Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Inspiring creativity March 24, 2022

Lost glove along the Straight River Trail, south Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

THE GLOVED STICK stuck out like a snowman’s broken appendage. There, stuck in the snow, aside the Straight River Trail in south Faribault.

Camera in hand, I paused on a recent afternoon trail walk to photograph the lost grey glove. Scenes like this intrigue me because there’s always a story. Who lost the glove? Why? Who found the glove and then decided to stick it on a stick? Would the woman who lost the glove find it?

Real life often prompts my creative writing. Several weeks ago I wrote with a fury over two days, under pressure to meet a contest deadline. In those two full days of creating, I wrote two pieces of creative nonfiction, two short stories and two poems. The Muse moved within me and I felt it.

More often than not, I tap into my life for ideas. The “write what you know” adage holds true for me.

In writing fiction, I can take a snippet of truth and craft it into a short story that rings with reality, except it’s not. A text shaped one of the pieces I crafted. The other story came from some dark place I have not yet unearthed.

The recent death of my mom resulted in a poem and a work of creative nonfiction. A sign in a barbershop window prompted the second piece of creative nonfiction.

And my second poem emerged from a previous walk along a riverside trail in Faribault. Not the same path of broken snowman appendage. But a place where fingers of snow wrote stories across asphalt.

TELL ME: If you are a creative, what inspires you in your writing/painting/creating? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inside the student art show at the Paradise, Part II March 17, 2022

Love the student art spanning walls in a current exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Aubrey Schafer, Roosevelt Elementary fourth grader, created the Love art on the left. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

IF I COULD TALK to these students, what would they tell me about their art? Would their responses show a passion for creating? Would they tell me they were just completing an assignment? Or would their answers fall somewhere in between?

Assorted art by Lincoln Elementary students. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

As a wordsmith, I often wonder about the stories behind the art displayed at the annual All Area Student Show at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. While perusing the pieces, I see varied versions of the same theme. That reveals a general classroom assignment focused on a subject. Yet even that prompt leads to individual creativity.

Portrait by Isaac Rodriguez, fifth grader at Roosevelt Elementary School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

What would Ayub, Mariyo, Isaac, Natalia, Aubrey, Lily, Myrka, Jaelynn, Mumtaaz, Brianna, Rain and the many other student artists say about their art? The art they created at their respective schools—Faribault Area Learning Center and Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt Elementary schools.

Student art runs the length of a second floor hallway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

When I view their exhibit, I am impressed by the level of talent—from kindergarten through high school. But this is about much more than talent. This is about encouraging young people in the arts. This is about showing us adults that young people have an artistic voice. This is about taking away our own interpretations of this artwork.

Colorful insect art by Ayub Osman, fourth grade, Lincoln Elementary. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)I
Myrka Mendoza, Faribault Area Learning Center 11th grader, drew this realistic butterfly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Envisioning Mariyo Mohamed’s (second grader at Lincoln Elementary) snail in a picture book. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I appreciate how, even on the theme of nature, students’ interpretations range from boldly colorful—as if illustrated in a children’s picture book—to realistic—as if printed in the pages of a nature guidebook.

This textured birthday cake art by Lincoln second grader Jaelynn Martinez makes me want to grab a slice and celebrate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

The art shown in this exhibit conveys celebration, joy, history, a sense of place, personality, messages, nature and more.

Each art piece is titled with basics of name, grade and school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

If these students wrote artists’ statements, what backstories would they share? What inspires them? Why did they choose bold or subtle? Are they conveying a message? Or simply creating?

Art by students from Jefferson Elementary School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

As someone who’s created with words and images for decades, I understand how my prairie background, upbringing in a southwestern Minnesota farm family and personality influence my work. I write and photograph with a strong sense of place, with detail. And, I hope, with compassion, empathy, understanding, connection and a desire to make a positive difference. I listen. I observe. I create.

Created by Lily Krauth, kindergarten, Roosevelt Elementary. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I create, too, with a focus on what’s right here—in our area communities, in the countryside… And, today, what’s on the second floor of the Paradise Center for the Arts—the art of young creatives.

FYI: The student art show continues through April 9 at the Paradise, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault. PCA hours are from noon – 5 pm Wednesday through Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturdays. Click here to read Part I in this two-part series.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts & thanks as 2022 begins January 1, 2022

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As we begin 2022, please remember this, that you are loved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo; image taken along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin)

HERE WE ARE, on the first day of a new year. Days and weeks and months unfolding before us. Full of unknowns, possibilities, whatever life brings. Happiness. Sorrow. Sickness. Health. Joy. Sadness. To be human is to experience all. Sometimes alone. Sometimes together.

I expect that, without much thought, you can recall particularly challenging times/events in your life. In those difficult days, you likely felt overwhelmed, wondered whether you would make it to the other side. To the days when the pain and stress and anguish would lift. And light would shine again.

And I expect also that you did not go it alone. Perhaps faith carried you. Family and/or friends, too. Maybe professionals. And your inner strength. It often amazes me just how strong and resilient we humans can be. Even in the toughest of circumstances.

The support and friendships I’ve formed via blogging amaze me, too. I’ve connected with some really kind, caring and compassionate individuals. Some friendships remain virtual. But others developed in to in-person friendships. Regardless, these individuals are now part of my circle, part of my life. Their generosity of spirit has uplifted me countless times.

Me behind my first Canon EOS 20D. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Most recently, a blogger friend asked what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted/needed only one thing. A camera. Just like the one I’ve used for the past decade plus. A Canon EOS 20D. I’m on my second 20D and it was failing, just like the first. Locking up. I knew its days were numbered and I would need a different camera. The 20D is an older camera. But I’m comfortable and familiar with it. I checked two camera shops online in the Twin Cities metro to find only a few used cameras, none of them a 20D. No surprise there. A new camera was not an option. Have you looked at camera prices lately? Then came my blogger friend’s email asking what I would like for Christmas. She hoped to send me something after the holidays.

Days later, a package landed on my front steps. I hadn’t ordered anything. Wasn’t expecting anything. But when I slit the box, I found a camera body inside. A Canon EOS 20D. I actually shrieked, nearly cried with joy at this most thoughtful gift which allows me to continue to create. I’m delighted to have my third 20D in my hands. I’ve always believed that good photography is more about the skills of the person creating with a camera than about the equipment. I couldn’t believe my blogger friend found this coveted aged camera, and so quickly. I am beyond grateful.

Now, entering into another year of creativity, I fully intend to use my talents to share, in images and words, the world I discover. I will continue to take you into small towns. Along gravel roads. Into woods and along rivers and lakes. To community events. I will show you art and natural beauty, the places I go, the things I see and do. And I hope that in doing so, I bring you joy, expand your world, perhaps uplift you.

Thank you, dear readers, for following Minnesota Prairie Roots. Thank you for supporting my creativity. For recognizing that creativity connects all of us. And that creativity matters.

Happy New Year!

© Copyright 2021 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

AMERICAN SPORTS are on fire

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

 

From the Paradise: Student art reflects the pandemic March 26, 2021

This vivid art by Faribault Middle School seventh grader Levi pops color into the student art exhibit at the Paradise.

THE ALL AREA STUDENT SHOW rates as one of my annual favorite art exhibits at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. I love viewing the creative efforts of students from elementary age through high school. Their talent always impresses me and this year is no exception.

This year’s exhibit is significantly smaller, filling only a single second floor hallway.

But the 2021 show, because of the pandemic and mostly distance learning, is scaled back. Way back. Art lines only a section of one hallway rather than multiple hallways and the walls of the second floor gallery.

Bethlehem Academy sixth grader Diego drew the masked portrait, left, one in a long line of masked portraits by BA students.
Masked portraits by BA sixth graders, Allison, left, and Megan, right.
Lillian, from the sixth grade class at BA, created the portrait on the left.

Not only are fewer pieces of art displayed, but the art, too, reflects the pandemic and distance learning. Students from Bethlehem Academy, for example, drew portraits. Of their masked selves.

“Lines” by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Aronranrcsy reminds me of the prairie. This is one of my favorites.

I also noticed a lack of copycat art with teachers assigning students to a specific art task and then student after student after student creating the same thing. I observed more creativity and diversity. And I really appreciated that individuality as it allows students to open their artistic wings and soar.

“Color” by Mohamed, Faribault Middle School eighth grader. This just makes me happy.

Paradise Center for the Arts Executive Director Heidi Nelson and I briefly discussed my observations. She agreed that distance learning definitely factored into the artwork, noting that some of the art is computer generated/created.

What incredible talent…portraits by Faribault High School student Stacie.
Each work of art is tagged with the artist’s name and school. I’d welcome info on the art medium.
Hazel, a third grader at Bridgewater Elementary School, created this family portrait, which I absolutely love. If we’ve learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s the value of family.

However these students created—whether via a pencil or a brush or a computer or some other method—they share the common denominator of making art. And for that, I feel inspired and grateful.

FYI: The All Area Student Show on the second floor of the PCA continues through April 10. The Paradise Center for the Arts is open from noon – 5 pm Thursday and Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturdays.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Love in the Prairie, Blooming Prairie February 4, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only.

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Little Town on the Prairie. Both are familiar to fans of author Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote books by those titles. But what about Love in the Prairie? Ah, not so familiar.

So what exactly is Love in the Prairie? It is a Valentine’s Day-themed space created in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Blooming Prairie, home to the Awesome Blossoms. For real.

You’ll find Love in the Prairie outside B to Z Hardware Store. An oversized Sweethearts candy box. A Prison of Love. Spots to cuddle with your sweetheart on a sofa or bench. A kissing booth. Photo cut-outs to pretend you are Danny or Sandy from the musical Grease. Lots and lots of fun photo ops.

I’ve not been there. But I’ve viewed images posted on Facebook. Click here to see for yourself. I love what I see in this community south of Owatonna.

Isn’t this brilliant? I love the creativity, the joy, the smiles this brings in a time when we need happiness. And love. More than ever.

It’s a great way, too, for a small town hardware store to market itself, to draw customers—you’ll find candy and other Valentine’s Day merchandise inside.

To the creatives behind Love in the Prairie, thank you.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finding creative ways to deal with our “new normal” March 20, 2020

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A message on the now closed Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault reminds us that we are in unprecedented times.

 

ALTHOUGH I EXPECTED IT, the news still felt like a punch to the gut. My county of Rice now has its first confirmed case of COVID-19. I feel more unsettled. Like the bubble of protection has popped. Not that we in this region south of the Twin Cities metro ever were in a bubble. But, as the saying goes, until it hits home…

Media reports say the case is related to international travel.

 

A snippet of the cancellations, restrictions and closings published in the Faribault Daily News.

 

We’re all on a journey right now, traveling to unexpected places as each day, even hourly, we go down new roads. Schools closed. Then libraries. Next, bars and restaurants and other gathering spots. Churches, hair salons, clinics, government offices… The list grows daily. Events canceled.

 

From an obituary published in my local newspaper days ago, prior to the 10-person gathering limit.

 

Among the most difficult of those challenges is grieving the loss of loved ones without a traditional public funeral service.

So how are we coping? How are we managing this new normal? I’d like to hear from you. Your ideas. Your stories. Your creative ways of helping others, of staying connected when you can’t be together. How are you keeping it all together personally? For yourself and your family.

I’ll open the conversation. Yesterday a sister-in-law emailed the extended Helbling family (of which there are around 60 spread across multiple states) and asked for updates. Responses started coming in from my nieces, in-laws and my own immediate family. Just to hear how everyone is doing at this time, during this global pandemic, helped reassure me. I didn’t realize until that moment how much I needed to hear from those I love.

Many are now working from home. There are concerns for those employed in retail. Some, like my second daughter and her husband, are now without work. Kids are home from school and parents are scrambling to keep them busy. At my niece’s home in Apple Valley, Dad now hosts a daily story time with the neighbors. They gather outdoors, with a minimum social distancing of six feet, for 30-40 minutes of reading. They’ve started with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is in Minnesota, remember. But they’re making it work. On good weather days.

 

This sign hangs outside the NAPA, Northfield, Auto Parts Store. Photo by my wonderful husband and NAPA’s automotive machinist, Randy.

 

At my husband’s workplace, NAPA Auto Parts in Northfield, the business now offers curbside pick-up as an option to customers.

In my home office, I’ve been hard at work on a new series of blog posts scheduled to roll out Sunday on Warner Press. The weekly posts will feature selected bible verses, sometimes paired with personal insights, with the goal of offering hope, comfort, peace and encouragement.

 

From the Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Facebook page. Such uplifting Scripture is being posted daily.

 

I’m also editing and proofing devotionals posting daily on the Trinity Radio and Video website. My faith family is working hard to connect in a time when our church doors are closed.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary creativity. They call for each of us to care, to connect, to extend kindness and love. We may not like where we’re at now, limited in our abilities to live life as we knew it pre-COVID-19. But we need to make the best of it. And when we share ideas, like I’m asking you to do here, we are all the better for having pooled our creativity.

SO LET’S HEAR FROM YOU.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Food art with a literary twist March 30, 2019

The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck inspired this cookie sheet sized gingerbread man.

 

BOOKS INSPIRED FOOD ART on Saturday at the annual Buckham Memorial Library Edible Books Festival & Competition.

 

A staff entry based on The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

 

From simple

 

Another detailed family entry based on one of my favorite childhood books.

 

to extraordinarily detailed,

 

The Three Pigs inspired another entry.

 

That Three Pigs entry judged most humorous in the families category.

 

the creativity of the book-based entries always impresses me.

 

The Jungle Book inspired The People’s Choice Award.

 

A close-up of the jungle.

 

The entire The Jungle Book entry.

 

Rules call for artwork to be made only of edible materials, although the entries are meant to be viewed only, not eaten. All must represent a book or a literary theme.

 

Based on the book Prime Cut by Diane Mott Davidson.

 

 

 

Staff entries.

 

This year 14 units—most created by families and the rest by individuals and City of Faribault staff—comprised the festival.

 

 

I especially love that families work together to create their literary masterpieces. While I photographed the event, I watched participating families arrive with parents, grandparents and siblings and pose for photos.

 

One of the many awards given.

 

Based on the book The Hunger Games.

 

A Friends of the Library volunteer served book-themed cake to guests.

 

Anytime kids get excited about books and the library is, in my opinion, a win. To read and to love reading opens the doors to learning and growing your world, your education, your imagination. And your creativity.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How a winter drive refocuses thoughts & inspires creativity March 7, 2019

An abandoned building near Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

IT IS THE ABSENCE of color. White. Pervasive now in the Minnesota landscape, as one would expect in March.

The whiteness of the southern Minnesota countryside overwhelms vision. Snow layers the land, rooftops, roadways, seemingly every surface. It takes effort to focus on something, anything, beyond the white.

 

 

A much-needed Sunday afternoon drive through rural Rice County provided an opportunity to shift my thinking away from this interminable winter of too much brutal cold and too much snow. Yet, my thoughts never really drifted away from winter. How could they when wind swept snow across the roadway, sometimes finger-drifting drifts?

How could my thoughts wander to spring when everywhere I saw winter?

How could I escape winter when I observed ditches filled with snow to road level?

This drive wasn’t accomplishing what I’d hoped—a temporary alleviation of cabin fever. Who was I fooling? Only a vacation to a warmer climate or a weekend get-away to a hotel could deliver that. Neither will happen.

 

East of Northfield, Minnesota.

 

Realizing that, I tried harder to embrace the winter scenery. My camera allows me to reshape my thinking, to view the world through a different lens. To see beyond the colorless to the color. A red barn.

 

 

A flash of yellow in a road sign.

 

Blue sky backdrops a farm site near Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

A blue sky.

 

Mailboxes protrude from banked snow in Dundas, Minnesota.

 

With camera in hand, I began to notice the details—to see art-wrapped mailboxes embedded in a snow bank,

 

Snowmobiling near Nerstrand.

 

a snowmobiler powering through winter,

 

 

power poles penciling horizontal lines over blank fields.

And when I saw all of that, the poetry of winter overwrote the absence of light, of all that white.

 

Note: All images have been edited with an artsy editing tool.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reconnecting to southwestern Minnesota, root place of my creativity May 22, 2018

Near Morgan, Minnesota.

 

THERE IS NO PLACE, none, that I’d rather be this time of year than in rural southwestern Minnesota. It is the place of my heart, of my memories, of everything that shaped me into the person, the writer and photographer that I am today.

 

 

This place of wide skies and dark rich soil in some of Minnesota’s best farm land claims me still, decades after I left. I left not because I disliked this place, but for education and opportunity. Like so many of my generation.

 

In a reminder of decades past, a vintage tractor works the land on the edge of Delhi.

 

When I return to visit family here, I feel an ache of absence, that longing for a return to the familiar.

 

 

I realize those who’ve never lived on the prairie often fail to recognize its value, its beauty, its power in inspiring creativity. To many, even my own children, southwestern Minnesota seems the middle of nowhere. But to me, this land has always inspired. And it’s somewhere. Home.

 

 

Between Echo and Delhi.

 

A long familiar landmark tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner.

 

When you’ve lived in a place so stark, in a place that exposes you to the elements, where life evolves around the land, you learn to appreciate the details. Like the endless wind. The spaciousness of land and sky. The scent of tilled soil. Rows of corn erupting green from the earth. A lone tree along a highway.

 

 

 

 

Acre after acre after acre across this land, I take in the rural scenes of farmers working fields, rushing to get crops in during a particularly late planting season.

 

Near Morgan, Minnesota.

 

I notice vehicles kicking dust along gravel roads,

 

Parked near the grain elevator in Morgan.

 

small town grain elevators,

 

 

a school bus splashing color into the landscape. I see it all in this place, this middle of somewhere.

 

A rural-themed license plate on a vehicle driving past Echo on a recent weekday morning. I confirmed with writer and photographer Ruth Klossner that this was her vehicle. She was on her way to interview a source for a magazine article. Ruth collects cow items of all sorts and opens the doors of her Bernadotte home for visitors to view the massive collection.

 

This is my joy, to each spring return to my Minnesota prairie roots, to reconnect to the land, to embrace the birth source of my creativity.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling