and about. Meandering. Reminiscing over merchandise. Admiring creativity. Simply appreciating life and being among people again.
The peonies painted into the mural honor the long ago Brand Peony Farm, no longer in existence. The nationally-renowned peony grower/developer earned Faribault the title of “Peony Capital of the World.” The community celebrated with an annual peony festival and parade, and brides stored peonies in caves along the river. In many Faribault residential neighborhoods you’ll see peonies bushes, currently in bloom.
Brennan also painted another Faribault famous flower, the clematis, in to her mural. Donahue’s Greenhouse, just blocks from my home, grows one of the largest selections of clematis in the country.
Finally, the rare, endangered Dwarf Trout Lily also earned a spot in this floral garden. The mini lily grows in only three places in the world—in Rice, Steele and Goodhue counties—and can be found locally at River Bend Nature Center.
I love how this young Minneapolis artist put so much thought into designing a vibrant mural that is universally appealing yet reflective of Faribault. I expect this oversized public art piece will provide the backdrop for many a fun photo opp. For visitors and locals alike. Maybe even for brides clutching peony bouquets.
FYI: Jordyn Brennan, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Arts, has been working hard on the mural with a goal of completing it by mid-June, just in time for Faribault’s Heritage Days celebration. She’s painted more since I took these photos. I will do a follow-up post when the mural is done. This talented young artist is also pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. She’s completed other flower and nature-themed murals. Be sure to visit her website.
I appreciate the more than 1,500 views of that May 6 post. But I don’t appreciate some of the comments that followed. Let me explain.
Initially, comments on my story about graffiti along the Teepee Tonka Trail leading into River Bend Nature Center, specifically inside an historic tunnel and on a footbridge over the Straight River, came from regular Minnesota Prairie Roots readers. They have no connection to my community. But I have an already established relationship with those readers, who comment often. So I approved their comments. Yes, I moderate replies to my posts.
PUSHING PAUSE ON COMMENTS
When comments began rolling in from those who followed the Facebook link, I pushed pause. I didn’t like much of what I was reading. The first comment, in fact, was threatening. I won’t give voice to those words here. But suffice to say that I felt uncomfortable with the message written by this anonymous individual.
Other writers used derogatory words to describe Faribault and the individuals creating graffiti. I may not like what these taggers are doing, but I also don’t like name-calling.
And I don’t like the negativity that all too often prevails about Faribault. Yes, people are entitled to their opinions. But it does no good to continually criticize. Every single community faces issues. Amplifying the negative rather than working toward improvement and resolution only perpetuates problems, or perceived problems.
THE POSITIVES OF FARIBAULT
Faribault is a place of incredible natural beauty from our many parks to the two rivers that run through to, yes, even that trail tracing to the tagged tunnel.
Faribault is a place where history matters, as evidenced in our downtown historic district, historic homes scattered throughout the city, aged churches, Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, Buckham Memorial Library and many more buildings. Even our viaduct. And the Central Park Bandshell. And the historic Faribault Woolen Mill. And, yes, even the 1937 Teepee Tonka Tunnel, hand dug by Works Progress Administration workers as a root cellar for the Minnesota School and Colony.
Faribault is a place of diversity. I welcome our immigrants, who often fled horrendous situations in their native countries. I value opportunities to learn more about their cultures and have always appreciated the work of The Faribault Diversity Coalition.
Faribault is a place of family and community connections. Although I am not rooted here by birth or upbringing, I see generations of families who have called Faribault home. And I wonder sometimes if that’s partially why negativity rises. Sometimes it takes leaving a place, and then returning, to appreciate its good qualities.
Faribault is a place of art. From the many downtown murals to the Tiffany stained glass windows in some historic buildings, to the Paradise Center for the Arts and more, we are a community filled with art and creatives. And, yes, that includes the graffiti artists. When I viewed their art, I couldn’t help but appreciate their talent. Not the content (especially the profanity) or the location of their art, but their skills as artists. If only their art could be channeled into something positive. Yes, perhaps that is a Pollyanna perspective.
Some who commented on my initial blog post called for painting over the tunnel graffiti and one (a professional painter) offered to take on that task. That seems a good start, or restart as it’s been done before. Of course, that requires time, money (perhaps via a Community Pride Grant from the Faribault Foundation), effort and tenacity. But, as one individual commented, “This town could use a lot of TLC everywhere.” I don’t disagree.
It’s up to each of us to make that happen. To care. To act. To love. To go beyond words typed on a keyboard.
Note: I moderate all comments on my blog. Because this is my personal blog, I decide whether or not to publish comments.
OUTDOOR PUBLIC ART enhances a community. It provides an outlet for creativity, adds interest to place and often brings joy. At least that’s my assessment.
As someone who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal exposure to the arts—or perhaps more accurately minimal opportunity in the arts—I deeply appreciate the arts.
My community of Faribault, where I’ve lived for the past 39 years, embraces creativity, centered today at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Yet, the visual arts extend well beyond the walls of the Paradise to stained glass windows in our historic churches, an art collection at Buckham Memorial Library, sculptures, architecture, home-grown shops, historic-themed murals and even the graceful curves of the historic viaduct.
You can see Faribault’s newest addition to the outdoor art scene from that viaduct, which offers a sweeping view of the downtown area.
The Upper East Side mural, a project of owner Suzanne Schwichtenberg and Jarvis, is more modern and graphic with strong lines. Less detailed. Bold. With unexpected pops of color. I find the zipper painted into the mural to be especially creative—the unzipping of history, of stories, of past and present. The mural invites introspection rather than simple reflection on an historic place or memory.
That’s my take. Not as someone with an art education, but rather as a creative who has grown to appreciate the arts in her community and beyond.
FYI: Suzanne Schwichtenberg leads paint-and-sip events and other painting sessions at The Upper East Side and also takes painting/social gatherings on the road. Jarvis is a third-generation artist specializing in historical sketches and scenes from everyday life. He is passionate about local and regional history, authoring a book on the area’s mill history.
THE RIVER RUNS THROUGH. Behind businesses, over the dam by the aged mill, under bridges…
In Northfield, the Cannon River always draws me. There’s something about water. About the power of a river, the mesmerizing movement, the rise and fall thereof, the sense of peace which flows through me when I view water. Or watch fire. Or hear wind.
On a recent Sunday, Randy and I headed toward the Riverwalk in the heart of historic downtown Northfield. We passed, and paused, at Bridge Square, the community’s gathering place. Every town should have a spot like this for folks to meet, to center causes, to converse or to simply sit.
We stopped to watch the Cannon spill over the Ames Mill Dam next to the 1865 Malt-O-Meal (now Post Consumer Brands) mill that still produces hot cereal, the scent often wafting over the city.
I delighted in a blossoming tree and the spring-themed art painted on the front window of the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. Seemingly small things like this add an artsy vibe to Northfield. Details matter. Art matters. Nature matters.
When we reached the riverside back of the Contented Cow, I noticed for the first time the Holstein painted retaining walls and tables. Why had I not previously seen this? It appears to have been here for awhile.
I find backs of buildings bare bones interesting, like nouns without adjectives.
That’s the thing about slowing down. Noticing. Sometimes we fail to walk at a pace that allows us to see, truly see, the world around us. The backs of buildings. The flow of the river. To take it all in, starry-eyed at the beauty which surrounds us.
I CAN ALMOST HEAR the rhythmic oom-pah-pah of the polka, see the couples twirling across the scuffed wooden dance floor, smell the scent of whiskey poured from bottles hidden in brown paper bags.
Across Minnesota, ballrooms once centered Saturday evenings with wedding receptions, concerts and parties celebrating milestones. The Blue Moon Ballroom in Marshall. The Gibbon Ballroom, site of Polka Days, in Gibbon. The Pla-Mor Ballroom in Rochester. George’s Ballroom in New Ulm. And many others.
Now most of these entertainment venues are shuttered. Abandoned. Or gone. The places of memories shared in stories. The places of memories photographed. A bride tossing her bouquet. A couple wrapped in each other’s arms. A trio wildly whirling in The Chicken Dance. My parents met at a dance in a southwestern Minnesota ballroom in the early 1950s. So many Minnesotans hold ballroom memories.
Last summer while in New Ulm, I photographed the exterior of George’s Ballroom, an art deco style brick structure built in 1947 by George Neuwirth. The facility, which could hold up to 3,000 guests, once served as this community’s celebration and concert hub. Lawrence Welk, Glen Miller, The Six Fat Dutchmen and other big name bands played here.
George’s closed in 1991, reopened for awhile under new ownership and then shuttered again—permanently—in the early 2000s. Property taxes went unpaid. Options expired.
Now, nearly 20 years later, the former dance hall faces likely demolition, according to media reports. Cost to restore the ballroom is estimated at $5 million. Cost to demolish it, $1 million. That’s a lot of money. But when you’re dealing with mold from water damage, asbestos and other health and safety issues, costs climb quickly.
All of this saddens me. I love historic buildings. They’re often well-built and hold important historic, community and personal importance. But I am also a realist who recognizes that not everything can be saved.
I do hope, though, that the George’s marquee and signage—which drew me to photograph the building in the heart of downtown New Ulm—will be saved. It sounds like that’s the plan. I hope the historic art can be incorporated into an outdoor public space rather than tucked inside, mostly unseen and under appreciated. People need easy access to George’s memorabilia. To photograph. To reminisce. To remember the Saturday nights of Big Bands and polkas and partying with family and friends. With a little creative thinking, George’s can continue to draw locals and others, adding another attraction to a community that excels as a destination city.
TELL ME: What would you do with George’s Ballroom and/or the marquee and signage? I’d love to hear your creative ideas and/or your memories of George’s or other ballrooms.
I CALL IT ALLEY ART. That tag in no way diminishes its value. Rather, the moniker fits the public art I’ve discovered in alleys, most recently in downtown New Ulm.
During a brief stop in this southwestern Minnesota city, Randy and I walked several blocks along the north side of Minnesota Street, popping into The Grand Center for Arts & Culture and also Antiques Plus of New Ulm. Mostly, though, we simply followed the sidewalk with me pausing whenever I found something of photographic interest.
I’m always delighted when I find the unexpected. And I found that along Minnesota Street in the form of outdoor public art. As an appreciator of the arts, especially easily accessible public art, I get excited about such creative installations.
The finds I feature here represent only a sampling of art you can enjoy in New Ulm. These three were new to me, although they likely have been around for awhile. Brief online searches yielded no information.
That doesn’t matter as much as my reaction to, and appreciation of, this art. Here were history and heritage. Creative expression. Art which enhances New Ulm and the experiences of visitors like me. Hopefully locals, too.
I considered the early settlers to this region, including the maternal side of my family with roots in neighboring small town Courtland. Generations of the Bode family still live in the area. Drop that German name in New Ulm and locals will recognize it.
I considered, too, the German heritage of this city. Tourism is based primarily on that heritage.
And then I considered how a place like Lola, an American Bistro, can carve a food and creative niche here also, drawing my camera eye with an over-sized blue plywood mug constructed around an ally entrance. Mugs attached.
The trio of public art installations I discovered during my short walk along the north side of Minnesota Street added to my appreciation of downtown New Ulm. I expect next time I’ll find even more. If not in an alley, then elsewhere.
FYI: This concludes my recent series of blog posts from New Ulm. Check my March 19, 23 and 24 posts if you missed those. Or type “New Ulm” into my blog search engine to read the many stories I’ve written on this southwestern Minnesota community.