Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

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

 

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

 

If you love owls, visit Houston November 13, 2015

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The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota, is open from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Friday - Monday.

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota, is open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Friday – Monday.

I DID NOT HAVE nearly enough time to explore the International Owl Center in Houston. That would be Houston, Minnesota, not Texas. My husband and I were on a tight schedule to reach La Crosse after lunching with friends Doreen and Tom atop the ridge near this southeastern Minnesota community.

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center helps visitors find the building in downtown Houston.

A banner guides visitors to the International Owl Center in downtown Houston.

Still, we squeezed in a quick visit to this small town center featuring all things owl. I’d forgotten the center existed, although I’d written about it years ago for a magazine.

Owl Center visitors compete in a quiz show that teaches them all about owls.

Owl Center visitors compete in a quiz show that teaches them all about owls.

We popped in during a quiz show about owls and I was promptly recruited to a team. I contributed zero. I was more interested in shooting photos than in competing.

Owls

Two of the center’s live owls include Uhu, a Eurasian Eagle-Owl, left, and Alice, a Great Horned Owl, right.

This display shows Alice's wingspan.

This display shows Alice’s wingspan.

The International Owl Center serves as a great resource for area schools.

The International Owl Center serves as a great resource for area schools.

I multi-tasked—shooting photos, reading educational information, viewing displays, listening to the game show host and eyeing three tethered and perched owls. If only we could have stayed long enough to learn more about that trio of owls.

Owl art, from all over the worlds, decorates the center's walls.

Owl art, from all over the world, decorates the center’s walls.

Owls are popular these days. In décor, clothing, art…

It's all about the eyes in owls, including these in a Great Horned Owl on display.

It’s all about the eyes in owls, including these in a taxidermied Great Horned Owl on display.

My personal interest in owls stretches back to my childhood and visits to my great grandma’s house in rural Wabasso. There, in a bachelor great uncle’s bedroom at the top of a staircase as steep as a ladder, an owl perched atop a chest of drawers, wings spread wide, eyes piercing fear into my soul. Fear, though, didn’t stop me from viewing that owl shrine every single time I visited. I don’t know the story behind the owl’s demise. Perhaps that is best. Truth sometimes destroys memories.

One of the center's live owls. I don't know its identity.

One of the center’s live owls. I don’t know its identity.

I also hold vague recollections of dressing as an owl for Halloween, heavy paper seed corn bag turned inside out, feathers and face colored upon paper, and holes scissored for eyes.

Taxidermied owls line a wall.

Taxidermied owls line a wall.

Today my nearest connection to owls comes with the repetitive hoot of a barred owl working the night shift. I have not heard the haunting hoot for some time now. Either the owl is no more or I have slept right through the nocturnal call.

A Snow Owl, the dreamiest of owls, in my opinion.

A taxidermied Snowy Owl, the dreamiest of owls, in my opinion.

Sometimes it is better to allow memories to linger, like pleasant dreams.

BONUS PHOTOS:

You can't miss this eye-catching window front. The International Owl Center is hoping to construct a new building to further its mission of advancing the survival of wild owls through education and research.

You can’t miss this eye-catching window front. The International Owl Center plans to construct a new building to further its mission of advancing the survival of wild owls through education and research.

Lovable mascot, Hooston, presides over the gift shop.

Lovable mascot, Hooston, presides over the gift shop.

A beautiful taxidermied Short-eared Owl.

A beautiful taxidermied Short-eared Owl.

Time your visit for the live owl programs.

Time your visit for the live owl programs.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling