Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Focus on feline photography October 29, 2018

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Brianna’s cat, in her home in Hayfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

HALLOWEEN PROMPTS THOUGHTS of cats. Not necessarily black ones. Just cats in general. I’ve photographed a few through the years. Because, well, they are photogenic.

 

One of the many cats on a Morristown, Minnesota, area farm.

 

I’m no cat person. I grew up on a farm, where cats served the sole purpose of catching mice. But I’ll stroke a cat, allow one to wind around my legs. For awhile. I have my limits. Recently when about a dozen farm cats swarmed from a barn toward me, I retreated to the safety of the van and slammed the door. That was too many cats. I felt like I was inside New Ulm native Wanda Gag’s Millions of Cats children’s picture book or in some Stephen King horror story.

 

Ian with Zephyr in rural Bigelow, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Yet, I know many of you adore cats, own cats. And that’s OK by me. I can pet your cat, photograph your cat without the costs and responsibilities of pet ownership. That works for me.

 

My sister’s cat, Sable, now deceased. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

TELL ME: Do you own a cat(s), why and what do you love about your pet(s)?

BONUS CAT IMAGES from my photo files:

 

“Grandview Farm Cat” by Faribault animal portrait artist Julie M. Fakler. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Princess Biancabella bookshop cat at Bexter Book & Copy in Milaca, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2017.

 

Posted on the screen door of Paper Moon in McGregor, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

The cat that needs to be kept inside Paper Moon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Iowa cat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

One of two cats outside Hopefull Treasures in Hope, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2011.

 

The lazy life of a Hopefull Treasures cat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2011.

 

“Dog and Cats” by Faribault Lutheran School first grader Frankie Spicer shown at a student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

This stray kitten showed up while I dined with friends on the patio at The Tavern, a downtown Northfield, Minnesota, eatery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Biancabella, books & bliss at Becky’s bookshop October 30, 2017

 

PRINCESS BIANCABELLA first drew me to the business along Milaca’s main drag. Stretched out atop carpet next to stacks of books in the front window display area, the calico cat appeared blissfully content. Not even my photographic efforts disturbed her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scene delighted me—this bookstore cat in one window, a vintage typewriter in another and a creative OPEN sign crafted from a book and propped outside Bexter Book & Copy.

 

 

It’s not often anymore that you find an independent bookstore, especially in a town the size of Milaca with not quite 3,000 residents. This shop, which opened about a year ago, anchors a corner of the downtown business district in an historic building. And it appears the owner, Rebecca Rittenour, is working hard to make her business a success. She not only sells new and used books, but also offers hometown copy services and engages her patrons via a Mystery Book Club, creative in-store displays and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I especially like her artistic vignettes that encourage folks to shop local. I didn’t speak much with Becky other than to greet her, ask for permission to photograph and praise her store. But I got the sense, both from wandering the bookshop and from reading the Bexter website and Facebook page, that she truly holds a passion for books and for sharing her love and knowledge with others. That’s always the benefit of shopping local—excellent customer service from a passionate shopkeeper.

 

 

 

 

Milaca is fortunate to have an independent bookstore with books tucked into open drawers, filed onto shelves and showcased in artful ways.

 

 

On my quick stop in town, this bookshop charmed me with its vivid chartreuse walls, homey character and resident princess cat.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite independent bookstore? If yes, what delights you and draws you to this bookshop?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Where, oh, where has my little dog gone & pet photos July 20, 2017

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Photographed recently along a busy roadway in Cannon Falls. (Yes, I blacked out the phone number.)

 

EVERY SPRING, SUMMER and fall, handcrafted photo signs pop up on street corners with the message, LOST DOG.

DO NOT YELL, APPROACH OR CHASE, the writer advises of a dog lost recently in Cannon Falls.

I often wonder if these canines are ever found or wander home or why they are running loose in the first place. I realize pets sometimes escape…but I appreciate responsible pet owners who keep their animals under control on their property and who clean up after the dogs they’re walking. I’ve stepped in stinky dog poop too often in my yard. Yuck.

A few years ago a woman even posed her dog in the middle of a corner flowerbed by my house for a photo op. In the process, the dog destroyed flowers I’d planted. I was not happy.

 

 

But I was happy to see the owner of a lost (as in deceased) pet post a public notice offering free pet portraits. I spotted the sign recently in a Waterville gift shop. The owner of Chaz the dog is a photographer specializing in pictures of people and their pets, according to the Facebook page for Chazman Photography based in Janesville.

 

 

I haven’t photographed a lot of pets. But the animal images I’ve taken are, I think, notable. I’m not your typical stand, point-and-shoot photographer. I strive to tell a story, using perspective and setting to achieve that. Here are some cat and dog photos I’ve shot, my favorite being the “NO PETS ALLOWED” image shot outside Riverfront Park in Mankato in June of 2011. The dog owner, upset his canine couldn’t enter the park, suggested the photo location, almost daring himself and his dog to cross that line.

Here are those promised pet photos pulled from my files:

 

My sister Lanae’s fat cat, Sable, now deceased. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

Ian with Zephyr in rural Bigelow. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Titan, so active I struggled to photograph him in 2014. He was owned by the Spitzack family of rural Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I photographed this cat outside Hopefull Treasures in Hope, MN., in 2011. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another cat photographed in 2011 in Hope, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another view of that dog outside Mankato’s Riverfront Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Rudi, one friendly collie at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

My friend Mandy’s cat, Gretchen, photographed in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Taco the dog, photographed at the Faribault Farmers’ Market in Central Park in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Brianna’s cat, in her home in Hayfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

Pumpkins, picking & prayer September 2, 2015

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HAVE YOU EVER TRIED to coax a cat onto a pumpkin? It is difficult at best.

I am not a cat owner. But I grew up with farm cats, simply calling, “Here, kitty kitty,” and the felines would come running. They did not, however, appreciate any attempts to dress them in doll clothes and then plop them into a doll buggy.

The sprawling garden includes pumpkins and popcorn.

The sprawling garden includes pumpkins and popcorn.

That “here, kitty kitty” tactic did not work with Gretchen, who belongs to friends, Jeff and Mandy. My bible study group gathered recently at their rural Faribault acreage. We always socialize for an hour before digging into our study. And on this perfect late summer evening in Minnesota, we surveyed Mandy’s garden. Gretchen meandered with us among the vines and rows.

Hannah's sunflowers

Hannah’s sunflowers

Mandy grows vegetables that I’ve never seen grown—like kidney beans and burgundy beans and tomatillos. This year she’s had help from Hannah, a teen who wanted to learn gardening.

Jeff coaxes Gretchen...

Jeff coaxes Gretchen…

...onto the pumpkin.

…onto the pumpkin.

Hannah planted pumpkins which just kept growing and growing and growing into ginormous orbs. I wanted to photograph them. But I needed scale. Ah, Gretchen the cat would be perfect. So Jeff, kind friend that he is, agreed to lure Gretchen onto a Great Atlantic (or something like that; Jeff couldn’t quite remember the name) pumpkin. Eventually I got an acceptable photo.

Later, Gretchen hopped atop a fence post, providing for more photo ops as the sun edged down:

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 1

 

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 2

 

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 3

 

When the photo shoots and garden tour ended, we began moving toward the house. But we were sidetracked. Debbie and I, dairy farmers’ daughters, checked out the barn. Most of the guys headed to a shed and scrounged in a scrap metal pile. Steve, the artist among us, found metal for art projects and a trough that will work as a flower planter. Then Mike and I waded through tall grass with Mandy, aiming for the wood pile. There we rooted out wooden boxes. Mike also found scrap wood for his oldest son’s May wedding.

The barn rises high above the garden.

The barn rises high above the garden.

One person’s junk is another’s treasure.

The top of the silo and the barn roof.

The top of the silo and the barn roof.

What a fun evening it was, first touring and photographing the garden and Gretchen, then picking, then gathering around the kitchen table with dear friends to study, to share and to pray. I am blessed.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, for cute…kitties and puppies August 7, 2014

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I GREW UP ON A DAIRY and crop farm where cats and dogs roamed the property.

Although they were pets, they weren’t really pets. Rather, they were there to work. The cats caught mice. The dogs alerted us to wild animals and vehicles arriving in the farm yard.

My parents never bought cat or dog food. Table scraps, of which there were few from our family of eight, and a daily hub cap of milk warm from the cow nourished the cats and dogs.

One of my all-time favorite portraits shows Ian, my blogger friend Gretchen's son, with the family cat, Zephyr.

One of my all-time favorite portraits shows Ian, my blogger friend Gretchen’s son, with the family cat, Zephyr. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo shot in July 2013.

Of course, we kids grew quite fond of dogs like Blackie, Shep, Rex and Fritz Carter Mondale Ferraro and Tommer the cat (why can’t I remember the names of more cats?), …

I recall dressing kittens in doll clothes and pushing them in a doll buggy.

There were endless attempts to teach the dogs to shake hands and fetch balls or sticks.

Spring always brought a search in the hay loft or haystack for newborn kittens.

Yes, my memories of felines and canines are mostly pleasant ones of working farm animals that sometimes allowed us to play with them.

As an adult, considering the cost and care, I’ve never wanted a pet. Plus, I’m just not the type of person who wants an animal living indoors and/or in town. I know I’m in the minority. But that’s OK. I’ll just admire and pet other people’s pets.

Titan, so active I struggled to photograph him.

Titan, so active I struggled to photograph him.

The other night I met Titan, an adorable seven-week-old puppy, at the Spitzack farm outside Faribault. Puppies are so darned cute. Titan reminded me of the story my mom shared awhile ago. One recent afternoon a man from a nearby town arrived at the senior complex where she lives with nearly a dozen puppies for residents to pet and cuddle. He’d engaged the litter in active play so they’d be worn out. His strategy worked. Mom was so excited about a sweet, cuddly puppy falling asleep in her lap that you’d have thought she won the lottery.

Pets possess the power to comfort and heal and lift spirits.

Lots of dogs and that 1939 date on the right side of the mural.

This image shows a portion of the Pet Parade mural gracing the side of the historic bandshell in Faribault’s Central Park.

This evening, my community of Faribault holds its 78th annual Pet Parade beginning at 7 p.m. I can’t attend. But be assured, if you’re there, you’ll view plenty of cuddly cuteness.

DO YOU OWN A PET or have a favorite pet memory? Feel free to share.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What’s the story behind this license plate? January 13, 2014

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Cat nap license plate

THE THING ABOUT PERSONALIZED license plates is this: I always wonder about the story behind the choice.

Is the owner of this Lincoln MKX, recently photographed along Minnesota State Highway 3 in Northfield, a cat owner? Or simply a lover of cat naps? Or?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pets on parade in Faribault August 8, 2012

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Taco the dog, photographed earlier this summer on a Saturday morning at the Faribault Farmers’ Market in Central Park.

PETS AND KIDS equal cuteness, wouldn’t you agree?

Thursday evening the cuteness combination commands several city streets during my community’s Pet Parade—the 76th annual according to information published by the Faribault Parks & Recreation Department.

The kids and their animals will line up in categories like little dogs, big dogs, rabbits, kittens and cats, unusual pets, farm animals, and, at the tail end, horses, of course.

In between, there will be floats and kids in strollers and on bikes, trikes, scooters, skateboards and roller blades. There will be clowns and costumes and perhaps even chaos in this “It’s a Zoo Around Here!” themed event.

I haven’t been to the Pet Parade in many years, mostly because my kids are all grown up and they were the reason I attended.

We never participated in the parade. Our only pets were goldfish. And I probably never told my three they could walk in the parade without a pet. Sometimes parents are smart like that and don’t share details. Just let the kids think that because they don’t own a cat or dog or snake or some other animal, they must simply watch.

I expect I never told them either about the free freeze pops and music in Central Park after the parade. I don’t know if treats are still part of the parade. But the parade still ends in Central Park. This year’s entertainment features zoo animal dances by girls ages 5 – 9 who participated in a Spirit Team summer camp. More cuteness, for sure.

The Pet Parade mural installed on the Central Park band shell.

Central Park is also the site of an artistic tribute to Faribault’s long-running Pet Parade. In May the Mural Society of Faribault installed a Pet Parade mural on the park’s historic band shell, making it the seventh mural the group has placed in Faribault.

Lots of dogs on the left side of the mural…

The artwork definitely possesses that cuteness factor although I wish a few animals besides dogs were featured in the mural.

And what about that date, “since 1939?”

Lots of dogs and that 1939 date on the right side of the mural.

If that date is right, then the 2012 Pet Parade would not be the 76th, but the 73rd annual. Correct? I’m not really all that good at math. And, yes, my kids know that.

FYI: The Pet Parade begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 9, at Ninth Street Northwest and Second Avenue Northwest, proceeds south on Second Avenue, turns west on Fifth Street and ends in Central Park.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Sunday morning with The Hope Feline Patrol July 31, 2011

The Hope Feline Patrol lounges on the porch of Hopefull Treasures.

VISIT HOPE, MINNESOTA, late on a Sunday morning and you might feel like you’re in a ghost town. Except for the cats. The Hope Feline Patrol, I’ve dubbed them.

When my husband and I pulled into this Steele County town because that’s what we sometimes do on Sundays after church—hop in the car and drive to places we haven’t been to before—not a soul was in sight save those two cats.

They lounged on the porch of Hopefull Treasures, aka Wilker’s Antiques, all stretched out as if they had not a care in the world. Until I appeared.

The long-haired orange cat stirred, on alert, jumped off a weathered wooden box and wound around my leg. The tabby stayed put, flicking eyes toward me, then, satisfied that I presented no threat, resumed cat napping.

The orange cat, however, plopped down on the sidewalk in front of the antique store, rolled around for awhile and then assumed a leisurely pose with a watchful eye on the single main route through this town of 120 residents.

The orange cat almost immediately sat up and assessed the situation when I arrived.

The napping tabby left patrol duties primarily to the orange cat.

Hopefull Treasure's orange cat keeps an eye on the single road that runs through Hope.

All the while I kept taking pictures of the cats and the antique store I wished was unlocked. It’s open only from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays or by chance or appointment. Apparently I wasn’t drawing a chance card on this day.

I knew I’d love poking around inside this place, scrounging for more story and photo treasures, plus antique and collectible treasures.

Every place, every person, every animal, every thing holds a story. And at Hopefull Treasures I’d found my story in The Hope Feline Patrol.

I had to peer into the windows of the closed antique store to check out the treasures.

Vintage postcards and coffee cups I spotted through the front window of Hopefull Treasures.

When I moved on down the street, the orange cat was still lying on the sidewalk in front of Hopefull Treasures.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanks for the Sputnik memories, Mr. President January 27, 2011

GROWING UP on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm back in the 1950s and 60s, in the middle of the Cold War, I didn’t know all that much about the Soviet Union, except to fear “the Russians.”

Then along came Sputnik, the Russian satellite, which made quite an impression on my impressionable young mind.

So when President Barack Obama worked Sputnik into his Tuesday night State of the Union address and stated, “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” something niggled in my memory.

That something would be a cat.

Just to make sure I was remembering correctly, I phoned my mom, who quickly assured me that I was right. During my childhood, we had a black-and-brown mixed barn cat called Sputnik.

“I think you kids named it after the Russian satellite,” my mom said.

She was right. My oldest brother and I, enamored with the whole space thing, had named the barn cat with the stump tail (likely sliced off by a mower in the alfalfa field) Sputnik.

I hadn’t thought about that feline in decades, until the President tripped my memory Tuesday evening while referencing Sputnik in his call for American innovation.

Then Wednesday I got caught up even more in the Russian satellite memory when I learned that the President was visiting Manitowoc in eastern Wisconsin. On September 6, 1962, a 20-pound chunk of glowing debris from Sputnik IV plummeted to earth, landing on 8th Street in Manitowoc.

This Wisconsin city celebrates that monumental event every September at Sputnikfest, complete with a Miss Space Debris Pageant, Cosmic Cake Contest, Cosmic Costume Contest, a Sputnik Re-enactment and more.

How space-age cool is that?

The President’s trip to Manitowoc was clearly well-planned and orchestrated to tie in with his Sputnik speech reference. Otherwise why would he have chosen to visit this city of 32,520 southeast of Green Bay? It’s not like he’s a Packers fan, although he received a yellow and green jersey upon his arrival.

This town on the shores of Lake Michigan is also home to several green energy plants, which Obama toured, thus reemphasizing his State of the Union directive to move forward in developing clean energy alternatives.

That all said, thank you, Mr. President, for mentioning Sputnik in your speech. I hadn’t thought about that barn cat in decades.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inside a pet portrait studio November 2, 2010

GROWING UP IN HOUSTON—that would be Minnesota, not Texas—Julie M Fakler always envied the farm kids with their farm animals.

Today, though, Julie has no reason to feel jealous. She’s surrounded by a menagerie of animals, some real (her cats), most not.

She’s an artist, specializing in pet portraits. A quick peek inside her Faribault studio and gallery during the recent South Central Minnesota October Studio arTour and Sale reveals that Julie especially loves cats and dogs. They comprise the bulk of her acrylics.

 

 

Examples of Julie M Fakler's animal portraits.

 

Occasionally, though, you’ll see a farm animal like a goat, chicken or calf. Some of those she’s painted at the nearby Rice County Fairgrounds, setting up her easel during the fair to recreate those critters.

 

 

Rice County Fair animal portraits painted during the fair.

 

As I sorted through the photos I took of Julie’s artwork, I finally figured out what was niggling at my brain about her paintings of animals against simple backgrounds of primarily primary colors. Her paintings, in my opinion, would fit perfectly into children’s picture books.

I haven’t asked Julie whether she’s ever considered illustrating a children’s book. But she will paint a portrait of your pet, on commission, or hand-stitch a quilt for you (another one of her artistic endeavors).

 

 

Julie painted this neighborhood dog.

 

 

Items tacked onto a bulletin board, left, provide Julie with inspiration for her paintings.

 

 

A jumble of paint tubes in the studio, which is housed in a former upholstery shop behind her Faribault home.

 

 

Paintings propped on the studio floor.

 

 

More animal art.

 

 

Julie and her sister make books, using them to record their world-wide travels via words and art.

 

 

One final nod to Julie's artistic side is represented in this old sink, acquired from a neighbor, and decorated for fall. It's outside her studio/gallery door. She intends to use the sink as a potting station in the spring.

 

For additional information and to view more of Julie’s art, click here to visit her Web site.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling