Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On ARTour: A peek inside Kip O’Krongly’s studio & art October 25, 2013

Cerarmic artist's Kip O'Krongly's second floor studio.

Ceramic artist Kip O’Krongly’s second floor studio.

HER ART STUDIO POSSESSES an almost industrial, spartan look. Clean lines. Tidy. Labels. Schedules. Everything just so.

Supplies and tools, all in their place.

Supplies and tools, all in their place.

Kip O’Krongly freely admits to her need for orderliness in the second floor ceramics studio of her Northfield home.

Gertie rises from her spot beneath the windows.

Gertie rises from her spot beneath the windows.

Here, in this slanted ceiling room with the tile floor she laid and with sunlight streaming in, Kip’s dog, Gertie, rests briefly on a blue and green plaid blanket below double windows. A short respite from visitors, like me, who have filtered into Kip’s studio and home during the South Central Minnesota Studio ARTour.

During this (last) weekend open house, I am visiting the studios of select artists I have not seen on past tours.

Cows also grace one of Kip's plates.

Art Kip creates on her ceramic plates sometimes makes statements about social issues, like the piece on the right.

I am drawn to Kip’s place by the tractors, wind turbines and corn I’ve seen showcased online on her ceramics.

Definitely a transportation themed piece going here.

Definitely a transportation themed piece going here.

She tells me that themes of food, transportation and energy run through her work. Once she points that out, I ask whether she was raised on a farm. No. Alaska.

We don’t get into details about the themes, but I mention that I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie and am visually troubled by the wind turbines that populate the landscape, ruining, in my opinion, the aesthetics of the prairie.

More than tractors and corn...

More than tractors and corn… Corn grows from oil rigs.

Kip says she welcomes how her art opens up dialogue and the opportunity to hear differing opinions on social issues. And I sense her sincerity in stating that.

The door opens into Kip's studio.

The door opens into Kip’s studio.

I am intrigued, too, by her name. Kip O’Krongly. It possess a certain snap, a certain strength, a certain ruggedness. I never ask. But I don’t need to. Her work, talent and confidence as an artist define Kip O’Krongly.

FYI: The works of two other ceramics artists, Joel Froehle and Juliane Shibata, were also showcased in Kip’s home. However, they were not in-house when I visited.

Please click here and then here to read previous posts from the South Central Minnesota Studio ARTour. And check back for more posts in this five-part series.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


On ARTour: Inside an old milkhouse October 23, 2013

I FEEL COMFORTABLY AT HOME in the old milkhouse, Kittens underfoot. The smokey scent of a wood burning stove warming a kettle of apple cider. Pipelines, that once carried fresh milk, poking through the wall.

Some of Lessing's ceramics displayed outside The Milkhouse Studio.

Some of Glynnis Lessing’s ceramics displayed outside The Milkhouse Studio.

This is the studio of ceramics artist Glynnis Lessing. This weathered building forked off a circular farm drive along Minnesota Highway 3 just north of Northfield. This land the artist’s home since relocating from Chicago with her family about a year ago.

Tools of the trade on a milkhouse windowsill.

Tools of the trade on a milkhouse windowsill.

I have come here, to The Milkhouse Studio, on a Sunday afternoon for the South Central Minnesota Studio ARTour, a once-a-year opportunity to meet local artists where they create.

A sign advises visitors of chickens on the farm.

A sign advises visitors of chickens on the farm.

This rural setting reminds me of my childhood, growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm where I labored many hours in the milkhouse and barn.

Milking equipment remains in the milkhouse.

Milking equipment, right, remains in the milkhouse next to Lessing’s creations.

Although I never imagined a milkhouse as an artist’s studio, for Lessing it seems the perfect fit—creating in this place where her grandfather milked cows in the adjoining barn. Worked with his hands, just like her. In these aged buildings, on the land.

Love these nature-themed mugs.

Love these nature-themed mugs.

Love these bowls, too.

Love these bowls, too.

And then I noticed the leaf that had settled inside the mug. So fitting.

And then I noticed the leaf that had settled inside the mug. So fitting.

I can see the influence of rural life in Lessing’s pieces. Branches and birds. Leaves and blades of grass. An earthy quality that appeals to me and causes me to reflect on my rural roots.

The Milkhouse Studio front door. Lots of history and memories here.

The Milkhouse Studio front door. Lots of history and memories here.

My memories: Felines circling around a battered hubcap to lap warm milk fresh from the cows. Frothy milk dumped, through a strainer, into the bulk tank. Sudsy water swished inside a milk bucket with a stiff brush. Yellow chore gloves drying atop an oil burning stove in the milkhouse…

Tucked into a corner of a milkhouse windowsill.

Tucked into a corner of a milkhouse windowsill.

FYI: To learn more about the history of the old milkhouse, click here to read Lessing’s blog post on the subject.

And for more info about Lessing the artist, click here.

To read my first post about the South Central Minnesota Studio ARTour, click here. Please check back for more posts from artists’ studios.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A peek at the South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour October 15, 2011

This building at 101 E Fifth Street in downtown Northfield includes a studio that showcased the art of Nancy Carlson, Lucky Rimpila and Meg Jensen Witt.

OK, PEOPLE, YOU have one more day to tour 23 art studios featuring 46 artists during the South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour.

The free tour, which opened today, continues Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. in the Northfield, Cannon Falls and Faribault area.

Now I’m going to be honest with you here. My husband and I went on the tour last year. We loved it. But we really didn’t weave the event into this weekend’s plans what with painting a bedroom this morning and then sampling chilis at the Faribault Fall Festival today and other stuff that involved work.

But then we drove up to Northfield to look at a van for sale and, as long as we were in the vicinity of most of those open studios, we toured about a half-dozen. And let me tell you, we were in for some sweet surprises.

Here’s a sampling from those studios, which should inspire you to abandon any other plans you have for Sunday and make a day of it visiting with artists and perusing (maybe even purchasing) their work.

Meet metalsmith Tim Lloyd, surrounded by the tools of his trade. He’s a congenial guy, retired from 40 years of teaching metalsmithing at Carleton College in Northfield. He’ll explain things to you, answer your questions about what he keeps in narrow drawers in his workshop. You’ll see leaves in one drawer. He’ll tell you about the prairie dock (a native prairie plant that looks like rhubarb) and the ginkgo leaves he imprints into silver.

And then he might mention that he has a work of art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A teapot. At the Smithsonian.

And so here are some of Tim’s teapots, not exactly like the one at the Smithsonian, but beautiful, just beautiful. He’ll even listen to you tell a story about a railroad teapot reclaimed from a junk pile on a North Dakota farm, if you have a story like that to share.

So when I saw this vessel, I thought of a Communion chalice, which it is not. But Tim has made those, too.

Because Tim didn’t seem to mind, I moved in close to his work desk and photographed these tools.

Moving along, artist Kirsten Johnson wouldn’t allow me to photograph any of her art (not all that uncommon) except this visual journal of watercolor paintings. In January, she began painting an hour a day and continued for five months. About mid-March she took lessons in watercolor. She learned this: “Water is boss.”

Down-home, earthy simplicity is how I would describe this bowl by Meg Jensen Witt, who once worked at a food co-op with someone I met several days ago. Small world. And, yes, I’ll tell you about this interesting mutual acquaintance in a few days in another post.

I still don’t know if he was telling me the truth or spinning a tall tale. But the creator of this stained glass window introduced himself as Lucky Rimpila. I mean, who has a name like Lucky? Lucky, apparently.

And then there’s Nancy Carlson (for sure her real name) who was in the same studio as Lucky and Meg. Nancy used a dropper to create mini works of art with India ink. She grouped and framed them together and here you’re seeing one snippet.

 Meet Louise. She is not an artist. But she is an original poodle (or something like that) before poodles shrunk. Louise was hanging out in potter Tom Willis’ Sunset Studio near Dundas. Tom says Louise is shy and that she needs a haircut. He is right.

Since Louise was sort of blocking the view of Tom’s pottery, above, I moved in close to photograph it for you. Then I went outside his studio and found more…

I could show you many, many more close-up photos of Tom’s pottery. Lovely, lovely art. But here’s an overview. You can go to his studio and examine it more closely on your own. Tomorrow. Remember, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Oh, and if you time it just right, you may get to see Tom and ceramic sculptor DeAnn Engvall take a dragon out of the 1800-plus degree raku kiln. Yes, that is hot. And, yes, DeAnn has gotten burned, singed her eyebrows once.  And, yes, I took this photo at a weird angle so just tip your head.

Next, the red hot dragon (see it?) is placed inside a garbage can, where it ignites newspaper. About then you can make a smart comment about a fire-breathing dragon before the lid is slapped onto the garbage can. A half hour later, a colorful dragon emerges. DeAnn will explain to you that the fire “pulls the oxygen molecules in the glaze to the surface.” And if you’re like me, you’ll think, “OK, if you say so.”

That concludes my mini-tour of several art studios. Now, have I convinced you to take in the South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour tomorrow?

For more information, click here at www.studioartour.com.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling