Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wood-fired pizza from “where the hills sing & the trees clap” August 13, 2022

On a perfect summer evening, a crowd gathers for music, pizza and conversation at Christ Lutheran Church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

AS OLD COUNTRY BROTHERS belted out popular songs from The Eagles, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton and many others, volunteers across the backyard of Christ Lutheran Church created, baked and delivered homemade wood-fired pizzas to an appreciative crowd. Randy and I were among those attending the last of the summer Holy Smoke concert series and pizza nights Wednesday at the church on the hill on Faribault’s east side.

The roadside sign posted along Minnesota State Highway 60 by the driveway into Christ Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Old Country Brothers Gregg and Jeff Sartor perform on August 10. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Smoked brisket pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In its sixth year, Holy Smoke is about more than excellent thin crust pizza and music. This is also about a coming together of community on a perfect August evening in southeastern Minnesota. This is also about giving back. Proceeds from the three summer gatherings benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity and HOPE Center.

A themed t-shirt sported by a volunteer who paused to visit with attendees. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

A message printed on some volunteers’ t-shirts and on a bench dedicated to Pastor Craig and Carol Breimhorst (the pastor died of COVID-19; the first death in our county) references Isaiah 55:12, fitting Scripture for this hilltop church edged by trees and a sweeping lawn descending to Minnesota State Highway 60.

The menu posted just inside the front door, ticket table to the right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

There’s joy in that biblical reference just as there’s joy among those who make Holy Smoke happen. A ticket taker, whom I thanked, tapped her hand to her heart, showing me from whence her joy rises.

The pizza bakers at the wood-fired oven just outside the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Plenty of heat here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

An overview of the wood-fired oven system. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I found the same enthusiasm among the crew tending the wood-fired pizza oven. The heat flaming inside to 700-plus degrees made the work station at times uncomfortably hot. But they forged on, baking pizzas.

Volunteers assemble pizzas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Chicken bacon ranch pizza ready for the wood-fired oven. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Inside the fellowship hall, other volunteers layered sliced tomatoes, meat toppings, cheese and more onto rounds of dough.

The busy kitchen crew. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the kitchen, three women worked, two doing dishes, the third snipping chives.

When we arrived at around 5:45 pm to find the parking lot overflowing, I thought the wait would be long. It wasn’t. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Still others rolled pizza cutters across pizzas hot from the oven, pizzas ready for more volunteers to carry to hungry customers. The wait time is short, especially if you order a quarter of a pie.

Attendees spread out across the backyard to listen to Old Country Brothers and to enjoy pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

From my observations, the entire pizza-making and delivery process runs smoothly. Everywhere I saw smiles. Smiles on the faces of volunteers, beginning with the greeter who met us at the door. And smiles among those eating pizza and enjoying the music of Gregg and Jeff Sartor. I felt the joy.

Kids blew and caught bubbles, ran free… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Families and friends gather at Holy Smoke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Kids roll down the steep hillside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Holy Smoke is an event for all ages, from kids blowing bubbles, rolling down the hillside, running across the lawn and climbing on rocks ringing a tree to older folks relaxing in lawn chairs.

There is some on-site seating. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This is a mostly bring-your-own chairs, own napkins (I’d also advise paper plates, wet wipes and a portable side table) event, although limited picnic table space is available.

Connecting in conversation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Mostly, Holy Smoke seems about community. About connecting. About conversations. About supportive businesses. About joy.

Printed on a t-shirt worn by a pizza baker. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the loveliness of the summer evening, I heard the hills sing. I heard the trees clap. And I tasted some “holy smoke, this is good” smoked brisket pizza.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

International Owl Center auctions more owl art to help Ukrainian kids June 22, 2022

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center helps visitors find the building in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

ITS MISSION SEEMS BASIC: Making the world a better place for owls through education. That’s an expected goal of the International Owl Center based in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Houston.

One of the center’s live owls, photographed during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

But this nonprofit has spread its wings to make life better for the children of Ukraine. How? By raising monies through online auctions of owl art with proceeds benefiting United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to help Ukrainian children.

Promo for the current art auction. (Source: International Owl Center)

The fourth Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids opens at 6 am Wednesday, June 22, and closes on Sunday, June 26. All 48 original art pieces were created through the years by Ukrainian children for the International Kids’ Owl Art Contest and are in the Owl Center collection. The current auction also features one piece of art by a teacher.

Three online auctions of owl art earlier this year, sales of gift card sets and donations have already raised $225,000 for UNICEF relief in Ukraine. Bids reached as high as $8,005 for a single piece of original artwork. A fifth auction is set for August 10-14. Total fundraising goal is $400,000.

Owl art, from all over the world, decorated the Owl Center walls during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

I’m beyond impressed by the ambition of the Owl Center and by the generosity of bidders. And I’m beyond impressed by the talent of these Ukrainian artists who range from preschool age to 18-years-old.

Because most individuals can’t afford to bid hundreds or thousands of dollars on artwork, even if donated to a worthy cause, the Owl Center offers options. The auction includes limited edition prints priced at $100. Those are limited to 25 prints each of four different owl artworks. Note that those prints sell out quickly. Additionally, the online auction site accepts direct donations to UNICEF.

The Center plans to also re-offer sets of 20 blank owl art greeting cards during the International Owl Awareness Day weekend August 5-8. Those must be purchased in-person at the center with any remaining card sets then sold in the Center’s online store.

The International Owl Center in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

As the war in Ukraine continues, media coverage has lessened, replaced by other top news stories. But that doesn’t diminish the pain, the suffering, the fear, the terror, the hunger, the displacement, the destruction, the death…that remain very real for the people of Ukraine. I am thankful that the International Owl Center has partnered with the Houston Area Community Foundation to aid Ukrainian kids. Via these fundraisers, this Minnesota community of 1,040 is offering help, and hope.

FYI: To reach the auction website, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Holy smoke, time for music & pizza June 7, 2022

The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience at a past Holy Smoke concert. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2017)

TIS THE SEASON for outdoor local summer events and gatherings that feature music and/or food.

Christ Lutheran Church, the church on the hill along State Highway 60 on the east side of Faribault, kicks off its Holy Smoke Pizza Ministry this Wednesday, June 8, from 5-8:30 pm. If you live in the Faribault area, this is a must-attend event for the homemade pizza and the music.

I’ve attended numerous times. The pizza, made in an outdoor oven, is savory/delicious/just darned good. I’d recommend the BBQ brisket. Be prepared to wait. And also come prepared with lawn chairs or blankets as picnic table seating is limited.

A photo of pizza from Grandview Valley Winery, used here for illustration only. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

Whole pizzas, in assorted varieties, cost $22. Quarters are also available for $7. All proceeds benefit local charities, this summer Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota, HOPE Center and Rice County Habitat for Humanity.

While the pizza is certainly a draw, so is the music. This week Relativity, a group featuring a vocalist and instrumentalists on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, performs current top 40 songs to classic and folk rock. The trio includes fiddler/mandolin player Mike Hildebrandt, an inductee into the Minnesota Rock & Country Music Hall of Fame.

The steeple of Christ Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2017)

Holy Smoke is not just about music and pizza and giving back to the community. It’s also about gathering with others in a beautiful backyard type setting on a summer evening. It’s a good time to catch up with friends and/or make new friends. Note, though, that anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with anyone who has tested positive in the past 14 days and is not fully-vaccinated should NOT attend. I am thankful for that safety measure. The first person to die of complications related to COVID-19 in my county of Rice was the Rev. Craig Breimhorst, retired pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. He died in April 2020 after returning from a trip to the Holy Land.

If you can’t make this week’s Holy Smoke, two other Wednesday concert-pizza nights will be held. On July 13, Todd Finney performs and on August 10, Old Country Brothers.

A view of St. John’s at a 2016 car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2016)

There’s another concert in the area at 7 pm on Wednesday, June 8, that is also worth your consideration. St. John’s United Church of Christ Wheeling Township (near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park) is hosting a summer evening of outdoor worship featuring the music ministry of 29:11 International Exchange. That group is based in Minnesota and South Africa. Its mission is to “facilitate hope and reconciliation through music, cross-cultural relationships and individual artist development…by recognizing that each of us is worthy of understanding and love, we can bridge the ideological, racial and socio-economic gaps that divide us and live together as citizens of the world.” Again, bring lawn chairs or blankets.

I feel grateful to both St. John’s and Christ Lutheran for hosting these outdoor community-focused summer events which benefit attendees and beyond.

TELL ME: Is there a similar event in your community that you try to attend each summer?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you love books…here’s your sale May 21, 2022

Books I selected from the AAUW’s “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IF YOU LOVE BOOKS and live in the Faribault area, you have four more days to shop for used books during the local American Association of University Women’s annual sale at the Faribo West Mall.

After a break due to COVID, the sale is back. Just a note, though, that Rice County is currently experiencing a medium level of community transmission of the virus. That’s a change from the high transmission level we’ve been in for a few weeks.

But back to those books. As someone who loves to read and who appreciates books sold at a bargain price, this sale is a must shop. Mostly, I read books I get through the library. There’s always a stack in my house. Books I own also line shelves in my living room. There’s something about owning a book. I had so few when I was a child and longed for a library in my hometown.

Minnesota poet Robert Bly autographed this copy of “The Voices.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yes, I’m drawn to books and I’ve found some treasures through the years at the AAUW Faribault Chapter’s Book Sale. The last treasured discovery was a slim volume of poetry, The Voices by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly. It’s a limited first edition copy, #14 of 50, autographed by Bly, a well-known Minnesota poet who died last November.

I found this vintage (perhaps 1960s) booklet at a past AAUW Book Sale. I love the graphics. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2016)

I’m also drawn to “Minnesota” books, whether about Minnesota or written by Minnesotans.

Science fiction books my son bought at the 2011 AAUW Book Sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2011)

When my son was in high school, he’d accompany me to the AAUW sale, hauling home bags of science fiction and fantasy titles.

This year I’ll search for books that interest my grandchildren, ages three and six. And I expect I will find other books that interest me or someone I know. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt, this filing through donated used books packed on tables and sometimes in boxes.

Proceeds from the sale also enable the AAUW to offer scholarships and other programs locally. There are other benefits, like keeping books out of the landfill by recycling them, encouraging reading, making books accessible and affordable…

Here are the remaining sale hours:

Saturday, May 21, 10 am–5 pm

Sunday, May 22, noon–5 pm

Monday, May 23, 4-7 pm ($8 bag sale)

Tuesday, May 24, 4-7 pm (books are FREE)

TELL ME: Do you shop used book sales? If yes, what treasures have you found?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Archer House, once brick strong April 29, 2022

The Archer House River Inn in Northfield, following a devastating November 2020 fire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

ONCE UPON A TIME, three little pigs built three houses from assorted materials in an effort to keep the Big Bad Wolf from gaining entry. They soon discovered that houses constructed of straw and of sticks were easily blown over by a huffing, puffing, determined wolf. But, oh, the last house—the one built of bricks—stood strong. When the wolf attempted to gain entry through the chimney, he fell into a kettle of boiling water and that was the end of him. The pigs had anticipated his plan when they started a roaring fire in the hearth.

The fire began here, in the Smoqe House. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)
Shortly after the fire, the front entry to the historic Archer House River Inn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)
The fenced lot where the Archer House River Inn once stood in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

In real life, stories involving fire typically don’t end fabulously either. Such is the story of the historic 1877 Archer House River Inn. Today only a fenced, vacant lot marks the location of this iconic downtown Northfield landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. A November 2020 fire, which started in a commercial smoker inside Smoqehouse (a BBQ restaurant), resulted in the eventual total loss of the brick building. Water and weather, along with the original fire, took their toll. Portions of the structure eventually collapsed as time lapsed.

Much of the sprawling building complex remained following the initial fire. But, in the end, it couldn’t be saved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

For the community of Northfield, losing the Archer House was about more than losing a building which housed a riverside inn, restaurants and shops. It was about losing a lovely sprawling space that anchored the downtown along Division Street. The Archer House was the place of stories, of history, of memories. And so much more.

Debris from the Archer House inside the fenced lot. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Now bricks salvaged from the Archer House will be sold to benefit the Northfield Historical Society. The Archer House Brick Sale happens from 9 am – 4 pm Saturday, April 30, at the NHS Museum Store. That’s located just across from Bridge Square, a community gathering spot downtown by the Cannon River, and just blocks from the fenced Archer House lot.

A side view of the former Archer House site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo February 2022)

Since this is a fundraiser that also allows access to a bit of history, the bricks are priced accordingly. Half a brick will cost $10. A complete brick, $20. Discounts are offered with three bricks for $50 and seven bricks for $100. A trailer load of bricks will be sold, the size of that trailer not noted.

The exterior of the Northfield Historical Society, 408 Division Street, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

In the end, there’s a bit of good in such immense community loss. Monies from the brick sale will go toward preservation of the Scriver Building, which houses the historical society. It was formerly the First National Bank, where the James-Younger Gang failed in an attempted bank robbery in September 1876.

Photographed from the library across the street shortly after the fire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

There’s a sequel to this tragic fire tale. Rebound Partners, the Northfield firm which owned the Archer House, plans to rebuild. Rebound promises to honor the history and riverside location in a mixed use building. It will never be the same as the historic Archer House. But Rebound’s past projects show their respect for history and for community. And that says a lot. The Big Bad Wolf, as in the story of The Three Little Pigs, cannot destroy a building built of bricks, at least not in memory and in history.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From $221K for Ukrainian kids to top film awards April 5, 2022

The promo for the final owl art auction. (Source: International Owl Center Facebook page)

IN THE MIDST OF WAR and pandemic, inflation and everyday struggles, I want to pause and focus on two recent bits of good news. One comes from the tiny town of Houston in southern Minnesota. The other comes from the glitz and glamour of the entertainment world. Two complete opposites, yet notable in how important each is in this vast connected world of ours.

Let’s start with Houston, where the International Owl Center just concluded its third online “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids.” The final auction of art created by Ukrainian youth for the center’s annual International Kids’ Owl Art Contest raised $48,893 for UNICEF, designated specifically for kids in Ukraine.

All three auctions raised a whopping $221,353. That’s an incredible amount generated from the sale of 190 pieces of original owl art, limited edition prints and direct donations. The giving spirit of those wanting to help youth in war-town Ukraine stretched well beyond Houston, population around 1,000, to a wide world of caring and generous souls. I am heartened by this show of love and support.

And I am heartened to read on the Owl Center Facebook page that staff connected with some of the young artists and learned that they have fled Ukraine with their families and are safe.

Promo for “Summer of Soul” from the “Summer of Soul” Facebook page.

Now the other bit of positive news has nothing to do with war, but rather with film and music. The documentary, “Summer of Soul,” just won the 2022 Grammy Awards Best Music Film. And a week earlier, it landed an Oscar for the Best Documentary Feature.

Generally, I pay no attention to these awards because, well, they don’t interest me. That’s not to diminish the hard work of these artists because their creativity enriches our lives and world. But I cared about “Summer of Soul” Oscar and Grammy nominations after watching a public television airing of the documentary by filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. His film focused on the Harlem Cultural Festival in the summer of 1969. Six concerts over six weeks brought 300,000-plus people together in Harlem to celebrate the Black culture, specifically music. Performers included the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips… But Thompson’s film was about more than the music. It was about the issues facing Black people, highlighted in interviews woven into concert footage. Many of these same issues remain today.

There’s more to this story. Although produced 53 years ago, “Summer of Soul” was only recently released. In promos for the film, it’s titled as “Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” on ABC. I encourage you to view this enlightening documentary. Experience the music, the culture. And then reflect. For in opening our hearts and minds, we expand our understanding of each other in a world that needs to connect and care.

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

To the creatives behind “Summer of Soul” and to the creatives behind the “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids,” thank you for sharing your talent and for your generosity of spirit. I am grateful.

FYI: The International Owl Center is taking a pause from its “Ukrainian Art for Ukrainian Kids” auctions to prepare for the International Festival of Owls April 30 – May 1. I will update you if/when more fundraisers happen. Or check the International Owl Center Facebook page to stay posted.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Third owl art auction underway to help Ukrainian youth April 1, 2022

From left to right, owl art created by Adelina, 14; Dasha, 10; Kamila, 10; and Maria, 14. (Promo source: The International Owl Center Facebook page)

IT IS AN INCREDIBLY uplifting story in a time when we need positive news. Chapter three in the story of “Ukrainian Art for Ukrainian Kids” continues to write hope into my days and restores my confidence in the goodness of humanity.

Yesterday the International Owl Center in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Houston opened its third online auction of art created by youth in Ukraine. Proceeds from that art and direct donations will go to UNICEF for kids in Ukraine. Thus far, the Owl Center has raised $172,091 with a $250,000 goal by auction’s end at 8 pm (CST) on Sunday, April 3.

That’s a phenomenal amount of money generated already from the sale of art created through the years for the International Kids’ Owl Art Contest. When war broke out in Ukraine, Owl Center staff pulled all of the Ukrainian student art from its collection, partnered with the Houston Area Community Foundation and worked with volunteer Jayne Overstreet to set up an online auction series.

While the ultimate goal is to raise monies to help youth in war-torn Ukraine, the hope is also to establish a sense of connection with those young artists. Most attended schools in eastern Ukraine.

This particular auction features 57 pieces of 12×16-inch original owl art, 15 large format 16×23-inch originals and limited edition prints of three pieces. Direct donations to the project can also be made. Please consider bidding on art or donating to help these dear young artists of Ukraine.

FYI: Click here to reach the auction site.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Second owl art auction benefiting Ukrainian kids closes Sunday March 25, 2022

Promo for the second “Ukrainian Art for Ukrainian Kids” auction. The art featured here was created, left to right, by Marina, 17; Liliia, 8; Oleksandra, 12; and Mudraya, 8. (Source: International Owl Center Facebook page)

THEY ARE THE CHILDREN of Ukraine: Zvereva, Marina, Andrii, Oleg, Liliia, Muras, Ekaterina, Maxim, Oleksandra, Miroslava, Yulia, Mudraya, Vira, Kamila, Dmytrus…and so many others.

These names we know because they are among 59 youth whose art is being auctioned off by the International Owl Center in Houston. That Minnesota-based nonprofit is hosting its second “Ukrainian Art for Ukrainian Kids” online auction to benefit UNICEF. All monies directed to that United Nations organization will go directly to Ukrainian children.

Bidding for the art submitted through the years to the annual International Kids’ Owl Art Contest opened on Wednesday and closes at 8 pm (CST) Sunday, March 27. The 12×16-inch pieces of original artwork created by youth ages 4 to 17 range from imaginatively colorful to realistic renditions of owls.

Additionally, the Owl Center is creating a limited number of reproductions with 25 limited edition prints from each of three artists available for $100/each. All 75 of those prints have sold out. (Sorry.)

The center is also planning to print a set of 20 blank greeting cards from selected Ukrainian owl art with those sale proceeds going to UNICEF, too. (I’ll keep you informed.)

In the first online art auction, winning bids spanned $425-$8,005. That auction, plus separate donations, yielded $100,152 for UNICEF. That’s a remarkable result for this small town Owl Center which determined it wanted, and had a way, to help Ukrainian youth.

A third auction will conclude the series. (I’ll let you know when that launches.)

I feel such gratitude to the Owl Center; to the community of Houston, Minnesota, population 1,000; and to the generous bidders and donors. But I am especially grateful to those young Ukrainian artists for creating owl art which is now helping their peers, or perhaps even themselves. That’s the hard part, the wondering whether these children/pre-teens/teens are safe, OK, coping…as they deal with the realities and traumas of war.

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FYI: To reach the online auction, click here. To reach the Owl Center Facebook page, click here. The Facebook page includes a map of Ukraine marking the places where these young artists lived when they submitted their owl art to the International Owl Center.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

International Owl Center in Minnesota raises $100K for Ukrainian kids March 22, 2022

Promo for the first auction, now closed. The art here is from left to right by Sofia, 15, sold for $1,750; by Polina, 9, sold for $2,250; by Maksim, 5, sold for $2,300; and by Anna, 15, sold for $7,660. (Source: International Owl Center Facebook page)

IN A SMALL TOWN of some 1,000 in the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota, a nonprofit is doing its part to help the children of Ukraine. In a big way.

“We are utterly blown away!!!!!” That’s the publicly posted reaction to the $100,052 raised through an online auction of Ukrainian youth art from the International Owl Center in Houston. Minnesota. Not Texas. The monies will go to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for the children of Ukraine.

Winning bids for the 59 pieces of owl art by Ukrainian children and teens, accumulated through the years for the center’s annual International Children’s OWL Art Contest, ranged from $425-$8,005. The highest bid was placed on the snowy owl art of 14-year-old Sofia. Two other works of art drew nearly as much—15-year-old Anna’s realistic owl family ($7,660) and 9-year-old Anna’s yellow and blue owls perched on a branch against a star-studded sky ($7,505). Nine other pieces were purchased for more than $2,000 each.

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE

Regardless of purchase price, all 59 works of art are valued as “priceless” by the Owl Center, a nonprofit with a mission “to make the world a better place for owls through education and research.”

That mission has temporarily expanded to better the lives of Ukrainian youth in the war-ravaged country of Ukraine via the center’s “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids.” The initial five-day auction is the first of three. The second art auction opens at 8 am (CST) Wednesday, March 23, and closes at 8 pm (CST) Sunday, March 27. The Owl Center also plans to keep some of the remaining 200-plus pieces of Ukrainian kids’ art in their permanent collection.

Owl art, by youth from all over the world, decorates the center’s walls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

WITH GRATITUDE & CONCERN

Reaction to the first auction has been one of incredible gratitude for the generosity of bidders and those who donated via the donate monies option to reach that $100,052 total. Some $95,000 of that, according to my tally, came from the art sales. Commenters on the Owl Center’s Facebook page praise the artwork and also express their concern for the Ukrainian children. “I hope she (Sofia) is safe. Her owl is beautiful,” writes Dori.

“This is amazing. I hope each artist is safe,” Deb comments.

And Linda summarizes, “Well done! May all these artists be held (in) care and protection.”

Gina also writes: “I think what you are doing to help the children of Ukraine is amazing. Thank you for your every day work with the owls and for this extraordinary act of giving.”

I, too, am impressed by the reaction to this auction in the enthusiasm and the generous bids. In a time when many of us feel helpless, this is one way to help youth like Karelina, Maksim, Polina, Anna, Nastya, Alia, Sofia, Veronika, Olga…

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

MORE PLANNED

The Owl Center is doing even more. Plans are underway to print a set of 20 blank greeting cards from selected art created by Ukrainian youth. The public is invited to help select the art. Again, proceeds from that will go to UNICEF for the children of Ukraine.

Additionally, Ukrainian kids’ art is featured on three street banners hanging in Houston.

Although I don’t have the financial means to buy any of the art, I can support this project via writing about it. And I expect those owl cards will fit my budget. Mostly, my heart overflows with gratitude to the International Owl Center for organizing this art auction, for reaching beyond the borders of their small Minnesota community to make a difference internationally in the lives of children in Ukraine.

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FYI: The Owl Center hosts the International Festival of Owls April 30 – May 1. To learn more about the center, click here. Also check out the center’s Facebook page for current auction info. Please spread the word about the art auction. The link for all of the auctions will remain the same with the listing updated when each auction opens.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Owl center auctions art by Ukrainian kids to benefit youth in war-torn country March 18, 2022

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

SOME 5,000 MILES FROM UKRAINE, in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Houston, the International Owl Center is doing its part to help the children of this war-ravaged European country. And they’re accomplishing that through children’s art.

Promo from The International Owl Center Facebook page.

The center is auctioning original art by children from Ukraine—art submitted through the years to the annual International Children’s OWL Art Contest. Proceeds from the “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids” will go to UNICEF’s efforts to bring relief to the children of Ukraine, according to the auction website.

Owl art from all over the world decorated the center’s walls when I visited in November 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

The current auction features 59 pieces of art by children like Polina, Anna, Alexandra, Sofia, Vladyslav, Olga, Maksim, Yelyzareta…ranging in age from five to 17. The art varies from boldly colorful interpretations of owls to realistic.

The Owl Center is home to resident owls. I photographed this one in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

I encourage you to click here, shop the art and purchase a piece (s) if you are so inclined and/or able. Bids are pushing over $100, well into the hundreds of dollars. When I scrolled through the art Thursday afternoon, owl art by 5-year-old Maksim and 10-year-old Karelina each had bids of $510. Bids already totaled $11,500.

This auction marks the first in several. Bidding on this group of 59 original pieces of owl art by Ukrainian children closes at 8 pm on Sunday, March 20.

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center in downtown Houston during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

As you scroll through this art, do so slowly. Notice the details, like the single tear falling from the owl painted (#29) by Yana, 11. Or the hearts encircling 7-year-old Anna’s owl painting (#8). Or the adult owl sheltering a younger owl (#20) in 15-year-old Adelina’s creative art.

Think about the children and teens who created this art. Where are they now? Are they safe? Are they scared? Are they hungry? And, because this art was created through the years, are some of them now parents? Or perhaps young people now defending their country?

Appreciative students created these owl thank yous in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

Olexander, Katya, Daria, Viktoria, Yaroslava, Olesia, Lika…names mostly unfamiliar to us. That matters not. What matters today is that these names represent the children of Ukraine who need our help. And one way to help is to buy this original art from the collection at the International Owl Center in Houston, Minnesota, population not quite 1,000 and more than 5,000 miles from war-torn Ukraine.

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FYI: To read my 2015 post on the International Owl Center, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling