Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Faribault: When graffiti overtakes nature & history May 6, 2021

A view of the Straight River and the railroad bridge crossing it, photographed from the footbridge. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

IF NOT FOR THE OFFENSIVE GRAFFITI, the natural setting would be particularly inviting. But obscene words and disturbing messages kept me from fully enjoying the trail leading from Faribault’s Teepee Tonka Park into River Bend Nature Center.

Along the trail from Teepee Tonka Park into River Bend Nature Center, I saw trees tagged with graffiti. Here I’m approaching the footbridge crossing the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Even trees were tagged with paint. That’s a first.

Randy looks over the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

On the footbridge which spans the Straight River, I found the most disturbing of accusations—J**** killed my mother. That shifted my already on-alert mode to what the h*** is going on in these woods? I read derogatory comments about Faribault. And I thought, why do those who hate this community so much stay here?

This marker on one end of the bridge remains unmarred. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I tried to overlook all that awful graffiti, but it was just too much to dismiss. I wouldn’t bring a child here, not one who can read anyway.

I expect there’s a story behind this beautiful railroad bridge over the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Yet, there’s much to see and appreciate here, if you look beyond the tagging, the offensive messages. Nature and history intertwine, leaving me with more questions than answers.

I felt tempted to climb these stairs, but didn’t have the energy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

A lengthy stairway climbs a hillside. Slabs of limestone and chunks of concrete—perhaps foundations of long ago buildings—cling to steep banks.

Graffiti mars the tunnel entrance. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And then there’s the tunnel. The 442-foot-long tunnel, which I refused to enter. One look at the graffiti at the entry, especially the rat art, and I knew, no way, would I walk through that former root cellar. So I photographed that space, editing out the obscenities (which proved nearly impossible).

A sign above the tunnel details its history. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And I photographed the sign above, which summarizes the history of this 1937 Works Progress Administration project. Workers hand dug the tunnel with picks, hauling the dirt and rocks away with wheelbarrows. Once complete, the tunnel served as a root cellar for the Minnesota School and Colony (later known as The Faribault State School and Hospital). The Teepee Tonka Tunnel once held 25-30 carloads of vegetables to feed the 2,300 residents and 350 employees. Most of those potatoes, carrots, beets, onions and cabbage were grown on the school farm.

Another snippet of the tunnel graffiti. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Now the history, the hard work, the humanity were dishonored by those who use this as a canvas for words and art that shouldn’t be here.

Trees tower over the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

All of this saddened me as I retraced my steps, watched as a young man walked along the railroad tracks, backpack strapped on, county music blaring. This should be a place of peace. Not only noise-wise, but also mentally. I pictured picnic tables near a footbridge devoid of menacing messages. I pictured a beautiful natural setting where I could bring my grandchildren. But, in reality, I understood that those tables would only be defaced, maybe even burned.

The beautiful Straight River, which winds past Teepee Tonka Park and River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This could be so much. A respite. Water and woods converging. River flowing with history. Images of men hard at work tunneling into a 60-foot high hill. I could envision all of that…the possibilities beyond that which I’d seen.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Boxcar art April 29, 2019

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WHENEVER I SEE BOXCAR ART, I wonder. I wonder about the artists, what inspires them, why they choose boxcars as their canvas.

 

 

Are they sending a message? Marking territory? Vandalizing?

 

 

And when do they paint?

 

 

So many questions pop into my mind as I lift my camera and aim the lens toward the mobile art. Where are these phantom artists who create these traveling galleries of art?

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mobile graffiti March 18, 2016

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Photographed on the campus of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

Photographed on the campus of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

THIS TIME OF YEAR, vehicles in Minnesota can get mighty filthy. Road spray films windows with grime. Mud kicks onto fenders.

And the graffiti artist sees opportunity on a mobile canvas.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Leaving my mark in a Hastings antique shop October 31, 2012

I’VE NEVER INKED my name onto a desktop, never etched my name into a picnic table nor my initials into the bark of a tree.

But I left my mark recently in a Hastings antique shop, because, well, I could.

I stood before the vintage Smith-Corona Floating Shift typewriter in The Emporium and pounded out this message: Minnesota Prairie Roots was here. Clack, clack, clack, clack… Twenty-nine times.

The message I left at The Emporium.

And I didn’t even make a typo, but felt a surge of Lutheran guilt at my self-centered promotion of my blog.

“Who would read this?” I wondered. “A customer? Management?”

Then, in an automatic reflex, I pulled my Canon EOS 20D camera to my eye and photographed the evidence. I would not make a good graffiti vandal.

However, from an artistic perspective, I fell in love with the photo—the simplicity of the image with its strong lines, its fuzzy quality (who says sharp focus is always best in photos?), its artsy quality and the red bands of ribbon and of words.

The gracious Emporium staff allowed me to photograph them.

So as to redeem myself for my self-indulgent infraction, I photographed the staff at the counter—they had no idea what I had typed onto that sheet of paper.

And just to make sure I’ve totally redeemed myself, I’m showing you several pieces of merchandise which particularly caught my eye on the second floor of this spacious, lovely and historic building.

Just loved this Fire King piece and this fruit. Should have bought it.

Artsy and lovely and beautiful.

I have no idea of the identity of this flaming orange-haired woman. I could think only of Cruella de Vil dressed for Halloween.

FYI: Click here to learn more about The Emporium, 213 East Second Street, Hastings, Minnesota.

The lovely architecture of The Emporium.

CLICK HERE TO READ a previous post from the Mississippi River town of Hastings, Minnesota, which brims with antique shops in its historic downtown.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Land of the FREE July 30, 2012

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Bridge graffiti along Minnesota Highway 28.

DO YOU EVER WONDER—because I do—how, when and why graffiti is spray painted onto bridges, buildings, boxcars and elsewhere?

Do these artists/vandals/rebels/criminals (choose the noun that fits) plot and then sneak, in the cover of darkness, to scrawl their messages and art upon these very public canvases?

Why?

Who are these defiers of rules?

Did they scribble with crayons on walls while growing up? Did they doodle in notebooks when they should have been doing homework? Are they reckless and wild or the girl/boy next door accepting a dare?

I’ve never known a graffiti artist, although I’d like to meet the one who block-letter-printed “FREE” on this train overpass along Minnesota State Highway 28 between Morris and Sauke Centre.

I’d ask him/her, “Why did you choose that word, ‘FREE?’”

Have you freed yourself from something? Have you set someone free? Or do you simply appreciate what it means to live in the land of the free?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling