Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating the creativity of Minnesota artists at the Paradise March 11, 2022

“Flying Snow Owl” woodcarving by Lakeville artist Mike Stoecklein. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

THE RANGE OF CREATIVITY in southern Minnesota continues to impress me. Take the art of Kate Langlais of Faribault and of Mike Stoecklein from Lakeville. They create decidedly different art. But they share the commonality of incredible creative talent.

“Pope Francis,” an acrylic portrait by Faribault artist Kate Langlais. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Recently I viewed exhibits by both in separate galleries at Faribault’s Paradise Center for the Arts. I continue to feel deep gratitude for this arts center in my community. We need art—whether literary, visual or performing—to feed our spirits and souls, just as much as we need food to feed our bodies.

“Grey Tree Frog” woodcarving by Mike Stoecklein. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

A walk-about viewing the work of Kate and Mike reaffirms the importance of art in my life. Mike’s nature-focused pieces, especially his woodcarvings, take me into the woods. To observe an array of owls. To spot a tree frog, the elusive frog I’ve always wanted to see but haven’t. His landscape paintings also connect me to place. (He paints the occasional portrait, too.)

A portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Kate Langlais. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Kate’s Paradise exhibit is portrait-strong, her specialty, although she also paints landscapes. When I study the faces she’s recreated, I feel a connection, too. Kate has an ability to convey emotions and personality. Generosity. Kindness. Strength. Love. Compassion.

Mike Stoecklein’s “Eagle Owl” woodcarving. In his artist statement, he writes: “I create for myself, and if others enjoy it, then that’s even better…” Owls are a favorite subject of this artist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I encourage you to stop by the Paradise galleries—Mary Welke (a Minneapolis artist) and Summer Heselton (a junior at Bethlehem Academy) also have art displayed—this weekend or next. All four shows close on March 19. Also head upstairs to the annual All Area Student Show, which runs until April 9. I’ll feature a post on that soon.

Paradise hours are from noon-5 pm Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and noon-2 pm Saturday. The Paradise, located at 321 Central Avenue North in historic downtown Faribault, also opens for evening concerts, theatrical productions and other events.

TELL ME: Do you have a go-to arts center in your community? Why do you value the arts? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mary Welke’s art reconnects me to my rural roots March 8, 2022

Corn husks define Mary Welke’s mixed media on canvas, “Shucks.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I FELT CONNECTED, oh, so connected to Minneapolis artist Mary Welke’s art as I viewed her exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

The lower portion of “Roots” shadows on the gallery wall. These are dry corn roots. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Welke’s mixed media art is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It resonates with me, reconnecting me to my southwestern Minnesota prairie roots. To the farm. To the land. The place that shaped me as a person, writer and photographer.

Nature inspires Mary Welke as seen in these oversized mixed media art pieces. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

That I experienced such a strong emotional reaction is a credit to this artist, who grew up near the Mississippi River in northeast Minneapolis. Her childhood exploration of river and fields and time with her grandmother in a sprawling vegetable garden instilled an early appreciation of nature, which inspires her art.

“Autumn Yield” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Understanding that background explains how this urban resident came to create “Field and Farmland,” a project funded by a 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. She also did her homework—visiting, researching and documenting the prairie and meeting with farmers. The result is art reflecting the prairie, prescribed burns and farmland restoration.

“Spring/Summer Renewal” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

The incorporation of organic materials like soil, corn roots and leaves, other crop residue and more drew me into Welke’s art. I felt as if I was back on the farm, watching my dad turn the rich black soil toward the sun for spring planting. I felt, too, like I was walking the rows of a harvested corn field, the scent of autumn lingering in the prairie wind.

I didn’t note the title of this art featuring burlap and twine. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
So much texture in “After Harvest” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Corn husks up close in Mary Welke’s “Shucks.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Welke’s art is layered. Textured. It holds not only a visual depth, but a depth of connection to the land, to farming.

Mary Welke’s “Topographical Prairie Lands” scattered across a black surface. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

This is what I love about art. The ability to relate. To stand in a gallery and contemplate. Remember. Appreciate. And, with Welke’s work, especially, to feel rooted in the land.

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NOTE: Please check back for more posts on other exhibits currently at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Artists Mary Welke, Kate Langlais, Michael Stoecklein and Summer Heselton will participate in a Visual Artists Talk at 6:30 pm on Thursday, March 10. See the Paradise Center for the Arts Facebook page for more info. The art of all four will be on display at the Paradise through March 19.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling