Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Faribault: Celebrating music, art & poetry at the Paradise March 19, 2019

Promo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

WE CREATE BECAUSE WE MUST. With instruments. With words. With brushes and pencils and cameras. With our hands. With our imaginations, our minds, our hearts. Our souls. We are creatives—visual, performing and literary artists who unleash ourselves in artistic ways that connect, communicate, enlighten, inspire and much more.

 

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

 

I am honored to be among creatives featured in the Paradise Center for the Arts Acoustic Gallery during an evening of music, art and poetry on Thursday, March 21, in historic downtown Faribault. I join noted, published Cannon Valley area poets Peter Allen, Larry Gavin, Rob Hardy and John Reinhard for a poetry reading from 7 – 8 p.m.

 

Jason Neymeyer of Neymeyer & Co. Photo courtesy of Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

But the event begins an hour earlier with music by Neymeyer & Co. led by Faribault singer and songwriter Jason Neymeyer performing from 6 – 7 p.m. He utilizes pop punk, indie and alternative sensibilities. His original and upbeat music is billed as “intimate storytelling,” a phrase that appeals to the poet in me.

In the intimate setting of the Paradise lobby and galleries, guests can experience art up close. It’s a space that encourages conversation and a connection-to-the-artists appreciation of the arts. There will be free appetizers, treats and a cash bar.

 

A sampling of art in the Jim Zotalis exhibit in the Carlander Gallery.

 

The works of visual artists James C. Zotalis (formerly of Faribault, but now of Kasson), Shelley Caldwell of Delevan and Lauren Jacobson of Faribault will be on display in the galleries. Zotalis’ historic building and streetscapes, most in Minnesota, are done in watercolor, pen, ink and pastel. Caldwell’s exhibit focuses her ongoing study of Minnesota’s floral through micro pen with India and acrylic inks. And in the student gallery, high schooler Jacobson showcases her artsy digital photography.

Whatever your artistic bend, please consider joining us in celebrating the arts in Faribault this Thursday evening. Listen, enjoy, appreciate. And introduce yourself to those of us who create. Because we must. For ourselves. And for others.

FYI: The event is billed as free with a suggested donation of $5. The Acoustic Gallery is funded in part with a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through the voter-approved arts and cultural heritage fund.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to PCA Director Kristin Twitchell talk about art center events and activities, including the March 21 Acoustic Gallery (beginning at 4:50 minutes).

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Prairie-rooted farm film, Farmer of the Year, comes to Faribault March 18, 2019

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HER BACKGROUND MIMICS MINE. Grew up doing chores on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm in a community where everyone knows everyone. Surrounded by a large, extended family. Danced at the American Legion Hall, ate beef commercials and called the noon meal dinner, the evening meal supper.

 

Filmmakers Kathy Swanson and Vince O’Connell.

 

Although I’ve never met Kathy Swanson, I feel a sisterhood with her. We are both creatives, decidedly connected to the Minnesota prairie of our roots. The place that shaped us, that remains a part of our identities and our creative work.

 

Poster promo photo courtesy of YellowHouse Films.

 

That mutual rural background is the reason I’m so excited about Kathy’s award-winning independent feature film, Farmer of the Year, produced and directed with her life partner, Vince O’Connell. That film by YellowHouse Films (named after the yellow house in Vermont where the couple lives) shows at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 24, at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. Ticket cost is $10. When Kathy reached out to me asking for help in bringing the film to Faribault, I didn’t hesitate. I’m always happy to assist another creative and especially someone from my home region. My native county of Redwood is a bit farther to the north and east of hers.

 

Filming in southwestern Minnesota. Photo courtesy of YellowHouse Films.

 

Kathy, a former Lincoln County Dairy Princess, grew up near Tyler, a farming community of some 1,100 within a half hour drive of the South Dakota border. The Vermont filmmakers took their cast and crew to southwestern Minnesota, shooting scenes on Kathy’s home farm (now owned by her brother and his wife), inside her octogenarian father’s house, at the local Citizens State Bank, on area roads and more. The crew also filmed in places like The Lunch Box Cafe and Hole in the Mountain Park in Lake Benton and in downtown Marshall. The film takes viewers along Interstate 90 in Minnesota and into South Dakota, right up to the famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. Other shots are of Mesa, Arizona. And, most unique, 1950s farming footage from Kathy’s dad’s 8mm film incorporated into Farmer of the Year. Such documentation can only add to the authenticity of the film.

The mail carrier in the film is the real Tyler mailman. The guy mowing the cemetery is the guy who mows the cemetery. This is real rural life, a life Kathy understands well and tapped into when writing the script.

 

A scene from the film with main characters Hap and Ashley. Photo courtesy of YellowHouse Films.

 

The character-driven film tells the story of an 83-year-old widower farmer who has just sold his farm, then gets an invitation to his World War II Army reunion in California. Hap Anderson and his granddaughter take off in a 1973 Winnebago with plans to stop in Nebraska so Hap can reconnect with an old flame.

So much of the promo material about Farmer of the Year resonates with me:

The film aspires to have a sense of real life within the rural Midwest vernacular.

Farmer of the Year blends the comedy and drama of life into a deceptively simple story of aging, transition and resilience.

Life is one long growing season.

Rated between a PG and a PG13 film, Farmer of the Year has already been widely-shown and praised in Minnesota. It stars noted performers like Barry Corbin of Northern Exposure fame, Mackinlee Waddell of Good Christian Belles, Terry Kiser of Weekend at Bernie’s and others with impressive credentials. YellowHouse Films has 20 short films to its production credit.

 

Just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, my home county. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I look forward to watching this 1-hour, 43-minute film in my community of Faribault, a 2 ½-hour drive from my hometown of Vesta. I value the exposure southwestern Minnesota gets in Farmer of the Year. This rural region seems too often underappreciated, too often considered the middle-of-nowhere. But it’s some place. It’s the place that shaped creatives like Kathy and me. It’s a place we once called home among people we loved in a land we loved. Still love.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos (unless otherwise noted) courtesy and copyright of YellowHouse Films

 

First the massive snow, now flooding potential in Minnesota March 13, 2019

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A snow-socked neighborhood in Faribault, photographed on Sunday.

 

AS IF THIS WINTER of excessive snow hasn’t taxed us enough, now Minnesota is dealing with potential flooding. A flood warning is in effect until 8 a.m. Wednesday for my county of Rice, Goodhue County and several counties in Wisconsin. The National Weather Service has also issued a flood watch in other parts of Minnesota.

Expected temps in the 40s, even 50s, coupled with rainfall of several inches and a resulting fast snow melt, set us up for flooding. All of that water must go somewhere.

With the ground still frozen, that water won’t soak into the earth. Where will it go? In cities and small towns, the water should typically run into storm drains. But many are clogged by snow and ice, meaning the water will end up ponding on and flooding streets. And, yes, city crews have been working to open storm drains. But it’s a time-consuming and difficult task.

Many Minnesota riverside communities (like Stillwater and Hastings) have plans in place to sandbag. The Cannon and Straight Rivers run through Faribault. We’ve experienced flooding in the past. Will those rivers flood again? I don’t know.

 

Randy shovels snow from a portion of our house roof during a particularly past snowy winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Homeowners dealing with massive amounts of snow on their roofs and ice dams (and that includes us) face water leakage issues. Randy has been on our roof thrice this winter to remove snow, including Tuesday afternoon. He worked for hours in the rain to shovel snow, chip at ice dams and run hot water over snowy and icy areas on the roof. The ladder slipped once, with him on it. He rode it down to a lower roof level without falling. Yes, I cajoled/pleaded/begged him not to attempt another climb onto the steep, icy roof. Once he melted the icy section with hot water, he was back up a more stabilized ladder.

 

Ice dams on our house. This is a common problem, especially on older homes like ours. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2019.

Water is leaking under shingles and inside homes. Water is seeping into basements. That likely will get worse. I hope the water prevention system we installed in our basement several years ago continues to work.

This winter is truly challenging all of us. Mentally. Physically. And now in our pocketbooks. I know we’re not alone. Other areas of the country are experiencing similar catastrophic weather. If it wasn’t for the flooding and other water-related issues, I’d embrace the current warm temps.

We are in this together. We’ll get through this. We always do. We just need to get safely through these next several days.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inside the Paradise: the work of young Faribault area artists March 12, 2019

Parrot painting by Ava Nelson, 8th grader at Faribault Middle School.

 

THEIR LEVEL OF TALENT always impresses me. Every single time I view the annual Faribault Area Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

Viewing student art inside the second floor gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

As I peruse the art of students from Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt elementary schools, Faribault Middle School and Cannon River STEM School, I recognize how this early public appreciation of student art can encourage a life-long love of the arts. The student art lines hallway and gallery walls on the second floor of the Paradise.

 

Cat face completed drawing by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Lily Thompson.

 

 

Believe by Mackenzie Miner, eighth grader at Faribault Middle School.

 

It’s colorful. Subdued. Abstract. Real-life. Introspective. Creative. Everything you would expect in art.

 

Portraits by Alex Hernandez Perez, left, and Cesario Hernandez, both fifth graders at Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

By Alicia C., Cannon River STEM School eighth grader.

 

By Damarius Cisneros, Jefferson Elementary School third grader.

 

Subjects span portraits to scenery. In all seasons. Vivid hues. Monotone. Textured.

 

 

By Henry Dulac, second grader at Lincoln Elementary School.

 

 

By Amirah J., second grader at Cannon River STEM School.

 

This art sparks smiles, makes me wonder about the thoughts of the artists. Were they simply completing an assignment? Or were they moved beyond that to put themselves into their creations?

 

Colorful tree in foreground is by Addison L., first grader at Cannon River STEM School.

 

To the art teachers who guide and encourage these students, thank you. Your efforts show.

 

 

To the student artists, thank you for sharing your art. May art always hold importance in your life, whether in creation of art or in a deep appreciation of art. To create is to express yourself. To create is to make a difference in this world. To create is to boldly put yourself out there. I welcome the opportunity each winter to see the works of these students, these artists.

FYI: The student art exhibit runs through April 6.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A short drive around Faribault reveals winter’s artistry March 11, 2019

One of the most scenic settings in Faribault–the arched entrance to historic Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, a private college prep school.

 

A MUCH-HYPED WEEKEND winter storm brought more rain than snow to Faribault. Nearly six hours of rainfall followed by about four inches of snow in my southeastern Minnesota community. That’s significantly less than the forecast of up to a foot of the white stuff. For that I am thankful.

 

Randy shovels a path to the grill on the patio because, yes, he still grills in winter.

 

Less snowfall equals less work in clearing heavy wet snow from our driveway and sidewalk and those of our neighbor.

 

 

 

 

The storm also brought spectacular beauty. I awoke early Sunday morning to a winter wonderland of trees layered in white against a backdrop of blue. A blue that only deepened as the morning advanced.

 

 

After brunch, Randy and I took a short drive around town just because it was such a beautiful day with the fresh snow, the blue sky and the sun flooding the landscape with brilliance and a noticeable warmth. We knew any trails in town would prove too icy for safe walking.

 

 

A brief jaunt onto a portion of a slushy/icy/snowdrifted county road reminded us that a drive farther into the countryside would be unwise.

 

A narrow snow-banked sidewalk in southwest Faribault.

 

Driving around town also required a heightened awareness with snow piles blocking visibility at nearly every intersection. Many sidewalks look like trenches.

 

This fairy tale snow house graces the front yard of a home on the corner of Division Street West and Sixth Avenue Southwest.

 

I dodged puddles of melting snow to photograph a snow house along busy Division Street. Traffic passed within feet of me and I hoped I wouldn’t be splashed. I wanted a closer look. But snow and ice prevented me from doing that.

 

The tower of Shumway Hall at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School is stunning no matter the season.

 

All in all, the day proved lovely. Sun shining. Deep blue sky. New snow layering the landscape, transforming winter, for one day, into something artistically beautiful.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Insights into my blog featured in magazine article March 9, 2019

This photo shows the first page-plus of a feature story published in the spring issue of Fleur-de-lis. Nick Gerhardt photographed me in my dining room. My father-in-law, Tom Helbling, painted the winter scene behind me. The chest of drawers is a refinished Helbling family heirloom. And the chain of folded cranes were crafted and gifted to me by Sunny, a wonderful young woman from Boston. The four books represent a sampling of the many anthologies in which my writing has published.

 

EVERY DAY WE WRITE our stories. By the way we live. By what we say and do and how we act. Or don’t.

We craft our personal stories whether at a computer, working retail, raising a child… Each story differs. Each story matters. Every single person matters.

 

A selfie of Randy and me taken in September 2017 at the walleye statue along Mille Lacs Lake in Garrison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

 

I am honored by the telling of my story in the spring issue of Fleur-de-lis, a lifestyle magazine published by the Faribault Daily News. Freelancer Nick Gerhardt wrote the piece which also features nine of my photos in a six-page spread. Plus Nick’s photo of me. And a selfie Randy took of us by the big walleye statue in Garrison because I am horrible at taking selfies.

Nick got my story right. He captures the essence of me as a person, a writer and a photographer in his focus on my blogging. I appreciate that. When a writer really, truly connects and understands the interview subject, as Nick did with me, it shows.

He spent several hours in my home, not only asking questions, gathering information and taking photos, but also talking shop. Although I haven’t worked in the newspaper field for decades, I can still relate to the profession and its challenges and rewards.

It is clear to me that Nick did his homework, researching my blog in advance of our interview. And it is clear to me that he fully understands my southwestern Minnesota rural background and its influence on my writing and photography. He digs into that in a section tagged “setting the roots.”

 

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration in 2016. This is one of my favorite close-up images and among those published in Fleur-de-lis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Nick describes my blog as “a hotdish of Americana through a Minnesota lens.” I love that perspective. It accurately reflects my writing and photography style and the content of my blog. My images and words focus on rural Minnesota—Main Street, grassroots small town events, the Minnesota countryside, country churches, issues that matter to me and much more.

 

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. The image is published in Fleur-de-lis. The house, photographed in 2012, is now gone. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When Nick interviewed me, I stressed to him the importance of noticing details. It is a skill rooted in my childhood. When you grow up on the prairie as I did, you notice details in that stark environment. I’ve always engaged all of my senses—not just visual. I can smell harvest, hear the howling wind, feel the bite of winter, taste sunshine in a garden-fresh tomato, see heat waves shimmering over a cornfield in July. That eye for detail weaves into my writing and my photography.

Through the decades, I’ve honed my craft, found my voice. But I’ve never lost touch with my prairie roots. Everything I write, everything I photograph, is rooted directly or indirectly in my rural upbringing. In my Minnesota prairie roots.

 

The cover of the spring issue of Fleur-de-lis.

 

FYI: Copies of the spring 2019 issue of Fleur-de-lis are available from the Faribault Daily News for $2. The issue also includes republication of my blog post, “Winter’s here, so we may as well embrace it,” illustrated by outstanding winter photos by area photographers. That post, I will note, published on January 2, long before this winter became the longest of cold and snowy winters in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo gift to all the winter-weary March 8, 2019

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Photographed inside a Faribault, Minnesota, greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

ON THE EVE of another major winter storm here in Minnesota, I am opting to remember that this snowy season will end and spring will eventually erupt in all her colorful glory.

 

Leaves unfurling in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

My great niece waters plants insider her family’s mini greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

Apple blossoms at River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May, 2017.

 

To convince myself of that possibility, I searched my archives for spring images, photos that I can visually imprint upon my thoughts. It is the best I can do now to deal with all this snow. It is my way of handling my disappointment in not seeing my grandchildren this weekend. It is my way of mentally preparing for the 6 – 10 inches of snow forecast to fall here Saturday through Sunday.

 

A pause in field work along the Rice-Steele County line in April 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Several years ago, my crocuses bloomed in mid-March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Walking with the baby and the dog in Northfield, Minnesota, on March 12, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. 2016.

 

Because I know plenty of other Midwesterners are as sick of winter as I am, I am sharing. May these photos provide a brief break from winter. May they remind you that warmth and greenery really do exist in cold weather locations. Just not now. But spring will come, my friends. Believe it.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

BONUS PHOTO: The Lyndale Avenue walk-up/drive-up Dairy Queen in Faribault opened recently, an unofficial sign of spring. And, yes, Randy and I enjoyed our $1.99 Peanut Buster Parfaits.

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling