Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The artistry of winter in southeastern Minnesota April 18, 2018

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AS A LITERARY and visual artist, I see artistry in a Minnesota winter.

 

 

 

It’s there, in the shadows,

 

 

the snow,

 

 

the starkness of this season.

 

 

It’s there, too, in the curve of a woods-snugged road,

 

 

the rise and fall of a snow-edged highway,

 

 

the rustic dried grasses of swampland.

 

 

Poetry exists in a lone robin come too early for spring,

 

 

a squirrel clawed to a tree,

 

 

a lawn chair draped in new-fallen snow.

In this extended season of cold and snow, the artistry of winter remains, seemingly unwilling to yield to the artistry of spring.

 

 

But as certain as writer’s bloc vanishes, as certain as molded clay forms a sculpture, this artistry of a Minnesota winter will morph into the artistry of spring. I tell myself that as yet another winter storm storms into southern Minnesota.

 

NOTE: All images were taken from my Faribault yard or along Rice County Road 38.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A mother’s sorrow March 30, 2018

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Mary holds Jesus. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

THROUGH THE YEARS, I’ve photographed many churches. And many works of art within those sanctuaries. Today it seems fitting that I share this image taken nearly a year ago inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota.

I see in this sculpture the profound grief of Jesus’ mother, Mary. I see it in her eyes, in every essence of her sorrowful face. I doubt there is any pain deeper than that of a parent losing a child.

In the darkness of Good Friday, I anticipate the light of Easter morning.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The sign painter of Mazeppa, Part I March 28, 2018

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I love that Mazeppa restored this historic bridge spanning the Zumbro River and converted it into a pedestrian walkway. Noted W.S. Hewett Company designed the Walnut Street Bridge in 1904.

 

WHEN I VISITED MAZEPPA awhile back, I fell in love with this town of some 800 just north of Rochester and along the north branch of the Zumbro River.

 

Some of my favorite signage hangs on the City of Mazeppa maintenance garage housed in a former creamery.

 

This signage honors the butter crafted by the former Mazeppa Farmers’ Cooperative Dairy Association.

 

Another favorite of mine: this sign on Mike Meyer’s shop.

 

Or to be more specific, I fell for the hand-painted signs that grace buildings in this community. Most are the work of local sign painter, Mike Meyer.

 

 

 

Meyer’s corner sign shop was closed on the day I visited. So I knew nothing then of his notoriety. But he is world-renowned for his sign painting skills. This I learned while researching him online and watching the short film, “Man with a Brush.” He leads hand lettering workshops across the country and around the world from Amsterdam to Berlin to Dublin to Barcelona to Sweden and beyond.

 

 

 

 

Alright then. I’m impressed. But I’m even more impressed by the humbleness of this artist who grew up in Mazeppa and claims there’s no place he’d rather live than in his southeastern Minnesota hometown. His father barbered and painted signs in between cutting hair and Meyer learned from him. He left for three years to serve in the Army, but came right back home to follow his passion of painting signs. He went to sign school, too, and worked for a sign painter before being laid off.

 

Meyer’s shop anchors a corner of downtown Mazeppa.

 

That prompted him to take the bold step of opening his own sign shop. One quote in the “Man with a Brush” strikes me in particular: “Nobody really said, ‘Don’t run over the hill like the rest of the rats. Go the other way,’” Meyer says. He chose to make his future in his hometown doing what he loves. Away from the rat race. How many people can say they are doing what they love in a place they love as they go to work every day? Probably not many.

 

 

 

 

Now Meyer could have just stayed in Mazeppa, tucked away quietly painting signs for businesses and such. But he didn’t. He holds an innate desire to pass along his knowledge, his skills, his passion, to others. That theme of mentorship threads throughout the film on Meyer’s life as a sign painter. He teaches others the artistry of the trade.  Watch the film (click here) and you see the undeniable joy this long-time painter experiences in sharing his expertise while working side-by-side with novices and beyond. He’ll lead workshops locally during Mazeppa Daze in July.

 

 

Individuals like Meyer make our small towns unique places that exist outside the rat race. He proves that success and happiness come from within ourselves in following our passions. No matter where we live.

 

Please check back for another post from Mazeppa.

© Photos copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sources: Mike Meyer’s Facebook page, Better Letters Co. and “Man with a Brush” (directed and produced by UK-based Dimension 2)

 

The visual delight of Layl McDill’s clay sculptures comes to Faribault March 23, 2018

Details in Layl McDill’s “Color Overload” sculpture.

 

AS A CHILD, I FOUND dime store kaleidoscopes particularly fascinating. I appreciated how a simple turn of the tube could change the colors, the shapes, the images I saw.

 

More details in McDill’s art.

 

A certain sense of magic and mystery and wonderment appeared through the eye hole. Art. Vivid. Fluid. And always beautiful.

 

An overview of some sculptures in McDill’s exhibit in Faribault.

 

Those memories flowed as I viewed Minneapolis artist Layl McDill’s polymer clay sculptures now on exhibit in the Carlander Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

 

“No one knew she was such a Deep Thinker” by Layl McDill.

 

McDill’s art is colorful and whimsical, a visual delight. I’ve never seen anything like it in a gallery. I couldn’t stop looking at the many pieces, wondering, How did she do that? And that must have taken her forever.

 

 

I thought of those kaleidoscopes. But I thought, too, of Play Doh and how much fun I had rolling, squashing and crafting that product as a child and mom. I expect McDill feels that same joy in creating her clay sculptures.

 

“Ape Thought he was in Control of the Trees” by Layl McDill.

 

There’s so much to study within each piece. It would take hours to truly see everything.

 

Layl McDill’s “Bird’s Little Library Teapot.”

 

I’d suggest you take the time to visit McDill’s exhibit, to escape into her fantasy world of art. Or take a class she is teaching on Thursday, April 26, at the Paradise. Or book a clay party.

 

“Wonderment Whale” by Layl McDill.

 

We all need the distraction of art to sidetrack our minds, to bring us joy, to stretch our creativity. McDill brings all of that in her art.

 

FYI: Layl McDill’s exhibit at the Paradise closes on April 21. Click here for more information.

Also read my previous post on the Student Exhibition currently showing at the Paradise, 321 Central Avenue N., Faribault. Click here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Showcasing the art of Faribault area students in (the) Paradise March 21, 2018

 

ON THE SECOND FLOOR of the Paradise Center for the Arts, along a horseshoe of hallways and inside a classroom space, the artwork of Faribault area students is showcased during a month-long Student Exhibition.

 

Art by Faribault Middle School students.

 

By Zabdy Espinal, Faribault Middle School seventh grader.

 

 

I toured the exhibit recently with camera in hand, admiring the talents of kindergartners through 12th graders.

 

By Faribault Middle School sixth grader Avery Dressen.

 

By Ava Nelson, seventh grader at Faribault Middle School.

 

A potter works down the hallway from art that splashes vivid hues onto a wall.

 

From bold to subdued,

 

By Anzal Abdi of Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

By Ruby H. from Nerstrand Elementary School.

 

By Gracie Molden, Faribault Lutheran School seventh grader.

 

from symbolic to wildly creative, the variety of art in this annual show always impresses me.

 

Each piece of art is tagged with the artist’s name and school.

 

I consider not only the creative minds that drew and painted and shaped these pieces, but the honor of having that work on public view. What an incredible way to encourage young people in pursuing, or simply enjoying, art.

 

Portraits by Lincoln Elementary School third graders Tyrese Monahan, left, and Michael Chappuis, right.

 

 

Art by Cannon River STEM School students, Megan, left to right, Abby and Carrie.

 

Can you imagine the pride Avery or Ava or Tyrese or Anzal or any one of the many students feels when seeing their work, their art, displayed in a community art center?

 

Prince portrait by Jada Fairbanks, senior at Faribault Area Learning Center.

 

These young people are our future. We want them to value art. They are our future graphic designers, our potters, our photographers, our painters, our book illustrators, our patrons of the arts.

 

By Dania Soto, Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

Classroom turned art gallery for the Student Exhibition.

 

Showcased on a window is the art of Faribault Lutheran School first grader Frankie Spicer with other student art in the background.

 

For today, they are our student artists, developing their skills through the guidance and encouragement of teachers and parents. And a community art center that understands and values the creativity of young people.

 

FYI: The Student Exhibition features the works of students from Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Nerstrand Elementary Schools, Faribault Lutheran School, Faribault Middle School, Cannon River STEM School, Faribault Area Learning Center and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind. The show closes on April 14.

Check back for a post on clay artist Layl McDill whose work is showing in the main gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Student art was photographed with permission of the PCA. Artwork is copyrighted by the individual artists.

 

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

 

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