Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Another creative look at Cannon Falls November 8, 2021

This ghost sign and stairway caught my interest in downtown Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I VIEW THE WORLD through a creative lens. So when I see an exterior metal stairway, I see beyond the intended purpose of a pathway up or down. Rather, I see the angles, the details, the architectural, artsy side of the utilitarian.

Look to the right to see the lovely floral design in the bracing bracket. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

On a recent visit to Cannon Falls, a small town in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota, I noticed a metal stairway hugging the side of Antiques on 4th. I paused to appreciate the construction and the artwork. Curved braces detailed with florals support the stairway. I love that incorporation of art.

Aiming my camera lens up to the underside of that artsy stairway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

And I appreciate, too, the fading ghost sign lettering for a dry goods and clothing store painted on the brick building.

I spotted this magnetic word board at the library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

JUST UP THE STREET a half a block away at the public library, a magnetic word board invites patrons to create. And while I didn’t, I took note of the coupling of words, whether by intentional placement or not:

smile just once

SHOP sausage


You bellow blind information like an ugly flood of manure

AMERICANS like cake more

This mural graces Cannon River Winery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

WE AMERICANS ALSO LIKE our wine. Back across the street, near the artsy metal stairway, Cannon River Winery also embraces the arts with a sprawling mural on the side of its building. The scene depicts the area’s rural-ness and the business of growing grapes and crafting wine.

I’ll raise my glass to that—to the winery, to the library, to the antique shop and to all the places in, and people of, this Minnesota community who value the arts. Thank you. I am grateful for the creativity in Cannon Falls.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In the heart of historic Cannon Falls November 1, 2021

Signage on the building housing Antiques on 4th, a bright, uncluttered shop with artfully-displayed merchandise and friendly shopkeepers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

YOU CAN LEARN much about a small town by simply walking. And looking, really looking.

Two historic buildings in downtown Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

On a recent day trip to Cannon Falls, I explored part of the downtown business district. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Cannon Falls Historic District includes 22 historically-significant structures.

Bold art on the side of the building identifies the local hardware store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Given my love of historic architecture, and art, this Goodhue County community of 4,220 within a 40-minute drive of Minneapolis and St. Paul rates as a favorite regional destination.

Signage marks the popular winery in Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Cannon Falls thrives with a well-known winery and bakery and an assortment of shops from antique to gift to hardware store. Toss in a mix of eateries, bars and a brewery and, well, there’s lots to see and do here. Plus, the town attracts outdoor enthusiasts who canoe the Cannon River and/or bike/hike the Cannon Valley Trail and Mill Towns Trail.

A mural at Cannon River Winery provides a backdrop for an outdoor space. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

During my mid-October visit, I popped into a few shops (including the bakery), discovered the lovely library and admired a new downtown mural. Because of COVID concerns, I skipped dining and imbibing. It was too early in the day and too cool to enjoy either outdoors.

Cannon Falls’ newest mural, a 2021 Youth Mural Arts Community Project, highlights geography, history and local interests. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Still, I found plenty to take in from the colorful new mural to the art inside the library to ghost signage.

Showing some love for Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I noticed, too, hometown pride in the I LOVE CANNON FALLS! tees in a storefront window.

I learn so much about communities by reading signs in windows. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I noticed also notices taped in a display window, one of which alerted me to Mailbox Mysteries, which led me to the library around the corner which led me to sign up for this challenging endeavor. Now I’m trying to solve the “Gangster’s Gold” mystery with weekly clues snail mailed to me by the library.

Inside the library, I found this vivid “Once Upon a Time” mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Had I not done this walk-about through downtown Cannon Falls, I likely would have missed these nuances. The details which help define this community.

A scene in the center of downtown Cannon Falls reminds me of the town’s rural roots. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As I meandered, I paused to watch a John Deere tractor roll through downtown pulling a wagon heaped with golden kernels of corn. This is, after all, an agricultural region.

A grain complex in Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Later, Randy and I picnicked at Hannah’s Bend Park, the local grain elevator complex defining the nearby skyline. As we finished our lunch, a bald eagle soared overhead, wings spread wide. I expect the Cannon River drew the majestic bird here, to this small southeastern Minnesota town, this Cannon Falls.


FYI: Please check back for more posts from Cannon Falls and the surrounding area, including the Sogn Valley. Also enjoy my earlier post on Hi Quality Bakery by clicking here.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Garden tour IV: Artscapes, landscapes & even a vineyard July 15, 2016

Like a scene out of a storybook.

Like a scene out of a storybook.

I CAN’T BEGIN TO IMAGINE the time invested in establishing the flowerbeds, the artscapes, the vegetable gardens, the vineyard, the everything that makes DeAnn and Randy Knish’s property so uniquely impressive.

Garden tour guests visit under a towering oak.

Garden tour guests visit under a towering oak on a brilliantly sunny summer afternoon.

Situated west of Faribault, this rural acreage is surrounded by trees that include a sprawling oak in the front yard and a two-centuries-plus aged walnut in woods bordering a creek. The waterway runs pea soup green from nearby Roberds Lake.

Shrub sculptures and art divide vegetable gardens.

Shrub sculptures, art and a path divide vegetable gardens.

When I arrived at the Knish property during a recent The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour Garden and Landscape Tour benefiting Full Belly, a Faribault soup kitchen, I didn’t know where to begin exploring. There was so much to see:

Sculptures abound in the gardens.

Sculptures abound in the gardens.

Perennials fill flowerbeds.

Strategically placed art enhances perennial beds.

A mirror

A mosaic framed mirror and gnomes are incorporated into the plantings.

A lily bursts a brilliant hue into the gardens.

A lily bursts a brilliant hue into the gardens.

Balls add a playfulness to perennial beds throughout the landscaping.

Balls add a playfulness to perennial beds throughout the landscaping.

This happy elfin face made me smile.

This happy elfin face in a petunia bed makes me smile.

Old-fashioned Holly Hocks rise to the summer sky.

Old-fashioned Holly Hocks rise to the summer sky.

The oversized jacks and balls draw the eye to a place to kick back on Adrionack chairs.

The oversized jacks and balls draw the eye to an inviting spot to kick back on Adirondack chairs.

I set my camera on the ground to photograph this perspective of a fairy garden.

I set my camera on the ground to photograph this perspective of a fairy garden.

Once I finished my self-guided tour and photo shoot of artscapes and flowerbeds, I boarded a golf cart for a ride across the creek and up a hill to the two-acre vineyard.

Touring the vineyard.

Touring the vineyard.

Here, the Knishes grow red grapes for Cannon River Winery in Cannon Falls about 30 miles to the northeast. Their grapes go into GoGo Red wine, a pound of grapes per bottle.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources inspected this tree and estimates its age at 200-225 years, one of the oldest walnut trees in Rice County.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources inspected this tree and estimates its age at 200-225 years, one of the oldest walnut trees in Rice County.

While there was no wine to sample, I was pleased to learn of the Faribault connection to a notable regional winery. And I was pleased also for the opportunity to tour this beautiful place in the country on an equally beautiful summer Sunday afternoon in southern Minnesota.

FYI: Please check back for my final post in this five-part garden tour series.


Poetry in wine tasting November 14, 2011

I photographed this gorgeous mural at Cannon River Winery in downtown Cannon Falls in mid-August. This was the only Minnesota winery represented at a wine tasting event in Faribault Friday evening.

Cannon River Winery Sogn Blush with the label created by an artist from the region.

Crisp nuances of pink grapefruit, mango and sweet melon interwoven with hints of soft white tea and honeysuckle.

Flavors of rhubarb and black cherry complemented by hints of mocha, chocolate, spice and vanilla.

…slightly sweet with aromas of wild berries and just a hint of American Oak.

Welcome to wine tasting.

My husband and I embarked on our first-ever wine tasting experience Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts Members Appreciation Night in historic downtown Faribault. I know. You’re thinking: “She’s never been to a wine tasting party…”

Well, well, isn’t life all about new experiences no matter your age?

Once Randy and I got our instructions, wine glasses and guidebook, from whence the above lovely and poetic phrases have been lifted, we headed into the Paradise theatre to sample wines.

We quickly discovered that, with 45 wines available, we would need to be selective in our sampling.

We also surmised that we needn’t be “Minnesota Nice” and finish off any wine samples we disliked. “Just pour it in here,” we were instructed. And so we did, whenever we found a wine too bitter or not quite delivering as described.

And so the evening proceeded—meandering and sipping and repeating “I don’t like dry wine,” and chatting with friends and acquaintances. We discussed the wines, traded glasses and sipped and sampled and asked each other, “Do you like this one?”

It was fun.

We’re never going to become wine connoisseurs. But if Randy and I pick up tidbits here and there, we learn a thing or ten that might assist us with selecting wines. I mean, I’ve bought wine in the past because I liked the label design or name or bottle, silly as that may sound. So, yes, graphic designers, artists and marketers, you can influence my wine choices with creative and visually appealing packaging.

Friday night, words also impacted my wine tasting decisions. Imagine that—words influencing me.

I mean, could you resist …zesty aromas of orange, lemon-lime and peach…silky, black-cherry elegance…memorably lush…exquisitely sweet…decadent character…intriguing layers of fresh pineapple, green apple, crisp lemon, juicy pear and wildflowers…?

(How do you get a job describing wines? That’s a writing assignment I could savor given I enjoy turning a poetic phrase now and then.)

Visitors to the Cannon River Winery enjoyed Minnesota wines on an August afternoon.

Wine barrels inside Cannon River Winery.

The labels for Cannon River's "Sogn" series are designed by regional artists who compete for the honor. Currently, you can vote for your favorite Sogn art at the winery.

A former garage houses the Cannon River Winery. President Obama visited Cannon Falls, thus the welcome sign on the winery during my mid-August visit..

Click here for more information about Cannon River Winery.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wine description source: Paradise Center for the Arts Holiday Wine Tasting booklet; wine selections sponsored by Haskell’s.


Cannon Falls prepares for President Obama’s town hall meeting August 14, 2011

Two tents were set up at the entry to Hannah's Bend Park early Sunday afternoon.

I DIDN’T EXPECT TO GET SO CLOSE, to park in the parking lot next to the Cannon Falls Community Pool, stroll across the street and walk down the hill into Hannah’s Bend Park where President Barack Obama will participate Monday morning in a town hall meeting.

But my husband and I walked right into the thick of preparations Sunday afternoon with no questions asked, just like the locals and others who’d arrived by foot, vehicles and on bike to check out the hubbub.

An overview of the south end of Hannah's Bend Park, where President Barack Obama will appear.

One of the many families visiting the park to view the pre-Presidential preparations.

Bikers came to the park to check out the town hall meeting site.

Workers had already set up, or were setting up, picnic tables, tables and chairs, bleachers, fencing, amplifiers, tents and more. They were simply doing what they were told, they said, while pointing out the Secret Service guys in khakis and shades standing along the bank of the Cannon River. Nice guys, they said.

Among the workers were Tom Leonard and his sons, 14-year-old Isaac and 13-year-old Caleb, from Festival Production Services of Lonsdale. As subcontractors for the event, they had erected the press risers and were, when I approached them, finishing up the 8 x 12-foot Presidential stage.

Tom and Isaac Leonard work on the Presidential stage.

Tom Leonard was matter-of-fact about his efforts. “For me, it’s just another gig,” he said. “It’s like anything. It’s work.”

Caleb, however, seemed a bit more impressed with putting together a stage for the President. “It makes me feel kind of important,” he said as he swung a hammer.

Perhaps Tom Leonard’s laid-back attitude comes from having done many Presidential gigs, including an inaugural ball for George W. Bush. Sunday marked just another day on a job that includes rigging up staging for rock-n-roll bands and other customers.

Marilyn and Jeryld Carstensen were in town from St. James and scored two tickets to Monday’s Presidential appearance after getting in line at 4 a.m. Sunday. Their 22-year-old daughter, Regan Carstensen, has been reporting on the Presidential visit for The Red Wing Republican Eagle, so the couple has gotten caught up in the excitement.

Media, including Twin Cities-based Eyewitness News, were in town on Sunday.

Media were already converging on Cannon Falls Sunday afternoon. At Amy’s Savvy Seconds in the downtown business district, Amy Savvy had already done several television interviews and was preparing for another when I came across her cleaning her shop windows.

Amy Savvy cleans the windows at her secondhand shop. She planned to write a message welcoming Obama.

When I returned later, a television crew was inside Amy's Savvy Seconds.

“It’s a historic thing,” Amy said of the President’s Cannon Falls stop. She appreciated the extra business in town and had opened her second-hand store Sunday, and planned to be open again on Monday, days she’s typically closed. She was also working around her grandma’s funeral set for Monday, but figured her grandma would want her to take advantage of the extra traffic downtown.

A few doors down, Warren Schaffer was tending Schaffer’s Antiques, wishing the President would stop in and buy something. I looked around, spotted an eagle and suggested it as a possible Presidential purchase. Warren promptly informed me I was looking at a whiskey bottle.

Calling himself a “middle-of-the-road” guy when it comes to politics, Warren none-the-less shares in the community’s excitement over the Presidential visit. “He’s the President. This is a little town. This is a big deal.”

A street corner in the heart of downtown Cannon Falls.

Downtown Cannon Falls, population, 3,795, had seen a lot of traffic for a Sunday, Warren observed. He expects even more on Monday; his shop will be open on a day when it’s usually shuttered.

Through-out the downtown, most businesses have displayed American flags in storefront windows or outside. At the Cannon River Winery, a sign hangs out front welcoming the President.

A sign welcoming the President hangs on the front of the Cannon River Winery.

American flags, large and small, hang in most storefront windows.

The excitement in Cannon Falls Sunday afternoon was palpable. At Hannah’s Bend Park, my first stop in town, clusters of folks gathered, pointing out the brush that had been cut days earlier from the hillside, pointing toward the area where workers labored to get everything in place for the town hall meeting…

Tom Leonard was still hard at work, jumping up and down on the bleachers, apparently testing their stability. He’ll be back on Monday, taking everything down, moving on to another day, another gig.

Tom Leonard, along with sons Isaac and Caleb, checks the stability of the bleachers.

Speakers awaiting installation at the town hall meeting site.

CHECK BACK for a second blog post featuring photos of American flags displayed in Cannon Falls for the President’s visit.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling