Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Saint Peter’s version of the Super Bowl January 29, 2013

IN THIS WEEK of Super Bowl XLVII, at least one Minnesota community has already tapped into the super sporting event hype to benefit the local arts community. And that happened in a way you likely would not expect, via Souper Bowl VII.

The hand-thrown pottery bowl I chose at the Souper Bowl for my chicken wild rice soup.

The hand-thrown pottery bowl I chose at the Souper Bowl for my chicken wild rice soup.

Saturday afternoon, my husband and I joined arts-loving diners at the St. Peter Community Center for soup served in hand-thrown pottery bowls. And the bowls were ours to keep at a cost of $12 each (or $8 per kid) for the art and the meal.

Six local potters gave of their time and talents to create 240 soup bowls for the luncheon of donated breads and soups—tomato basil, chicken wild rice and chili—cookies and beverages.

Joel Moline and Thalia Taylor kneading clay during a visit to the Clay Center in March 2012..

Joel Moline and Thalia Taylor kneading clay during a visit to the Clay Center in March 2012..

While I really do like soup, a lot, I appreciate even more the whole Souper Bowl concept. What a creative way to expose the arts to the general public while raising monies for the Arts Center of Saint Peter Clay Center programming. (Read a previous post about the Clay Center by clicking here.) The goal is to keep arts center activities “accessible, affordable and vibrant to the St. Peter community and surrounding region,” according to promotional information.

The selection of bowls remaining when we arrived at noon, an hour after doors opened.

The selection of bowls remaining when we arrived at noon, an hour after doors opened.

Choosing a bowl added a fun  element to the event. Here’s how the process worked for me: I narrowed my selection to my favorite color, green. But with only a few green bowls on the table and the hue I liked best in the hands of a debating diner, I faced a dilemma. Should I pick my second favorite green bowl or wait for this woman to decide between the two bowls she balanced in her hands?

A few green bowls sat among the mostly brown and blue ones.

A few green bowls sat among the mostly brown and blue ones.

I opted to wait, to hover, but not so close as to call attention to my interest in the green bowl. My game plan paid off when the woman finally set the green bowl down and walked away. I moved in for the fumble, snatching up the coveted prize. Touchdown.

Diners line up for soup or chili. Seconds could be had for a freewill donation.

Diners line up for soup or chili. Seconds could be had for a freewill donation.

My ever patient spouse waited nearby as I took a few photos before we entered the dining area and washed our bowls which were then filled, his with chili, mine with chicken wild rice. A volunteer behind the serving counter even heated my soup in the microwave when I told her it wasn’t hot enough. How’s that for Saint Peter nice? And Randy was invited to return for more soup since his bowl was somewhat small; he tried tasty tomato basil in the second quarter.

A soup server heated my soup in the microwave and then placed the hot bowl on a plate.

A soup server heated my soup in the microwave and then placed the hot bowl on a plate.

A few more photos later and we were dining, in the fine company of arts center board member Harry Hunt and his wife, Bonnie. Harry, who works in financial services, shared that he isn’t an artist, seeming even a bit apologetic about his lack of artistic talent. But I was quick to tell him he could certainly contribute to the arts board with his financial expertise.

The Arts Center of Saint Peter, 315 South Minnesota Avenue, St. Peter, Minnesota.

The arts center in downtown St. Peter, photographed on a visit there in March 2012.

Eventually, I turned our table talk to the March 1998 tornado in St. Peter which caused an estimated $300 million in property damage and claimed one life. I wanted to know if the Hunts had been affected by the tornado.

Bonnie recalled how they had been visiting family in the metro when they learned of the bad weather in southern Minnesota. “Well, let’s see if we have a home left,” she joked as the couple drove back toward St. Peter, unaware that a tornado had ravaged their community. They arrived to find their home on the edge of town destroyed. The Hunts rebuilt.

Today they laugh at an incident shortly after the disaster. Harry was working in the basement of their destroyed home when someone called down to announce the arrival of then Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson. Harry emerged from the basement and greeted the Governor: “Welcome to our open house.”

You can bet Randy and I appreciated the winning company and humor of the Hunts as much as the soup and the hand-thrown pottery bowls we took home from Saint Peter’s Souper Bowl.

Potter Missy Wood created this teapot for the Souper Bowl silent auction.

Potter Missy Wood created this teapot for the Souper Bowl silent auction.

HAVE YOU ATTENDED a fundraiser like this? Please share your experiences, thoughts and ideas. We can all learn from one another.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Musings in the Clay Center March 9, 2012

This sculpture sits in front of the Arts Center of Saint Peter along South Minnesota Avenue/U.S. Highway 169 in St. Peter. The downtown is graced by historic buildings like these across the street from the Arts Center.

MY HUSBAND AND I are nearly through the Arts Center of Saint Peter front doors when she waves us in—she being Thalia. Not a Greek goddess, mind you, rather the Greek “muse of comedy.”

She’s not Greek either, but Mexican, this Thalia will tell you and smile as she slaps a hunk of clay, working out the air, mixing the clay just like Joel Moline across the table.

At only four feet seven inches tall, she should be manipulating clay on a table half the height, living in a world where everything is lower, shorter, Thalia Taylor surmises in a voice laced with humor.

“You should see her husband,” Joel says.

“He’s seven-two,” Thalia says and my jaw drops picturing this petite woman next to a towering man.

Then this muse of comedy laughs and corrects her mistake. “He’s six-two.”

Joel Moline and Thalia Taylor knead hunks of clay.

That is my introduction to the two artists, who on this Sunday afternoon are in the Clay Center working mud-hued clay like two bakers kneading dough. When I verbalize the comparison, Joel says he’s a baker.

He also enjoys writing letters, taking on a recent challenge to write a letter daily for 30 days. He collects fountain pens. You would rightly guess that he’s penning his letters the old-fashioned way.

An example of Joel's graceful writing on the Clay Center blackboard. He could teach penmanship. Remember that forgotten art which some of us were taught in grade school?

I tell him I seldom hand-write a letter any more, instead typing correspondence on my computer.

Then we—my husband, the baker/potter/letter writer and the potter/muse—bemoan the inability of today’s young people to write by hand. Joel laments how youth are losing that physical connection to writing, to individual letters and words. We are in agreement on this topic, that the youth of today should be able to write and read cursive.

After we’ve discussed that topic, I slip two business cards onto the table where Thalia and Joel continue to pound clay.

As I walk away, Joel hints at sending me a letter scribed with a fountain pen. I tell him I would welcome such a gift. Then I shoot a few more photos before exiting the Clay Center, leaving the baker/potter/letter writer and the potter/muse to their musings.

Stacked pottery in the Clay Center.

CLICK HERE for information about the Clay Center at the Arts Center of Saint Peter, 315 South Minnesota Avenue, St. Peter.

As any inquisitive writer would do, I googled Joel Moline’s name just to learn more about this man who once lived in Faribault (where I live) and taught art at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. Turns out Joel, a retired St. Peter art teacher, is also a print maker. If only I’d known that when we met, but we didn’t have enough time to discuss everything… Click here to read a story about Joel  published six years ago in The Faribault Daily News.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Perspectives on life presented in Saint Peter galleries March 6, 2012

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The Arts Center of Saint Peter, 315 South Minnesota Avenue, St. Peter, Minnesota.

The Arts Center of Saint Peter, 315 South Minnesota Avenue, St. Peter, Minnesota.

LIKE BLACK AND WHITE, night and day, the artwork of Pamela Bidelman and Kay Herbst Helms, at first glance, holds no comparison.

Pam, of St. Peter, is a painter, working in the more abstract in her current exhibit, “lamina,” installed at the Arts Center of Saint Peter Moline Gallery.

Kay, of Mankato, is a photographer, grounded in the earth with her black-and-white, rural-themed images in “What Sustains Us: considering the hands and the land of rural south central Minnesota.” Her art is showcased in the Lower Level Gallery of the Arts Center.

Both artists distinguish themselves in their individual approaches to art. Therein lies the essence of art—the ability to create and express one’s self in a truly personal style that emerges from the heart and soul of the artist.

I am more of a down-to-earth appreciator of art, meaning abstracts puzzle and challenge my mind to consider what the artist is attempting to convey.  I don’t have to think so hard to understand real-life art.

Yet, it’s good for me to view more abstract art like that created by Pam and to talk with her and learn that she is trying to show, in her exhibit, “the quality of skin as a container…deconstructing the body parts…the fragility of life.”

Three almost ghost-like faces, with undefined, haunting eyes, created by Pam Bidelman.

I expect that her artistic expression connects to her former profession as a clinical social worker. One can only imagine the experiences she drew on while creating her current exhibit.

There’s a certain translucency to Pam’s pieces that I interpret as a sense of vulnerability.

A series of suspended faces, again with that vulnerable quality.

In Kay’s work, vulnerability also exists, in the primarily close-up black-and-white images she’s shot, mostly of hands, and in the accompanying short stories she writes about her subjects. I know rural people. It is not always easy for them to open up, to allow introspective photos and insights into their lives.

Kay gained their trust and shares her discoveries in art that is as honest as a hard day’s work on the farm.

For example, she writes in her interview with Sharon Osborne:

Sharon tells the story of her uncle, a retired farmer. Her aunt has answered the phone and the caller asked, “What’s your husband doing on this cold, blustery, snowy day?”

Her aunt replied, “What else do farmers do on a cold winter’s day other than crack walnuts down the basement?”

Viewing Kay Herbst Helms' photos in "What Sustains Us." She focuses primarily on hands in her images.

With other photos, Kay pairs poetry by Paul Gruchow and the poetic words of additional writers.

She is, says Kay, connecting the elements of hands, land, photographs and words in her exhibit.

Kay accomplishes that with the spirit of an artist rooted deep in her appreciation of rural life and the rural landscape.

Both exhibits are distinctly different. Yet each can be appreciated for the unique perspectives they offer on life.

Several of Kay's images include cattle, following the exhibit's rural theme.

FYI: Both artists’ projects were supported by grants from the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council with funding provided by the McKnight Foundation. Their exhibits run through March 18.

Kay created a previous, similar project, “Blessed Are the Hands That Have Served,” focusing on photos of 13 retired School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Click here for more information about the Arts Center of Saint Peter.

Check back for another post from the art center wherein you will meet two more artists.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling