Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The circus connection to a Massachusetts university May 23, 2017

A sculpture of Jumbo the elephant (in the background) looms over attendees at the Tufts University 2016 commencement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

WHEN RINGLING BROS & Barnum & Bailey Circus performed its last “Greatest Show on Earth” in New York state this past Sunday, my thoughts immediately shifted to Tufts University in neighboring Massachusetts.

Why?

 

On graduation day 2016, students and others gather at a recently installed new Jumbo sculpture on campus. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

Because an elephant is the mascot at Tufts University in Somerville/Medford.

So what?

Well, there’s a connection to the circus. P.T. Barnum and Jumbo the elephant hold historic importance at this elite private research university. Barnum was an early Tufts trustee and benefactor who donated the stuffed hide of Jumbo to the college. For nearly 90 years, Jumbo was on exhibit at Barnum Hall until a fire destroyed both in 1975. Now the famous elephant’s ashes are kept in a peanut butter jar in the athletic director’s office.

 

Posted on an athletic field fence at Tufts University. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

Despite the loss of the original Jumbo and changing attitudes toward circuses and the treatment of elephants, this mighty mammal remains Tufts’ adored mascot. I’m good with that because this university has established the Tufts Elephant Conservation Alliance to save elephants and to educate on the topic.

 

The commencement ceremony begins at The School of Engineering, Tufts University in May 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

So why do I, as a Minnesotan, take any interest in this when I’ve never been to the circus or, up until a few years ago, had never heard of Tufts? Well, my son graduated from Tufts last May with a computer science degree and now continues to live and work in the Boston area.

 

Picnic lunches served after the 2016 commencement were bagged in Jumbo stamped bags. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

During his three years as a transfer student into Tufts, I fell hard for the Jumbo mascot, although not hard enough to purchase a spendy Tufts Mom t-shirt or sweatshirt. But when my husband and I attended Caleb’s college graduation at this time a year ago, I got my Jumbo fix on campus.

 

Caleb poses in front of the Tufts’ sculpture of Jumbo. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

I couldn’t help but consider that on Sunday, the date the circus closed out its 146-year history at that final show in New York, a new group of Jumbos was graduating from Tufts University and posing next to the iconic elephant sculpture on campus.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Outstanding student art showcased in Hudson, Wisconsin exhibit April 26, 2017

“If My Thoughts Had Wings” colored pencil and watercolor by Jeanna Krause, a senior at Ellsworth High School. Her art is priced at $1,000.

 

AS A CREATIVE TYPE who creates with words and a camera, I am often impressed by the works of visual artists. Incredible talent exists out there among painters, sculptors and others.

 

The Phipps Center for the Arts, Hudson, Wisconsin.

 

Signage promotes the student art exhibit.

 

A first look at the main floor gallery space art.

 

I am especially impressed by artwork displayed in the current Annual Area High School Art Exhibition at The Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin. High school students from western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota were invited to submit pieces as were teachers of the participating students. Their art fills polished gallery space on two floors of this beautiful near waterfront property along the St. Croix River. The artwork ranges from paintings to photography to collage, ceramics and much more.

 

Annika Shiffer, a senior at Eau Claire North High School, created “Cherry Blossom” from soapstone, wire and glass beads. It is not for sale.

 

This untitled collage by Shelly Schmitt of Somerset High School is not for sale.

 

Mallory Bleeker, Ellsworth High School sophomore, created this charcoal portrait of Matt Damon. It’s not for sale.

 

The variety of art and the creativity therein exhibits a professional level of artistry. It was hard for me to believe that these artists are high school students, still learning. I enjoyed the humor of a senior from St. Croix Preparatory Academy who priced his ceramic coil pot at “$100,000 (college tuition).”

 

The gallery spaces are polished and gleaming, a lovely canvas for artwork.

 

Stillwater Area High School senior Natalie Gella crafted this stoneware clay “Scared Face,” not for sale.

 

So much talent in this incredible art…

 

One student-artist will be awarded a $2,000 Alice M. Stolpe Scholarship for the Arts at a May 7 closing reception. Choosing a winner among those planning to major in art will be difficult, in my opinion. Peruse this sampling of art created by 109 students (and three teachers) from 15 schools. You’ll see why I am impressed by their work.

 

Casey Loe, senior at Eau Claire North High School, created this “Be Bold” ink art which is not for sale.

 

Travis Eisberner, Eau Claire North High School junior, created “Geometric Reality” in acrylic. It’s not for sale.

 

Kendall Isaacson of Somerset High School crafted this untitled ceramics art which is not for sale.

 

Pretty incredible art, huh?

 

Dylan Cook, senior from Stillwater Area High School, created this analogue photography “Hell Erupts!” priced at $50.

 

FYI: Gallery hours at The Phipps are from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday – Saturday; from noon – 4:30 p.m. Sundays; and an hour before and through intermissions at all the Phipps theater performances. This exhibit closes on May 7.

 

One of the gallery spaces overlooks the St. Croix River across the street.

 

The art center is located in downtown Hudson at 109 Locust Street.

PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS on this exhibit.

NOTE: Photos of artwork are published with permission of The Phipps Center for the Arts. All artwork is copyrighted by the artists and cannot be reproduced or used without their consent. 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry in Minnesota beyond the classroom, beyond anthologies March 21, 2017

I EXPECT MANY OF YOU dislike poetry. You sat in a high school English class bored to death by the required reading of poems you didn’t understand. Or worse, you had to pen a haiku or a rhyming poem or free verse. And then you had to take a test. You couldn’t wait until the poetry unit was done.

You struggled. You didn’t care. I get it. I felt that way about math. But poetry I’ve always embraced. I am grateful for the educators who taught, and continue to teach, poetry to resistant students.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

If you’re one of those non-poetry people, I hope you’ll give this literary art a second chance. Poetry is certainly less rigid and stuffy than years ago. It’s also much more accessible beyond a collection published in a book. Now you’ll find poetry creatively presented in videos such as Minneapolis-based Motionpoems; online in Gyroscope Review, co-founded and co-edited by a Minnesotan; imprinted in sidewalks in cities like Northfield and St. Paul and Mankato; and more.

 

A graphic I created for Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Cardboard walls that once held poetry inside an intellectual box have collapsed and been recycled. The result is poetry that maybe, just maybe, you will find approachable, understandable and enjoyable.

 

My poem, “Bandwagon,” posted in 2014 in Lion’s Park in Mankato as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems are changed annually. Each poem must be 18 lines or less with no more than 40 characters per line. They must also be themed to the area. “Bandwagon” was inspired by a Mankato TV show by that name. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take the 2017 Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. I’ll join other poets at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Emy Frentz Arts Guild Gallery in Mankato for a poetry reading and awards reception. I’ll read my poem, “Cornfield Memories,” which won honorable mention. While that’s an honor, the truly exciting aspect of this project is the public accessibility and visibility of poetry.

Michael Torres, a CantoMundo fellow, creative writing teacher and co-host of art workshops for homeless and at-risk youth in the Mankato area, selected 29 poems from about 70 submissions for inclusion in the Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems will be posted on signs along recreational trails in Mankato and North Mankato. This endeavor brings poetry to people in parks, playgrounds and other outdoor spaces in an unassuming way. What a great idea. Poems cover a broad range of topics from experiencing the outdoors to Minnesota to water, says Erin Dorney, writer and project organizer.

 

My poem initially printed in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota, has been crafted into a song by Rochester, Minnesota composer David Kassler. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The next day, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, poetry will also be showcased publicly, this time at a concert. My poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” is among seven being sung by a chamber choir at the Hill Theater at Rochester Community and Technical College. Admission is $7.50. The same concert will be presented for a free-will offering at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester. I’ll attend that Sunday concert and read my poem. A reception follows the Sunday concert.

I appreciate that Rochester composer David Kassler invested considerable time in creating choral settings for selected poems. It’s just one more way to bring poetry to the people of Minnesota in an inviting public way. Please join me and other Minnesotans in celebrating poetry at either or both events.

TELL ME: What’s your attitude toward poetry?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Showcasing the talent of Faribault’s student artists March 14, 2017

The art exhibit threads along hallways, into corners and into a room on the second floor of the Paradise.

 

EVERY TIME I VIEW the annual Student Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts, I want to snatch several pieces from the walls for my art collection. I’m that impressed by the student art. And I’m not just saying that because I want to be nice and tell the kids they do a great job. My praise is genuine.

 

Gracie, a sixth grader from Faribault Lutheran School, created this cat art.

 

The soulful eyes drew me to this drawing by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Victoria.

 

Variations of a block print by Adreanna, a student at Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

From block prints to paintings to collages to weavings to drawings done in a range of mediums, this art is diverse, introspective, often colorful and worthy of showcasing.

 

Abstract art created by students from Divine Mercy Catholic School.

 

Twelfth grader Derek from the Faribault Area Learning Center drew this fox.

 

Lincoln Elementary School students created this art.

 

What I especially appreciate about this second floor show is the opportunity for students to put their art out there in a public venue. I expect one day the works of some of these artists will hang in the Paradise’s main floor galleries or in other galleries.

 

This photo shows part of high school student Audrey Petersen’s “Peacock Feathers” acrylic on canvas. Her art is currently displayed in the Corey Lyn Creger Memorial Gallery.

 

Already the Corey Lyn Creger Memorial Gallery in the Paradise is devoted to artwork by a high school student artist.

 

Student artist Faith created this cartoon style character.

 

Lots of variation in the art showcased on this wall.

 

Roosevelt Elementary fifth grader Jose painted this portrait.

 

It’s reaffirming for young people to have their talents validated and appreciated, whether on the floor of a basketball court, the stage of a theater or in the hallways and rooms of an art center. All too often the arts lag behind sports in societal importance. Arts are to be valued, too.

 

Art angles into a corner.

 

A streetscape by Brooklyn, Faribault Lutheran School fourth grader.

 

I angled my camera upward to photograph this floral art by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Baylee.

 

To the students from the nine Faribault schools—Roosevelt, Jefferson, Lincoln, Faribault Middle School, Faribault Area Learning Center, Faribault Lutheran School, Cannon River STEM School, Divine Mercy and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind—with artwork on display, thank you. I enjoyed your creativity.

 

So much creativity…

 

This skull art by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Bailey features symmetry.

 

The variety of subjects and artist styles and mediums impresses.

 

I see a lot of potential as these artists continue to grow and learn.

 

Bold, vivid art by students from Divine Mercy Catholic School.

 

FYI: The Student Exhibit will be on display until April 1 at the Paradise, 321 Central, in downtown Faribault.

Please check back for a story on art created by students from the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind.

© Text copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork is the copyright of each artist and photographed with permission from the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

Beyond just a game of dodgeball January 6, 2017

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A JCC player prepares to throw the football, left.

A Minnesota State High School play-off game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

RECENT REPORTS THAT ONE STUDENT punched another in a game of dodgeball during a gym class at a Wisconsin high school have prompted unpleasant memories of my own p.e. experiences. I can still feel the sting of those rubber balls slammed by muscled farm boys in a fierce game of bombardment. Even the game name suggests violence. I took plenty of physical, and emotional, hits.

I don’t understand the value in kids targeting balls at one another. Call it dodgeball. Call it bombardment. Why engage in this game? In the Wisconsin case, a student is now facing battery charges following the punch that resulted in a facial fracture.

A ref makes a call.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Back in the day, I hated gym class. There, I said it. I was a bookish kid, small in size, wearing glasses (since age four) and among the last chosen for a team. I couldn’t wait until class ended and I could escape team pressure, demanding expectations of a gym teacher and the sting of rubber balls, a bow string or a volleyball.

I tried. Really tried. But no amount of effort could turn me in to an athlete. If only teachers, and classmates, recognized that.

I recall one junior high p.e. teacher in particular who expected students to perform like Olympic gymnasts, comparing us to Martha, the one girl in class who could tumble, swing, leap and balance with amazing agility. The teacher allowed us to choose our grade based on a list of requirements. Unable to ever physically complete the tasks required for an A or B, I selected C. I fail to understand that teacher’s grading methods; the system only served to humiliate students. Grading based on personal improvements seems a better way to gauge progress in a physical education class.

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

My experiences with sports during recess and then gym classes shaped my attitude toward athletics. I understand the value of sports in building confidence, physical and mental strength, leadership and teamwork skills. But at what cost? I see a society so focused on sports that we’ve lost perspective on the value of family time, morals, time for kids just to be kids and a balance in life.

Yes, this is just my opinion and you can choose to disagree. Perhaps your sports experiences differed significantly from mine. I hope so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A community Christmas welcome at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School December 13, 2016

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

WHENEVER I VISIT the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School on Faribault’s east side, I feel like I am walking onto an East Coast college campus. This place of aged stone buildings presents a scholarly image that seems more post-secondary than prestigious college prep school. Known for producing hockey legends, SSM has a current enrollment of nearly 500 students in grades 6 – 12. Most board here.

Window sills, nooks, hallways and more are decorated for the Christmas Walk.

Window sills, nooks, hallways and more are decorated for the Christmas Walk.

Some of those students mingled and participated in Shattuck’s Campus Christmas Walk, an annual holiday gift to the community. I try to attend each December, enjoying the figure skating show, music and treats and the opportunity to view the historic buildings in holiday splendor.

The decorated entry of Shumway Hall.

The decorated entry of Shumway Hall.

The historic buildings feature lots of stained glass windows.

The historic buildings feature lots of stained glass windows.

Inside the historic dining hall.

Inside the historic dining hall.

The dark handcrafted woodwork, the sagging stairs, the stained glass windows and more speak to the history of SSM. The school traces its roots to an Episcopal mission school and seminary established in 1858.

Students study in a newer area of the campus.

Students at a computer station in a newer area of the campus.

But today it’s every bit technologically modern within aged walls. There’s a strong vibe of arts and culture and academics. That Shattuck welcomes locals like me onto campus is a good thing in building community relations and exposure of all this school offers. I couldn’t help but think while at Shattuck on Saturday how much my son would have liked this educational setting and the challenges offered therein. He graduated last spring from Tufts University in greater Boston.

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary's Figure Kating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice.

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary’s Figure Kating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice.

As I watched the figure skating show, I swayed to “Feliz Navidad” and other holiday tunes while talented skaters glided and twirled across the ice in their sparkly sequined costumes. I remembered then how much I once loved to skate on a bumpy pond in the shadow of a small town grain elevator.

Signs directed visitors.

Signs directed visitors.

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests.

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests.

A lone musician performs.

A lone musician performs.

A short walk from the ice arena, I listened to string instrument solos, delighting in that music and the holiday tunes of carolers performing in an entry hallway. And I remembered how I once stood on the stage of my high school dressed as a Dickens caroler with a yellow posterboard bonnet wrapped around my head.

A sizable crowd of kids and adults gathered for holiday treats and kids' activities.

A sizable crowd of kids and adults gathered for holiday treats and kids’ activities.

Cookie decorating delighted the kids.

Cookie decorating delighted the kids.

Farther down, in the Morgan Refectory (the dining hall), kids munched on cookies they’d decorated, green and red frosting outlining their lips. They also created Christmas ornaments. I paused with my husband to sip a cup of hot chocolate, trying to warm myself after an hour in a cold ice arena. Years ago, after completing farm chores, I would thaw my numb fingers over the milkhouse stove.

A prop at the figure skating show.

A prop at the figure skating show.

These nutcrackers fascinated the kids.

These nutcrackers fascinated the kids.

The sight of kids sticking their fingers inside the mouths of oversized nutcrackers caused me to chuckle. I recall doing the same decades ago with a nutcracker my sister received from her godfather. There’s something about a nutcracker…

I entered the Shattuck complex through a rear entry and shot this from inside, showing the stone exteriors of campus buildings.

I entered the Shattuck complex through a rear entry and shot this from inside, showing the stone exteriors of campus buildings.

A reading nook in an addition.

A reading nook in an addition.

An ornament sparkles on one of many Christmas trees on campus.

An ornament sparkles on one of many Christmas trees on campus.

And there’s something about Shattuck during the Campus Christmas Walk. Even without any kids in tow, I experienced the holiday magic of this historic place.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Raising awareness about domestic violence because I care & so should you October 28, 2016

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Becky Kasper's portrait.

Northfield, Minnesota, native Becky Kasper was only 19 and a student at Arizona State University when her abusive ex-boyfriend killed her on April 20, 2013. Her murderer is serving a total of 30 years in prison followed by a life-time of probation with mental health terms. Read Becky’s story by clicking here. She died in a vicious act of domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Domestic violence thrives when we are silent; but if we take a stand and work together, we can end domestic violence.the National Network to End Domestic Violence

October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

 

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women..

“Homicide” and “murdered,” strong and accurate words on a t-shirt that is part of The Clothesline Project from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Have you thought much about domestic violence? I’ve always thought the word “domestic” minimizes the crime, as if it’s less brutal, less meaningful, less harmful. It’s not. The emotional wounds, especially, run long and deep.

 

Photographed on the inside of a women's bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Photographed on the inside of a women’s bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Have you been impacted by domestic abuse/violence? If you answer, no, I’d be surprised. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women will be the victims of physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Victims of domestic abuse are as close as your next door neighbor, your co-worker, the woman worshiping next to you, your hair stylist, your friend, your niece, your college roommate…you just may not realize it. I can personally list about 20 women by name (family, friends and indirect acquaintances) who have been victims of domestic violence/abuse. Several of them died. Murdered by their abusers.

 

Profound words for anyone who's been abused or known someone who's been abused or is in an abusive relationship.

Profound words for anyone who’s been abused or known someone who’s been abused or is in an abusive relationship from the book, The Help. In this section, Aibileen is talking on the phone with her friend, Minny, who is hunkered down in a gas station after leaving her abusive husband.

 

Are you in an abusive relationship? If you are, I want you to know that you do not deserve this. You are not somebody’s property. You are stronger than you think. There are individuals and organizations who can help you. Don’t do it alone. Leaving an abuser is dangerous; have a safety plan in place before you attempt to leave. You can break free. I believe in you.

 

Bird art perched on a front yard rock.

Survivors are no longer birds in a cage. They are free. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Are you a survivor? I admire you and your strength. You are F-R-E-E. Your abuser can no longer claim you.

 

Reasons she stays, published on page 18. Text copyright of Erica Staab.

Reasons she stays, published on page 18 of She Stays, written by HOPE Center Director Erica Staab. Text copyright of Erica Staab.

 

Through the years, I have written on this topic, and I will continue to do so. Because we need to speak out, to understand, to educate ourselves, to support victims and survivors, to hold offenders accountable, to care.

It’s that important.

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WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Trust your gut. If someone raises red flags (whether in words or behavior) in a relationship, trust your instincts. Trust yourself, not him.
  • Educate yourself. If you learn one thing about domestic abuse, it should be this: Do not blame the victim. Ever.
  • Believe her.
  • Support her. Listen. Keep the communication open. Simply be there.
  • Realize you cannot “save” a woman who is in an abusive relationship. She must decide, on her own, to leave her abuser.
  • When she is ready to leave, help her stay safe. Reach out to resources in your community. Support her. Believe her.
  • Support the victim’s/survivor’s family, too.  Listen. Encourage. Be there. The impact of domestic abuse spirals like a stone dropped in water.
  • Talk to your daughters, your sons, your grandchildren, about healthy relationships.

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FYI:

Domestic abuse is about control, manipulation and power. It can take the forms of physical (including sexual), mental, emotional, financial and spiritual abuse. Abusers want to “own” their victims; they do not.

If you are in an abusive relationship and are in immediate danger, call 911. Leaving an abuser is an especially dangerous time.

Seek help from a local resource center or safe house. Or call the National Domestic Violence Helpline at 1-800-799-7233. You deserve to be free.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

For purposes of this article, I reference women as victims of domestic abuse, realizing that men and children are also victims.