Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Oh, how Mom loved the Kentucky Derby May 4, 2022

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Watching the 2015 Kentucky Derby in the auditorium at The Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, during a “Big Hats & Big Hearts event. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

MAY, MORE THAN any month, reminds me of my mom. And not just because of Mother’s Day.

Mom’s birthday falls in late May. She would have turned 90 this year.

A guest arrives for the Derby party at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

May also means Kentucky Derby time, an annual event Mom looked forward to with unbridled enthusiasm. It wasn’t only the horses which drew her interest. It was the fashion. Mom loved the big hats, the showiness of this social gathering.

I remember phone conversations when Mom talked about the upcoming Derby. I regret that she never attended the Kentucky race. But she saw several horse races at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. I have no doubt she would have loved the Kentucky Derby events set there for Saturday, including the Derby Fashion Show followed by live screening of the actual race.

This year’s race holds special interest for Minnesota as two of the horses are owned by Minnesotans. I expect Mom would have chosen Zandon or Zozos to win. Jeff Drown of Clearwater owns Zandon, #2 in the leaderboard rank. And Barry and Joni Butzow of Eden Prairie own Zozos, ranked #17. Both Drown and the Butzows have a long history in racehorse ownership.

Dressed in Derby Day fanciness, attendees view a hat-themed exhibit in the Paradise Center for the Arts gallery in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

And my mom had a long history of loving horse racing. And of loving the fancy, wide-brimmed Derby hats adorned with flowers, feathers, bows, ribbons… Fashion focus didn’t fit Mom at all. She was a no-frills kind of woman. Basic wardrobe of nothing flashy or fancy. But when it came to the Kentucky Derby, she was fully-engaged in appreciating fashion.

Fresh mint leaves for the mint juleps. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

This year, especially (four months after her death), I remember Mom’s unbridled joy in the Kentucky Derby—both the fashion and the race. I wish I could sit by her side, both of us sporting fancy Derby hats, sipping mint juleps, watching the race live on the screen.

My friend Beth Ann gifted me with official Kentucky Derby glasses from 1986 and 1991. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yet, I can honor her via memories and via the horse art which I pull out each May. A paint-by-number horse scene purchased at a second-hand store. A painting of horses by my father-in-law. And two Derby drinking glasses gifted to me by a friend.

I purchased this stunning 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

There is comfort in memories, in remembering how very much my mom loved the Kentucky Derby. This Saturday, when I settle in to watch the horse race, I’ll think of Mom and how she delighted in “Southern Belle” inspired fashion while watching the Derby on TV from her Minnesota home.

NOTE: This is the first in three mother-themed blog posts leading up to Mother’s Day on Sunday, the day after the Kentucky Derby.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look back at high collars in light of 2020 Oscars fashion February 11, 2020

Note the high stand-up collars in fashion in the 1930s (top row) in this photo taken of Kolacky Days queen portraits. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

 

LEATTA. EMMA. GLADYS. Leone. Josephine.

Cynthia Erivo.

If you watched the Oscars or have seen the movie “Harriet,” you recognize Erivo’s name. She was nominated for best actress. And she performed “Stand Up,” in the running for best original song, during Sunday evening’s star-studded awards night. She won neither.

Typically I don’t watch the Oscars. My knowledge of celebrities is minimal. I last saw a movie in the theater about 2 ½ years ago. One I walked out on last May and demanded a refund for doesn’t count. That said, I really want to see “Harriet,” a movie based on former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Erivo and background gospel singers presented a moving and powerful performance of “Stand Up” during the Oscars. The singer/actress wore a shimmering gold gown with a high stand-up collar. And, as we all know, those glamorous gowns garner lots of attention. Even from me, someone who doesn’t much bother with fashion. Peek into my closet and you’ll find primarily jeans, tees and flannel shirts.

But the Oscars fashion interested me. And apparently my husband. “Remember those pictures of the Kolacky queens?” Randy asked Sunday evening as I commented on Erivo’s high collar dress.

“Huh?” I responded.

Randy suggested I review my photos of 1930s Kolacky Days queen portraits taken during a recent visit to the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center. That would be in Minnesota. Not Alabama. So I did. And sure enough, there were Leatta, Emma, Gladys, Leone and Josephine wearing gowns, or maybe it’s capes, with high stand-up collars. Just like Cynthia Erivo some 90 years later.

TELL ME: Did you watch the Oscars? Any observations you would like to share on gowns past or present?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fashion thoughts, holiday & otherwise December 28, 2017

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NO ONE WILL EVER look to me for current fashion advice. I am a t-shirts in the summer, flannel shirts in the winter, zipper sweatshirt layers and blue jeans type of dresser, a bonus of working from my home office. Sure, I’ll dress up when necessary. But I prefer comfortable over fashionable.

That said, you might think I would embrace ugly holiday sweaters. But I don’t. For one reason. I can’t wear pull-over sweaters anymore. Being of a certain advancing age when my body temperature fluctuates, I can’t tolerate feeling trapped in the heat of a sweater. If it buttons, I’m OK. I can just unbutton or toss off the sweater when necessary. But otherwise, forget it.

How about you? Do you get into ugly Christmas sweaters? Let’s hear some ugly sweater descriptions and stories. Just for fun. Not because I care about fashion.

Ask my sister, who to this day reminds me of the ugly (her word, not mine) yellow dress with daisies on the bodice and a hand-me-down to her. To which I reply, “It’s not my fault I was the first-born daughter.” Had birth order been reversed, I would have been wearing her pre-worn clothing. Fashionable maybe in her eyes, but not necessarily in mine.

Fashion is, in my opinion, personal. And I have an opinion on the current trend of ripped jeans. Why would anyone pay money for jeans that belong in the rag bag?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet as Strawberry Shortcake October 23, 2017

I love this image of my granddaughter looking out the front door of my home. I love the light, the mood, the sweetness, the perspective.

 

FOR PROBABLY A DOZEN YEARS or more, the homemade child’s dress hung in an upstairs bedroom closet. I’d purchased it at a garage sale with intentions of some day giving the Strawberry Shortcake print dress to my eldest niece. The dress would be the perfect nostalgic gift for Tara, born a year after the popular doll line debuted. She loved all things Strawberry Shortcake. I imagined how she would delight in receiving the dress for her newborn daughter.

 

Grandma needed a portrait of Isabelle in her vintage Strawberry Shortcake dress.

 

But as life goes, Tara birthed a boy just over a year ago. So, by default, the long-held dress went to my granddaughter, Isabelle. On an early September visit, Izzy showed up in her Strawberry Shortcake dress, much to my joy.

 

 

 

That dress, stitched so lovingly with rick rack trim and accented with mini heart buttons nearly 40 years ago by an unknown seamstress, fit the then 17-month-old perfectly.

 

 

She looked adorable.

 

 

I’m not sure her mom shared the same enthusiasm for the garment as I did. But my eldest made me a happy grandma by slipping this sweet dress onto her daughter for an afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

I captured the exact moment Izzy discovered that the recliner rocked. She threw her head and arms back in exuberance.

 

Izzy paged through books, played with blocks, blew bubbles, splashed in water, rocked in the recliner and more, moving at the speed only toddlers can move. And she managed all in that vintage dress, the unintended dress now perfectly hers.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Just in time for the Fourth: Made in the USA June 29, 2017

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IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR when patriotism swells/sells, when red, white and blue are the colors of choice. Count me in on this July Fourth fashion show of American pride.

The t-shirt I am wearing in this photo is one of several Thrivent Financial tees I’ve worn while recovering from a broken shoulder. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2017.

 

I’m not one who typically cares much about what I wear except for fit and comfort. But I am growing a tad tired of the same three t-shirt styles I’ve worn for the past 5 ½ weeks. A broken shoulder necessitated the easy-on-easy-off polyester and cotton Thrivent Financial shirts that ease up my right arm, over my neck and then onto my left arm. I acquired the tees while volunteering and now they will forever link to my Summer of the Broken Shoulder. I love these shirts for their soft comfort and stretch.

But, with the Fourth of July approaching, I wanted something festive. There would be no perusing clothing racks in multiple stores or even trying shirts on in dressing rooms. Such are the limits of a fractured humerus.

 

The front of my new patriotic t-shirt.

 

Rather, I found a style I was OK with at a mega discount retailer, chose my regular size and hoped it would fit. It did. And bonus, the shirt tag and graphic denote the garment as Made in the USA. The only downside—the year 2017 printed on the front, perhaps a marketing ploy to get customers to buy new again in 2018. While the date may make the shirt unwearable beyond this year for some, not for me. You can expect this $4.97 tee to remain in my closet for many summers.

 

My new tee came with this tag.

 

 

TELL ME: Would you wear this shirt beyond 2017? And is Made in the USA important to you?

© Copyright 2017 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

 

Fashionably cold in Minnesota January 4, 2017

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Along a gravel road somewhere between Nerstrand and Kenyon, Minnesota.

Along a gravel road somewhere between Nerstrand and Kenyon, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2014.

WHILE ROAD-TRIPPING FROM MINNESOTA to Massachusetts last May, I found myself defending my home state. Apparently non-residents have a singular impression of Minnesota. And that would be “cold.”

Back then, when spring was emerging green and beautiful here, I assured non-residents that Minnesota is about much more than cold weather.

But today I can’t argue with the cold assessment as arctic air settles into Minnesota, plunging temperatures to the single digits above zero. Thank you, Canada, for kicking the cold out your front door toward your neighbor’s property.

When my cheeks started hurting and flaming red, I added a second scarf.

Me bundled up several years ago for two hours of ringing bells for the Salvation Army in arctic cold. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Fortunately, Minnesotans know how to handle the frigid temps. Along with complaining, we bundle up. At least I do. Fashion isn’t nearly as important to me as warmth. Gone are the days of caring whether a stocking cap will flatten my hair or whether my Northwest Territory boots are in style. Warmth trumps appearance.

 

scheels-billboard-between-wasca-and-janesville-11

 

Yet, apparently you can be “cute and cozy” in outdoor winter attire, according to a Scheels billboard I spotted along U.S. Highway 14 between Waseca and Janesville. The model appears well-cozied in her winter jacket, leggings and boots (which seem more fashionable than practical). I wouldn’t want to be slip-sliding around on the ice in those heels.

That all said, I appreciate Scheels’ efforts to convince us that we really can be fashionable in outdoor winter attire. Now if only we could convince the rest of the country that Minnesota is about much more than cold weather.

TELL ME: When you think of Minnesota, what word pops into your head? Cold? Snow? Something else?

How can Minnesota change its “cold” image? Or should we?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Delighting in the vintage holiday fashion of a preschooler December 15, 2015

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Lyla in her vintage holiday attire.

Lyla in her vintage holiday attire.

SHE IS UNDENIABLY CUTE. Little Lyla Noel, born at 11:45 pm on the last day of Christmas nearly three years ago. That would be January 5.

Saturday afternoon she charmed folks in downtown Faribault with her lovely holiday attire. I first glimpsed this darling preschooler as my husband turned our car onto Central Avenue while searching for a parking spot. Flash of a red velvet cape draped over wee shoulders. Red and white fur hat cradling her head. Arms tucked inside a snow white muff.

By the time we’d parked, Lyla had disappeared. Poof, just like that. Disappointment washed over me. Still, I could photograph the horse-drawn Santa’s Wagon clopping down the avenue. Perhaps Lyla and her mom would emerge later from wherever they’d gone.

That's Lyla's mom in the hot pink jacket. Lyla is seated to her right.

That’s Lyla’s mom in the hot pink jacket. Lyla is seated to her right.

But they didn’t…until my husband and I were exiting downtown. Then I spotted Lyla with her mom in the wagon, traveling the opposite direction. Eventually, we caught up and I leapt from the car just as the pair dismounted.

After a ride through downtown Faribault in a horse-drawn wagon, Lyla and her mom exited by the KC Hall.

After a ride through downtown Faribault in a horse-drawn wagon, Lyla and her mom exited by the KC Hall.

I was giddy, especially when Mom allowed me to photograph the little girl she hoped would be born within the framework of Christmas. She beat the clock by 15 minutes.

Mom coaxed Lyla to stuff her hands inside her muff and pose for numerous photos.

Mom coaxed Lyla to stuff her hands inside her muff and pose for numerous photos.

On this Saturday in my southeastern Minnesota city, sweet Lyla Noel caused admirers to pause outside the Knights of Columbus Hall and gush over her cuteness. She was adorable in her vintage holiday garb purchased by an aunt.

Lyla models for admirers.

Lyla models for admirers.

Likewise, Lyla charmed customers at HyVee Grocery Store the day prior when she and her mom rang bells for the Salvation Army. I can only imagine. How wonderful that this mother is teaching her daughter, at a young age, the joy of volunteering, of helping others in a season when we all really need to slow down and delight in the sweetness of an almost three-year-old.
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Check back tomorrow to read about my experience ringing bells for the Salvation Army.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the Kentucky Derby, Minnesota style May 2, 2015

The marquee on the Paradise Center for the Arts announces the Kentucky Derby Party.

The marquee on the Paradise Center for the Arts announces the Kentucky Derby Party.

IT WASN’T CHURCHILL DOWNS. But the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault drew a fashionable crowd to watch the greatest two minutes in sports Saturday afternoon.

A guest arrives for the Derby party.

A guest arrives for the Kentucky Derby party in downtown Faribault.

Attendees view the hat-themed exhibit in the gallery.

Attendees view the hat-themed exhibit in the gallery.

More great hats.

More great hats.

I was there, sporting a wide-brimmed hat that made me feel like a horse with blinders. I’ve concluded that I’m not comfortable wearing an over-sized hat. But I delighted in viewing all of the stylish Kentucky Derby attire.

A poster in an exterior window promotes the Derby event.

A poster in an exterior window promotes the Derby event.

There was even a horseshoe shaped cake.

There was even a horseshoe shaped cake.

"Frilly Filly" by Audrey Sand, art in the gallery.

“Frilly Filly” by Audrey Sand, art in the gallery.

The Big Hats & Big Hearts Auction for the Arts and Derby Party featured fashion, food, a hat-themed gallery exhibit and live and silent auctions.

The auctioneer bought his yellow leisure suit in the early 1970s.

The auctioneer bought his yellow leisure suit in the early 1970s.

The auctioneer even arrived in a 1970s yellow leisure suit complete with horse print tie.

The Paradise Center for the Arts was decorated with lots of red roses.

The Paradise Center for the Arts was decorated with lots of red roses.

Fresh mint leaves for the mint juleps.

Fresh mint leaves for the mint juleps.

Fans watched the race on the big screen in the theatre.

Fans watched the race on the big screen in the theatre.

There were red roses and mint juleps and raucous roaring as American Pharaoh edged out Firing Line to win the 141st Kentucky Derby. Carpe Diem, the horse I chose, finished tenth. My husband’s finished second.

The live auction begins.

The live auction begins.

Me, ready for the Derby party.

Me, ready for the Derby party.

Tickets for mint juleps.

Tickets for mint juleps.

Win or lose, it didn’t matter to me. I was there to support the arts, view the fashions and try a mint julep for the first time.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When fashion wins over horses April 29, 2015

FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, my now nearly 83-year-old mom has been enthralled by the Kentucky Derby.

I purchased this stunning 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting for a song last fall at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough, on the official Derby website store, paint-by-number horse paintings are available for purchase.

I purchased this stunning unframed 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting for a song last fall at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough, on the official Derby website store, paint-by-number horse kits are available for purchase.

This week I asked her why, something I felt compelled to know because, well, time slips away and then we wish we’d asked these questions. So I phoned her at her assisted living apartment 120 miles away in southwestern Minnesota, catching her right before lunch.

“It’s because of the hats they wear, not because of the horses,” she replied. And here, all along, I thought her Derby interest was fixed on the horses.

She continued: “It’s unbelievable to me what kind of crazy hats they wear. They’re so big.”

The fancy hat I purchased months ago for a Kentucky Derby party.

The fancy hat I purchased months ago for a Kentucky Derby party.

In that moment I wished Mom could join my husband and me for the Big Hats & Big Hearts Annual Auction for the Arts and Kentucky Derby Party at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Saturday. That celebration includes viewing of the race, live and silent auctions, and Derby food and drinks.

Kentucky Derby hats

Kentucky Derby hats at The Crafty Maven, 212 Central Avenue, on display in early April.  Photo courtesy of The Crafty Maven.

A bonus is the current gallery exhibit, “A great place to hang your hat,” running through May 5 and sponsored by The Crafty Maven. That downtown Faribault shop offers an assortment of Derby hats and will even custom embellish hats for the big race day.

While I’m sitting in the Paradise theatre watching the Derby on the big screen, my mom will have her TV tuned to the festivities. She’ll review the list of contenders and choose a horse solely on liking its name. That’s precisely how I pick a horse. Neither of us cares about their rankings, only the names.

Names of past Derby winners are listed on a commemorative drinking glass gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann.

Names of past Derby winners are listed on a commemorative drinking glass gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann.

Of the 140 Kentucky Derby winners, I remember only one—that of triple crown and 1973 winner Secretariat. Aristides won the first race in 1875. Reviewing the list of horses for the 141st Derby run, Bold Conquest grabs my fancy.

My vintage paint-by-number horse painting up close.

My vintage paint-by-number horse painting up close.

I wonder which horse Mom will choose. She’s never been to Churchill Downs, but years ago attended several races at Minnesota’s Canterbury Park. The Shakopee horse race track is hosting a Kentucky Derby party on Saturday. Mom and her sister Rachel selected horses at Canterbury based on liking their names. Once, though, they picked a horse co-owned by the son of the veterinarian from my hometown.

My friend Beth Ann, who spoils me, gifted me with official Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses from 1986 and 1991.

My friend Beth Ann, who spoils me, gifted me with official Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses from 1986 and 1991.

I wish Mom could travel to Louisville, sit in the stands in a big fancy hat and sip mint juleps. She’s always wanted to attend the Derby. But at her age, she never will. Life is like a horse race. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we don’t.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling