Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Winter exposure in southern Minnesota March 15, 2018

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Near New Ulm.

 

IN THE NAKEDNESS of winter, when trees are stripped bare of leaves, when fields lie exposed to the elements, rural Minnesota seems especially vulnerable.

 

Near Essig along US Highway 14.

 

In no other season do I notice more the intimate details of this place.

 

Along US Highway 14 somewhere west of Owatonna.

 

Red barns seem redder.

 

By Morgan

 

Power poles appear more intrusive.

 

Morgan, Minnesota

 

Grain elevators dominate, shoving grey mass into an already colorless landscape.

All of this I see through eyes that crave now the melting of snow, the cloaking of the land in the greening of spring.

 

NOTE: All images have been edited to create an artsy look.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The art of signs in Sleepy Eye, Part III March 12, 2018

A pedestrian crossing sign contrasts with the historic PIX Theatre sign in need of repair in downtown Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.

 

AS A CREATIVE TYPE, I am drawn to signage. I appreciate the graphics, the fonts, the uniqueness of signs that mark businesses.

 

 

Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota features one of my favorite signs—that of the King Koin Launderette. I love the colors, the name, the bubbles.

 

 

 

Then there’s the bright yellow signage on Meyer’s Bar & Lounge. The martini glass makes this sign as does the word lounge. That tag hearkens to a bygone era of mixed drinks served in a place fancier than a bar. I’ve never been inside Meyer’s so I can’t confirm whether a lounge really exists there.

 

 

 

Nor have I been inside the Servicemen’s Club. But I sure do like, from an artistic perspective, the back-to-back Grain Belt signs. I don’t understand, though, how a beer can be friendly. People can be friendly. Not beer. Minneapolis Brewing Company debuted the slogan, “The Friendly Beer With the Friendly Flavor,” in 1933. Despite that confusing message, I still appreciate this visually-appealing sign advertising a beer now made by August Schell Brewing Company. That’s just down US Highway 14 from Sleepy Eye in the city of New Ulm.

 

 

 

If all goes as planned, more local beer should be available within a year or two in a former downtown movie theater, according to Sleepy Eye Economic Development Authority Coordinator Kurk Kramer. Local physicians plan to open a nano brewery and coffee shop therein. That pleases me, especially since the couple intends to restore the historic PIX Theatre marquee.

 

 

 

 

Sleepy Eye businesses also honor the town’s namesake, Chief Sleepy Eyes, with his portrait featured on numerous signs. You’ll see his likenesses marking Sleepy Eye Stained Glass, The Sleepy Eye Dispatch Herald (where I worked briefly decades ago), posted on a corner downtown business and elsewhere. It’s a nod to local history, just one more point of interest.

I challenge you, the next time you are in a small town like Sleepy Eye, to pause and study the signage. Consider the graphics, the fonts, the uniqueness of these signs that often make them works of art as much as place markers.

 

Check back tomorrow for “This & that from my tour of downtown Sleepy Eye, Part IV.” That post will conclude my series on Sleepy Eye.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From pets to farm animals, Faribault artist creates vibrant portraits February 20, 2018

“LaFonda” from Squash Blossom Farm

 

I’D RECOGNIZE Faribault artist Julie Fakler’s art anywhere. She paints animal portraits that pop with personality and color, that leave me smiling and happy.

 

“Peters Farm Horse”

 

Her signature acrylic paintings feature domestic animals against a backdrop of bold color. No distractions of setting. Just the animal, full focus.

 

“Grandview Farm Cat”

 

I’m always drawn to the eyes. Julie has the ability to paint eyes that connect me to the cat or dog or horse or cow or goat or whatever creature she paints. I look into those eyes and I see an animal cared for, loved, important to someone somewhere.

 

A promo for Julie’s Faribault show.

 

The latest somewhere took Julie onto five area farms to wander among and photograph animals, talk with the farmers and then paint for her latest show, “Southeastern Minnesota Farm Animal Portraits Exhibition.” She received a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant for the project.

 

Julie’s farm animal portraits, including “Squash Blossom Farm Chicken,” adorn walls in Buckham Commons.

 

Several days ago I photographed, with Julie’s permission, her art now displayed through February 28 at Buckham Commons, the hallway linking Faribault’s public library to the community center. Her farm animal paintings are also displayed through February 24 at the Austin (MN) Artworks Gallery. Julie’s new show deviates from her usual pet portraits. I always appreciate an artist who takes on creative challenges.

 

“Grandview Farm Goat”

 

Whenever I view Julie’s animal art, I envision her vibrant work beyond acrylic on hardboard. I see her animal portraits on the pages of a children’s picture book, on t-shirts, on pillows, on tote bags…the possibilities seem endless for this animal-loving artist.

 

Even Julie’s guestbook is handcrafted.

 

Portrait propped next to the guestbook.

 

Some of the comments penned in the guestbook.

 

TELL ME: What do you think of Julie’s art and/or other possibilities for her paintings?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork copyright of Julie Fakler and photographed with her permission. Julie paints animal portraits on commission and also teaches “Paint your Pet” classes. Check her website by clicking here for more info.

 

Remembering Barb Larson one year after her murder via an act of domestic violence December 21, 2017

Barb Larson, an employee of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, was murdered on December 23, 2016, at her workplace. A memorial mosaic on the building exterior honors her.

 

ON DECEMBER 23, 2016, Barb Larson was murdered inside the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. She was shot by her ex-husband, a former cop, who then turned his gun on himself.

 

This plaque fronts the artwork.

 

The murder of Barb Larson and the suicide of her killer, Richard Larson, just days before Christmas 2016 stunned my community. Both were well-known in Faribault. For Barb to die in an act of domestic violence in the workplace—in a place promoting our community—seemed unfathomable.

 

Caron Bell’s mosaic is titled “Love Remains” and was designed with input from Barb’s family and friends.

 

But it happened. Just like domestic abuse and violence still occur daily in my city. And in yours, too. Most often the violence does not result in death. Sometimes, tragically, it does.

 

I see grief, a swirling of emotions, in the grey tile.

 

A year out from Barb’s murder, I wonder if anything in my community has really changed. Reports of domestic-related calls continue to fill police reports published in the local newspaper. Domestic violence stories still cover too many column inches.

 

Even after Barb’s death, beauty and hope still bloom.

 

Are we more aware, educated, alert now than we were before Barb’s high profile death? And if we are, what are we doing to make a difference in the lives of those affected by domestic abuse and violence? I’m talking individuals here, not those who already serve victims/survivors/families through advocacy programs like those at HOPE Center and through Ruth’s House, a local shelter for women and their families.

 

Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile.

 

Initially, some positive action followed—a Faribault church gave away battery-operated candles to shine the light of hope; the Chamber celebrated Happy Barb Day on what would have been Barb’s 60th birthday; public art exhibits honored Barb and spotlighted the darkness of her death and hope rising; a statewide It Happens Here awareness campaign highlighted the issue of domestic violence; and HOPE Center staffers attended a Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial event honoring Barb and other victims.

 

 

In addition to the art commission, the Chamber interior was refurbished by volunteers after Barb’s murder there. Inside the office, a word collage also honors Barb as does a fiber art piece by long-time friend and Northfield artist Judy Sayes-Willis.

 

As a Chamber employee, Barb was especially welcoming.

 

Additionally, the Chamber commissioned an art piece by Minneapolis artist Caron Bell. Titled “Love Remains,” the mosaic on the exterior of the Chamber office honors Barb through a peaceful landscape scene and six words describing her: friendly, passionate, hopeful, beautiful, strong and welcoming.

 

“Love Remains” needs to be viewed up close to see all the words celebrating Barb.

 

 

 

I didn’t know Barb personally. But I especially appreciate the words hopeful and strong. Strong and hopeful.

 

 

I’m thankful for these multiple efforts focusing public attention on the issues of domestic abuse and violence. I hope these efforts continue. Our awareness and concern must remain even when headlines vanish into the next day’s news.

 

 

In the year since Barb’s death, 21* known individuals have died in Minnesota due to domestic violence. That’s too many in 2017, or ever. We need to remember these victims and their families and friends. And we need to care about those who remain in abusive relationships. Whether sisters by blood, sisters by community connection, sisters by workplace, sisters by church or neighborhood or friendship, we must pledge to believe them, support them, help them. Stop blaming them.

We need also to question why men continue to abuse women. Beyond that, how can we prevent such abuse and change the negative ways in which some men and boys view women and girls?

We need to break the silence. We need to do something. And that starts with each of us.

 

Please click on the highlighted links within this post (especially in the final paragraphs) to view enlightening and informative stories and videos on the topics of domestic abuse and violence. These are important and worth your time. 

 

 

 

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help. Confide in someone you trust such as a family member, friend, co-worker, pastor, women’s advocate… You are not alone. There is hope and help. You deserve to be free of any type of abuse whether verbal, emotional, psychological, mental, financial, spiritual, technological and/or physical. Believe in yourself and in your strength.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The time period in which you try to leave (or after you’ve left) your abuser is the most dangerous time for you. Have a safety plan in place. In Barb’s case, a harassment restraining order had been served on her ex-husband the week he murdered her. Don’t rely on a piece of paper or “the system” to protect you.

If you know someone in an abusive relationship, offer your support, love and care. Educate yourself. Seek professional advice so you best know how to help a victim. That’s vital.

 

* This number may actually be higher, but is the most recent figure published on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

NOTE: Since most victims of domestic abuse and violence are women, I choose to use that gender when I write on this topic. I am aware that men can also be victims.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A collection of creative creches showcased in Faribault December 12, 2017

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, in a holiday funk, I opted to minimize my decorating. I’d get a Christmas tree and maybe set out a few other festive items. Mostly, though, I didn’t care. And I figured no one else would care either.

How wrong that assumption.

 

The Nativity set handcrafted by my maternal grandfather.

 

When the grown kids returned home for Christmas, they noticed the absence of the Nativity scene handcrafted by their great grandpa. It went up every year during their childhoods. Tradition, so it seems, holds value based on the protests of my offspring.

I never made the mistake again. The barn sawed, nailed and painted by my grandfather and the plaster of Paris baby Jesus, his parents and ensemble always go on display now. They should, given the reason for Christmas.

 

A holiday banner flags a light post next to the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

 

 

The memory of that faux pas surfaced when I stopped recently at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. I wanted to see the current (through December 22) gallery exhibit, Kathleen Putrah’s Creche Exhibition.

 

 

The show features samples from the rural Faribault woman’s 150 Nativity sets collected around the world.

 

 

Additionally, a Christmas tree holds some 700 ornaments accumulated by Putrah.

 

 

 

 

It’s an impressive collection, especially the uniqueness of some pieces. Never before have I seen the Holy Family portrayed as apes, an interpretation I found odd.

 

A painting by Adele Beals presents the traditional interpretation of the Nativity.

 

I’m more of a traditionalist.

 

 

 

 

But that’s the thing about art. It opens the doors to creative interpretation, both to the artist and to the art appreciator.

 

FYI: The Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday and until 8 p.m. Thursdays. The creche exhibit runs through December 22.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ringing bells for charity & bonus holiday events December 8, 2017

 

RINGING BELLS for the Salvation Army stretches beyond simply accepting donations for a charity that does good in my community. It’s also an opportunity to bring joy to someone needing something as basic as a friendly greeting and a warm smile.

When I ring, I make eye contact with everyone approaching me. Not because I want to guilt anyone into giving. Rather, I want to welcome them with a smile, a good morning/afternoon and, most often, a Merry Christmas. That’s my nature, to be friendly. Whether an individual can, or chooses to, give, remains their personal choice. I understand the finances of the senior citizen who apologized for not giving, citing limited Social Security income and mounting medical bills. He didn’t have to explain. Those who can and want to give, will.

 

Randy and I rang bells together from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. Saturday, December 2, took a half hour break and then returned to ring bells solo at two locations for another two hours. A lack of bell ringers led us to pull a double shift. Donations on December 2 totaled $3,965 in Rice County, surpassing the $2,500 match by an anonymous donor. Of that county-wide total, $2,620 was dropped into red kettles in Faribault.

 

For the first time ever in my seasons of ringing bells, I watched as a woman emptied the bulging contents of her coin purse into the red kettle. Her gift meant as much as that of a 40-something guy who dropped a few coins in the slot and remarked that every coin counts. He’s right. From the $20 donation to the $1 bills and pennies shoved in by children, every gift holds value to help someone in need.

 

Two girls give to the Red Kettle Campaign during a past holiday season. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I am grateful for the generosity in the Faribault community ($2,620 on December 2) and especially for those young parents who parcel coins and bills into the hands of their little ones. When one of those children asked to ring the bell on Saturday, I obliged. That sparked an idea. Maybe next year I will hand the bell to every kid who donates and offer them a chance to ring for a moment. And I’ll continue with my tradition of handing out candy kisses to youth.

I will continue also to greet those I meet with friendliness, even if some react with unkindness, something I experienced for the first time this year. The meanness won’t deter me. I am determined to keep a positive attitude, to do the best I can as a volunteer, as a human being, to extend kindness to those I greet while stationed at the red kettle. If my smile can brighten one person’s day, then I am grateful.

FYI: If you are interested in volunteering with the Red Kettle Campaign in Rice County, call (507) 334-0639 or email faribaultbellringer at gmail.com, northfieldbellringer at gmail.com or lonsdalebellringer at gmail.com, depending on location. You can also sign up online at this link: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/4090f4dacab2faafd0-2017

Bell ringers are desperately needed as the local chapter strives to reach its goal of $50,000. As of Monday, donations totaled $10,478, according to Ed Little, co-chair of the local Red Kettle Campaign. Last Saturday in Rice County, an anonymous donor matched donations with a $2,500 gift. On December 15 and 16, an anonymous donor will once again match county donations, this time up to $5,000.

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LOOKING FOR SOMETHING to do in Faribault this weekend?

 

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary’s Figure Skating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice in 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. They’ll skate this Saturday during the Campus Christmas Walk.

 

The Faribault Woolen Mill hosts a Holiday Open House from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday featuring gourmet goodies, give-aways, store specials and more. Bring a Toys for Tots donation and get a free gift.

Pop into the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery to view the many beautiful themed Christmas trees with ornaments available for purchase. The store opens at 8 a.m. Saturday, closes at 5 p.m.

 

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests in 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

On the east side of Faribault, Shattuck-St. Mary’s School opens its campus to the public for the annual Campus Christmas Walk. The Saturday event begins at noon with a free Figure Skating Holiday Show in the sports complex. Following that, from 1 – 3 p.m., enjoy hot chocolate and cookies and ornament making and cookie decorating in Morgan Refectory. Nearby, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at The Inn from 1 – 4 p.m. Stop at Shumway Hall between 1 – 3 p.m. for a sleigh ride. And then end your campus visit by taking in the half hour Holiday Concert in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd beginning at 3 p.m.

 

One of the many creches from the collection of Kathleen Putrah now on display at the Paradise.

 

Pop into the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault’s historic downtown from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday to shop at the Winter Farmer’s Market for locally-grown/raised produce/meats, baked goods and more. Also check out the work of local artists available for purchase in the PCA gift shop during the Holly Days Sale. Don’t miss the display of creches in the art gallery. And in the evening, take in “Coconuts and Mistletoe,” a holiday play performed by the Paradise Community Theatre beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. In this comedy, Santa conspires with spies to save Christmas.

In between all those events, be sure to shop at the the many home-grown businesses in our community.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When a prairie native sees Mille Lacs Lake for the first time November 28, 2017

Near shore, a seagull wings across Mille Lacs Lake, water and sky melding in vastness.

 

AT MY REQUEST, Randy and I took an indirect route from Faribault to Brainerd on a mid-September Up North vacation. I wanted to see Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota’s second largest inland lake covering some 200 square miles. It just didn’t seem right that, as a life-long Minnesotan, I’d never viewed this expansive body of water.

As a native of the landlocked prairie, my youthful exposure to Minnesota’s lakes included occasional fishing for bullheads, swimming in Cottonwood Lake once a year and a trip at age four to Duluth along the shores of Lake Superior. When you grow up on a dairy farm, there are few vacations; mine during childhood totaled two.

 

Tethered along Mille Lacs.

 

Without the typical Minnesota background of going up to the lake on weekends, of boating and swimming and fishing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I was eager to see Mille Lacs. I’ve heard so much about the lake, especially in recent years given the controversial restrictions on walleye fishing.

 

My first view of Mille Lacs Lake.

 

Our route took us along US Highway 169 along Mille Lacs and into Garrison.

 

I focused on a nearby shoreline until I mentally adjusted to the size of Mille Lacs Lake.

 

My first glimpse of Mille Lacs from U.S. Highway 169 presented no surprises. It was as I expected—a visual vastness of blue. As our van rounded into Garrison, the view opened and I anchored my eyes to the nearby shoreline. Until I adjust, I find the initial infinity of such large lakes a bit unsettling.

 

The concourse provides a lovely view of Mille Lacs. But there’s seagull poop everywhere.

 

Soon we pulled off Highway 169 and into the Garrison Concourse, a roadside scenic overlook built between 1936- 1939 by the then Minnesota Department of Highways and the Civilian Conservation Corps. On the National Register of Historic Places, this space features a rock retaining wall that, while impressive, was also unappealing for all the dried seagull poop streaking the wall, benches, sidewalk and pavement. I had no desire to sit here, linger and enjoy the view.

 

 

So I focused my attention on the 15-foot fiberglass walleye statue, built in 1980 for a local parade, and now a kitschy roadside attraction for a town that claims to be the Walleye Capital of the World (along with Baudette and several out-of-state locations).

 

 

 

 

An oversized walleye couldn’t just land here on its own. A sign posted on the statue base, next to the one that warns to PLEASE KEEP OFF THE WALLEYE THANK YOU, credits legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan for the trophy catch. You gotta appreciate a good story.

 

 

Randy and I did the typical tourist thing and posed for selfies next to the mega walleye.

 

 

If not for my observant husband, I would have missed another attraction—a small stone marker honoring William A. Tauer, a local hotel owner who drowned while trying to save boaters during a June 10, 1927, storm on Mille Lacs Lake. Engraving credits THE PEOPLE OF MORGAN, MINN for the memorial marker. That drew my interest. Morgan sits some 175 miles away to the southwest in my home county of Redwood. Later online research revealed little more. I expect William grew up in Morgan, where the Tauer surname is still common. I’d like to know more.

 

 

All in all, the overwhelming size of Mille Lacs impressed me. But not enough that I need to return. My disappointment came in the sense of—there’s the lake, now what? Perhaps further exploration beyond just this area by Garrison would change my perspective. Or, as others suggested, a return in the winter to see the thousands of fish houses on the frozen lake would impress me.

 

 

I have no desire to board a boat in a body of water this large. Randy has done so and I’ve heard his seasick stories. Nor do I desire to fish here in the winter when the ice cracks and anglers have been stranded on ice floes.

 

 

 

Still, I enjoyed the view and the iconic walleye. I can now say, “I’ve been to Mille Lacs.” But I can’t say, “I’ve patronized the Blue Goose.” The iconic restaurant and bar, my husband noted and lamented, is gone.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling