Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Yes, I eat ice cream in winter & here’s my new favorite in name & taste January 5, 2018

 

AS A WORDSMITH, I appreciate creative marketing. And that defines a new line of ice cream sold at Fareway Foods, a Midwest grocer with a store in my community.

Fareway is unique among grocers. The business is closed on Sundays, following the company philosophy that Sunday should be a day of rest and a time for families to be together.

That business value explains the name Cookie Doughn’t Work on Sundays, a cookie dough flavor in the new Fareway Premium Ice Cream made by Blue Bunny. How clever is that doughn’t?

Other names include You Had Me At Cheesecake, Better Choco-late Than Never, my favorite (in taste, that is) Truffle Shuffle Salty Caramel and more. The salty caramel pairs perfectly with apple crisp.

Winter isn’t exactly prime ice cream season in cold Minnesota. But that doesn’t stop me from grabbing a carton of Fareway’s new, since May, branded ice cream. The names got me initially. Kudos, marketing team. But the taste and price have made me a repeat customer.

TELL ME: Have you come across an especially memorable marketing name for a food product? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Writing in Minnesota in January January 4, 2018

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SIX-THIRTY a.m. and the furnace flutters, taking wing in the morning cold.

I stir, too, beneath a layer of blankets topped by an extra fleece throw. I’m in no hurry to exit my warm bed, even if I am a morning person. The dark and cold of a Minnesota winter hold me there, pressed between flannel sheets rough as sandpaper.

Outside traffic rushes by in sub zero temps, drivers shivering inside vehicles warming on the way to work. I’m lucky. My office is only a room away.

Soon enough I rise, dress in jeans and a t-shirt layered by flannel and a zip-up sweatshirt during this Minnesota cold snap. Banana-laced oatmeal and a coffee fuel my body. I settle at my desktop computer to write.

The beginning of the year launches submission season. I focus on writing poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction for numerous regional contests. Submission guidelines roll into my email as I note details and push myself to meet deadlines. Every year I doubt myself. But then the ideas come and the words emerge from my fingertips, pulled from the bank of experiences and memories and places that shape my writing. Even in fiction some truth prevails.

And so I write, not because anyone makes me write. But because I must write words that flutter, take wing, rise in the cold of a January morning in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Owatonna: Showcasing the work of fashion designer Spencer Versteeg May 9, 2017

Two of the dresses Spencer Versteeg designed, now on display at the Owatonna Arts Center.

 

HIS PASSION FOR FASHION is evident. It shows in his work, in his enthusiasm, in his energetic vibe.

 

Spencer answers questions about his fashions during his OAC gallery reception.

 

I observed all of that Sunday afternoon at an Owatonna Arts Center reception honoring Spencer Versteeg who returned to his hometown for his first ever gallery showing. He’s an apparel design student heading into his senior year at the University of Minnesota.

 

The exhibit features notebooks and pages of Spencer’s design sketches.

 

Spencer has known since age seven that he wanted to design clothing.

Spencer has known since age seven that he wanted to design clothing. He pursued that interest early on via local theatre and a high school internship at Kristi’s Clothing Boutique.

 

 

 

Already Spencer is making an imprint on the fashion scene. Last fall his work was showcased in the noted Envision Fashion Show at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. And this summer he’s interning at Target, working on a floor set that should land his women’s clothing designs in Target stores.

 

 

 

Front dress details drape.

 

Spencer’s clothing designs hang high on a gallery space wall.

 

Asked to describe his design style, Spencer paused, then responded with a single word: vibrant. That seems accurate when I consider his fashion designs beyond hue and pattern. His clothing possesses a vibrancy in a sense of motion, in the flow of fabric, in the impression it exudes.

 

Spencer talks with a gallery guest about his fashion designs. He invited visitors to page through his sketchbooks.

 

And then there’s Spencer himself, engaging family and friends with a notable appreciation for their support and with a deep love for the creative process of fashion design.

 

Rows of sketches by Spencer are taped to a gallery wall.

 

When I inquired about his future, he provided an honest answer. “That’s a good question,” Spencer said, offering no hint at the direction his life may take after graduation from the U of M.

 

The bodice of a particularly creative dress shown at the Envision Fashion Show.

 

“New York?” I asked.

 

 

He’s been to New York, Spencer said, enough to understand he needs space, open physical space. But I expect if opportunities present themselves in the New York fashion scene, this Owatonna native will embrace them.

 

 

 

Clothing patterns are tapped to gallery windows.

 

 

 

I know next to nothing about fashion, although I sewed my own clothing (from purchased patterns) while in high school. But I understand the need, the desire, the passion to create. Just like Spencer.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At home with Storypeople in Decorah, Iowa July 11, 2013

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NOTHING IN DECORAH, IOWA, compares to Storypeople.

The Vibrant mural on one of Storypeople's buildings.

Part of the vibrant mural on one of Storypeople’s buildings.

Among the primarily earthy buildings in this historic downtown, the vibrant splashes of Storypeople art defy like a tightrope walker daring to tread without a net.

The Storypeople workshop exterior pops with vibrant colors and images. I'll tell you more about Storypeople in a future post.

The Storypeople building pops with color.

Historic puritans may take issue with the bold hues and quirky drawings. But I find them thrilling and invigorating and an unexpected jolt of colorful creativity in this river town.

This studio is located in a different building than the one pictured above.

This studio is located in a different building than the one pictured above.

Inside the Storypeople studio, a mishmash of bold colors—red paint splashed upon the floor, stacked paint cans, paint-tipped brushes, colorful stacks of books and wood, and more—define this as a creative place, a spot to spin a story with words and images.

Storypeople books from which I chose one.

Storypeople books from which I chose one.

It is what the people of Storypeople do best—create stories shared in books and cards and art and such.

At work...

At work…

I would love to work here.

Materials and products.

Materials, products and inspiration.

And because I dared to step inside the studio, so I was told, I walked out with a complimentary book and greeting card. And I didn’t even mention that I was a blogger.

A sign on the door.

A sign on the door.

TO LEARN MORE about Storypeople, click here. Storypeople products are sold in 240 galleries world-wide.

A creative paint station.

A creative paint station.

Work in progress...

Work in progress…

One final look. This place makes me happy.

One final look. This place makes me happy.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling