Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Oh, the joy of the unexpected in a Minnesota arts center March 24, 2021

Jimmy Reagan’s art splashes across a tote and backpack for sale in a New Ulm arts center gift shop.

IT WAS THE VIVID COLORS which first caught my eye inside The Grand Artisan Gift Shop in downtown New Ulm. Bold hues flashed, accented by strong lines of color, as if the artist had pulled every crayon from a box of crayons and dashed them across the canvas.

Backpacks feature Jimmy Reagan’s colorful art.

This is the work of Jimmy Reagan, a 27-year-old St. Paul artist influenced by the likes of Picasso and van Gogh. His art graces backpacks, totes, sweatshirts in this gift shop on the first floor of The Grand Center for Arts & Culture. You’ll find a wide selection of art from other creatives here also.

Reagan’s work “offers him a means to illustrate his perspective of the world,” according to a promotional bio I picked up in the gift shop. This young man views life through the lens of autism. He was diagnosed with complex autism as a toddler.

These sweatshirts, with Jimmy’s signature “tick marks” (left), hang in the entrance to The Grand Kabaret, an entertainment space in The Grand.

Since 2009, he has created art and is internationally-recognized. I admire Reagan, who rose to the challenges of his autism to express himself and to communicate. Strong colors, simple images and signature “tick marks” (those short dashes of color) define his art. I, for one, am a fan.

The colorful bathroom with the canvas for chalk art above.

I’m also a fan of the public restroom on the second floor of The Grand. It’s not often I write about or photograph restrooms, although two photos I took of “The View from Our Window: Grant Wood in Iowa” rest area along I-380 northbound near Cedar Rapids published in the book, Midwest Architecture Journeys, edited by Zach Mortice and printed by Belt Publishing.

A sampling of the temporary art.

The Grand restroom in New Ulm is not artist-themed, but rather an artistic canvas for anyone who steps inside. The lime green walls first caught my eye as I walked past the bathroom. (As a teen, my bedroom was painted a similar lime green.) And then I noticed the chalk art above the tile and thought, what a great idea. Maybe it’s nothing novel for a public bathroom. But it was to me. And, although I didn’t pick up chalk and add to the black canvas, I photographed it. And that, too, is art.

Check back for more photos from downtown New Ulm.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Focus on Minnesota Nice (Enough) October 19, 2020

Stickers span generations. Here my granddaughter, then two, looks at her Poppy stickers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2018.

WHEN MY GIRLS, now in their early 30s, were growing up, sticker books were all the rage. They filled mini books with stickers. Peel stickers from sheets of glossy paper and adhere them to blank pages. Horses. Kitties. And much more. Cute and bold Lisa Frank designs mostly in a vivid rainbow of hues, strong on pinks and purples.

Park and other stickers grace the window of a 1959 Edsel Village Wagon at a Faribault Car Cruise Night, proving that even adults value stickers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

My daughters loved paging through their sticker books. Stickers still hold universal appeal. For all ages. (The stickers of my era were lick-and-stick to scenes printed on pages of a sticker book.)

That segues to Minnesota Nice Enough, a Nisswa-based company that crafts weatherproof vinyl stickers that are not your kids’ mass-produced outsourced stickers. These are promoted as “made by real people who care about quality, art, beer, bicycles & dogs.” Now that appeals to me.

Babe the Blue Ox sculpture in Nisswa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2017.

I first learned about this company during a September visit to Nisswa, a small tourist town located in Minnesota’s central lakes region. Randy and I were in the area, staying at a family member’s guest lake cabin. One day, we ventured into nearby Nisswa to check out the many shops that define this town. Those businesses include Zaiser’s Gift Shop, billing itself as “serving the Nisswa lakes area since 1947 with the most kick-ass products this side of the Milky Way!”

Small grassroots shops line downtown Nisswa.

Already I like this business. Humor and creativity rate high with me. And Biff Ulm, MN Nice Enough creative head who also owns the family retail boutique, obviously possesses both. One need only scroll through the sticker offerings (also sold on etsy) to confirm that. (The business also sells mugs.)

Paul Bunyan, carved into a totem pole at the Totem Pole shop in Nisswa.

Many stickers feature a decidedly northwoods Minnesota theme with buffalo plaid, Paul Bunyan, moose, pines, loons, canoes… Others highlight Minnesotans’ idiosyncrasies like calling pop “pop,” not soda. And calling hotdish “hotdish,” not casserole. And, as promised, beer gets some love in several stickers, including Minnesota and Wisconsin-shaped beer mugs. Yes, Wisconsin also gets lots of love from Minnesota Nice Enough. And, yes, you can purchase a Minnesota Nice Enough sticker, too.

The sticker that initially grabbed my attention.

But it was the oversized ALL WELCOME sticker in the front window of Zaiser’s that first grabbed my attention and led me to learn more about Minnesota Nice Enough (which also features products for adult, not kids’, eyes). That spotlight sticker proclaims that all are welcome. All cultures, beliefs, colors, sizes, ages and identities. And at a time when our nation is so divided, so filled with animosity toward one another, I appreciate this message. It gives me hope, uplifts and encourages me. Thank you, Minnesota Nice Enough.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Warming heads, hands & hearts in Faribault January 29, 2020

Photographed just days ago outside The Nook and Cranny, Faribault.


OUTSIDE THE FORMER St. Lawrence Church, where parishioners once ascended steps to front doors opening under a banner WELCOME sign, those in need find a warm welcome.





A handwritten sign invites them to take whatever they wish to stay warm. A hat. A scarf. Mittens. The winter neck, head and hand wear drapes benches and hangs clipped to clothesline rope.


A Little Free Library, left, also sits outside The Nook and Granny gift shop.


But this is much more than a give-away by The Nook and Cranny, the boutique/gift shop/craft center housed inside the former church. I view this as an act of kindness, care and compassion extended to my community.

Faribault is not a city of wealth. Rather, we are a primarily blue collar community, home to many immigrants, a place where people work hard and often struggle to make ends meet. But we are also a generous community—supportive of fundraisers, volunteering, giving to charities, helping our neighbors…



And here, in the deep of winter, one business located along one of Faribault’s busiest streets at 725 Second Avenue Northwest, reaches out, warming heads, hands and hearts. I can’t help but think that St. Lawrence, the patron saint of the poor, would be pleased.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Part II From Albert Lea: An unbelievable shop, Adams Originals October 28, 2015

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Adams Originals Shop, 238 S. Broadway Avenue, Albert Lea, Minnesota.

Adams Originals Shop, 238 S. Broadway Avenue, Albert Lea, Minnesota

THE CLUTTERED EXTERIOR tipped me off to what I would find inside Adams Originals Shop. Yet, I was not prepared. Not prepared for the mounds of merchandise heaped into this narrow building in historic downtown Albert Lea.

Dolls, dolls and more dolls. Everywhere.

Dolls, dolls and more dolls. Everywhere.

Adams Originals rates as truly original. I’ve never seen a store like it with thousands of dolls and other items crammed onto shelves, set on the floor and piled into every conceivable space.

Just inside the shop and looking toward the front door.

Just inside the shop and looking toward the front door.

Inside, I simply stood for a minute taking it all in, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of goods displayed along both sides of a single narrow aisle branching into nooks of merchandise.

A Lone Ranger poster for sale.

A Lone Ranger poster for sale.

Much more than dolls pack this shop.

Much more than dolls pack this shop.

A piece of merchandise showcased outside the store.

A piece of merchandise showcased outside the store.

You can’t meet another customer in here without sidling sideways. Even on a blustery Monday morning, shoppers stopped by to peruse the goods offered by Eloise and Jack Adams.

Eloise Adams

Eloise Adams

That’s Eloise, pronounced Eloyce, as in rhyming with Joyce. Eloise doesn’t correct mispronunciations of her name; it happens all too often. It doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s just honored that her dad named her and with the uncommon pronunciation he chose.

An example of the art Eloise creates with labels.

An example of the art Eloise creates with labels.

She is as unique as her store, exuding a peaceful calm in her soft-spoken voice and gentle manner. I don’t think you’ll meet a kinder soul. In just a few minutes of conversation, I already felt comfortably at home with this 78-year-old. She speaks with the blessedness of a saint, living her faith. She speaks with the cadence of a poet, her words thoughtful and rhythmic. She speaks with the passion of an artist, for she is an artist. She speaks with the love of a mother and a grandmother and a great grandmother. She is all of those.

Eloise pulled this portrait off the hook so she could read the note about the date it was gifted to someone. I don't recall details. But I do remember how Eloise lovingly noted the girl's beautiful blue eyes accented by her blue dress.

Eloise pulled this portrait off the hook so she could read the note about the date it was gifted to someone. I don’t recall details. But I do remember how Eloise lovingly noted the girl’s beautiful blue eyes accented by her blue dress.

In short, Eloise is passionate about life and people and celebrating each day. She didn’t tell me that. She didn’t need to. It shows.


Adams Originals, 5 doll close-up


Adams Originals, 8 doll close-ups


Adams Originals, 26 doll close-up 2


When I asked Eloise about her favorite doll, she politely refused to name one. That would be, she said, like asking her to choose which of her six children is her favorite. It can’t be done.

There's a whole section of Barbie dolls and Barbie stuff.

There’s a whole section of Barbie dolls and Barbie stuff.

Even Elvis is among the dolls.

Elvis has not left the building.

Lots and lots and lots of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls...

Lots and lots and lots of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls…

But she’ll share, when asked, how this whole doll collecting thing started. A friend collected dolls and, she said, you can’t hang around too long with a doll collector without getting hooked yourself. The dolls belonging to that friend, who died of cancer, are now housed in the Freeborn County Historical Society Museum after being showcased downtown for many years.

An example of Adams pottery, center, sits among other merchandise.

An example of Adams pottery, center, sits among other merchandise.

Although dolls dominate Adams Originals, this shop isn’t solely about dolls. Eloyce and her husband are also artists who produce stoneware pottery, much of it for churches. Chalices. That sort of functional pottery. But there’s decorative pottery, too, like sculpted lions or a dragon, made years ago for a dragon-loving son. Eloise noted that Jack’s shoulders are wearing out, curbing pottery throwing.

An example of Eloise's Eddie Cochran art.

An example of Eloise’s Eddie Cochran art.

Pressing Eloise, I learn that she is a Minnesota State University Mankato art major. Prints of her pen and ink art are scattered throughout her shop. She designs art for local celebrations like Big Island Rendezvous and Eddie Cochran Days and will custom create pieces for individual customers.

Second floor windows hint at what's inside the shop.

Second floor windows hint at what’s inside the shop.

Her work is exquisitely detailed. And, Eloise noted, she drew the building that now houses Adams Originals when it was still a bookstore. On the bookstore’s last day, she and Jack stopped by to thank the booksellers for being part of the Albert Lea business community. They learned then that a purchase agreement fell through. The couple needed more space for their business which had outgrown their home. So they bought the booksellers’ building.

Today, at nearly eighty years old, Eloise has no plans to retire. Why? She loves what she does. And that’s a good enough reason to stay in business.

Check back tomorrow to read the third installment in this series from Albert Lea. Click here to read my introductory post.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


At the Hjemkomst Center: A cultural melting pot of gifts November 19, 2012

The interior of the Hjemkomst, a replica Viking ship.

IMAGINE PACKING YOUR ENTIRE LIFE into a steamer trunk and sailing across a vast ocean into the unknown and a future that holds both fear and promise.

I cannot fathom this as I am neither an adventurer nor lover of water transportation. Nor would I desire to leave the familiarity of the only home I’d ever known, or loved ones behind.

To be an early immigrant to this country had to be difficult.

My ancestry is 100 percent German.

My own forefathers, both maternal and paternal, arrived here from Germany, making their way west to eventually settle in Minnesota.

A Swedish ( I think) gift shop doll.

Minnesota. Home to Swedes and Germans, Norwegians and Finns and Irish and Poles and Italians and…a whole melting pot of people in those early days of settlement. Today we might add Sudanese, Somali and Hispanic to the mix.

A gift shop doll labeled Solveig. Norwegian, I think.

So where am I going with this pondering?

In the center of the Hjemkomst Center, the mast area of the Hjemkomst ship dominates the roofline.

A visit to the Hjemkomst Center on the western border of Minnesota in the city of Moorhead, snugged against the Red River of the North, prompted all this thought about immigration. The center is, among other things, home to the Hjemkomst, a replica Viking ship constructed in northwestern Minnesota and then sailed from Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota, across the Atlantic Ocean to Norway in 1982. (Click here to read my post about the Hjemkomst.)

A Scandinavian painting on a plate in the gift shop.

It was the Hjemkomst Center Heritage Gift Shop which truly directed my thoughts toward immigration and celebrating the cultural diversity of our country. Here, in this store, you can purchase merchandise which connects to ethnicity.

A Viking helmet on display.

And because I have never traveled across the ocean, not any farther west than the eastern border of Wyoming, but as far east as New York with the Statue of Liberty within my view, shops like this allow me to experience snippets of other countries and cultures.

Hands down, I found this to be the most stunning piece of handcrafted art for sale in the Heritage Center Gift Shop. Bosnian immigrant Dzenan Becic carved this incredible cedar chest and other pieces sold in the gift shop. I tried to find more info online about this artist, but could not. His father, Izudin, is also a carver. These artists live either in Fargo or Moorhead.

I know. This museum gift shop does not hold the same meaning to those of you who are seasoned world travelers. But for me, a child of the land-locked prairie, such places hold a certain allure. I suppose it’s like reading a book. I can travel afar without actually ever boarding the ship.

More Becic carving in a wall shelf.

Just a cute little Viking I spotted for sale in the gift shop. May I call a Viking “cute?”


Even though, geographically, you’re in Moorhead, Minnesota, and not Fargo, North Dakota, when you’re at the Hjemkomst Center, you may still be interested in purchasing this Fargo native t-shirt.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling