Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Going green in Luverne at ReBorn October 3, 2014

That's ReBorn, in the right corner of the city-owned theatre building at 102 E. Main Street.

That’s ReBorn, photographed in July 2013, in the right corner of the city-owned theatre building at 102 E. Main Street. ReBorn has since relocated to 113 E. Main Street.

TO THINK I ALMOST did not pop into ReBorn Home Furnishings in downtown Luverne because my husband mumbled something about “furniture store.”

But I should have known, given the name “ReBorn,” that this would be an extraordinary place.

Oh, my gosh, readers, to think that I could have missed this homegrown business which restores, recycles, reuses, refinishes, reincarnates, rebuilds and revives home furnishings.

On a July 2013 visit to Luverne in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, after gaping at the fantastic old Palace Theatre entry right next to ReBorn and after photographing other buildings along E. Main Street, I opted to check out the business that didn’t interest my spouse. Note that ReBorn, since my visit, has moved to a new location at 113 E. Main Street.

table

Sorry, readers, the table and chairs are sold as is the hand-painted blue grey Armoire.

Honestly, Randy’s male opinion aside, I loved this place. Loved it. It’s artsy and hip and purposeful and just one incredible source for one-of-a-kind recycled home furnishings.

The red dresser/buffet is priced at $295.

The red dresser/buffet was priced at $295.

I am all about reusing what we have. ReBorn transforms old furniture and furnishings in to incredible functional pieces that pop with color and personality. You won’t find anything cookie cutter here. The business even does custom work.

That magical Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

ReBorn sells furniture transforming Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

The secret to ReBorn’s look, so says Becky Feikema who was tending shop on the Saturday I stopped, is Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, a decorative paint that goes over most any surface without prep (such as sanding or priming) and leaves a velvety matte finish. ReBorn also protects the painted project with subtle sheen Annie Sloan Soft Wax.

I was a bit surprised that Becky, who has a degree in agriculture and not in interior design, shared so much, including two hand-outs on Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. But I suppose if you’re selling that paint, as ReBorn does, you push it.

This yellow table can be yours for $160. The chairs are $65/each.

This yellow table could be yours for $160. The chairs were $65/each.

I saw so many pieces of furniture and other merchandise in ReBorn that I loved. There’s that word again. Loved. I suspect, for that reason, Randy tried to steer me away from this incredible store. He knows me well. I resisted, I really did, and walked away (because I didn’t need anything) without a single purchase. Not that I wasn’t tempted…

The butterfly on the signage symbolizes the rebirth aspect of transforming old home furnishings in to something new and unique.

The butterfly symbolizes the rebirth aspect of transforming old home furnishings in to something new and unique.

FYI: Click here to reach the ReBorn Home Furnishings website to see before and after transformations, pieces available for purchase and more. This is one talented crew running this business.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Lots of merchandise to choose from in this corner display.

Lots of merchandise to choose from in this corner display. The hutch on the left was priced at $475.  The black chest of drawers and vintage fainting couch were sold.

The yellow shelving unit can be yours for $88.

The yellow shelving unit could be yours for $88.

This bench, repurposed from a bed, sells for $215.

This bench, repurposed from a bed, sells for $215.

The vanity/desk is marked at $135.

The vanity/desk, marked at $135.

FYI: ReBorn is open from noon to 7 p.m. on Thursdays and from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturdays. A Chalk Paint Class is set for this Saturday, October 4, and again on October 9. Click here for details.

Note that all of these photos were taken in July 2013 and therefore may not reflect current stock.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring veterans in Luverne November 11, 2013

The Rock County Veterans Memorial in front of the courthouse, Luverne, Minnesota.

The Rock County Veterans Memorial in front of the courthouse, Luverne, Minnesota. That’s a restored Civil War cannon.

FROM THE VETERANS MEMORIAL fronting the Rock County Courthouse to the next door Rock County Veterans Memorial Building—which houses the Herreid Military Museum and more—to the Minnesota Veterans Home and the town’s star role in the Ken Burns’ World War II documentary, The War, Luverne honors and respects veterans unlike any other rural Minnesota community.

That’s my impression, anyway, after a visit this summer to Luverne, tucked into the extreme southwestern corner of my state.

A flag hangs in a hallway outside the military museum.

A flag hangs in a hallway outside the military museum.

You cannot help but feel awed by the patriotism that exists here.

A statue titled "Poppies" personalizes this memorial as do the names of some 1,600 veterans engraved in pavers.

A statue titled “Poppies” personalizes this memorial as do the names of some 1,600 veterans engraved in pavers.

And because sometimes a picture is truly worth a thousand words, allow me to show you a snippet of the ways in which Luverne honors veterans:

The 1900 former Rock County Jail and sheriff's home today is the Rock County Veterans Memorial Building. It houses the Herreid Military Museum, the Brandenburg Gallery and the Luverne Chamber of Commerce.

The 1900 former Rock County Jail and sheriff’s home today is the Rock County Veterans Memorial Building. It houses the Herreid Military Museum, the Brandenburg Gallery and the Luverne Chamber of Commerce.

An overview of the Herreid Military Museum which pays tribute to Rock County residents who served their country in the military. A third-floor exhibit will open in 2014 featuring the story of war from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.

An overview of the Herreid Military Museum which pays tribute to Rock County residents who served their country in the military. A third-floor exhibit will open in 2014 featuring the story of war from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.

A model plane in the museum.

A model plane in the museum.

Another view of the military museum.

Another view of the military museum.

The memorable face of a veteran at the outdoor memorial.

The memorable face of a veteran at the outdoor memorial.

Equally memorable words.

Equally memorable words.

Today, Veterans Day, please remember our veterans and the sacrifices they made for our freedom.

FYI: Click here to learn more about the Rock County Veterans Memorial.

For more info on the Herried Military Museum, click here.

By clicking here, you will learn more about the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne.

Click here to learn more about Ken Burns’ WWII documentary, The War.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Chasing the light in Luverne September 18, 2013

An overview of the gallery's inviting first level.

An overview of the gallery’s inviting first level.

WALK INTO THE BRANDENBURG GALLERY in Luverne with a camera and you likely will feel unworthy and intimidated, but mostly in awe.

Brandenburg is among natives honored on a lower level hallway Rock County Hall of Fame. He's on the lower right.

Brandenburg is among native residents honored in a lower level hallway Rock County Hall of Fame. He’s on the lower right, inducted in 1992. Brandenburg graduated from Luverne High School in 1963 and, after college, worked as picture editor at the nearby Worthington Daily Globe while also freelancing for National Geographic. He left the Globe in 1978 to do contract work for National Geographic.

This gallery houses the work of native son Jim Brandenburg, probably Minnesota’s best-known nature photographer.

A Brandenburg bison photo hangs to the left and the photographer talks about his work in a video, right.

A Brandenburg bison photo hangs to the left and the photographer talks about his work in a video, right.

For more than three decades, Brandenburg traveled the globe photographing for National Geographic. Yes, he’s that good. He’s accumulated numerous awards and has been published in so many places I can’t possibly list them all. (Click here to read his biography.)

Some of Brandenburg's photo books.

Some of Brandenburg’s photo books.

For years I’ve wanted to tour this gallery in the extreme southwestern corner of my state, to view, close up, the images I’ve seen in books, plus more. I wanted to study his photos—the light, the angles, the perspective.

Light plays upon walls, floors and Brandenburg photos in a stairway display.

Light plays upon walls, floors and Brandenburg photos in a stairway display.

Brandenburg is known for his focus on light. Light, as all serious photographers understand, can make or break a photo. This noted photographer features some of his best “light” photos in a published collection, Chased by the Light—A 90-Day Journey. Images from that book are among those showcased in the gallery.

The first floor of the gallery, which doubles as the Luverne Chamber of Commerce office, is artfully and comfortably decorated.

The first floor of the gallery, which doubles as the Luverne Chamber of Commerce office, is artfully and comfortably decorated. Here are three of Brandenburg’s prairie photos. The tall grass prairie, he says, played in to his development as a photographer. He calls prairie grass magical.

Given my deep love for my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, I most appreciate Brandenburg’s prairie images, displayed on the first floor of the gallery. If you doubt that beauty exists on the prairie, you won’t after seeing these photos.

Brandenburg's published books include Brother Wolf--A Forgotten Promise.

Brandenburg’s published books include Brother Wolf–A Forgotten Promise. The photographer says he swapped a hunting rifle for a camera and never tires of capturing an animal with his camera. The red fox , not the wolf as one would expect, is his favorite animal.

The gallery’s lower level offers a variety of images, but focuses on scenes from Minnesota’s northwoods, where Brandenburg now lives and works near Ely. Think mostly wolves.

The lower level gallery, also a conference space.

The lower level gallery, also a conference space.

After meandering through the gallery, I contemplated not only the talent Brandenburg possesses as a photographer, but his deep knowledge of the natural world and the patience required to wait for the ideal light or for an animal’s arrival. To anticipate, to react or not, to click the shutter button at the precise moment takes a certain talent. And I was graced, for an hour, to walk in the light of such incredible talent.

The entry to the gallery, located in the Rock County Courthouse square.

The gallery, located in the Rock County Courthouse square.

FYI: The Brandenburg Gallery, 213 East Luverne St., is open from 8 a.m – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday and from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturdays. There is no admission fee. Note that I had difficulty finding the gallery as the address does not seem to coincide with the street on which the gallery is located. When you see the courthouse, you’ve found the gallery, located right next door in the old county jail, now the Rock County Veterans Memorial Building. The building is actually along McKenzie Street.

A familiar scene to me, autumn leaves photographed in the Big Woods of Minnesota, within 20 miles of my home.

A familiar scene to me, autumn leaves photographed in the Big Woods of Minnesota, within 20 miles of my home.

Also, note that I asked permission to photograph in the gallery and was given the OK to do so.

FYI: Please click here to read my first in a series of posts, on Blue Mounds State Park, from the Luverne area.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rugged Blue Mounds State Park on the southwestern Minnesota prairie September 17, 2013

Welcoming visitors to Blue Mounds State Park in rural Rock County, Minnesota.

Welcoming visitors to Blue Mounds State Park in rural Rock County, Minnesota.

YOU WOULD THINK, considering I am a native of southwestern Minnesota, that I would have visited Blue Mounds State Park many times.

But I hadn’t, ever, and it has been on my list of must-see places for the past several years. That and the Brandenburg Gallery in Luverne, four miles to the south. That would be Jim Brandenburg, perhaps Minnesota’s best-known nature photographer. He grew up in rural Luverne, near the South Dakota border.

Hundreds of windmills now define this region of southwestern Minnesota.

Hundreds of windmills now define this region of southwestern Minnesota.

Recently my husband and I traveled to this corner of Minnesota specifically to see these two sites. It was well worth the long drive that took us through many small agricultural communities, past acres and acres of cropland, and past hundreds of wind turbines which define so much of the landscape in this region now. While I understand their energy value, these unnatural giants, in my opinion, have ruined the aesthetics of the prairie. I like my prairie big, open and wide, without monstrosities to detract from its natural beauty.

Beautiful natural scenery.

Beautiful natural scenery.

Thankfully, preserved and protected prairie remains in places like Blue Mounds State Park and nearby Touch the Sky Prairie and in Brandenburg’s images.

Hiking the path up and through the prairie grass.

Hiking the path up and through the prairie grass.

On the Saturday we hiked Blue Mounds, strong winds buffeted the land, bending prairie grasses as we climbed a hillside,

Mounds of flat rock naturally planted upon the prairie.

Mounds of flat rock naturally planted upon the prairie.

A close-up shot of that in-ground flat rock.

A close-up shot of that in-ground flat rock.

examined and walked upon clumps of huge rock,

My husband inside the portion of the park where rock was once quarried.

My husband inside the portion of the park where rock was once quarried.

An impressive quarry wall of Sioux quartzite.

An impressive quarry wall of Sioux quartzite.

admired towering cliffs of Sioux quartzite,

The prickly pear cactus seemingly grows right out of the rock.

The prickly pear cactus seemingly grows right out of the rock.

bent low to study the prickly pear cactus, an unexpected plant in this northern climate. In the distance, we glimpsed the park’s herd of bison.

One example of the many prairie wildflowers.

One example of the many prairie wildflowers.

Look at the size of that Sioux quartzite rock compared to my husband.

Look at the size of that Sioux quartzite rock compared to my husband.

Just inside the park entry, I spotted this couple getting wedding photos taken among the prairie grasses and wildflowers.

Just inside the park entry, I spotted this couple getting wedding photos taken among the prairie grasses and wildflowers.

I stopped more often than not to photograph wildflowers and the prairie grass and rocks and the overall scenery in this stunning spot on the prairie, unlike any I’ve ever viewed in Minnesota.

From a gravel road that loops past the park, I photographed this rugged rock line.

From a gravel road that loops past the park, I photographed this rugged rock line.

This prairie differs from the flat, cropped agricultural prairie of my youth. This prairie rolls and rises and meets the sky and feels wild and rugged and untamed. I almost expected to see horses galloping across the land, like a scene out of a western. It has that feel.

Pasture land near the park for these grazing sheep. Note their wool clinging to the fence.

Pasture land near the park for these grazing sheep. Note the tufts of wool clinging to the fence.

I observed sheep and cattle grazing in an abundance of rocky pastures nestled between corn and soybean fields. And from the hilltops, the land seemed to stretch in to forever in all directions.

BONUS PHOTOS:

No rock climbing for us, but if you're a rock climber, Blue Mounds allows this sport.

No rock climbing for us, but if you’re a rock climber, Blue Mounds allows this sport.

Photographing wildflowers is more my type of "sport."

Photographing wildflowers is more my type of “sport.” That proved a challenge in the wind.

Farms like this border Blue Mounds State Park.

Farms like this border Blue Mounds State Park.

We followed this gravel road around the park and past a country church in the distance.

We followed this gravel road around the park and past a country church in the distance.

Sheep graze in a pasture near the country church.

Sheep graze in a pasture near the country church.

And because I value detail, I set my camera on the prairie and took this shot.

And because I value detail, I set my camera on a rock on the prairie and took this shot.

CHECK BACK for more posts from this region of Minnesota. I’ll take you into Luverne to view the Brandenburg Gallery and other points of interest.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

You know you’re in rural Minnesota when… September 16, 2013

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…you pull into your hotel parking lot and park your vehicle across the chain length fence from a row of Demco gravity flow wagons.

Luverne, Minnesota's newest hotel, the GrandStay, 908 South Kniss Avenue.

Luverne, Minnesota’s newest hotel, the GrandStay, 908 South Kniss Avenue.

Join me this week for a series of stories from Luverne, a farming community located in the extreme southwestern corner of Minnesota, right next to South Dakota and Iowa. It’s a community worth visiting, as I will show you via photos and words.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Luverne: “Go digital or go dark” August 29, 2013

The entry to the historic Palace Theatre in downtown Luverne, Minnesota.

The entry to the historic Palace Theatre in downtown Luverne, Minnesota.

THE DOORS TO THE OLD THEATRE were locked, much to my dismay, on a recent Saturday visit to Luverne in extreme southwestern Minnesota.

Charming exterior art.

Charming exterior art.

If only I could have gotten inside to view the original painted wall panels, stage curtains, pipe organ, and artistic wall and ceiling décor inside the 1915 Palace Theatre.

I am a fan of old theatres and of old buildings in general. But you know that if you’ve followed Minnesota Prairie Roots.

That's ReBorn, in the right corner of the city-owned theatre building at 102 E. Main Street.

The city-owned Palace Theatre at 102 E. Main Street, operated by the nonprofit Blue Mound Area Theatre.

That Luverne appreciates the value of its historic theatre enough to preserve the building, which hosts a variety of cultural and other events, pleases me. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Theatre supporters are currently working to continue one aspect of the building’s use, that of showing movies. Through the “Go Digital or Go Dark” campaign, efforts are underway to raise $75,000 for the purchase of a digital projector. At the end of 2013, film companies will no longer produce 35mm film, necessitating the switch.

Now I’m not a big movie watcher, having last viewed an in-theatre movie several years ago. But I like the option of a local theatre, which my community of 23,000 no longer has. Sad. Truly sad.

I expect the good folks of Luverne would miss their movies, too, should funding not come through for the digital projector.

A notable sign draws the eye to the Palace.

A notable sign draws the eye to the Palace.

A special fundraising event, “A Night at the Palace,” slated for Saturday, September 7, will raise monies specifically for that projector. Click here to learn more.

There’s just one more bit of information you should know about the Palace Theatre. Six years ago, on September 6, the Palace Theatre hosted the world premiere of The War, a Ken Burns documentary on World War II. Luverne is one of four communities featured in the film.

Downtown Luverne, Minnesota.

Downtown Luverne, Minnesota.

Of all the venues which could have been selected for the debut showing, the Palace Theatre was chosen. That, my friends, says a lot for the community of Luverne and the historic theatre.

FYI: To learn about another Luverne theatre in need of funding for a digital projector, click here and read about the Verne Drive-in.

If you wish to donate monies (via PayPal) toward purchasing a digital projector for the Palace Theatre, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering a drive-in movie theatre in Luverne & a nation-wide effort to save these icons August 15, 2013

A FEW WEEKS AGO, while traveling specifically to Luverne in the southwestern corner of Minnesota to tour the Brandenburg Gallery and Blue Mounds State Park, I discovered a vanishing icon of American culture.

That would be a drive-in movie theatre on the south edge of town just off Interstate 90.

Verne Drive-in entry sign

The Verne Drive-In Theater, built in the 1950s, is one of only a few drive-ins remaining in Minnesota. Others include the Long Drive-In in Long Prairie, the Starlite 5 Drive-In Theatre in Litchfield, the Vali-Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo and Sky-Vu Drive In in Warren. I think I’ve covered them all.

Nearly a year ago, the Cottage View Drive-In in Cottage Grove, in a controversial move, was closed and the land sold for construction of a Walmart store. (Click here to see Minnesota Public Radio photos of a September 2012 event celebrating the Cottage View’s 46-year history.)

Although I didn’t see a show at the Verne Drive-In, my husband and I drove through the vacant theatre parking lot on a Saturday morning just to check out the place and reminisce. We went to a few outdoor movies together when our community of Faribault still had a drive-in theatre. We also each attended drive-in movies separately while growing up. Me in Redwood Falls and he once in the Little Falls area and then near Brainerd.

Verne Drive-in, screen w filmstrip

I expect most of you hold on to some drive-in movie memories whether its cramming into the trunk of a car, making out with a long forgotten boyfriend or girlfriend, waiting in line for a concession stand snack or burger, tuning in to a movie via those little boxes stationed throughout the gravel parking lot, piling the kids into the car in their jammies for a night out under the stars…

At the Verne Drive-In a young couple, who went on their first date at the drive-in four years ago, recently became engaged there.

Drive-in theatres, most assuredly, are a part of our history, our culture, our growing up years and our personal memories.

Verne Drive-In exit sign film strip

Once commonplace in communities across the country, drive-ins are vanishing with only 368 remaining in the U.S., according to Project Drive-In established by Honda Motor Company. Honda, via an online and texting voting process, is giving away digital movie projectors to five drive-in theatres. The goal is simple: to save as many drive-ins as possible.

The financial challenge for drive-ins today lies in the need to switch to digital projection by the end of 2013, an upgrade which costs an estimated $80,000.

For theatres like the one in Luverne, winning a free digital projector through the Project Drive-In giveaway would be huge. You can vote online and/or via texting for these two Minnesota drive-ins daily for the next 25 days: the Verne Drive-In or the Long Drive-In. Click here for more information.

Project Drive-In also includes opportunities to donate monies toward saving our nation’s drive-ins and to pledge to go to a drive-in movie theatre. Win. Win.

WHAT MEMORIES DO YOU have of drive-in movie theatres? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling