Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

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