Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Smithsonian & companion exhibits in St. Peter focus on water August 24, 2016

"Water/Ways" prompts me to think about all the uses of water.

“Water/Ways” prompts me to think about all the uses for water and much more.

I FLUSH THE TOILET. Wash my hands. Drink a glass of water. Throw laundry in the washing machine. Shower. Water plants.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something. In this interactive exhibit, I learned that 240 gallons of water are needed to make a single smartphone.

And I never think about it. Water. It’s just always there, flowing from the faucet.

This "Water/Ways" art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

This “Water/Ways” art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

But “Water/Ways,” a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, and “We Are Water MN” are causing me to consider this vital natural resource that flows through every aspect of my days.

The Treaty Site History Center sits along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

The sidewalk curves like a river to the Treaty Site History Center along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon I visited the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter where the Nicollet County Historical Society is hosting joint national, state and local water-themed exhibits through September 25. After that, the Smithsonian show will move to these Minnesota communities: Red Wing, Sandstone, Lanesboro and Detroit Lakes.

Entering the "Water/Ways" exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

Entering the “Water/Ways” exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

What does water mean to you? That question posted on a display panel sets the tone for this exhibit packed with information about water. More than simply words, the panels feature interactive aspects that stretch this beyond a compilation of facts and accompanying visuals.

According to this graphic, 40 states are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. that includes Minnesota.

According to this graphic, 40 states (in red) are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. That includes Minnesota.

What would you lose if you did not have water?

A section of the exhibit shows the most common pollutants in Minnesota waters.

A section of the Minnesota exhibit asks, “What’s in the water? Minnesota’s common pollutants and where they come from.” Visitors can pull the cards from the rack (shown here) and learn about those common pollutants to Minnesota waterways.

What’s in the water?

Visitors share water memories.

Visitors share water memories.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

Visitors are encouraged to share their memories of water, to list ways they can protect water, to learn what’s in Minnesota’s water and more. In this state of 11,842 lakes, water covers more than 13 million acres (or six percent of Minnesota), more than any other state. That’s according to a 2010 “Minnesota Water Facts” report I found online from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

I appreciate the "We Are Water MN" aspect of the exhibit.

I appreciate the “We Are Water MN” aspect of the exhibit.

The Minnesota Humanities Center collaborated with the DNR and other agencies in creating the companion exhibit, “We Are Water MN.”

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Additionally, Nicollet County infused its water history. The Minnesota River runs through this county with 105 miles of river front land and was instrumental in bringing early settlers to the region. My own maternal ancestors settled in the Minnesota River Valley near Courtland.

In a side room, you'll find Kay Herbst Helms' photo exhibit, "Water Rights?" In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

In a side room, you’ll find Kay Herbst Helms’ photo exhibit, “Water Rights.” In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

A photo in Kay Herbst Helms' "Water Rights" exhibit.

A photo of a photo in Kay’s exhibit.

On droplets of water,

On paper droplets, visitors write about water.

Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms brings her photographic perspective to “Water/Ways” with 19 black-and-white water-themed photos in her “Water Rights” collection. Her exhibit, she says, “celebrates water and some of the people who are helping to protect our water rights now and for generations to come.”

Another idea expressed about water.

More ideas expressed about water.

This isn’t the first time Kay has focused on water in photography. She created “Water Vapors” and now “Water Vapors II,” showing through September 30 in the History Center Art Gallery at the Blue Earth County Historical Society in Mankato.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

This quote in the “Water/Ways” exhibit strikes me more than any other:

No water, no life.
No blue, no green.

These panels address the cultural

These panels address how water inspires humanity in our art, music, dance and literature.

What does water mean to you?

BONUS PHOTOS:

"We Are Water MN" pins in a jar at the exhibit.

“We Are Water MN” pins in a jar.

This section directs us to look to the future as it relates to water.

This section directs visitors to look to the future of water.

There's even a section for the little ones to put on a puppet show.

There’s even an area for little ones to put on a puppet show.

More panels, more information to digest.

More panels, more information to digest.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about a celebration I participated in as part of the “Water/Ways” exhibit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In St. Peter: Celebrating water through dance, poetry & photography August 23, 2016

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the History Site Treaty Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the Treaty Site History Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

ON THE OTHER SIDE of the log cabin, traffic thrummed in a steady rhythm, the noise sometimes detracting from the five young women dancing barefoot in the grass and from the poets reading in to the wind.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the St. Peter history center.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the history center.

Still, despite the traffic noise from busy U.S. Highway 169 in St. Peter, the focus remained primarily on “When Water Dreams: A Celebration,” hosted Sunday afternoon at the Treaty Site History Center.

This photo of Swan Lake near Nicollet is one of 19 black-and-white images included in an exhibit by Kay Herbst Helms.

This photo shows a side view of Kay Herbst Helms’ photo of Swan Lake, one of the largest prairie potholes in the contiguous United States. Located in Nicollet County,  the lake covers 14 square miles. I’ll tell you more about Kay’s exhibit of 19 black-and-white photos in a follow-up post.

I was part of that event thanks to Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms. Kay’s latest photo project, “Water Rights,” sidebars “Water/Ways,” a Museum on Main Street exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution showing through September 25 at the Nicollet County Historical Society host site in St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon, along with other invited southern Minnesota poets, I read “In which Autumn searches for Water,” a poem published four years ago as part of an “It’s All One Water” collaboration in Zumbrota. I clarified before reading my poem that I wrote this when our region was suffering a drought, unlike now when Minnesota has been deluged with rain. Here’s the third verse in my five-verse poem:

But she finds at the pond site, the absence of Water,
only thin reeds of cattails and defiant weeds in cracked soil,
deep varicose veins crisscrossing Earth.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. John Hurd and Susan Stevens Chambers also read their poetry.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. Christina’s mother, Susan Stevens Chambers, also read, both her poetry and that of Henry Panowitsch. Two others, Craig Nelson and Mira Frank, read the works of published poets, including that of local poet Jim Muyres who was unable to attend.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

I’ve come to enjoy poetry readings—listening to the rhythm of words penned by those who, like me, are moved to string words together in a lyrical way that touches emotions.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday's event.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday’s event venue site.

With water as the theme for Sunday’s celebration, poets read of lakes and rivers, of rain and of drought, of ships steaming immigrants across the ocean, and more.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Those clustered in lawn chairs, on blankets and standing—some folding paper cranes for the Minnesota State University, Mankato, 1000 Peace Crane Project—focused on the scene unfolding before them.

Water celebration, #47 dancer close-up arms up

 

Water celebration, #49 dancer close-up arms behind

 

Water celebration, #57 dancer with hands together

 

Water celebration, #67 dancers with hands up

 

Dressed in blue, members of Rural Route Dance Ensemble moved with such grace, like water lapping at the shore, waves rolling in the ocean, rain falling from the heavens. I won’t pretend to be an expert in dance; I have viewed few dance performances. But dance, like poetry, is open to interpretation.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

Life experiences, emotions and more shape poetry—how it is written, read and interpreted.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book, Good Thunder, Blue Earth.

The poetry readings of Good Thunder writer Susan Stevens Chambers mesmerized me. Susan has a melodic voice that soothes and comforts like the sound of rushing water. Except her words don’t rush. They flow. I especially savored Susan’s selected readings from her recently published compilation of rural-themed poems, Good Thunder, Blue Earth, published by River Place Press.

 

Water celebration, #94 Susan's dress blowing in breeze

 

As this poet read, her long blue dress swayed in the wind and I thought of gentle waves. Of water.

FYI: Check back for a post on the Smithsonian “Water/Way” exhibit, including more information on Kay Herbst Helms’ photography exhibit, “Water Rights.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mankato photographer focuses on hands and water in new exhibit October 7, 2015

IF I WERE TO STUDY your hands, what would I see? Would I see earth or art, youth or age, strength or weakness…

My left hand, which I photographed in 2011.

My left hand, which I photographed in 2011.

When I look at my hands, I see brown spots sprinkled across skin streaked blue with veins. I notice the slight bump on the knuckle of my right pinkie, a writer’s callous from finger rubbing against paper.

Would my hands show you that I am of the land and also a wife, mother, writer and photographer? Would you see the poetry that flows from my fingertips in both words and images?

Four separate photo projects meld in Kay Herbst Helms' new exhibit.

Four separate photo projects meld in Kay Herbst Helms’ new exhibit. Image courtesy of Kay Herbst Helms.

A Mankato photographer has chosen for the past five years to study hands, to tell their stories through a series of photographic projects. Kay Herbst Helms’ photos come together in “Seeking What Sustains Us: a photographic journey of hands and water,” an exhibit of four photo projects showing at the Carnegie Art Center, 120 South Broad Street, Mankato.

The exhibit opens at 1 p.m. Thursday, October 8. I will join five other area poets—Yvonne Cariveau, Susan Chambers, John Hurd, Derek Liebertz and Gwen Westerman—at 5 p.m. in reading original poems about water. Dick Kimmel will also entertain with bluegrass music.

But it is Kay’s images which will be the focal point. As she tells it, the decision to photograph hands happened in a prophetic way—when she awakened one morning with the single word, hands, in her thoughts. That led to “Blessed Are the Hands That Have Served,” a photo exhibit focusing on the hands of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Viewing Kay Herbst Helms' photos in "What Sustains Us."

Viewing Kay Herbst Helms’ photos in “What Sustains Us.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Her second hands project, “What Sustains Us: considering the hands and the land of south central rural Minnesota,” features the hands of those who work the land and their rural surroundings. It’s an exhibit I viewed in 2012 at the Arts Center of Saint Peter. In that display of black-and-white photos, Kay also shared brief stories of those she photographed.

In her third project, “inner necessities,” Kay photographed the hands of area artists and musicians.

Her fourth hands-themed photo compilation, “Water Vapors,” debuts this week as a consideration of what our hands have done to, in and for water. “We all have connections to each other and to water,” Kay says. “How we manage those connections will determine the future of our great-great grandchildren.”

Several of Kay's images focus on cattle, enhancing the exhibit's rural theme.

Several of Kay’s images focus on cattle, enhancing the exhibit’s rural theme in her “What Sustains Us” photo project. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I expect that I will connect with all four of these photo exhibits because I, like Kay, hold a deep appreciation for storytelling via photography.

An elderly man turns to a hymn in the old pocket-size songbook that's been used for decades.

I shot this hands photo at an old-fashioned mission fest in Marquardt’s Grove south of Janesville in 2012. To this day, it remains one of my favorite photos of hands. It tells a story of enduring faith.

And for hands. (Click here to read one of my most beloved posts about hands, my mother’s hands.)

Activities related to the exhibit. Image courtesy of Kay Herbst Helms.

Activities related to the exhibit. Image courtesy of Kay Herbst Helms.

FYI: Kay Herbst Helms’ exhibit runs through October 24. An opening reception is set for 7 p.m.- 9 p.m. on Saturday, October 10. Additional arts activities include the free “Fish Prints for Kids” at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 15, and “Marbling for All Ages” at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 17 (fee is $5). Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Perspectives on life presented in Saint Peter galleries March 6, 2012

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The Arts Center of Saint Peter, 315 South Minnesota Avenue, St. Peter, Minnesota.

The Arts Center of Saint Peter, 315 South Minnesota Avenue, St. Peter, Minnesota.

LIKE BLACK AND WHITE, night and day, the artwork of Pamela Bidelman and Kay Herbst Helms, at first glance, holds no comparison.

Pam, of St. Peter, is a painter, working in the more abstract in her current exhibit, “lamina,” installed at the Arts Center of Saint Peter Moline Gallery.

Kay, of Mankato, is a photographer, grounded in the earth with her black-and-white, rural-themed images in “What Sustains Us: considering the hands and the land of rural south central Minnesota.” Her art is showcased in the Lower Level Gallery of the Arts Center.

Both artists distinguish themselves in their individual approaches to art. Therein lies the essence of art—the ability to create and express one’s self in a truly personal style that emerges from the heart and soul of the artist.

I am more of a down-to-earth appreciator of art, meaning abstracts puzzle and challenge my mind to consider what the artist is attempting to convey.  I don’t have to think so hard to understand real-life art.

Yet, it’s good for me to view more abstract art like that created by Pam and to talk with her and learn that she is trying to show, in her exhibit, “the quality of skin as a container…deconstructing the body parts…the fragility of life.”

Three almost ghost-like faces, with undefined, haunting eyes, created by Pam Bidelman.

I expect that her artistic expression connects to her former profession as a clinical social worker. One can only imagine the experiences she drew on while creating her current exhibit.

There’s a certain translucency to Pam’s pieces that I interpret as a sense of vulnerability.

A series of suspended faces, again with that vulnerable quality.

In Kay’s work, vulnerability also exists, in the primarily close-up black-and-white images she’s shot, mostly of hands, and in the accompanying short stories she writes about her subjects. I know rural people. It is not always easy for them to open up, to allow introspective photos and insights into their lives.

Kay gained their trust and shares her discoveries in art that is as honest as a hard day’s work on the farm.

For example, she writes in her interview with Sharon Osborne:

Sharon tells the story of her uncle, a retired farmer. Her aunt has answered the phone and the caller asked, “What’s your husband doing on this cold, blustery, snowy day?”

Her aunt replied, “What else do farmers do on a cold winter’s day other than crack walnuts down the basement?”

Viewing Kay Herbst Helms' photos in "What Sustains Us." She focuses primarily on hands in her images.

With other photos, Kay pairs poetry by Paul Gruchow and the poetic words of additional writers.

She is, says Kay, connecting the elements of hands, land, photographs and words in her exhibit.

Kay accomplishes that with the spirit of an artist rooted deep in her appreciation of rural life and the rural landscape.

Both exhibits are distinctly different. Yet each can be appreciated for the unique perspectives they offer on life.

Several of Kay's images include cattle, following the exhibit's rural theme.

FYI: Both artists’ projects were supported by grants from the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council with funding provided by the McKnight Foundation. Their exhibits run through March 18.

Kay created a previous, similar project, “Blessed Are the Hands That Have Served,” focusing on photos of 13 retired School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Click here for more information about the Arts Center of Saint Peter.

Check back for another post from the art center wherein you will meet two more artists.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling