Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder at a Chicago museum & I’m in December 18, 2017

Follow U.S. Highway 14, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, west across the prairie to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and then on to De Smet, South Dakota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MINNESOTA PRAIRIE ROOTS. My blog name honors my roots in Redwood County where Laura Ingalls Wilder, celebrated author of the Little House book series, lived for awhile as a child. Walnut Grove lies just 20 miles distant from my childhood home. It is a place where earth and sky spread wide, where fertile black soil grows tall corn and the wind seldom stops blowing.

 

The American Writers Museum in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Lee Engquist.

 

Some 500 miles to the south and east of Walnut Grove lies Chicago. Windy, yes. But otherwise distinctly different. Nothing prairie-like here in this city. Until you look close, to the new American Writers Museum which opened in the heart of Chicago in May.

 

An overview of a section of the Laura Ingalls Wilder exhibit. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

I’ve not visited the museum. Yet, I hold a connection to this acclaimed museum now showcasing a temporary exhibit, “Laura Ingalls Wilder: From Prairie to Page.” I grew up with the Little House books read by an elementary school teacher each day after lunch. That was long before the books grew in popularity, long before the TV series, long before Walnut Grove became a destination for Laura fans.

 

My Laura Look-A-Like Contest photo close-up in the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

But my love of Laura’s writing and my native prairie roots are not my only connections to this exhibit which runs through spring 2018. A photo I took several years ago during a Laura Look-Alike Contest in Walnut Grove is included in the exhibit.

 

Laura Look-A-Like contestants gather for a group shot in a Walnut Grove city park in July 2013. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Awhile ago, Boston-based Amaze Design contacted me about using the image. The design company manages content development for the museum.

 

This section features noted American authors. Within the museum is info highlighting Minnesota writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Charles Schulz and more. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

An exhibit in the Children’s Literature Room. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

Another exhibit focuses on the writing process. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

From what my friend Laurel, who recently toured the 11,000 square foot literary museum tells me, the place is impressive. Located on the second floor of a building at 180 N. Michigan Avenue, it includes 13 permanent exhibits in six galleries plus temporary exhibits. Laurel spent hours there wandering, reading, observing and participating in interactive aspects of displays. She was surprised to find my Laura Look-Alike photo as part of the American Voices Exhibit.

 

The prairie near Walnut Grove is especially beautiful in the summer. I took this photo at the Laura Ingalls Wilder dug-out site north of Walnut Grove many years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’m honored to have my work included. I’m proud of my prairie roots, of my rural upbringing in a part of Minnesota made famous by a much-loved American writer.

 

FYI: If you’re wondering how Amaze Design found my photo, look no further than searching the internet. I also have photos included in exhibits at the Children’s Museum in St. Paul and in the World War II Museum in New Orleans. All found my work online, on this blog.

 

Disclaimer: Amaze Design paid for rights to use my Laura Look-A-Like image in the exhibit.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thanks to friends Laurel and Lee Engquist for permission to share their photos.

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Minnesota Faces: Laura Ingalls Wilder wannabes February 13, 2015

Portrait #7: Laura Look-A-Likes

 

Portrait 7, Laura look-alikes

 

THESE ARE THE FACES of contestants in a July 2013 Laura Look-A-Like Contest in Walnut Grove, Minnesota childhood home of author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The girls lined up for a photo to be published in the local newspaper. The rest of us, including lots of proud parents and this proud aunt, snapped away. That’s my niece on the left, come here from North Dakota.

Laura fans travel from all over the country, and even the world, to pay homage to Laura and her Little House books. So, just to be clear, these are not all Minnesota faces featured here.

But these girls, some clutching Laura and Charlotte (Laura’s rag doll) dolls, portray the pioneer spirit. They adore Laura and her books. Or perhaps it’s the TV series, Little House on the Prairie, they adore.

They remind me of me. I grew up about 25 miles from Walnut Grove in Vesta, where an elementary teacher read the entire Little House series to her students during an after lunch reading period. This was long before the television show and long before Walnut Grove residents realized the importance of Laura to their community.

February marks an important month for Laura fans. The author was born on February 7, 1867, and died on February 10, 1957.

Perhaps you noticed on February 7 that Google featured Laura and her sister Mary in a prairie scene. Twins Jack and Holman Wang of Canada created that Google banner through the process of needle felting, basically sculpting the sisters from wool. (Click here to learn more.)

Besides the Google gig, Laura is also back in the news with the recent release of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. The South Dakota Historical Society Press clearly underestimated the interest in this book with an initial press run of 15,000. Now in its third printing, the book is currently out of stock and will begin shipping again in March. I’m sure many a Little House fan is waiting for the title.

Laura seems as popular today as she did decades ago, when I imagined myself as a pioneer girl on the prairie.

This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, published every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder with a Laura Look-A-Like contest & more in Walnut Grove July 16, 2013

The prairie attire of girls entered in the Laura Look-A-Like Contest in Walnut Grove.

The prairie attire of girls entered in the Laura Look-A-Like Contest in Walnut Grove.

CALICO SKIRTS SKIM bare legs. Bonnets brush braids. Charlotte rag dolls tuck into crooks of arms and lunch pails dangle from clenched hands.

Each contestant was asked where she had traveled from, whether she'd visited other "Laura" sites and whether she'd attended the "Wilder Pageant" before drawing a question from a lunch pail.

Each contestant is asked where she traveled from, whether she’s visited other “Laura” sites and whether she’s attended the “Wilder Pageant.” Then each drew a Little House-related question from a lunch pail.

And Laura look-a-likes step up to the microphone during the Laura Look-A-Like Contest Saturday afternoon in Walnut Grove, the southwestern Minnesota childhood home of author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I am in the city park with my husband and mother to meet my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and their 9-year-old daughter who have driven from North Dakota for this weekend celebration of all things Little House.

My niece's entry number. No, there were not 57 contestants. This is just the identifying number tag she was handed after I paid a $5 entry free and she registered.

My niece’s entry number. No, there were not 57 contestants. This is just the identifying number tag she was handed after I paid a $5 entry free and she registered.

At the last minute, my niece decides to enter the Laura competition and she scrambles to complete an entry form while the other girls are already answering questions about themselves and the Little House books.

My niece considers her randomly drawn question: What's another name for a leech? She got a little help with the answer.

My niece considers her randomly drawn question: What’s another name for a leech? She gets a little help with the answer.

Soon Beth joins the other Lauras on the grass, eventually taking her place in line to move up to the mic. I can sense her nervousness. She momentarily forgets that she lives near Grand Forks and that she’s seen the Wilder Pageant, an outdoor production featuring snippets from the Little House books, the previous evening. She hesitates again after pulling her question—What’s another name for leeches?—from a lunch bucket. (Bloodsuckers would be the answer.)

Pure Laura with bonnets, braids and prairie dresses.

Laura contestants with bonnets, braids and prairie dresses.

I am incredibly proud of Beth for joining the fun. And fun it is to see all of these 8 to 12-year-olds who have journeyed to the prairie from all parts of the country because they appreciate the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Four of the finalists in the Laura Look-A-Like contest. the fifth finalist was found shortly after I took this photo.

Four of the finalists in the Laura Look-A-Like contest. The fifth finalist was found shortly after I took this photo.

Beth doesn’t win the contest and, because of another commitment, we must leave before the top five finalists begin presenting a skit.

The Laura Look-A-Like contestants gather for a group shot in the park.

The Laura Look-A-Like contestants gather for a group shot in the park.

But my niece gathers with the other Lauras next to a brick building as the official photographer, along with a contingent of adoring parents, grandparents and at least one proud aunt, photograph the Laura look-a-likes.

If the contestants were chosen solely on which most resembled my image of Laura, it would have been this contestant.

If the contestants were chosen solely on which most resembled my image of Laura, it would have been this girl. She possesses that “look” which seems most like the Laura I imagine from the books.

FYI: Walnut Grove’s annual July celebration of all things Little House continues two more weekends, July 19-20 and July 26-27. The Laura-Nellie Look-A-Like Contest is part of the Family Festival, set again for 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturdays, July 20 and 27, in the city park. The Look-A-Like Contest starts at 3 p.m. with prizes based on overall appearance and knowledge of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nellie Oleson, Laura’s nemesis.

The Family Festival features an abundance of activities for kids, plus music, re-enactments, arts and crafts, demonstrations of old-time activities, author visits, pony rides and more. I’d highly recommend attending. I’ll show you additional fest images tomorrow.

Other attractions in Walnut Grove include the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, several shops and a mural.

About a mile north of town, visitors can see the site of the Ingalls’ family dug-out along the banks of Plum Creek.

But the highlight for most is the Wilder Pageant, performed Friday and Saturday evenings, beginning at 9 p.m., in an outdoor amphitheater just outside of town. I’ve seen this locally-produced show, which features a horse-pulled covered wagon, a prairie fire and more, several times. It’s outstanding. Four more performances are set for July 19, 20, 26 and 27. I’d recommend reservations. If you are traveling from afar, be aware that you likely will have to travel some distance to find a hotel room. Walnut Grove does not have a hotel and the nearest one in Lamberton is likely already booked. There’s camping at Plum Creek Park, a Redwood County park near the pageant site. But this fills quickly, especially on pageant weekends. Reservations are recommended.

Click here to read more details about the Little House celebration in Walnut Grove.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Far fewer girls competed in the Nellie Oleson Look-A-Like contest. Clearly, few want to role play the mean Nellie. But look how these girls played the haughty role to the hilt.

Far fewer girls competed in the Nellie Oleson Look-A-Like contest. Clearly, few want to role play the mean Nellie. But look how these girls played the haughty Nellie to the hilt as a group photo was taken.

Take two of the Nellie Look-A-Likes.

Take two of the Nellie look-a-likes.

What grandpas won't do for their granddaughters.

What grandpa won’t do for his granddaughter.

Lots of families watched the Laura and Nellie contests and spent hours at the kid-oriented Family Festival in the park.

Lots of families watched the Laura and Nellie contests and spent hours at the kid-oriented Family Festival in the park.

Too young for the Look-A-Like contest, but still outfitted in prairie girl clothing.

Too young for the Look-A-Like Contest, but still outfitted in prairie girl clothing.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling