Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In praise of community sculpture walks, like the one in Mason City October 8, 2014

BRINGING ART TO THE STREETS, in essence to the general public, excites me.

Not all of us have the opportunity to tour big city art galleries or other places that showcase the creations of renowned sculptors.

Martin Eichinger of Portland, Oregon, created this graceful "Bird in the Hand" bronze sculpture valued at $14,500 and posed near the Mankato Civic Center.

Martin Eichinger of Portland, Oregon, created this graceful “Bird in the Hand” bronze sculpture valued at $14,500 and posed near the Mankato Civic Center during my visit there in 2011.

So when communities like Mankato and Bemidji, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; and Mason City, Iowa, bring sculptures to the streets, I want to stand up and shout, “Thank you!”

Details define "Reading Magic," a $8,500 bronze sculpture by Julie Jones of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Details define “Reading Magic,” a $8,500 bronze sculpture by Julie Jones of Fort Collins, Colorado, displayed in the 2011 CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour in Mankato.

I’ve toured the Bemidji and Mankato outdoor sculpture collections and recently spotted several of the 33 sculptures on loan and/or permanent display as part of River City Sculptures on Parade in Mason City. The artwork is exhibited for a year before a new set of sculptures rolls into town. All of the art is for sale, so some remains permanently in the host cities.

Isn’t this just the greatest idea?

Here’s a look at some of the sculptures, and the settings in which they are placed, in Mason City:

This downtown Mason City building dwarfs a corner placed sculpture, "The Thinker," by Serge Mozhnevsky.

This downtown Mason City building, the former First National Bank, dwarfs a corner placed sculpture, “The Thinker,” by Serge Mozhnevsky. John Dillinger and other gangsters robbed the bank on March 13, 1934, escaping with about $52,000.

Directly across the street you'll find "Bruno" by artist Eric Thorsen in the Federal Avenue Plaza.

Directly across the street you’ll find “Bruno” by artist Eric Thorsen in the Federal Avenue Plaza.

The Plaza, a green space (even if it is artificial turf) in downtown Mason City, provides an ideal location for sculptures.

The Plaza, a green space (of artificial turf, cement and bricks) in downtown Mason City, provides an ideal location for sculptures.

Sculptor Martha Pettigrew's "Fish Story," featuring a grandfather and two of his grandchildren, has been purchased as a permanent part of the city's sculpture collection. The red bench was recently replaced by a gray bench.

Sculptor Martha Pettigrew’s “Fish Story,” featuring a grandfather and two of his grandchildren, has been purchased as a permanent part of the city’s sculpture collection. The red bench was recently replaced by a less distracting gray bench. The art is located in the Plaza.

Art on the Plaza extends beyond the sculptures. Look up.

Art on the Plaza extends beyond the sculptures. Look up.

The buildings themselves are art.

The buildings themselves are art.

The Plaza presents a welcoming and inviting spot to linger in the heart of downtown Mason City.

The Plaza presents a welcoming and inviting spot to linger in the heart of downtown Mason City.

Martha Pettigrew's "American Architect," a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright, stands permanently in Central Park. The famous Prairie School style architect designed a house, hotel and bank in Mason City.

Martha Pettigrew’s “American Architect,” a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright, stands permanently in Central Park. The famous Prairie School style architect designed a house, hotel and bank in Mason City.

The Meredith Willson Footbridge, named after "The Music Man" composer, was built in 1940 and spans Willow Creek.

The Meredith Willson Footbridge, named after “The Music Man” composer, was built in 1940 and spans Willow Creek. It is, in itself, a work of art.

"Kinetic Weather Disturbance Ensemble," a sculpture by Douglas Walker, is located at one end of the bridge. It is now part of the city's permanent sculpture collection.

“Kinetic Weather Disturbance Ensemble,” a sculpture by Douglas Walker, is located at one end of the bridge. It is now part of the city’s permanent sculpture collection.

Just another view of the long and scenic bridge. On the afternoon we visited, three deer frolicked in the creek.

Just another view of the long and scenic bridge. On the afternoon we visited, three deer frolicked in the creek.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s imprint upon Mason City October 7, 2014

CONSTRUCTED WITHIN MY HOUSE of memories, I see my mother paging through floor plans in booklets picked up at the local lumberyard. She dreamed of a new house for her large and growing family.

She bulged heavy with child in 1967, the year relatives and contractors built the house of her dreams and the August she birthed her final of six babies.

By the Christmas holidays, we had abandoned our cramped wood-frame farmhouse for the walk-in basement rambler across the driveway. We welcomed a bathroom, a basement with a cement floor and plenty of closet space. And the warmth of a central heating system.

I attribute my appreciation and interest in architecture to those pre-teen memories of Mom sifting through house plans and of watching Dad unfurl blueprints for our new home. Vivid, too, are the earthy scent of sawdust, the open two-by-fours nailed into rooms, the grind of the cement mixer.

To this day, I study the lines of houses, consider their architecture, often wish I could step inside.

A Prairie School house in the Glen Rock neighborhood of Mason City, Iowa.

A Prairie School house in the Rock Glen neighborhood of Mason City, Iowa.

So on a recent visit to northeastern Iowa, I was thrilled to discover the greatest concentration of Prairie School architecture (eight homes, a bank and hotel, by my count) in the upper Midwest in Mason City.

Martha Pettigrew's "American Architect," a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright, stands permanently in Central Park. The famous Prairie School style architect designed a house, hotel and bank in Mason City.

Martha Pettigrew’s “American Architect,” a sculpture of Frank Lloyd Wright, stands permanently in Mason City’s Central Park, across the street from the bank and hotel he designed and which were completed in 1910.

Frank Lloyd Wright himself imprinted his Prairie School architecture upon Mason City with the design of the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and of the Stockman House, built for Dr. George Stockman and his family.

Frank Lloyd designed this house, moved to 530 First St. N.E. and today open to the public as an interpretative center, for Dr. George Stockman.

Frank Lloyd designed this house, moved to 530 First St. N.E. and today open to the public as an interpretative center, for Dr. George Stockman. I did not tour the home during my visit to Mason City.

Today the Stockman House is open to the public as a showcase of Wright’s work. You can also tour the historic hotel and former bank.

A Prairie School neighborhood snapshot.

A Prairie School neighborhood snapshot.

A walk through the Rock Crest/Rock Glen neighborhood reveals more Prairie School homes designed by students of this definitively first American style of architecture. I don’t pretend to be an expert in architecture. But Prairie School homes are easily recognizable with their primarily flat and looming rooflines, rectangular windows, plainness, imposing strength and sense of privacy.

Not just any old street corner in any old neighborhood.

Not just any old street corner in any old neighborhood.

Enjoy this tour of Prairie School homes in Mason City. Now if only I could have toured the interiors, I’d have been especially pleased.

 

 

Prairie School 3

 

Prairie School 4

 

Signs embedded in the sidewalk identify some, if not all, of the Prairie School houses.

Signs embedded in the sidewalk identify some, if not all, of the Prairie School houses.

 

An entry to the 1915 Hugh Gilmore House designed by Francis Barry Byrne. It's located at 511 E. State Street.

An entry to the 1915 Hugh Gilmore House designed by Francis Barry Byrne. It’s located at 511 E. State Street.

 

A stunning car port on a Prairie School style house.

A stunning car port on a Prairie School style house.

 

The E.V. Franke House at 507 East State Street, designed by Francis Barry Byrne in 1917.

The E.V. Franke House at 507 East State Street, designed by Francis Barry Byrne in 1917.

 

Prairie School 5

 

A view of the 1915 Sam Schneider House at 525 E. State Street and designed by Walter Burley Griffin.

A view of the 1915 Sam Schneider House at 525 E. State Street and designed by Walter Burley Griffin.

 

The 1920 George Romey House was designed by J.M. Felt & Co. with Prairie School influence.

The 1920 George Romey House was designed by J.M. Felt & Co. with Prairie School influence.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preserving Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in Mason City October 3, 2014

THIS WEEKEND, IT’S THE SITE of the Iowa Independent Film Festival.

The 1910 Grille sits to the right with the hotel entry in the middle and the former bank to the left.

The 1910 Grille sits to the right with the hotel entry in the middle and the former bank to the left.

But typically, the Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City draws the interest of those who appreciate Prairie School architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the 1910 complex anchored in the heart of this northeastern Iowa city.

The original City National Bank today houses the hotel ballroom.

The original City National Bank, right, today houses the hotel ballroom/banquet room.

Originally built as a hotel, bank and law offices, the restored corner structure today houses a 27-room hotel, five-star restaurant (1910 Grille’) and banquet/ballroom/conference facilities. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Windows and architecture inside the ballroom/banquet room.

Windows and architecture inside the ballroom/banquet room.

Recently I took a self-guided tour of the Wright-designed structure. Docent-led tours are available for a fee.

The Park Inn Hotel front desk.

The Park Inn Hotel front desk.

A skylight.

A skylight.

Dark. Everything is dark.

Dark wood dominates.

As I expected, this Prairie School building is heavy on the wood. Dark. Defined by lines and simplicity.

The billiard room.

The billiard room.

My husband kicks back in an historic building that draws lots of interest.

My husband kicks back in a first floor lounge.

Light floods this area which opens to an upper level patio.

Light floods this area which opens to an upper level patio.

This place, I determined, could be the setting for the classic detective board game Clue. Imagine Professor Plum reading in the library, Miss Scarlet dancing in the ballroom, Col. Mustard shooting pool in the billiard room, Mr. Green hanging out in the lounge. No weapons in sight, though.

So wanders my imaginative mind.

Exterior detail on the former City National Bank.

Exterior detail on the former City National Bank.

Imagination will be showcased within these walls at the weekend Iowa Independent Film Festival which continues from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday and then resumes Sunday, running from 1 – 7 p.m. Showings include documentary, feature, short feature and student films.

A sculpture of Frank Lloyd Wright stands in Central Park, photographed here from an upper story of the hotel.

A sculpture of Frank Lloyd Wright stands in Central Park, photographed here from an upper story of the hotel.

“Wright on the Park: Saving the City National Bank,” a documentary, airs on Sunday. The non-profit Wright on the Park was established to “own, restore and maintain the Frank Lloyd Wright designed properties across from Central Park.” The restoration cost $18.5 million.

The entire building was restored several years ago for $18.5 million.

The entire building was restored several years ago for $18.5 million.

To the vision-led historians, much is owed for preserving this Prairie School treasure in Iowa.

Strong rooflines define Prairie School architecture like this at the hotel.

Strong rooflines define Prairie School architecture like this at the hotel.

FYI: Mason City is also home to other Frank Lloyd Wright designed and Prairie School architecture. I’ll post about that next.

If you are interested in attending the film fest, click here for more info.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A historic bank and White Buffalo Calf Woman June 23, 2011

SET ME IN FRONT of an architecturally-stunning historic building and I’m in history heaven.

Just look at the lines, the colors, the window leading, the carvings…of the Old First National Bank of Mankato building, now a Verizon Wireless Center reception hall.

I didn’t step inside the former bank, didn’t even try a door. I was content last Saturday afternoon to view the exterior with its Prairie School style architecture.

“It’s like that bank in Owatonna,” my husband said as we gawked at the building built of brick, Mankato limestone and terra cotta along Civic Center Plaza in downtown Mankato.

He was, of course, referring to Chicago architect Louis Sullivan’s “jewel box,” National Farmer’s Bank in Owatonna, a brick building with terra cotta accents, splendid for its stained glass windows, arches and other architectural details.

The Mankato building features Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stained glass and detailed ornamentation along the roof line.

And now it also showcases a bronze sculpture of White Buffalo Calf Woman by South Dakota artists Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby as part of Mankato’s City Art Walking Sculpture Tour.

 

If you peer at the woman’s face, examine her beaded moccasins and the trim on her buckskin dress and pouch, you’ll notice how the colors mimic those of the historic bank building. Whether this Native American sculpture’s placement was planned or accidental, I don’t know, but it fits seamlessly with the historical vibe of the locale, enhancing the whole art viewing experience.

The city of Mankato, apparently named after a varied translation of the Dakota word Mahkato, meaning “blue earth,” owns a place in Minnesota and national history for the mass hanging of 38 Dakota here on December 26, 1862. Three hundred warriors were accused of killing civilians and soldiers and of other crimes during the U.S.-Dakota Conflict. After a public outcry, President Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38. Certainly, Mankato is not proud of this moment in history. But efforts have been made to honor the Dakota at monuments in the city.

And now sculptures like White Buffalo Calf Woman also help heal and educate the public about the Native American culture. According to information on the sculpture placard, this prophetess is the only religious icon accepted by all Native American tribes. She “brings a message of healing, hope and peace among the races to all the people.”

More than just art, I also got a history lesson along a Mankato city street on a Saturday afternoon in June.

PLEASE VIEW MY JUNE 20 post for more photos and information about the Walking Sculpture Tour. Additional images will be forthcoming.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling