Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Why I appreciate the arts in Minnesota May 11, 2017

A snippet of the colorful and whimsical mural created by Lynette Schmidt Yencho for the Owatonna Arts Center library. Art surrounds these children.

 

GROWING UP IN RURAL southwestern Minnesota many decades ago, my exposure to the arts was minimal. I don’t recall attending a single art show, concert or theatre production outside of a public school. If such opportunities existed, I was either unaware of them or my parents had no money for such extras.

 

During a one-day fundraiser, the Owatonna Arts Center sold original serigraphs (silkscreen prints) produced by Alice Ottinger and Jean Zamboni of OZ Press in Owatonna. The press no longer operates. If you are interested in a print, contact the art center.

 

Opportunities to develop my creative interests did not extend much beyond English, music, art and home economics classes, except for the two weeks of shop class in which I crafted a linoleum block print. I always wished I could play piano or an instrument. But there was no time or money for either. I still cannot read a single note of music.

 

Fruit bowl art in the Owatonna Arts Center library.

 

I don’t begrudge my parents for not exposing me to the arts. They had to keep the dairy and crop farm running and a family of eight fed. Finances were tight.

 

The 65th Annual Steele County Art Exhibition is currently showing at the Owatonna Arts Center. Here’s a sampling of art in that show.

 

Early on I learned that, if I wanted new clothes, I would have to sew them. This was back in the day when sewing clothing was far less expensive than buying ready-made. If I got store-bought clothes, they always came from the sales rack. I loved the sewing process—paging through thick volumes of Simplicity, Butterick and McCalls patterns; perusing bolts of fabric; and then cutting and sewing the fabric into wearable clothing.

In some small way, I created art. Not of my own design. But I could express myself through fabric selection and pattern choice.

 

Another section of the Owatonna Arts Center library mural by Lynette Schmidt Yencho. My love of reading as a child spurred my interest in writing.

 

I also created art in my writing. No teacher encouraged me, other than to praise my near-perfect penmanship, spelling and excellent English language usage skills. My writing was limited to class assignments and later writing for the high school newspaper, The Rabbit Tracks. I attended high school in Wabasso, which means “rabbit” in Ojibwe. Our mascot was a white rabbit.

 

A room of books and art…in the Owatonna Arts Center library.

 

Why do I tell you all of this? I share this because my background explains why I have such a deep appreciation for the arts. That cliché of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” can be applied to the near absence of art in my life early on.

 

Doors open into the OAC gallery housed in an historic building.

 

Today, living 120 miles to the east of my hometown, I have many opportunities to enjoy the arts locally in Faribault and neighboring Owatonna and Northfield at arts centers, public schools, colleges and more. I am grateful that the visual, literary and performing arts hold such high value in Minnesota.

 

More art in the Steele County artists’ show.

 

Some would argue that the arts are not necessary. I contend that they are. We all have within us that innate need to connect with others. The arts offer that interconnection, that weaving together of creativity, of humanity, of a desire/need to express ourselves. I am grateful to be part of the community of artists through my writing of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and blog posts and through my photography. I am thankful, too, for the art opportunities available to me right here in my backyard and throughout Minnesota.

 

TELL ME: Do you embrace the arts either/and or by creating or enjoying them? Please share specifics.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork photographed with permission of the Owatonna Arts Center. Art is copyrighted by the artists and may not be copied and/or reproduced.

 

Outstanding student art showcased in Hudson, Wisconsin exhibit April 26, 2017

“If My Thoughts Had Wings” colored pencil and watercolor by Jeanna Krause, a senior at Ellsworth High School. Her art is priced at $1,000.

 

AS A CREATIVE TYPE who creates with words and a camera, I am often impressed by the works of visual artists. Incredible talent exists out there among painters, sculptors and others.

 

The Phipps Center for the Arts, Hudson, Wisconsin.

 

Signage promotes the student art exhibit.

 

A first look at the main floor gallery space art.

 

I am especially impressed by artwork displayed in the current Annual Area High School Art Exhibition at The Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin. High school students from western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota were invited to submit pieces as were teachers of the participating students. Their art fills polished gallery space on two floors of this beautiful near waterfront property along the St. Croix River. The artwork ranges from paintings to photography to collage, ceramics and much more.

 

Annika Shiffer, a senior at Eau Claire North High School, created “Cherry Blossom” from soapstone, wire and glass beads. It is not for sale.

 

This untitled collage by Shelly Schmitt of Somerset High School is not for sale.

 

Mallory Bleeker, Ellsworth High School sophomore, created this charcoal portrait of Matt Damon. It’s not for sale.

 

The variety of art and the creativity therein exhibits a professional level of artistry. It was hard for me to believe that these artists are high school students, still learning. I enjoyed the humor of a senior from St. Croix Preparatory Academy who priced his ceramic coil pot at “$100,000 (college tuition).”

 

The gallery spaces are polished and gleaming, a lovely canvas for artwork.

 

Stillwater Area High School senior Natalie Gella crafted this stoneware clay “Scared Face,” not for sale.

 

So much talent in this incredible art…

 

One student-artist will be awarded a $2,000 Alice M. Stolpe Scholarship for the Arts at a May 7 closing reception. Choosing a winner among those planning to major in art will be difficult, in my opinion. Peruse this sampling of art created by 109 students (and three teachers) from 15 schools. You’ll see why I am impressed by their work.

 

Casey Loe, senior at Eau Claire North High School, created this “Be Bold” ink art which is not for sale.

 

Travis Eisberner, Eau Claire North High School junior, created “Geometric Reality” in acrylic. It’s not for sale.

 

Kendall Isaacson of Somerset High School crafted this untitled ceramics art which is not for sale.

 

Pretty incredible art, huh?

 

Dylan Cook, senior from Stillwater Area High School, created this analogue photography “Hell Erupts!” priced at $50.

 

FYI: Gallery hours at The Phipps are from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday – Saturday; from noon – 4:30 p.m. Sundays; and an hour before and through intermissions at all the Phipps theater performances. This exhibit closes on May 7.

 

One of the gallery spaces overlooks the St. Croix River across the street.

 

The art center is located in downtown Hudson at 109 Locust Street.

PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS on this exhibit.

NOTE: Photos of artwork are published with permission of The Phipps Center for the Arts. All artwork is copyrighted by the artists and cannot be reproduced or used without their consent. 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Embracing the writing & art of the Northern Great Plains at SDSU April 19, 2017

“The Prairie is My Garden,” a painting by South Dakota artist Harvey Dunn, showcases the prairie I so love. Here I’ve photographed most of a print which I purchased at a yard sale. I bought the art because I liked it and only learned afterward of its value and prominence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ONE OF MY FAVORITE PRINTS, “The Prairie is my Garden,” is rooted in South Dakota. The artist, Harvey Dunn, was born in a claim shanty near Manchester, west of Brookings.

I’ve been to Brookings. Once. While in college, I accompanied a roommate to her hometown where her dad owned the John Deere dealership. I don’t remember a lot about that visit except the fancy house in which my roommate’s family lived and our attendance at the annual Hobo Day Parade. That tradition of South Dakota State University, which peaks in a Jackrabbits football game, is going on its 105th year.

As you’ve likely surmised, Brookings is rural oriented, the university known for its ag focused majors. Students, for example, make ice cream and cheese from milk produced at the SDSU Dairy Research and Training Facility. This is a hands-on college that draws many a rural raised student.

 

The promo for Oakwood 2017 features “Dancing with Fire,” the art of Samuel T. Krueger. Promo image courtesy of Oakwood.

 

This university, where students work with farm animals and where the prairie paintings of a noted Plains artist are housed in the South Dakota Art Museum, seems the ideal setting for Oakwood, a literary journal. Featuring the work of SDSU students, staff and alumni and also of greater Brookings artists/writers and others in the Northern Great Plains region, the magazine releases this Thursday. According to the Oakwood website, the journal embraces a regional identity.

I am happy to be part of that identity with the inclusion of my poem, “Ode to my Farm Wife Mother,” inspired by my mom. She raised me and five other children on a dairy and crop farm about 1 ½ hours northeast of Brookings in Redwood County, Minnesota.

 

A gravel road just north of Lamberton in Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Most of the poetry I write is based on prairie life. I write with a strong sense of place. The endless open space and wide skies of the prairie lend themselves to creativity. Within the stark setting of rural southwestern Minnesota, I noticed details—the strength of the people, the blackness of the earth, the immensity of the setting sun, the sharpness of a winter wind, the quiet of stillness. I can trace my poetry, my photos, everything I create, to that rural upbringing. I am honored to have my latest poem selected for inclusion in Oakwood 2017 as a writer from the Northern Great Plains.

#

FYI: A public reception will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at the SDSU Briggs Library & Special Collections for writers and artists whose work is included in Oakwood 2017. Readings and talks will be featured. Because I live nearly four hours away, I can’t be there. When I can share my poem with you, I’ll do so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond violence, two artists show that hope rises March 7, 2017

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson.

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson.

TUCKED INTO TWO CORNERS in two galleries are two tributes by two artists.

Both honor Barb Larson, murdered on December 23, 2016, in an act of domestic violence. She was a long-time friend to artist Judy Saye-Willis and an acquaintance to artist Dana Hanson. Both chose to remember Barb in their exhibits currently showing at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

Dana painted an oil on canvas portrait of Barb, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism employee who stopped occasionally to place orders at the bakery where Dana works. “I just wanted to do something positive to remember…she was genuine and very nice,” Dana said. The result is her “In Memory of Barb Larson” painting, based on a photo.

This series of fiber art pieces by Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis also honors Barb Larson. The pieces, from left to right, are titled "Darkness of Death 1", "Darkness of Death 2", "Destruction", "Hope", "Hope Rising" and "The Light of Hope".

This series of fiber art pieces by Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis focuses on death and hope. The pieces, from left to right, are titled “Darkness of Death 1,” “Darkness of Death 2,” “Destruction,” “Hope,” “Hope Rising” and “The Light of Hope.”

Judy’s artwork themed on death and hope spans half a wall and includes six pieces. Three framed works were already completed prior to Barb’s murder. They are an expression of “what’s happening in our culture today,” she said, specifically citing ISIS and the violence in Aleppo, Syria, as inspiring the art. But, once the events of December 23 unfolded locally, Judy created three more related fiber art pieces using natural dye materials. The result is a compelling series of framed art and panels focusing on death and hope.

I angled my camera up to photograph "Darkness of Death 2."

I angled my camera up to photograph “Darkness of Death 2.” When Judy created this scene with blood dripping and an executioner’s mask, she was thinking of ISIS and the violence/situation in Aleppo.

“…I was feeling raw, emotional with nowhere to go with it,” Judy said. “It (Barb’s murder) was senseless. I went to my studio and started the first piece. I tried three times to dye the piece black, unsuccessfully. I called it “The Darkness of Death 1.”

Simply titled: "Hope."

Madonna and child, simply titled: “Hope.”

Once she finished the black panel, Judy transitioned into the theme of hope. That was prompted by a Catholic church official she heard talking about faith and hope on the morning of December 23 (the day of Barb’s murder) on CBS This Morning. The result is two more hope-inspired fiber art panels.

As I viewed both artists’ tributes to Barb Larson, I could see the emotion within the artwork. Dana succeeds, through the strokes of her brush and the paint colors she chose, to portray the woman described as vivacious and friendly by those who knew her. Genuine warmth glows in Dana’s painting of Barb. I can see Barb’s personality in that portrait.

Judy’s art differs significantly, leaving more open to interpretation, more room for the viewer to insert his/her experiences, emotions and reactions. In the first three darker pieces, beginning with the length of black-dyed cloth, there is no ignoring the darkness of a violent death. That Judy chose to confront and share that in her work makes a powerful visual public statement whether considering the violence in Aleppo or the violence in Faribault.

"Hope Rising," says Judy Saye-Willis, "is about moving forward from tragedy."

“Hope Rising,” says Judy Saye-Willis, “is about moving forward from tragedy.”

Equally as important are the three hope-inspired pieces that follow. Those, too, make a powerful visual public statement.

A close-up of "The Light of Hope," which Judy calls her strongest piece.

A close-up of “The Light of Hope,” which Judy calls the strongest piece in this series.

Through their art, Judy and Dana have opened the conversation about domestic and other violence in a deeply personal, emotional and introspective way.

Dana’s exhibit includes a trio of horse paintings titled MESSENGERS OF HOPE. They are, left to right, subtitled “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace”

And any time we begin to think and talk about these difficult issues, hope rises.

FYI: At noon today, HOPE Center and the Faribault Chamber are rallying at the Chamber office (where Barb Larson was murdered) as part of a statewide effort, “It Happens Here: A Statewide Day to End Domestic Violence.”

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork photographed with permission of the artists.

 

Beyond the music: A photo essay from a summer band concert in Faribault July 18, 2016

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault's Central Park.

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault’s Central Park.

CONCERTS AND SUMMER pair like music and dancing, paint and a brush, rain and an umbrella.

 

Concert in Central Park 091 - Copy

 

All defined a recent performance by the Bavarian Musikmeisters at Faribault’s Thursday evening summer Concerts in the Park series in Central Park. To an appreciative audience ranging from youth to elders and all ages in between, the Twin Cities based group presented traditional German band music. Waltzes. Polkas. The Schottische. Edelweiss crooned.

It's always fun to photograph dogs.

It’s always fun to photograph dogs.

For 130 years, my community has hosted these free summer concerts. I’ve attended sporadically, more often now that I’m an empty nester. I typically bring my camera because, if I didn’t, I would regret leaving it home. There are always optimal photo ops both on and off stage. I challenge myself to discover new ways of photographing familiar scenes.

Colorful umbrellas popped when the rain started.

Rain chased a few concert-goers home, but not many.

It's been awhile since I've seen a rain cap like this worn by a concert-goer.

This is my favorite photo of the evening, a portrait of a concert-goer in an old-style rain cap. I lover her sweet smile, the character lines in her face…

On this evening, I photographed between raindrops and showers, cognizant of protecting my Canon DSLR. Umbrellas popped and some folks scurried under the shelter of a tree when clouds showered rain.

Faribault artist Dana Hanson paints a portrait of Bob Dylan. She's painting Minnesota Music Hall of Fame members Prince, Judy Garland and Dylan.

Faribault artist Dana Hanson creates a portrait of Bob Dylan. She’s painting Minnesota Music Hall of Fame members Prince, Judy Garland and Dylan.

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

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

One artist slid her art under a picnic table to protect it from the rain.

One artist slid her art under a picnic table to protect it from the rain.

En plein air artists, protected under a tree, continued creating in the rain. They are part of the concert series artgo! group, started last summer. It’s a wonderful addition, this mixing of art and music.

 

Band concert, 42 band & director

 

When the sun re-emerged, concert-goers refocused on the music of lederhosen clad men and of women dressed in festive dirndls and blouses.

 

Band concert, 55 arms linked

 

At one point, musicians directed the crowd to lock arms and sway to the music.

 

Band concert, 100 dancing

 

Later a couple danced solo in each other’s arms.

 

Band concert, 38 young family

 

Music brings so much joy and togetherness. Smiles prevail. Feet tap a rhythm. Parents wrap kids in their laps.

 

Band concert, 47 man with ear flap cap

 

In typical Minnesota fashion, though, people groused about the unseasonably cool weather, cold enough for one man to pull on his ear flapper cap.

 

Band concert, 34 huddling under Twins fleece blanket

 

Others wrapped themselves in fleece throws.

 

Band concert, 50 dog on lap

 

Dogs warmed owners’ laps.

 

This pin belongs to Lis, pictured several photos above in the fuchsia jacket.

This pin belongs to Lis, pictured several photos above in the fuchsia jacket. Oma is the German word for grandma.

And one woman, especially, warmed my heart after I photographed a World’s Greatest Oma button pinned to her colorful bag. Lis’ fuchsia lips curved into a smile as she shared in a still detectable German accent that she has 21 grandchildren. She came to the U.S. 61 years ago after marrying an American serviceman.

En plein air artist

En plein air artist Irina Mikhaylova uses pastels to capture the other artists at work during the concert. I especially like how she’s sketched her right hand into the drawing.

These are the moments that delight me—these connections, this meeting new people. And all because music brought us here. Together on a July summer evening in southeastern Minnesota.

This Faribault resident and novice watercolor painter set up in the southeast corner of Central Park, from the crowd so he could work solo.

This Faribault resident and novice watercolor artist set up in the southeast corner of Central Park, far from the crowd so he could work undisturbed. I didn’t notice him until the concert nearly concluded, just as he wanted, not to be noticed.

FYI: The next Concerts in the Park concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 21, features the Owatonna Community Band.

On July 28, Red Bank ReUnion/Orphan Brigade Band will perform Civil War era music in Faribault’s Central Park as part of the Northfield-based Vintage Band Festival. That fest features 30 bands giving 100 concerts in four days in outdoor and indoor settings. While most concerts will occur in Northfield, some are also planned for Faribault, Owatonna, Nerstrand, Cannon Falls and Red Wing. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Melding music & art at Faribault’s Central Park July 28, 2015

The Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park bandshell on July 23.

The Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park bandshell on July 23.

WHILE BARBERSHOPPERS CROON, artists create. Music and art. Art and music. It seems the perfect mix for the annual summertime Concerts in the Park series held each Thursday in Faribault’s Central Park.

Pat Johnson has been at the concerts every week with her easel and paints.

Pat Johnson has been at the concerts every week with her easel and paints.

Last week I attended a concert for the first time this season and delighted in the en plein air artists scattered around the park with their easels and art supplies. They are new to the concert evenings, an idea of Jeff Jarvis, Faribault Park & Rec Enrichment & Communications Coordinator.

Pat Johnson paints en plein air.

Pat Johnson paints en plein air.

Jeff tells me the addition this year of artists injects even more spirit into the evening, provides an educational experience for concert goers and assists artists in developing en plein air painting skills in an openly musical and public setting. To keep the selected artists focused in the moment, they’re required to create music-themed artwork.

A vintage enamelware tray holds Pat Johnson's oil paints.

A vintage enamelware tray holds Pat Johnson’s oil paints.

Pat Johnson of Morristown was dipping brushes into oil on a vintage enamelware tray when I paused to watch her create a portrait of a young woman she’d previously seen at a concert. An artist for sixty years, she says painting is her passion. She’s happy to sit at the park, listening to the music and visiting. “I have been blessed with the people I’ve met,” she smiled.

Artist Tami Ochs

Artist Tami Resler

Tami's tools lie at her feet. Years ago, Tami designed the greyhound tatoo inked onto her leg in Vegas.

Tami’s tools lie at her feet. Years ago, Tami designed and got the greyhound tattoo in Kanub, Utah, after attending the Greyhound Gathering there. The Gathering raises monies for greyhound rescue.

Barbershopper details in Tami's art.

Barbershopper details in Tami’s art.

To the side of the bandshell, Faribault artist Tami Resler was surrounded by her “fan club,” a cluster of family and friends there to support her and enjoy an evening together. She was drawing with Sharpies and pencils—snippet details of a park sign, a trash barrel. Later I returned to see the faces of the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus flared into the corner of her art piece.

Irina Mikhaylova works on a portrait of the couple in the background.

Irina Mikhaylova works on a portrait of the couple in the background.

Irina at work with her pastels.

Irina at work with her pastels.

Irina's pastels.

Irina’s pastels.

Nearby, Irina Mikhaylova used pastels to color the sketch she’d done of two elderly concert goers settled into lawn chairs. It was sweet, a lovely capture of older folks who primarily comprise this audience. There is something sweet, too, about Irina, about the thick accent that traces to her native St. Petersburg, Russia. She now lives in Morristown. Because she cannot work in the U.S. as a mechanical engineer—her former profession—she has thrown herself into her art.

Shadows and light play on Barb Bruns as she works.

Shadows and light play on Barb Bruns as she works.

Some of Barb's corralled pastels.

Some of Barb’s corralled pastels.

Barb's in-progress interpretation of the Central Park bandshell.

Barb’s in-progress interpretation of the Central Park Bandshell, in the background to the right.

On the other side of the park, Barb Bruns talked to me about blogging as she worked pastels across paper to recreate the bandshell, and the pet parade mural thereon. She is more than an artist. In Morristown, Barb operates Barb’s Custom Framing & Gift Shop with a local gallery at the front of her shop. It features the work of 27 local artists.

Artist Dana Hanson

Artist Dana Hanson

The sun shadows Dana's hand across her art as she paints.

The sun shadows Dana’s hand across her art as she paints.

Dana's dancer.

Dana’s dancer

A stone’s throw from Barb, the sinking sun spotlighted the mesmerizing art of Dana Hanson who, by freelance trade, creates art for her Lord Warmington Studio. Her grandmother, Frieda Lord, helped found Faribault’s art center. By day Dana works as a baker/cake decorator at Fareway Foods, just across the street from Central Park. On this evening, her art danced as she brushed oils into the shape of a hooded dancer in halal, the Hebrew word for praise.

Praise seems a fitting response for the addition of artists to the concerts. Jeff Jarvis confirms the enthusiastic reception. “Youngsters have emerged from the crowds to sit with ‘real’ artists—they even come back with their own art supplies to join in,” he cites.

Jeff, himself a visual artist, understands the financial and other challenges artists face in getting their work out there. “I wanted to elevate the status of visual artists by paying them to perform alongside the musicians,” he says. He accomplished that by securing a grant through the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

In addition to Jeff and the five artists I interviewed, Nicole Volk, Linda Van Lear and Julie Fakler have also been among the Concerts in the Park artists. Jeff selected local and emerging artists who enjoy working outdoors. The best works of each artist will be featured in a capstone exhibit September 8 – 11 at the Buckham Center Commons area with the opening reception from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. on Tuesday, September 8.

the sun sets behind the bandshell as the barbershoppers sing tunes ranging from "Sweet Caroline" to "God Bless America."

The sun sets behind the bandshell as the barbershoppers sing tunes ranging from “Sweet Caroline” to “God Bless America.”

FYI: The Concerts in the Park series continues for four more Thursdays with the Copper Street Brass Quintet performing July 30; Bend in the River Big Band on August 6; Jivin’ Ivan & The Kings of Swing on August 13; and The Bandshell Brass on August 20.

Please check back tomorrow for a story about a young entrepreneur who set up shop at the July 23 Concerts in the Park event. Plus, I will show you a few more concert images.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In which I meet a Wisconsin blacksmith November 13, 2014

DARKNESS AND RED-HOT HEAT and banging of metal against metal…

T-C Latane, 412 Second Street in Pepin, Wisconsin.

T-C Latane, 412 Second Street in Pepin, Wisconsin.

Memories of accompanying my farmer father to the blacksmith shop in my hometown of Vesta flash through my mind as I step into the shop of Tom Latané in Pepin, Wisconsin.

Blacksmith Tom Latane talks about his craft  in the front part of his shop. Behind him are examples of his work.

Blacksmith Tom Latane talks about his craft in the front part of the shop he shares with his wife, Catherine. Behind him are examples of his work. Several artisans sells their wares here.

My husband and I have stopped here on a mid-week October afternoon during a brief get-away. By chance, we have found this life-long blacksmith in his shop where anvils and vises, buckets and axe and tools of the trade crowd the brick-floored space.

Tom splits wood in the area where he blacksmiths.

Tom splits wood in the area where he blacksmiths.

While Tom rapid-splits wood for a forge fire, I scan this grimy room with a good luck horseshoe clamped on brick above a neatly lined shelf of corralled chisels.

Hardware crafted by Tom.

Hardware crafted by Tom.

Tom also works with wood, sometimes combining wood and metal in pieces.

Tom also works with wood, sometimes combining wood and metal in pieces.

Tom created this candleholder.

Tom created this candleholding masterpiece.

Standing here in this time, in this place, with a man practicing the aged craft of blacksmithing seems almost surreal. But Tom has been doing this all his adult life, relocating from Maryland to open his Pepin shop in 1983 with his wife, Catherine, a tinsmith.

Two of Catherine's cookie cutters.

Two of Catherine’s cookie cutters.

She’s a native of Minnesota, just across the river, and an artist, too, who crafts tin cookie cutters by hand. Catherine is known for her commemorative Laura Ingalls Wilder cookie cutters in a community that each year celebrates its most famous native daughter.

An anvil in Tom's shop.

An anvil in Tom’s shop.

Surely blacksmith shops existed in this area during the late 1860s when Charles and Caroline Ingalls lived with their family in a cabin in the Big Woods near Pepin.

Tom looks the part of a craftsman.

Tom looks the part of a craftsman.

History holds this town. And Tom looks every bit the part of a long ago craftsman, untamed white beard and longish hair and period cap and suspenders giving him the appearance of a historic reenactor. But he is authentic, hand-forging locks, hardware, tools and candle fixtures.

Symbols of the trade for blacksmithing and tin cutting.

Symbols of the trade for blacksmithing and tin cutting.

I almost expect Charles Ingalls to walk in the door.

A sign at the shop.

A sign at the shop.

FYI: For more information about T. & C. Latané, as this couple calls their business, click here. The shop at 412 Second Street in Pepin is open from noon – 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, May – December or by chance.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling