Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A fitting quote as we heal from the baseball field shootings June 15, 2017

This plaque marks a baseball player sculpture at Memorial Park in Dundas, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

THREE YEARS AGO I photographed a plaque at Memorial Park Baseball Field in Dundas. It marks a woodcarving of a Dundas Dukes baseball player.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Today, the day after the shooting of House Republican leader Steve Scalise, four others and a gunman on a baseball field near our nation’s capitol, these words by John Thorn seem especially fitting. Thorn is the official historian for major league baseball.

 

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which sits on my office desk as a constant reminder to hold onto hope. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Now, more than ever, as attacks and tragedies like this continue in the U.S. and throughout the world, we need our spirits replenished, our hope restored, our losses repaired, our journeys blessed.

 

Batter up for the Faribault Lakers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

We must continue to play ball. Violence can change us. But it cannot steal away the freedom we hold dear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

At the library: Making Faribault a better place June 14, 2017

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This poster at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault promotes the theme of the summer reading program.

 

BUILD A BETTER WORLD.

 

This sign rests on the check-out desk at the library for all to read.

 

Hate has no business in our community.

 

I picked up this bookmark at the library several days ago.

 

One world, many stories.

I appreciate these three messages, shared on a poster, on a sign and on a bookmark at my local library.

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In this public place along Division Street in Faribault, local residents of all ages, all colors, all backgrounds, gather. While there are certainly divisions and differences, there is also a coming together here facilitated by library staff.

 

These signs were previously (and may still be) posted in the library restrooms. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Words matter. When I read words that encourage building up rather than tearing down, choosing love over hatred and fostering of unity instead of division, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that we can learn to get along, to appreciate the individual stories we each bring to our community. Once we begin to see each other as individuals, the building begins, the love flows, our world widens.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond violence, two artists show that hope rises March 7, 2017

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson.

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson.

TUCKED INTO TWO CORNERS in two galleries are two tributes by two artists.

Both honor Barb Larson, murdered on December 23, 2016, in an act of domestic violence. She was a long-time friend to artist Judy Saye-Willis and an acquaintance to artist Dana Hanson. Both chose to remember Barb in their exhibits currently showing at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

Dana painted an oil on canvas portrait of Barb, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism employee who stopped occasionally to place orders at the bakery where Dana works. “I just wanted to do something positive to remember…she was genuine and very nice,” Dana said. The result is her “In Memory of Barb Larson” painting, based on a photo.

This series of fiber art pieces by Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis also honors Barb Larson. The pieces, from left to right, are titled "Darkness of Death 1", "Darkness of Death 2", "Destruction", "Hope", "Hope Rising" and "The Light of Hope".

This series of fiber art pieces by Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis focuses on death and hope. The pieces, from left to right, are titled “Darkness of Death 1,” “Darkness of Death 2,” “Destruction,” “Hope,” “Hope Rising” and “The Light of Hope.”

Judy’s artwork themed on death and hope spans half a wall and includes six pieces. Three framed works were already completed prior to Barb’s murder. They are an expression of “what’s happening in our culture today,” she said, specifically citing ISIS and the violence in Aleppo, Syria, as inspiring the art. But, once the events of December 23 unfolded locally, Judy created three more related fiber art pieces using natural dye materials. The result is a compelling series of framed art and panels focusing on death and hope.

I angled my camera up to photograph "Darkness of Death 2."

I angled my camera up to photograph “Darkness of Death 2.” When Judy created this scene with blood dripping and an executioner’s mask, she was thinking of ISIS and the violence/situation in Aleppo.

“…I was feeling raw, emotional with nowhere to go with it,” Judy said. “It (Barb’s murder) was senseless. I went to my studio and started the first piece. I tried three times to dye the piece black, unsuccessfully. I called it “The Darkness of Death 1.”

Simply titled: "Hope."

Madonna and child, simply titled: “Hope.”

Once she finished the black panel, Judy transitioned into the theme of hope. That was prompted by a Catholic church official she heard talking about faith and hope on the morning of December 23 (the day of Barb’s murder) on CBS This Morning. The result is two more hope-inspired fiber art panels.

As I viewed both artists’ tributes to Barb Larson, I could see the emotion within the artwork. Dana succeeds, through the strokes of her brush and the paint colors she chose, to portray the woman described as vivacious and friendly by those who knew her. Genuine warmth glows in Dana’s painting of Barb. I can see Barb’s personality in that portrait.

Judy’s art differs significantly, leaving more open to interpretation, more room for the viewer to insert his/her experiences, emotions and reactions. In the first three darker pieces, beginning with the length of black-dyed cloth, there is no ignoring the darkness of a violent death. That Judy chose to confront and share that in her work makes a powerful visual public statement whether considering the violence in Aleppo or the violence in Faribault.

"Hope Rising," says Judy Saye-Willis, "is about moving forward from tragedy."

“Hope Rising,” says Judy Saye-Willis, “is about moving forward from tragedy.”

Equally as important are the three hope-inspired pieces that follow. Those, too, make a powerful visual public statement.

A close-up of "The Light of Hope," which Judy calls her strongest piece.

A close-up of “The Light of Hope,” which Judy calls the strongest piece in this series.

Through their art, Judy and Dana have opened the conversation about domestic and other violence in a deeply personal, emotional and introspective way.

Dana’s exhibit includes a trio of horse paintings titled MESSENGERS OF HOPE. They are, left to right, subtitled “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace”

And any time we begin to think and talk about these difficult issues, hope rises.

FYI: At noon today, HOPE Center and the Faribault Chamber are rallying at the Chamber office (where Barb Larson was murdered) as part of a statewide effort, “It Happens Here: A Statewide Day to End Domestic Violence.”

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork photographed with permission of the artists.

 

Shining the light of hope in Faribault following Barb Larson’s murder January 7, 2017

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

MORE THAN TWO WEEKS have passed since the murder of Barb Larson, shot to death by her ex-husband at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office where she worked. Richard Larson, a retired Faribault police officer, then killed himself.

This act of domestic violence has rocked my community. We are grieving, asking why, wondering how we can heal and effect change. I wonder myself.

But already positive things are happening. Earlier this week, the Chamber remembered Barb on what would have been her 60th birthday by celebrating Happy Barb Day. Community members were encouraged to share memories of Barb online and at a Business Before Hours event.

When the Chamber office reopened a day prior, Chamber members and others gathered there to show their support for staff. Professionals are also offering in-kind services to update the Chamber lobby. I can only imagine the mental challenge of walking into that building every day with the knowledge that your friend and co-worker was murdered in your workplace.

Faribault’s faith community is also reaching out with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church taking the lead by focusing on shining light in the physical darkness of winter and in the emotional darkness of grief. At the 9:30 a.m. worship service this Sunday, battery-operated candles will be offered to attendees. The idea is to place those candles in the windows of Faribault homes as a strong visual symbol that we can be a light for each other.

That theme of being here for one another threads through a mass mailing letter I received from HOPE Center, a local organization with a mission “to create zero tolerance for sexual and domestic violence through Healing, Outreach, Prevention and Education.” Executive Director Erica Staab-Absher writes of the personal grief in losing her friend Barb. But she also writes with a renewed determination:

We must change things, and we can start here in our community. I do not want to write yet another letter sharing news like this (about Barb’s murder). We as a community must stand together and say NO More.

Powerful words.

We have the power to make a difference—to care for one another, to show others that they are not alone, to listen, to shine the light of hope.

My community is talking, creating awareness, taking action. Domestic violence/abuse is a hard issue to face. It would be easy just to look the other way, to plunge our heads into the sand of “this isn’t my problem” and then go on with our lives. But we can’t. We mustn’t.

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which I got at a recent family reunion.

The HOPE stone that sits on my office desk was painted by my great niece Kiera. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TELL ME: Please share with me any specific ways you, your community, your church or organization has worked toward healing, outreach, prevention and education in the area of domestic abuse/violence. Perhaps something you’ve done would help us here in Faribault.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A metaphor as we transition into the new year December 30, 2016

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abandoned-building-near-foley-32

 

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN DRAWN to abandoned buildings. They hold a certain mystery, an unknown story, a metaphor.

When I view this recent photo taken near Foley, I become introspective. Perhaps it’s the ending of 2016 and the beginning of a new year that prompt such thoughts. Or recent events in my community. Or simply me being my creative self.

But I see more than a neglected structure with missing windows, peeling paint, a sagging roof line. I see, too, the solid concrete block construction, the strong glass block windows and that surprise red door.

There’s a metaphor here to life. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the difficulties and challenges that life throws our way. We despair, give up, wonder how we can handle one more thing. We want nothing more than to reclaim our uneventful and normal lives—to replace the broken panes, to cover the peeling paint, to fix the falling roof line.

The task seems impossible until someone steps in, offering words of support and encouragement, pointing to the solid construction.

Then thoughts begin to shift and an inner strength builds. The door to hope cracks open.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Autumn, Southern Minnesota’s season of harvest & hope October 4, 2016

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Somewhere between Morgan and New Ulm, in the middle of prime Minnesota farm land.

Somewhere between Morgan and New Ulm, in the middle of prime Minnesota farm land early Saturday evening.

HARVEST. That word holds the seasons of a farmer’s hope.

A partially-harvest cornfield between New Ulm and Morgan.

A partially-harvest cornfield between New Ulm and Morgan.

From spring planting to summer growth to autumn ripening, a farmer focuses on the outcome—a yield that brims with golden corn and soybeans.

Harvesting between St. Peter and Nicollet.

Harvest equipment sits in a cornfield west of St. Peter.

Through months of looking toward the skies, of weathering too much or too little rainfall, of watching heat shimmer waves across fields, of tending and waiting, a farmer anticipates this season of harvest.

Driving west on Minnesota State Highway 99 toward Le Center.

Driving west on Minnesota State Highway 99 toward Le Center.

On a day trip Saturday from the southeastern to the southwestern side of Minnesota—through Rice, Le Sueur, Blue Earth, Nicollet, Brown and Redwood counties and back—I observed the harvest. Minimal on the eastern side, which has been flooded with too much recent rainfall, but in full swing in the counties of Brown and Redwood.

Combing beans near New Ulm.

Combining beans near New Ulm.

Farmers worked the land, dust enveloping combines.

A red grain truck jolts color into a field near New Ulm.

A red grain truck jolts color into a field near New Ulm.

North of Belview, trucks await the harvest.

North of Belview, trucks await the harvest.

Parked outside the elevator in Morgan.

Parked outside the elevator in Morgan.

Farming communities like Morgan are busy with harvest.

Farming communities like Morgan are busy with harvest.

Grain trucks idled in fields and barreled down county roads toward local elevators

Near Courtland.

Near Courtland.

Grain bins near Waterville.

Grain bins near Waterville.

or homestead grain bins.

Driving into Courtland.

Driving into Courtland.

This time of year, motorists need to be watchful of slow-moving farm equipment.

This time of year, motorists need to be watchful of slow-moving farm equipment.

Harvest started west of St. Peter.

Harvest started west of St. Peter.

The landscape crawled with tractors and combines and trucks, farmers at the wheels, guiding the crops toward harvest.

White among fields of golden crops.

A harvested field against a farm site backdrop of white.

And I observed it all. No longer an intimate part of this process as I once was so many decades ago on my Redwood County childhood farm, I am still connected to this season by the memories that trace deep within me.

West of New Ulm, grain wagons sit in a field.

West of New Ulm.

Harvest still holds me in hope.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts following an attack at a Central Minnesota mall September 20, 2016

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A vehicle travels along Interstate 90 near La Crosse in the rain Friday morning. Fog shrouds the bluffs in grey.

A vehicle travels along Interstate 90 near La Crosse, on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River, in the rain Friday morning. Fog veils the river bluffs.

WHEN FOG DESCENDS, shrouding the landscape in a veil of grey, the value of light magnifies.

Our eyes search for light.

We look for ways to banish the grey, to illuminate our world. We want desperately to find the light and to hold it high.

Events of the past weeks have shaded our skies grey here in Minnesota—first with the discovery of Jacob Wetterling’s remains and now the stabbings of 10 individuals at Crossroads Center in St. Cloud in what appears to be a possible act of lone wolf terrorism.

That both of these major crimes happened some five miles apart in Central Minnesota is pure coincidence. But it is not lost on me that the kidnapping of 11-year-old Jacob nearly 27 years ago and the mall attack on Saturday evening are in the backyard of Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon.

I like to think that Lake Wobegon—the region in which some of my in-laws live—is a pastoral setting of grazing cows, church spires and old-timers playing cards at the Chatterbox Cafe. It is and it isn’t. In today’s world, no place, not even Central Minnesota, is safe.

Even so, we Minnesotans are a strong, determined and resilient lot. We will, through the greyness of these days, search for the light of goodness and of hope. Of that I am certain.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling