Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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)

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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

 

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.

 

The art of an interstate rest stop in Iowa June 7, 2017

 

PRIME VACATION SEASON is almost upon us and that means many of you will soon hit the roads. And when you travel, especially long-distance, rest stops hold necessary importance.

A year ago, my husband and I drove 2,800 miles from Minnesota to Boston and back to attend our son’s graduation from Tufts University. Some days we spent up to 10 hours in the van. The need to stretch our legs, to pee and to take a break from roadway fatigue led us to many an interstate rest stop.

Hands down, Iowa has the best rest areas. Indiana, not so much.

 

The rest stop along Interstate 380 near Cedar Rapids honors artist Grant Wood and features his rural themed work on ceramic tile. The floor design mimics crop rows.

 

So what makes Iowa’s interstate rest areas so appealing? Themed rest stops, of which there are 16. These are centers of art and history as much as places to take a bathroom break, to picnic, to gather travel info and to stretch. And bonus, the sole facility we visited was clean.

 

My first view of the rest stop focusing on Iowa artist Grant Wood, who was born 40 miles to the northeast and then moved to Cedar Rapids with his family in 1901.

 

 

 

On our return trip from Boston, we stopped at the Grant Wood Rest Area northbound along I-380 south of Cedar Rapids in Linn County. At the time, I knew nothing of these unique stops for travelers. So imagine my surprise when we pulled off the interstate and into a place that looked like a cultural art center in the middle of, well, Iowa fields.

 

The many windows incorporated into the rest stop mimic the farmhouse windows in Wood’s “American Gothic” painting.

 

Wood’s work featured the rural Iowa landscape. Here his art is showcased in ceramic tile inside the rest area building.

 

Behind the rest stop building, visitors can consider the view through these window props.

 

Completed four years ago, “The View From Our Window: Grant Wood in Iowa” rest area honors Wood, painter of “American Gothic.” In my limited knowledge of Iowa art, this painting of a farm couple standing in front of a farmhouse is symbolic of Iowa as I view it. Rural, through and through. David Dahlquist of RDG Dahlquist Design Studio in Des Moines created the art at this interstate stop.

 

The green “waves” represent Iowa cropland.

 

Emerging soybean art inside the rest stop structure.

 

Real life farming in Iowa.

 

For this weary traveler, the Grant Wood rest area proved a welcome respite from the interstate and from the countless other rest stops that were nothing more than functional spaces to meet travelers’ basic needs. Expanding that purpose beyond—to include art and history—made an impression upon me.

 

Travelers can get a view of the U.S. on a map situated next to a duplicate of the farm woman Wood painted in “American Gothic.”

 

In other sections of Iowa, you can, for example, learn about Lewis and Clark at the southbound I-29 rest area at Sergeant Bluff.

 

Picnic areas are sheltered by machinery like structures.

 

These themed Iowa rest areas are most prolific along I-80. The Mississippi River is the focal point of the westbound stop in the Davenport area. Eastbound, the rest area at Grinnell highlights pioneers while one in Cedar County focuses on the Underground Railroad.

 

This sign inside the rest stop building honors Wood’s artist’s loft, 5 Turner Alley, in Cedar Rapids.

 

If you’re so inclined and looking for an inexpensive way to view public art and learn history in Iowa, you could plan a trip around visiting Iowa’s themed rest areas. If anything, it would be quite the unique vacation story.

 

 

TELL ME: Have you come across other such unique public interstate rest areas in your travels across the country? Or, offer your opinion of these Iowa rest areas.

FYI: Click here to visit the Iowa Department of Transportation website showcasing Iowa’s themed rest areas.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: There are no limitations with art March 15, 2017

 

AS A CHILD, I hooked nylon loops onto a pegged plastic square then wove more loops the other direction to shape a potholder.

My potholders were rather useless given their minimal size and synthetic material. But still, I gifted many aunts with potholders on their birthdays and they graciously thanked me.

 

 

I never pursued weaving beyond that childhood obsession, although I was convinced that some day I would weave rag rugs like my Uncle Bob. A long retired Minneapolis police officer, he learned the craft from his mother and has given me many sturdy rugs for my home.

 

 

As a child, I admired Helen Keller. I still do. I often wondered what it would be like to be deaf and blind as she was and to overcome those disabilities with such determination. After suffering a sudden sensory hearing loss in my right ear six years ago, I understand partial deafness. But to be blind, that stretches my imagination.

 

 

With that background, I was especially drawn to a section of the Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. It features SAORI weaving, free-style hand-weaving that originated in Japan. Minnesota State Academy for the Blind students created the woven art under the guidance of artist-in-residence Chiaki O’Brien.

 

 

I expect the texture of the materials makes this craft especially appealing to those with limited or no vision. Their other senses, including the sense of touch, are heightened.

I think then back to Helen Keller and how her devoted teacher, Anne Sullivan, spelled w-a-t-e-r into Helen’s hand as water rushed over it.

 

 

I wonder then how the hands-on teaching of Chiaki O’Brien affected visually-impaired students at the Minnesota Academy as they saw with their hands that they could create art. What a gift.

FYI: The Student Art Exhibit, featuring artwork from nine Faribault schools, runs through April 1 on the second floor of the Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

This concludes my recent series of stories on current exhibits at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork photographed with permission from the PCA.

 

Faribault artist honors Prince, Dylan & other musicians through her oil portraits October 17, 2016

Dana used a stencil to incorporate musical notes in to this painting of Prince. Notice the detail of the heart-shaped mole on the musician's cheek.

Dana Hanson used a stencil to incorporate musical notes in to this painting of Prince. Notice the detail of the heart-shaped mole on the musician’s cheek. Prince Rogers Nelson was inducted in to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

DANA WARMINGTON HANSON can’t read a single musical note. But she doesn’t need to. She paints music.

Using a photo as her guide, Dana works on her Dylan portrait.

Using a photo as her guide, Dana works on a portrait of Bob Dylan during a summer concert in Faribault’s Central Park. He was inducted in to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1991. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, July 2016.

This past summer, the Faribault artist painted several Minnesota Music Hall of Fame inductees during Faribault’s Concert in the Park Series as part of the Artgo! group of plein air artists.

Dana's younger version of Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman.

Dana’s younger version of Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman.

Her decision to paint Prince and Bob Dylan, especially, seems particularly fitting given the recent focus on those world-renowned musicians. Last week Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature. And Prince’s Paisley Park Museum opened temporarily to fans.

"Bob Dylan: A Voice to be Remembered," a 22 x 28-inch oil portrait by Dana Hanson priced at $1,400.

“Bob Dylan: A Voice to be Remembered,” a 22 x 28-inch oil portrait by Dana Hanson priced at $1,400.

Dana says she appreciates the musical talents of both. Back in the day, she listened to Dylan, which may explain why she painted two portraits of the Hibbing native.

Prince by Dana Hanson.

“Prince: A Voice We Remember,” a 22 x 28-inch oil painting on canvas by Dana Hanson priced at $1,400 honored the musician who died in April.

As for Prince, she’s not a fan per se, but calls him “an extremely talented and gifted musician.”

And I call Dana an extremely talented and gifted artist.

A poster posted at the initial exhibit.

A poster promotes an exhibit of Artgo! work in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Her artwork exudes the passion she holds for creating art. I’ve watched her paint for two summers now during the concerts in the park. She paints with a flair, with a zeal, with an obvious love for the craft. As a freelance artist, Dana does commission work of animals and people. She’s also created cover art for books and is currently working on contracted art for a children’s book.

Dana Hanson's oil paints.

The artist’s oil paints on foil during a summer concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

At her full-time job in Faribault’s Fareway Foods Bakery, Dana uses her creative skills, too, to bake and to decorate cakes along with her sister Bobbi Dawson. The two long-time professionally trained cake decorators call themselves the Sweet Sisters. Dana is certainly that. Sweet. Friendly. Talented. She hopes to some day make art her full-time work. For now, she paints when she can, with a regular first and third Saturday painting time at House Church in Eagan.

Dana Hanson's artist statement posted at the 2016 Artgo! art show in Faribault.

The artist statement for Dana Hanson posted at the 2016 Artgo! art show in Faribault.

Her artistic talents trace through her family. Dana’s grandma, Frieda Lord, founded the Faribault Art Center, today the Paradise Center for the Arts. Dana has a show coming there in February. It will be just one more opportunity to view and appreciate the talents of this gifted Faribault artist.

Dana Hanson also painted this portrait of Judy Garland, who was inducted in to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1991. Judy was born as Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and starred in "The Wizard of Oz."

Dana Hanson also painted this portrait of Judy Garland, who was inducted in to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1991. Judy was born as Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and starred in “The Wizard of Oz.” The portrait is a 22 x 28-inch oil priced at $1,400 in titled “Judy Garland: Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”

FYI: If you are interested in purchasing one of the portraits featured here, contact the Paradise Center for the Arts, Jeff Jarvis at the City of Faribault or me and we will connect you with Dana.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos of Dana Hanson’s art were taken with permission of the artist.

 

Garden tour I: Couple masters the art of landscaping June 29, 2016

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Siegfried garden, 4 lily

 

LOVELY LILIES LEAN.

 

Siegfried garden, 23 clematis, etc.

 

Clematis cascade.

Sixty to seventy fish (guppies and koi) swim in the Siegfrieds' pond.

Sixty to seventy fish (guppies and koi) swim in the Siegfrieds’ pond.

Captive koi circle.

And the sun blazes brilliant on a Sunday summer afternoon in the yard of Karrie and Mike Siegfried.

Pond, pergola and bridge create a focal point in the yard.

Pond, pergola and bridge create a focal point in the yard.

The couple has created an outdoor retreat just off busy Minnesota State Highway 3 on the northern edge of Faribault. I admire the property every time I pass by. But on this late June day, I view the yard up close while on the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour Garden and Landscape Tour benefiting Full Belly, a local soup kitchen.

The Prickly Pear Cactus, which will winter over in Minnesota (and is native to sections of southwestern Minnesota) grows in the Southwest Garden. Mike nearly gave up on the plant ever bloomig

The Prickly Pear Cactus, which will winter over in Minnesota (and is native to sections of southwestern Minnesota) grows in the Southwest Garden. Mike nearly gave up on the plant. But this year it bloomed.

This spacious yard features everything from ponds to shade gardens to a Southwest garden complete with cacti to a lawn sprawling enough for a wedding (Karrie’s son’s).

Dubbed the Southwest Garden, this plot features cacti and Southwest style pottery.

Dubbed the Southwest Garden, this plot features cacti and Southwest style pottery.

Perennials like clematis, coral bells, lamb’s ears, lilies and more fill borders and soften fence lines. Petunias, geraniums and other annuals spill from pots. Clumps of strategically placed ornamental grasses rise and sway, adding visual interest. Just like the art created by Mike.

Mike's copper leaf art.

Mike’s copper leaf and acorn art.

A plumber by trade, Mike took an interest in copper art after attending the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. In 2013, he opened an etsy shop, Mystical Copper. He crafts copper into mostly fish and butterflies, but also does custom pieces. I didn’t ask about the intricacies. But the art involves pounding and then heating the copper to get variations in color.

Mike's copper walleye.

Mike’s copper walleye.

Mike’s one-of-a-kind art enhances the Siegfrieds’ already impressive landscaping. Three patches of tall ornamental grasses front an oversized copper walleye attached to a fence. The scene mimics a lake setting. It takes an artist’s eye and a gardener’s knowledge to create such a vignette.

Shadow the cat greeted garden tour visitors.

Shadow the cat greeted garden tour visitors.

In the Siegfried’s yard, art and plants blend artfully and beautifully into this escape, this retreat, this lovely place bordering a busy Minnesota highway.

FYI: Check back for more stories and photos from gardens featured on the Garden and Landscape Tour. Click here to read my first post about Fully Belly.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling