Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In praise of the art, gardens & messages in an Atwood Neighborhood September 24, 2020

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BE KIND.

Two simple words painted, along with three red hearts, onto a block of wood. And then set on the front steps of a home in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin.

 

A section of the Atwood Neighborhood I walked.

 

On a recent trip to Wisconsin’s state capital, I retraced a route I previously walked through this east side neighborhood near my son’s apartment. I found in that residential area many uplifting and positive messages that show those who live here care. Deeply. About others. About issues.

 

One of the many inspiring signs posted in the residential neighborhood where I walked a square block. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And, in times like this with such chaos and turmoil and hatred in our country, I need to immerse myself in positive and hopeful words that uplift, rather than anger or sadden me.

 

An example of a front yard mixing plants and art.

 

Up close in a front yard I spotted this sprawling cactus which adds interest to the landscape.

 

Besides the messages, I appreciate the art placed in front yards overflowing with plants, including flowers. Not manicured lawns. I welcome that alternative to grass. It’s lovelier and better for the environment.

 

 

And in one yard, by a boulevard tree, I once again found a mini garden, a magical world of fairies and rabbits and gnomes. Making music. Dancing, Reading. Waiting.

 

 

I paused to photograph the scenes, inwardly praising the efforts of the homeowner who created this fantasy world for passersby to enjoy.

 

 

This offers, too, a momentary escape from reality. Something I need now, more than ever.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Portraits honor laborers on Madison’s East Side September 22, 2020

Portraits grace window spaces of Madison-Kipp Corporation, founded in 1898, and located in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. The company produces precision machined aluminum die castings and subassemblies for the transportation, lawn and garden, and industrial markets, according to its website.

 

WHEN I VIEWED PORTRAITS set into former window spaces in an aged industrial brick building on Madison’s East Side, I saw strength.

 

This portrait exudes strength.

 

Strength in the bulk of bodies. Strength in the machines depicted. Strength in the hands and arms and faces of those who labored inside. Strength of work ethic and determination and skill.

 

Portraits of industrial workers stretch along the building.

 

Pride surged, not because of a personal connection to those employed by Madison-Kipp Corporation, but because of the blue collar connection. Too often, society dismisses as secondary those who put hands to machines, hands to tools, hands to steering wheels…

 

That each mural focuses on one worker highlights their individual value to the company.

 

But I recognize their value, for my father and his father before him and the generation prior worked the land. Farming. To feed their families. To feed others. Dirt and grease and backbreaking hard work defined their days. So I honor these men in the history of my life, including my husband, Randy, an automotive machinist for 40-plus years. A customer recently called him “an institution.” That seems fitting given his career longevity and the rarity of his skill set. I have no idea what Randy’s customers will do when he retires because no apprentice waits in the wings.

 

It takes the hands and skills of many to run a company and produce product.

 

Even with a renewed interest in the need for hands-on skilled workers, I don’t expect young people to necessarily embrace these jobs. The four-year college degree mindset has been too long embedded in our psyche. Yet, the need for mechanics, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, factory workers, etc., will only grow as Baby Boomers retire.

 

I appreciate that women are among those featured in this public art.

 

I am grateful for those who work with their hands. They keep our vehicles running, our houses repaired, our grocery store shelves stocked, our factories running…

 

Strong, determined, skilled…

 

When I studied the portraits on the Kipp building along the Capital City State Trail, I noticed, too, the drab shades of brown, grey, blue, green, no single person standing out in flashy colors. Too often those employed by manufacturers, warehouses and more go unnoticed, blending into the landscape of our lives.

 

Credit goes to these groups.

 

So to see this art, this very public art, recognize the often unrecognized pleases me. I value these men and women and the work they do. And now this art which honors them.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up close in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Part II September 16, 2020

 

PLACE REVEALS ITSELF in the details.

 

Sunflowers brighten the Atwood Community Gardens.

 

Put me in a location, like the Atwood Neighborhood on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin, and I will focus on the nuances. The seemingly little things that, when connected, define this as a neighborhood rooted in art, in the outdoors, in a genuine care for one another.

 

This is one busy bike path, frequented by all ages.

 

All of this I surmised simply by walking along Atwood area residential streets and past businesses and by following the Capital City State Trail for several blocks.

 

Flowers, oh, so many flowers…

 

My post today takes you back to the bike path, to those details that caused me to pause with my camera as bikers zipped past me. To photograph the flowers.

 

An artsy sign in the community garden.

 

Inspiring graffiti.

 

Madison’s capitol is depicted in this manhole cover art.

 

And the signs—always the signs, the aged brick buildings and, yes, even the manhole covers.

 

A little seasonal fun added to the Atwood Community Gardens.

 

And resident garden skeleton.

 

Cow art by the Goodman Community Center and right next to the bike trail.

 

What I observed pleases me as a creative, as an appreciator of aged architecture, as a nature lover and as a human being who values respect for others.

 

Colorful flowers thrive, including this zinnia.

 

The natural beauty of the Atwood Neighborhood appeals to me.

 

Spotted in a window of a residence along the bike trail.

 

The spirit of the Atwood Neighborhood appeals to me, too. With its earthiness. Its embracing of differences. Its sense of neighborhood pride. Its art. I feel comfortable here. Welcome. And that, my friends, is more important than ever in these times of upheaval, discontent, frustration and disconnect.

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Note: Like anywhere, no place is utopia, and that includes the East Side of Madison. While visiting my son, who lives in the Atwood Neighborhood, I learned of a recent daytime “shots fired” along his street. He didn’t tell me about this, of course, not wanting to worry his mom. There have been other similar incidents. Does this concern me? Yes. But then I think of my neighborhood in Faribault, considered small town to many, but not to me. In the 36 years I’ve lived here, my section of town has seen violence also. In 1999, a young man was stabbed to death within blocks of my home. We’ve also experienced drive-by shootings only blocks away. Not recently. No matter where you live, no place is fully safe. But, of one thing I am certain. We each have within us the capacity to shine lights of hope in our neighborhoods, to be decent and kind and caring.

Please check back soon for more posts from this section of Madison, Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring Madison’s Atwood Neighborhood via the bike trail, minus the bike, Part I September 15, 2020

A colorful cow sculpture stands next to the bike trail by the Goodman Community Center in the Atwood Neighbohood of Madison, Wisconsin.

 

BUTTERFLIES. BOOKS. BIKES. Even a bovine. And a sign for burgers and brats.

 

The bike path teems with bikers of all ages, and some walkers.

 

All defined a Labor Day weekend walk along the Capital City State Trail on Madison’s east side while visiting family. This Wisconsin state capital fully embraces biking via a city-wide system of connecting trails. Walk the paved pathways rather than wheel them and you best remain vigilant. And to the side. Most bikers zoom by.

 

By the community center, a Little Free Library sits right next to the bike trail.

 

With that awareness, I fully enjoyed this opportunity to see more of the thriving and vibrant Atwood Neighborhood.

 

Next to the trail, an electric bike rental station.

 

I almost wished I had a bike, though, and I suppose I could have rented an electric one from a rental station positioned along the trail, just another way to get those without bikes out, moving and exploring.

 

Flowers fill yards and sections of community garden plots.

 

But, given I had my DSLR camera, walking worked better. I could stop when I wanted—which was often—to document my surroundings. My walking companions—the husband and the son—often paced yards ahead and I finally told them to continue without me. They did. And later returned with an ice cream treat from a trail-side shop.

 

The community gardens are popular and filled with fruit, vegetables and flowers.

 

Even in the gardens, you’ll find art in signage.

 

This fence panel/art graces a corner of a garden plot. The gardens stretch along the bike path.

 

While they pursued ice cream, I snapped photos in the Atwood Community Gardens next to the trail. There I chatted briefly with a woman harvesting kale. I shared my appreciation for the lovely neighborhood and she told me of the long waiting list to get a garden plot.

 

Environmental concerns shared in art painted on a sidewalk by the trail.

 

She also tipped me off to concerns about groundwater and soil contamination from a resident industry (which I later verified online at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources).

 

Murals stretch along the side of the historic Madison Kipp-Corporation building next to the bike trail. Sail East, Goodman Center Youth, Kipp employees and the Dane Arts Mural Arts worked together on the 2017 project. Please check back for a post focusing on this public art.

 

It was on that industrial building that I found art. Murals of laborers at work, a fitting discovery on Labor Day weekend. The portraits show the strength of those who work with their hands. I spent many minutes photographing those paintings of blue collar workers.

 

Wisconsin and brats are synonymous.

 

A colorful cow sculpture by the Goodman Community Center also drew my attention. It seems fitting given Wisconsin’s “Dairyland State” motto and affinity for cheese curds. In addition to brats and beer.

 

This is the first photo I took as we walked the bike trail. You’ll find reaffirming messages like this throughout the Atwood Neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin.

 

In many ways, my walk along the bike trail offered a mini snapshot of Madison in the context of the Atwood Neighborhood. I saw an appreciation for the arts, for the land, for the outdoors. And I felt, too, a strong sense of community grounded in caring for one another. And that, more than anything, makes me feel…hopeful.

 

Please check back for more posts from my recent visit to Madison, including a second one of images from this same section of the Capitol City Bike Path.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A delightful discovery in Madison: Mini gardens in the Atwood Neighborhood September 10, 2020

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Through the twigs I spotted this mini rabbit by a tree in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin.

 

SOMETIMES IT’S THE SMALL THINGS in life that bring the most joy. And that adage can apply to gardening.

 

An apartment complex under construction in the Atwood area of Madison.

 

This view from my son’s apartment balcony shows the bike trail crossing the street and the residences alongside.

 

Inside the restored historic Garver Feed Mill complex, now a gathering spot for food, entertainment and more in the Atwood Neighborhood. This photo was taken from the second floor, in mid-February, pre-COVID. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2020.

 

On a July trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to see family, Randy and I explored a block square residential area near our son’s apartment in the Atwood Neighborhood. This east-side area offers an appealing mix of single family homes, apartments and multi-family housing mingling with home-grown businesses. Add in the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, bike trails and Lake Monona and this part of the city presents an attractive place to live, especially for young professionals.

 

A water feature at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, Wisconsin, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

A pizza place located inside the historic Garver Feed Mill complex, photographed before COVID-19 related restrictions.. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2020.

 

With UW-Madison located in the heart of downtown, you’ll find plenty of statues of Bucky Badger, the university’s mascot. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

Typically, Randy and I would explore Madison with our son, daughter and her husband. The city has much to offer in the arts, architecture, food and beverage scene, and the thriving Dane County Farmers’ Market centered around the state capitol (except now). But, because of COVID-19, we have limited our activities to walking. The daughter also lives next to a recreational trail on the opposite side of the city. Madison seems a model for getting around by foot or on two wheels versus solely by vehicle. Plenty of green space also defines this city.

 

Lilies bloomed in one yard.

 

From our stroll around the block, I observed how residents value their neighborhood. That shows in well-kept homes and yards, with flowers aplenty replacing the typical lawn. I love that concept of filling one’s outdoor space with plants and flowers. It seems more environmentally friendly and artistically inviting than a manicured, chemical-laced lawn.

 

Among vibrant phlox at the base of a tree, a sweet mini garden.

 

Through the Dusty Miller, I spotted a rabbit gardener.

 

In a neighborhood where many homeowners post inclusive, welcoming signs, I found this mini garden with the sign that rabbits are not welcome.

 

While taking in the nuances of the neighborhood, I discovered a sweet surprise in one yard. Mini garden art. Tiny scenes created with miniature figurines. Mostly rabbits. The unexpected find made me giddy.

 

I love how this prairie dropseed grass rolls.

 

When I looked closely, I discovered Mother Goose and family in the spirals of grass next to a rock.

 

Together Randy and I scanned the yard, spotting these magical scenes among spiraling prairie dropseed grass, at the base of trees, upon and next to rocks. For a few moments I immersed myself in finding and then photographing the mini garden art, all the while almost squealing with delight.

 

I love this simple mini garden art.

 

Randy alerted me that the homeowner was watching through a window. I hope he understood, while watching, just how much I appreciated his efforts that brought joy into my summer afternoon.

 

This scene seemed especially fitting given the bike trail just across the street.

 

Sometimes that’s all it takes. A little effort. A little creativity. A little caring about your neighborhood and about others to make a difference.

 

The mini garden scenes in this Atwood Neighborhood yard provide a delightful moment of escape from reality.

 

Especially during a global pandemic.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Please check back for more posts from a more recent trip to Madison.

 

Close-up in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison July 22, 2020

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One of the many inspiring signs posted in the residential neighborhood where I walked a square block.

 

THE MESSAGES ARE STRONG. Powerful. Statements that express the beliefs of those who live here. In a section of the Atwood Neighborhood in Wisconsin’s capital city.

 

A view of the Atwood neighborhood, including the bike trail that crosses this busy street. The residential neighborhood photographed for this post is to the left (and unseen) in this image.

 

On a recent trip to Madison to visit our second daughter and her husband and our son, I walked a block-square residential area near the son’s apartment building on the east side. I chose that over following the bike trail since I suffer a hearing loss and often don’t hear bikers fast-approaching from behind. Madison has a great system of recreational routes. But strolling sidewalks feels safer for me as I take in my surroundings, sometimes pausing to take photos.

 

Charming homes and yards…with powerful messages posted.

 

I was delighted to find fairy gardens in one yard.

 

Vegetables grow in a watering tank along the boulevard.

 

In the block I walked near the trail, also near Olbrich Botanical Gardens and Lake Monona, I found plenty to photograph. This is a well-kept area of older homes snugged together. Most front yards overflow with flowers, including in one, sweet fairy gardens. Inviting front porches, decks and entries define these homes that truly fit the definition of charming.

 

A bold door carries a strong message.

 

This sign references the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, which prompted a movement.

 

A statement of beliefs outside another Atwood home.

 

In these mostly lawn-less properties, there seems a cohesiveness of pride and of people who care about others, about issues, about this place they call home. And beyond. I saw that in the many posted signs addressing current-day concerns.

 

Bowling balls make for interesting garden art.

 

Lilies burst color into one of many front yard gardens.

 

This typewriter garden art intrigued me. I wished I could roll a piece of paper into the typewriter and leave a message.

 

Among the lilies and the outdoor art—including a rusting vintage typewriter—I experienced a sense of neighborhood that expands into home-grown businesses like Monty’s Blue Plate Diner, Michael’s Frozen Custard, the Barrymore Theatre

 

In this photo, the message I quote below is posted in the sign to the far right, bottom.

 

And I heard, too, this overall general message: No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling