Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mary Welke’s art reconnects me to my rural roots March 8, 2022

Corn husks define Mary Welke’s mixed media on canvas, “Shucks.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I FELT CONNECTED, oh, so connected to Minneapolis artist Mary Welke’s art as I viewed her exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

The lower portion of “Roots” shadows on the gallery wall. These are dry corn roots. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Welke’s mixed media art is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It resonates with me, reconnecting me to my southwestern Minnesota prairie roots. To the farm. To the land. The place that shaped me as a person, writer and photographer.

Nature inspires Mary Welke as seen in these oversized mixed media art pieces. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

That I experienced such a strong emotional reaction is a credit to this artist, who grew up near the Mississippi River in northeast Minneapolis. Her childhood exploration of river and fields and time with her grandmother in a sprawling vegetable garden instilled an early appreciation of nature, which inspires her art.

“Autumn Yield” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Understanding that background explains how this urban resident came to create “Field and Farmland,” a project funded by a 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. She also did her homework—visiting, researching and documenting the prairie and meeting with farmers. The result is art reflecting the prairie, prescribed burns and farmland restoration.

“Spring/Summer Renewal” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

The incorporation of organic materials like soil, corn roots and leaves, other crop residue and more drew me into Welke’s art. I felt as if I was back on the farm, watching my dad turn the rich black soil toward the sun for spring planting. I felt, too, like I was walking the rows of a harvested corn field, the scent of autumn lingering in the prairie wind.

I didn’t note the title of this art featuring burlap and twine. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
So much texture in “After Harvest” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Corn husks up close in Mary Welke’s “Shucks.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Welke’s art is layered. Textured. It holds not only a visual depth, but a depth of connection to the land, to farming.

Mary Welke’s “Topographical Prairie Lands” scattered across a black surface. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

This is what I love about art. The ability to relate. To stand in a gallery and contemplate. Remember. Appreciate. And, with Welke’s work, especially, to feel rooted in the land.

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NOTE: Please check back for more posts on other exhibits currently at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Artists Mary Welke, Kate Langlais, Michael Stoecklein and Summer Heselton will participate in a Visual Artists Talk at 6:30 pm on Thursday, March 10. See the Paradise Center for the Arts Facebook page for more info. The art of all four will be on display at the Paradise through March 19.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Contrasts in art at the Owatonna Arts Center September 21, 2018

“It’s a Party!” yardage wall piece; both procion dyes and pigment paints all painted at the same time by Candy Kuehn.

 

I STOPPED AT THE OWATONNA ARTS CENTER specifically to view The Art of Friendship, an exhibit of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota. But I discovered also a second intriguing exhibit, Fabric Fascination by Minneapolis artist Candy Kuehn.

 

From the Big Brothers and Big Sisters exhibit, a simple drawing.

 

Kuehn’s “The Earth Winds,” nassen paste resist on silk charmeuse.

 

The two shows contrast—one a complex swirl of colors, the other much simpler in design.

 

Kuehn’s art extends into the OAC entry exhibit space.

 

One fills an entire gallery and down a hall to a second exhibit space.

 

The Big Brothers and Big Sisters artwork hangs in a hallway cove and around the corner along the hall.

 

The other tucks into and along a short hallway. Yet, whether the work of novices or a seasoned professional, whether many pieces or few, the art in each show deserves attention.

 

Garments and photo art created by Kuehn.

 

“Garden Plaid in Reds,” digitally-printed poly-chiffon by Kuehn drapes across a window, sunlight streaming through the print.

 

More of Kuehn’s art.

 

Kuehn, whose credentials include “a revered member and teacher at Minnesota’s Textile Center” and recipient of many awards in multiple art forms, impresses. As I meandered among the numerous pieces on display, I felt as if I was peering through a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting patterns and colors. The drape and seamless flow of fabric spoke poetry to me. I am not artistically knowledgeable enough to understand the processes of Kuehn’s work. But I see, enjoy and appreciate the creativity of an artist clearly passionate about creating art.

 

Yet more of Kuehn’s signature wearable art.

 

The public can learn more at a presentation and free (but must pre-register) Fascination workshop beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 23, at the Owatonna Arts Center. Attendees will transform plain headbands with decorative items.

 

 

 

 

 

Down the hall from Kuehn’s exhibit, the art of youth and their mentors highlights the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. In the artwork, I see friendships forged, joy in bold colors, the authenticity of an artist in handprinted block letters. I especially like the featured quote: Art is everywhere—even in the simplest of friendships.

 

Fitting for the season, art from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters exhibit.

 

Art truly exists everywhere, if we choose to see it. And I, for one, see it—in simple lines drawn by a child, in complex patterns created by a professional artist and now, in this season of autumn, outdoors in the landscape of the land.

TELL ME: Where do you see art?

FYI: If you want to see these exhibits, stop at the OAC soon. They close on September 26 and 30.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The visual delight of Layl McDill’s clay sculptures comes to Faribault March 23, 2018

Details in Layl McDill’s “Color Overload” sculpture.

 

AS A CHILD, I FOUND dime store kaleidoscopes particularly fascinating. I appreciated how a simple turn of the tube could change the colors, the shapes, the images I saw.

 

More details in McDill’s art.

 

A certain sense of magic and mystery and wonderment appeared through the eye hole. Art. Vivid. Fluid. And always beautiful.

 

An overview of some sculptures in McDill’s exhibit in Faribault.

 

Those memories flowed as I viewed Minneapolis artist Layl McDill’s polymer clay sculptures now on exhibit in the Carlander Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

 

“No one knew she was such a Deep Thinker” by Layl McDill.

 

McDill’s art is colorful and whimsical, a visual delight. I’ve never seen anything like it in a gallery. I couldn’t stop looking at the many pieces, wondering, How did she do that? And that must have taken her forever.

 

 

I thought of those kaleidoscopes. But I thought, too, of Play Doh and how much fun I had rolling, squashing and crafting that product as a child and mom. I expect McDill feels that same joy in creating her clay sculptures.

 

“Ape Thought he was in Control of the Trees” by Layl McDill.

 

There’s so much to study within each piece. It would take hours to truly see everything.

 

Layl McDill’s “Bird’s Little Library Teapot.”

 

I’d suggest you take the time to visit McDill’s exhibit, to escape into her fantasy world of art. Or take a class she is teaching on Thursday, April 26, at the Paradise. Or book a clay party.

 

“Wonderment Whale” by Layl McDill.

 

We all need the distraction of art to sidetrack our minds, to bring us joy, to stretch our creativity. McDill brings all of that in her art.

 

FYI: Layl McDill’s exhibit at the Paradise closes on April 21. Click here for more information.

Also read my previous post on the Student Exhibition currently showing at the Paradise, 321 Central Avenue N., Faribault. Click here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Red carpet treatment for Faribault artists January 15, 2011

A replica marquee on the historic Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault welcomes guests to the opening night gallery reception for Rhody Yule and Adam Kuehnel.

Rhody Yule & Adam Kuehnel

FARIBAULT FIGURATIVELY rolled out the red carpet last night for two local artists.

I’m thrilled with the receptions given to watercolor artist Adam Kuehnel and my friend, oil painter Rhody Yule, at the Paradise Center for the Arts on opening night of their exhibits. I’m not good at numbers, but I’m certain more than 100 guests, maybe closer to 150, attended Friday evening’s event. That’s an exceptional turn-out.

Adam opened his “Founded Upon the Waters: A Collection of Works.”

Rhody opened his “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection.”

I met Adam for the first time last night and was impressed by this friendly young man who teaches English in nearby Kenyon, has an architecture degree and paints for enjoyment.

I’ve known Rhody for about 1 ½ years, after discovering him via art hung on the side of his rural Faribault garage. Rhody, like Adam, possesses a passion for painting.

To see the two artists together last night warmed my heart. Rhody is 92 and has been painting for 76 years. Adam is exactly 60 years his junior and just beginning his artistic pursuit.

This first-ever gallery show is a long overdue honor for Rhody. It was clear to me from the way guests embraced him and his art last night that they loved what they saw. Every time I glanced over at Rhody, seated just inside the gallery in a comfy chair, someone was bending down to talk to him, to shake his hand, to praise his art.

Rhody, minutes before his gallery show opened.

This photo shows only a portion of the 50-plus paintings in Rhody's exhibit.

I heard the artwork praises, too—from the woman who was surprised at the excellent quality of the art created by this self-taught artist, for Rhody’s ability to paint a variety of subjects from portraits to landscapes to religious works and even a few abstracts, for the way in which he painted well-known religious scenes with a unique perspective, for the…

Among my favorites paintings are Rhody's 1989 self-portrait and the portrait of his wife, Shirley, who died in the spring of 2010.

Rhody and me

I heard praises, too, from those who thanked me for “finding” Rhody. Really, anyone could have “found” him. I just took the time to stop and meet the man who had hung celebrity portraits on his garage.

Because I’m snoopy/nosy/curious—I used all three words last night in explaining how I “found” Rhody—I learned that Rhody’s art had never been publicly exhibited. I decided to change that.

But this show did not happen solely because of me. I made that abundantly clear to all who approached me at last night’s opening reception. This became a team effort. “Team Rhody,” as we begin to call ourselves, worked together to bring “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” to The Carlander Family Gallery.

So, thank you, first of all, to my husband, Randy, for his enthusiastic support and help. Thank you, also, to these Team Rhody members: Bob and Kathi, Dennis and Kathy, Jean, Marian, Mary Ellen, Amy, and the Paradise Center for the Arts Gallery Committee, especially Julie and Deb.

Finally, thank you to all who attended the opening night reception and gave Rhody the red carpet treatment. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

FYI: Rhody and Adam’s shows continue through February 26 at the PCA, 321 Central Avenue North in downtown Faribault. You can view the exhibits Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. or on Saturday from noon until 5 p.m.

Food artists Kathy and Mary Ellen led efforts to pull together a beautiful buffet table for the reception.

Rhody painted this military runway in Nome, Alaska, when he was stationed there during WW II. The scene is painted on an old piece of military tent canvas. To the left is one of two abstracts in the exhibit.

Visitors peruse Rhody's religious paintings.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling