Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

One artist’s interpretation of his walk from Minneapolis to Northfield April 4, 2016

An overview of The Via Northfield exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

An overview of The Via Northfield exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

WHEN EXPECTATIONS DON’T MATCH reality, it is initially disappointing. But then, when you reflect, perception sometimes changes and an aha moment emerges. Such was the metamorphosis for me regarding Minneapolis artist and writer Andy Sturdevant’s The Via Northfield project  showing now through April 17 at the Flaten Art Museum on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield.

The introduction to Andy Sturdevant's project.

The introduction to Andy Sturdevant’s project.

I expected a straight-forward documentary exhibit with journaling and photos of Sturdevant’s two-day, 40-mile trek from Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis to St. Olaf in September 2015. The Via Northfield was anything but. And if I’d bothered to research in advance of my recent exhibit tour, I would have realized Sturdevant would not follow my expected path. He walks a detoured path of creativity. And it works in the kind of artistic way that weaves the present and the past, stories with facts, visuals with words, into a multi-faceted exhibit.

A copy of a newspaper clipping summarizes the death of a man in a profoundly succinct way.

A copy of a newspaper clipping summarizes the disappearnace of a man in a profoundly succinct way.

Pinpointing 15 locations (way stations) along his route, this artist focuses on specific place details through photos, newspaper clippings, artwork, stories and atypical items like a lost cat flier and a gravestone rubbing.

This photo of two Carleton students and their story captivated me.

This photo of two Carleton students and their story captivated me.

My personal favorite is a photo of Carleton College students and an accompanying note. The trio walked from Northfield to the Mall of America, stopping to rest on a couch in a supercool yard in Eureka Township. The note, addressed to dear wonderful people, is signed Kathy, Wren and Bettina. The writer in me latched onto those names, especially the poetically-pleasing Wren.

Sturdevant focuses on places as specific as Eureka Township.

Sturdevant focuses on places as specific as Eureka Township.

Sturdevant’s exhibit calls for close study. And, I’ll admit, I didn’t give it the complete focus it deserves as my energy waned at the end of a long day exploring rural Minnesota.

But I caught some details that caused me to laugh—like Sturdevant’s use of the words soybean farms to describe farms upon which soybeans are grown. I’ve never heard the term. I’ve ever only known such Minnesota farms as crop farms. I grew up on one.

And I laughed at a story about a Dundas man’s journey to a Fargo convention and a subsequent question, Is the Corner Bar still there? Yes, Dawn’s Corner Bar remains a corner anchor in downtown Dundas.

A snippet look at The Via Northfield.

A snippet look at The Via Northfield.

These are the types of stories that connect an exhibit like The Via Northfield in a personal way to those who view it.

Sturdevant personalizes, too, by memorializing pedestrians who died along his traveled route. He uses black circles with name, date and sparse details.

A strong visual.

A strong visual at the end of the exhibit.

Even his ripped pants hang on a wall.

At one of two tables, exhibit visitors can sit and file a Pedestrian Report...

At one of two tables, exhibit visitors can sit and file a Pedestrian Report…

...by following these instructions...

…by following these instructions…

...and then using a typewriter...

…and then using a typewriter…

...or a pencil...

…or a pencil…

...to record a personal story.

…to record a personal story.

This exhibit isn’t just about reading and viewing. It’s also participatory. Viewers are welcome to file their stories in a Pedestrian Report typed on a manual typewriter or written in pencil. Not with any pencil, though, but rather with one imprinted:

I WALKED
“THE VIA NORTHFIELD”
MINNEAPOLIS TO NORTHFIELD, MINN.

The exhibit is promoted on a screen outside The Flaten Art Museum.

The exhibit is promoted on a screen outside The Flaten Art Museum.

FYI: You can view The Via Northfield exhibit from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Wednesday, from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday, and from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. weekends at the Flaten Art Museum in the Dittmann Center on the campus of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. Admission is free.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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You write the definition of… March 17, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

Ugh...photographed at St. Olaf College

 

I PHOTOGRAPHED THIS three-letter word on the wall outside the Flaten Art Museum inside the Dittman Center of St. Olaf College in Northfield.

It’s meant, I believe, to be a work of art.

If you were to write a definition of ugh, what would you write?

Would you choose a standard dictionary definition? A synonym?

Or would you draw on a memory? Think of a repulsive smell or taste? Picture a creepy bug or other frightening creature? Perhaps a scene?

Go ahead. Write your definition here. Let’s see what creative thoughts those three letters—u-g-h—can unleash. (Note, your comments are subject to my editorial discretion, meaning let’s steer clear of topics like politics. This is a family friendly blog.)

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Civil Rights Movement as photographed by Stephen Somerstein April 23, 2015

POWERFUL. HISTORIC. MEMORABLE.

Looking through a window into an exhibit space at Flaten Art Museum.

Looking through a window into the “Selma to Montgomery” exhibit in the Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.

That trio of adjectives describes Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail, an exhibit of 45 black-and-white photos documenting the 1965 Civil Rights Movement through the work of photographer Stephen Somerstein.

I was only eight years old in 1965, living in rural southwestern Minnesota, far removed from what was occurring in Alabama.

The faces of the Civil Rights Marches and Movement include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Stephen Somerstein.

Faces of the Civil Rights Movement include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, and his wife, Coretta Scott King, right. This shows a snippet of a photo by Stephen Somerstein.

But the exhibit, showcased at the Flaten Art Museum of St. Olaf College, took me to Alabama in 1965 and into the movement for equality in an up close and personal way.

An overview of a section of the exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

An overview of a section of the now-closed exhibit at St. Olaf College.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Somerstein’s pictures are worth 45,000 words. My one regret is that I did not visit this exhibit until the day before it closed on April 12 thus failing to inform you, my readers, of the opportunity to see this for yourselves.

This portion of a photo by Stephen Somerstein drew my attention.

This portion of a photo by Stephen Somerstein drew my attention.

As I circled the museum space, I studied many of the photos in detail. These images by Somerstein, a then student at City College of New York and editor of the school newspaper, call for close examination. It is in the details that we begin to fully understand, to see the fear, the hope, the defiance, the anger, the love, the determination.

I found myself drawn to hands and arms—those of an interracial couple, that of a union member gripping a sign, activists carrying American flags, a soldier focusing binoculars, a mother cradling her son:

One of my favorite images

One of my favorite photos by Stephen Somerstein.

Skin color matters not, as showcased in this section  of a Stephen Somerstein photo.

Skin color matters not, as showcased in this section of a Stephen Somerstein photo I photographed.

The two things I noticed in this Stephen Somerstein photo: the marcher carrying and American flag and the soldier atop the building scanning the scene with binoculars.

The two things I noticed in this Stephen Somerstein photo: the marchers carrying American flags and the soldier atop the building scanning the scene with binoculars. It’s truly a multi-layered image.

The Teamsters Union

The Teamsters Union Local 239 sent supplies to activists who were marching. This is a selected section of a photo by Stephen Somerstein.

Eyes and words also drew me in:

vote

Bobby Simmons, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, wearing zinc oxide to prevent sunburn, wrote VOTE onto his forehead. This is a section of Stephen Somerstein’s portrait of Simmons.

The exhibit featured explanatory information about photos and the movement.

The exhibit featured explanatory information about photos and the movement.

And although I did not participate in the interactive portions of the exhibit created by artist Nancy Musinguzi, I appreciated that visitors could photograph themselves and pen thoughts on working toward justice and equality.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the exhibit and express their thoughts.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the exhibit and express their thoughts.

Opinions expressed in the exhibit polling place.

Opinions expressed in the exhibit polling place.

They could also vote in a People’s Survey. Vote.

A St. Olaf College student staffing the museum makes sure a video is working properly.

A St. Olaf College student staffing the museum makes sure a video is working properly.

The exhibit drew a wide range of interest at St. Olaf College with students in social work, history, art history, gender studies and more viewing the photos, says Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson. The timing of the exhibit—on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, relating to current day issues and release of the movie, Selma—added to the interest.

Another overview of part of the exhibit.

Another overview of part of the exhibit. Photos displayed are by Stephen Somerstein.

Additionally, Becker Nelson notes that the exhibit connects to the 50th anniversary of the death of St. Olaf graduate James Reeb. (More to come on that in a post next week.)

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate.

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate.

This remarkable collection of documentary photos impresses in a deeply personal way. Beyond headlines. Beyond news stories. Beyond the pages of history books. Somerstein’s photos document the humanity of the Civil Rights Movement in the eyes, in the hands, in the stances of individuals. And that connects all of us, no matter our skin color.

#

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Original photos are by Stephen Somerstein. My photos of Somerstein’s images are published here with permission of Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf College.

Selma to Montgomery was booked through New York-based National Exhibitions & Archives.

 

In which I discover the art treasures of St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges April 20, 2015

SOMETIMES I FEEL like I am missing out on a whole big wide world of art.

Not because art is absent here in outstate Minnesota. It isn’t. Recent years have seen a renewed effort to bring the arts—visual and performing—to communities like mine outside the Twin Cities metro area. Faribault has the Paradise Center for the Arts. Neighboring Owatonna, Northfield and Waseca also have art centers. Even the community of Zumbrota, population around 3,400, has the thriving Crossings at Carnegie.

So there are plenty of opportunities to engage in the arts at a local and regional level without venturing into Minneapolis or St. Paul, which I really prefer to avoid given my aversion for traffic congestion and big cities in general.

Despite an abundance of wonderful local art, I was still missing that segment of art created by renowned artists or by artists outside of Minnesota.

That is until I recently realized that I can see that type of art, too, right in my backyard.

In the center of this display space outside the Flaten Art Museum is a poster for the "Selma to Montgomery" exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement.

Promotional posters posted in the Dittman Art Center at St. Olaf College show the wide variety of artistic offerings.

Two colleges in Northfield, a 22-minute drive from my Faribault home, both sometimes showcase notable art from their collections in exhibits that are open to the public. They also bring in outside artists and traveling exhibits. Entrance to Carleton’s Perlman Teaching Museum and St. Olaf’s Flaten Art Museum is free. No cost and no traffic are a winning combination for me.

Items from St. Olaf's art collection were displayed in the recent "Interrogating Genders" exhibit.

Items from St. Olaf’s art collection were displayed in the recent “Interrogating Gender” exhibit.

Together, these two prestigious private colleges hold more than 6,500 paintings, fine art prints, photographs, sculptures and more in their collections.

Entering the Flaten Art Museum Atrium, I encountered this mega sculpture just outside the "Selma" exhibit.

Entering the Flaten Art Museum Atrium, I encountered this mega sculpture just outside the “Selma” exhibit.

I discovered Carleton’s gallery space about 18 months ago and St. Olaf’s just recently, when I arrived at the college atop the hill to view Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail, an exhibition of Stephen Somerstein’s photos.

Walking across the hall from one museum space to another, I found Michon Weeks' "Wheel Within Wheel (#1-44) paintings hung along the atrium wall. The acrylic on paper on wood panel is a visual inventory of items in her Northfield garage.

Walking across the hall from one museum space to another, I found Michon Weeks’ “Wheel Within a Wheel (#1-44) paintings hung along the atrium wall. The acrylic on wood panel paintings are a visual inventory of items in her Northfield garage.

After studying Somerstein’s remarkable images, I strode across the hall to see the Interrogating Gender exhibit, since closed.

Rosa Bonheur's "Cows in Pasture."

Rosa Bonheur’s “Cows in Pasture.”

The 16th Century "Madonna and Child, an oil painting on panel by Adriaen Isenbrandt of Belgium.

The 16th Century “Madonna and Child” by Adriaen Isenbrandt of Belgium.

The angle at which I photographed "Archaic Greek Statue of a Woman" makes it appear as if the Italian terra cotta sculpture is studying the art on display.

The angle at which I photographed “Archaic Greek Statue of a Woman” makes it appear as if the Italian terra cotta sculpture is studying the art on display.

There I marveled in getting close up to photographs taken by Andy Warhol. Yes, the Andy Warhol. I stood in reverent awe before a 16th Century oil painting on panel of Madonna and Child by Adriaen Isenbrandt. I enjoyed art from Africa and Italy and the Cows in Pasture pencil on paper by Rosa Bonheur.

A wood sculpture from Africa, artist unknown, and titled "Seated Maternity Figure."

A wood sculpture from Africa, artist unknown, and titled “Seated Maternity Figure.”

I could have reached out and touched the art, except I didn’t. It was that comfortably accessible and intimate. I didn’t have that feeling I often get in galleries of “be careful and don’t touch,” although I was aware of cameras on the premise.

My husband peruses the art.

My husband peruses the art.

I only wish I’d realized years ago that I could simply walk onto these college campuses and view art by well-known and other artists and students, too.

I got down low to photograph the Greek woman sculpture encased in glass.

I got down low to photograph the Greek woman sculpture encased in glass.

Now that I know, I’ll be back.

FYI: All of the exhibits mentioned in this post are no longer showing. Both colleges will be featuring a Senior Art Show in their exhibit spaces.

Please check back for a story and photos of the Selma to Montgomery exhibit.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling