Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What I’m drawn to photograph in rural Minnesota January 7, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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One of my favorite Minnesota barns is this especially well-maintained one along a back county road west of New Ulm.

 

I FIND MYSELF, all too often in my on-the-road rural photography, focusing primarily on barns. My eyes gravitate toward these agricultural icons that I fear will vanish within the next 50 years, fallen to abandonment and/or replaced by nondescript cookie cutter metal polesheds. That saddens me. But it is the reality of the times, of the decline of the family farm.

 

Massive polesheds have replaced traditional barns on some farms, including this one along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.

 

I will continue to photograph these beloved landmarks, symbols of a bygone era of farming. Barns hold personal value to me as a farmer’s daughter. I grew up working in the barn—feeding cows, bedding straw, shoveling manure, lugging pails of still warm milk from cow to bulk tank and much more.

 

An abandoned farmhouse near Morristown, Minnesota.

 

A tiny, colorful house in Morristown, Minnesota.

 

Just blocks away in Morristown, newer homes cluster in a housing development. A tornado hit this area in 2018, destroying and heavily damaging houses.

 

While documenting these centers of farm life, I’ve mostly neglected to photograph the homes of rural Minnesota. They vary from abandoned houses with broken windows to modern-day structures.

 

In southwestern Minnesota, an aged farmhouse so familiar to me.

 

It is the decades-old farmhouses that appeal to me most, no matter their conditions. My childhood home until my early teens was a cramped three-bedroom 1 ½-story house without a bathroom. A hulking oil burning stove in the living room heated the structure. A trap door in the kitchen opened to stairs leading to a dark dirt-floored cellar where salamanders lurked. Mom stashed the bounty of her garden in fruit jars lining plank shelves.

 

A southwestern Minnesota farmhouse.

 

I am thankful to have grown up in a minimalist house, in a poor farm family. We may have been poor materialistically. But our family was rich in love. I never realized until I became an adult that I was raised in near poverty. Because of that background, I’ve never needed the most, the best, the newest.

 

In Kenyon, Minnesota, a brilliant turquoise makes this house stand out.

 

On recent road trips, I intentionally aimed my camera lens at houses. Both in small towns and in the countryside. These are not just houses. They are homes. Or memories of homes. Worthy of preserving with my camera as part of rural Minnesota history.

 

A home in the small town of Morristown, Minnesota.

 

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry in abandoned buildings February 22, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:42 AM
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I photographed this abandoned building along a country road near Kasota last fall.

ABANDONED FARMHOUSES and rural buildings have always held a special fascination for me.

As odd as this seems, I see poetry in these buildings that lean against the landscape, that view the world through shattered lenses.

I often wonder: Who lived or worked here? Why was this farmhouse or barn or outbuilding or schoolhouse abandoned, left to decay in the elements? I feel a certain sense of sadness knowing that once this building stood strong and proud.

But, yet, I manage to see the beauty in the bones that remain—in weathered boards muted to soft shades of gray, in crooked doors clinging to rusty hinges, in roofs that sag under the weight of time.

In my mind, I have personified this abandoned building, given it new life, through my photos and my poetic thoughts.

HOW ABOUT YOU—do you see what I see in old buildings? Share your thoughts in a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling