Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Alley-side art in Faribault May 3, 2021

Faribault’s newest mural, completed late last year.

OUTDOOR PUBLIC ART enhances a community. It provides an outlet for creativity, adds interest to place and often brings joy. At least that’s my assessment.

As someone who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal exposure to the arts—or perhaps more accurately minimal opportunity in the arts—I deeply appreciate the arts.

This sculptor of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My community of Faribault, where I’ve lived for the past 39 years, embraces creativity, centered today at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Yet, the visual arts extend well beyond the walls of the Paradise to stained glass windows in our historic churches, an art collection at Buckham Memorial Library, sculptures, architecture, home-grown shops, historic-themed murals and even the graceful curves of the historic viaduct.

In this January 2016 photo taken from the viaduct, you can see the back of The Upper East Side (white stucco building) before the mural was added. The historic building originally housed W.H. Stevens Drug. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

You can see Faribault’s newest addition to the outdoor art scene from that viaduct, which offers a sweeping view of the downtown area.

Visual layering is part of this mural.

But I viewed this latest public art close up from an alley. On the back and sides of The Upper East Side, an art and gallery space at 213 Central Avenue, Morristown area artist Jeff Jarvis (West Cedar Studio) painted a mural onto the stucco building.

A 1950s scene along Faribault’s Central Avenue is shown in this mural in our downtown district. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The mural differs significantly from the historic-themed murals scattered throughout our downtown as part of The Mural Society of Faribault’s ongoing mural installation efforts.

Close up, colors and graphics pop.

The Upper East Side mural, a project of owner Suzanne Schwichtenberg and Jarvis, is more modern and graphic with strong lines. Less detailed. Bold. With unexpected pops of color. I find the zipper painted into the mural to be especially creative—the unzipping of history, of stories, of past and present. The mural invites introspection rather than simple reflection on an historic place or memory.

That’s my take. Not as someone with an art education, but rather as a creative who has grown to appreciate the arts in her community and beyond.

A locally-themed tote displayed at The Upper East Side. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2018.

FYI: Suzanne Schwichtenberg leads paint-and-sip events and other painting sessions at The Upper East Side and also takes painting/social gatherings on the road. Jarvis is a third-generation artist specializing in historical sketches and scenes from everyday life. He is passionate about local and regional history, authoring a book on the area’s mill history.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poster art showcases Faribault’s historic architecture December 9, 2016

TRAVEL WEST ACROSS the Highway 60 viaduct toward downtown Faribault and you likely will notice the steeples and towers poking above the landscape. Just like on the eastern side of my Minnesota community, these punctuating structures mark numerous historic buildings.

 

Layout 1

 

Now Jeff Jarvis, a local historian and artist who works as the City of Faribault’s community enrichment coordinator, has created Steeples & Towers, a photo montage. For a donation to the Concerts in the Park fund, you can purchase this 12 x 18-inch poster featuring 18 spires on educational, religious and residential structures. Places like the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, the Hutchinson House, Buckham Memorial Library.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve long valued the detailed architecture that defines so many aged buildings in Faribault. Jeff’s targeted and documented Steeples & Towers poster art heightens that appreciation and focuses awareness. “How dreary buildings would be if they were all square boxes,” he notes.

I agree.

 

Layout 1

 

Likewise, Jeff’s artistic eye and historic awareness drew him to photograph 27 windows in historic downtown Faribault. Places like the Alexander Faribault House, the Fleckenstein Building, the post office. He’s created a Historic Downtown Faribault Windows poster, also available for purchase via a donation.

He writes:

The inspiration to do the windows downtown came initially from reading signs placed in the empty downtown buildings—“This building is not empty; it’s full of opportunity.” Reading these struck me as funny. From my point of view as an artist, I see the beauty of the intact architecture and the variety of exterior colors. It seems backward, but to me a full store is almost secondary.

The prize is being able to stroll about in respect and appreciation of the historic district. I see and imagine the stories hidden behind the facades—the limestone backsides, the alleyways with faded vintage lettering, and the add-ons that can be viewed if you look closely.

Of course, there are lots of metaphors or idioms about windows that are fun that could apply to the downtown situation like “God closes a door, then opens a window,” etc. The project itself was like seizing a window of opportunity to teach others to quit quibbling about downtown—to turn their focus instead to one of the lovelier features in town.

Historic buildings in downtown Faribault are decorated for the holiday season.

Restored historic buildings in downtown Faribault decorated during a past holiday season. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Jeff has it right. As a community, we need to seriously appreciate the aesthetic and historical value of the many old buildings that stand in and near the heart of the downtown and elsewhere throughout Faribault. I’m not saying that appreciation hasn’t existed. It has as evidenced in the restoration of many historic buildings, the existence of the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission, the current interest in possible Artspace development and more. But sometimes we get sidetracked, too often complaining about perceived problems or what we don’t have rather than valuing what we do have.

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault's Central Park.

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And one of those assets—Concerts in the Park—is the benefactor of the historic posters sales. Those summer concerts are a 130-year tradition in Faribault. I’ve been attending these outdoor performances for more than 30 years, since relocating here. I’ve grown to love this Minnesota community. The traditions. The people. And, yes, the steeples, towers and windows, too.

FYI: If you are interested in purchasing these historic posters for a donation to the Concerts in the Park, stop at Faribault Park and Rec, 15 West Division Street, or email jjarvis@ci.faribault.mn.us. Donations will help underwrite concert costs.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Art posters copyright of Jeff Jarvis