Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Skirting downtown Minneapolis, an essay in words & images August 9, 2017

Minneapolis skyline, #9

 

I NEVER TIRE OF PHOTOGRAPHING the Minneapolis skyline from Interstate 35W. There’s something about the placement, height and shapes of the clustered buildings that appeals to me aesthetically. Add in the reflection of blue sky upon windows and the artistic allure increases substantially.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #10

 

My skyline images, for reasons I can’t explain, always appear to me more paintings than photos. Building edges are soft rather than harsh. That pleases me.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #11

 

If you were to place me in the middle of downtown Minneapolis, though, I wouldn’t be pleased. I’ve always felt boxed in by skyscrapers, by the vertical lines that block views. I am rooted in my native prairie, the broad vistas and wide open spaces an integral part of my being.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #12

 

Still, from a distance, I can appreciate downtown Minneapolis and the high-rises that ring it.

 

Riverside Plaza, designed by architect Ralph Rapson and built between 1971 - 1973, is probably the most recognized apartment complex in downtown Minneapolis. Located in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood, the multiple buildings include 1,303 units and are home to more than 4,000 residents. The plaza is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Riverside Plaza, designed by architect Ralph Rapson and built between 1971 – 1973, is probably the most recognized apartment complex in downtown Minneapolis. Located in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood, the multiple buildings include 1,303 units and are home to more than 4,000 residents. The plaza is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Mixed with the apartments, housing for visitors to downtown Minneapolis.

Mixed with the apartments, housing for visitors to downtown Minneapolis.

 

More apartments...

More apartments…I think.

 

Border apartments pack a lot of people into vertical space. I couldn’t live here, though, even if offered a spectacular river view. But I expect neither could these city dwellers move to a rural area with horizontal lines.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #18 apartments

I find the exterior view of these apartments aesthetically pleasing.

 

Just another view of the same apartment complex.

Just another view of the same apartment complex.

 

Where we choose to live is shaped by many factors—jobs, family, economics, amenities and more. And for me, my rural upbringing keeps me rooted outside the city in a place of horizontal vistas.

TELL ME: Why do you live where you live?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A look back at the day the 35W bridge fell down in Minneapolis August 1, 2017

Crossing the new Interstate 35W bridge near downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

TEN YEARS AGO TODAY at 6:05 p.m. our perception of safety on bridges changed. The Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour on August 1, 2007. Thirteen people died. One hundred and forty-five were injured.

 

Garrett with his mom, Joyce Resoft, about a month after the bridge collapse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2007 courtesy of Garrett’s family.

 

As news broke of the bridge collapse, I expect many a Minnesotan (myself included) worried whether a loved one may have been on that bridge when it fell. None of my family were. But Garrett Ebling, who had recently worked as editor of the daily paper in my community, was driving on the bridge. Among the most seriously hurt, he suffered a traumatic brain injury and more.

 

This photo shows the opening spread of the feature article published in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments. Casey McGovern of Minneapolis shot the bridge collapse scene. To the far left is Garrett before the collapse, to the right, his rescuer. The next photo shows his Ford Focus which plummeted into the Mississippi River. And to the right are Garrett and Sonja (his then fiancee), before the collapse.

 

At the time, I was writing for a Minnesota lifestyles magazine and, because of my Faribault connection to Garrett, interviewed him (via emailed questions) while he recovered. Garrett’s determination, tenacity, patience and faith impressed me. He showed incredible strength.

 

A section of the then now wow exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Since then Garrett has written a book, become a father and eventually also gone through a divorce. I can only imagine the toll a traumatic event like this takes on a relationship.

 

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today, on the ten-year anniversary of the 35W bridge collapse, I am thinking of Garrett and all the others who survived. I am thinking also of the 13 who died on a metropolitan roadway on a bridge that failed. I am thinking of the families. I am thinking of the bystanders and of the first responders who helped save lives.

 

Crossing the new 35W bridge. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And I am thinking how this tragedy forever changed us as Minnesotans. With the failure of that bridge, we lost a certain sense of security. But we also gained an appreciation for each other and for the strength of the human spirit. We were a united Minnesota, standing strong in the face of an unfathomable tragedy. There is something to be said for unifying moments like that in which we forget our differences and focus instead on caring for each other. On August 1, 2007, we experienced such a moment. We were one Minnesota.

 

FYI: Click here to read several poems published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the five-year anniversary of the bridge collapse in 2012. My poem, Quotes from a survivor, is among them.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.

 

I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Owatonna: Showcasing the work of fashion designer Spencer Versteeg May 9, 2017

Two of the dresses Spencer Versteeg designed, now on display at the Owatonna Arts Center.

 

HIS PASSION FOR FASHION is evident. It shows in his work, in his enthusiasm, in his energetic vibe.

 

Spencer answers questions about his fashions during his OAC gallery reception.

 

I observed all of that Sunday afternoon at an Owatonna Arts Center reception honoring Spencer Versteeg who returned to his hometown for his first ever gallery showing. He’s an apparel design student heading into his senior year at the University of Minnesota.

 

The exhibit features notebooks and pages of Spencer’s design sketches.

 

Spencer has known since age seven that he wanted to design clothing.

Spencer has known since age seven that he wanted to design clothing. He pursued that interest early on via local theatre and a high school internship at Kristi’s Clothing Boutique.

 

 

 

Already Spencer is making an imprint on the fashion scene. Last fall his work was showcased in the noted Envision Fashion Show at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. And this summer he’s interning at Target, working on a floor set that should land his women’s clothing designs in Target stores.

 

 

 

Front dress details drape.

 

Spencer’s clothing designs hang high on a gallery space wall.

 

Asked to describe his design style, Spencer paused, then responded with a single word: vibrant. That seems accurate when I consider his fashion designs beyond hue and pattern. His clothing possesses a vibrancy in a sense of motion, in the flow of fabric, in the impression it exudes.

 

Spencer talks with a gallery guest about his fashion designs. He invited visitors to page through his sketchbooks.

 

And then there’s Spencer himself, engaging family and friends with a notable appreciation for their support and with a deep love for the creative process of fashion design.

 

Rows of sketches by Spencer are taped to a gallery wall.

 

When I inquired about his future, he provided an honest answer. “That’s a good question,” Spencer said, offering no hint at the direction his life may take after graduation from the U of M.

 

The bodice of a particularly creative dress shown at the Envision Fashion Show.

 

“New York?” I asked.

 

 

He’s been to New York, Spencer said, enough to understand he needs space, open physical space. But I expect if opportunities present themselves in the New York fashion scene, this Owatonna native will embrace them.

 

 

 

Clothing patterns are tapped to gallery windows.

 

 

 

I know next to nothing about fashion, although I sewed my own clothing (from purchased patterns) while in high school. But I understand the need, the desire, the passion to create. Just like Spencer.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Take two: A second look at the film “Sweet Land” & immigration issues February 6, 2017

sweet-land-envelope-copy

The letter Inge received from Olaf, in the fictional film Sweet Land.

She is not one of us. We speak a common language. We have a common background, a common culture. She is not one of us.
#

We have to be careful about this sort of thing…German nationals. German nationals engage in prostitution. They harbor dangerous political convictions. Are you aware of the Espionage Act of 1916?
#

English only in the church. English.
#

You’re German. It’s a bad influence. You’re German. It’s a disruption to my community. You make coffee that’s too black.

She makes good coffee, not like the women in church.
#

I was fearful of her differences, but I was hopeful she could join us on our path….Do not allow your good lives to be poisoned by these two.
#

This is German food?

No, just food.
#

You don’t have the papers.

sweetlandposter_mini

Promotional from Sweet Land website.

LAST WEEK I REWATCHED Sweet Land, an award-winning independent film released in 2005. The movie, based on Minnesota writer Will Weaver’s short story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” and filmed on my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, rates as a favorite of mine.

sweet-land-farmhouse-copy

Olaf Torvik’s home on the prairie. The film was shot in and around Montevideo, Minnesota.

I appreciate the early 1920s setting, the music, the story and, now, its relevancy to today. The above dialogue comes from Sweet Land, which focuses on the challenges faced by Inge Altenberg, summoned to America by Norwegian farmer Olaf Torvik. He expects a Norwegian mail order bride as do others in the community. But Inge is not Norwegian; she is German.

Thereafter, the conflict begins with “She is not one of us.”

The land and love shape the story.

The land and love weave into this story. Here Inge and Olaf dance on the prairie.

I won’t give away the plot, which includes a love story. But I will tell you that I watched the movie this time from a much different perspective, in the context of current day immigration issues in our country. Sadness swept over me.

Please watch this thought-provoking, conversation-starting film. It’s a must-see whether you make coffee that’s good, judged as too black or you don’t brew coffee at all. It’s still coffee.

FYI: Sweet Land, the musical opens April 29 at History Theatre in St. Paul. It runs for five weeks, Thursday – Sunday, until May 28. Will I go? I’d love to…

RELATED: Saturday afternoon a sizable crowd gathered on the Rice County Courthouse grounds in my community for a peaceful protest. Please click here to watch the video, Faribault, Minnesota Immigration Ban Protest 2-4-17, posted by Terry Pounds. Faribault is home to many immigrants and refugees, including from Somalia.

A photographic exhibit of refugee children who fled Syria, leaving everything behind, is showing at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Photos for Where the Children Sleep were taken by award-winning Swedish photojournalist Magnus Wennman. In order to increase community access to the exhibit, the ASI is providing free admission on Wednesdays in February. The exhibit runs through March 5. Where the Children Sleep launches the Institute’s 2017 “Migration, Identity and Belonging Programming.”

Review © Copyright 2017 by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mobile in a Minnesota winter, from metro to rural January 17, 2017

The outline of the Minneapolis skyline appears in the hazy distance while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 252.

The outline of the Minneapolis skyline appears in the hazy distance while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 252.

EVEN IN THE DEPTHS of winter, we Minnesotans are a mobile bunch. Snow, ice and cold may slow our pace. But, unless we hibernate, and we don’t, we remain fairly active.

Passing through the Lowry Tunnels always seems visually surreal to me, like driving through a video game.

Passing through the Lowry Tunnel in downtown Minneapolis always seems visually surreal to me, like driving through a video game.

This past weekend, snow-free and warm weather conditions proved ideal to be out and about. I was in “the Cities,” as those of us living outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro call that area. Family draws me there—this trip to spend time with the granddaughter and the in-laws.

Driving toward downtown Minneapolis on Interstate 94.

Driving toward downtown Minneapolis on Interstate 94.

The metro always teems with movement. Vehicles zoom along interstates and other roadways.

 

travel-101-plane-copy

 

Airliners crisscross the sky. Buses carry passengers along city streets. People walk and bike and run. I am always thankful when the busyness of the Cities fades in the rearview mirror. Thankful except for the leaving behind of family.

A man walks his bike along Minnesota State Highway 21 in Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

A man walks his bike along Minnesota State Highway 21 in Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

I prefer the quiet of less urban areas. Peaceful places certainly exist within the metro. But it’s not the same. I am more content in the quiet spaces of my community or small towns or the countryside. Within the familiar. Where fewer people live.

 

travel-130-skiing-at-river-bend

 

And so, after returning from the metro, I slipped on my Northwest Territory boots for a walk at River Bend Nature Center. While I hiked along snow-packed trails, others skied. Powered by our own feet, movement shifted from fast to slow. And that suited me after a weekend in the busy metro.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One artist’s interpretation of his walk from Minneapolis to Northfield April 4, 2016

An overview of The Via Northfield exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

An overview of The Via Northfield exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

WHEN EXPECTATIONS DON’T MATCH reality, it is initially disappointing. But then, when you reflect, perception sometimes changes and an aha moment emerges. Such was the metamorphosis for me regarding Minneapolis artist and writer Andy Sturdevant’s The Via Northfield project  showing now through April 17 at the Flaten Art Museum on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield.

The introduction to Andy Sturdevant's project.

The introduction to Andy Sturdevant’s project.

I expected a straight-forward documentary exhibit with journaling and photos of Sturdevant’s two-day, 40-mile trek from Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis to St. Olaf in September 2015. The Via Northfield was anything but. And if I’d bothered to research in advance of my recent exhibit tour, I would have realized Sturdevant would not follow my expected path. He walks a detoured path of creativity. And it works in the kind of artistic way that weaves the present and the past, stories with facts, visuals with words, into a multi-faceted exhibit.

A copy of a newspaper clipping summarizes the death of a man in a profoundly succinct way.

A copy of a newspaper clipping summarizes the disappearnace of a man in a profoundly succinct way.

Pinpointing 15 locations (way stations) along his route, this artist focuses on specific place details through photos, newspaper clippings, artwork, stories and atypical items like a lost cat flier and a gravestone rubbing.

This photo of two Carleton students and their story captivated me.

This photo of two Carleton students and their story captivated me.

My personal favorite is a photo of Carleton College students and an accompanying note. The trio walked from Northfield to the Mall of America, stopping to rest on a couch in a supercool yard in Eureka Township. The note, addressed to dear wonderful people, is signed Kathy, Wren and Bettina. The writer in me latched onto those names, especially the poetically-pleasing Wren.

Sturdevant focuses on places as specific as Eureka Township.

Sturdevant focuses on places as specific as Eureka Township.

Sturdevant’s exhibit calls for close study. And, I’ll admit, I didn’t give it the complete focus it deserves as my energy waned at the end of a long day exploring rural Minnesota.

But I caught some details that caused me to laugh—like Sturdevant’s use of the words soybean farms to describe farms upon which soybeans are grown. I’ve never heard the term. I’ve ever only known such Minnesota farms as crop farms. I grew up on one.

And I laughed at a story about a Dundas man’s journey to a Fargo convention and a subsequent question, Is the Corner Bar still there? Yes, Dawn’s Corner Bar remains a corner anchor in downtown Dundas.

A snippet look at The Via Northfield.

A snippet look at The Via Northfield.

These are the types of stories that connect an exhibit like The Via Northfield in a personal way to those who view it.

Sturdevant personalizes, too, by memorializing pedestrians who died along his traveled route. He uses black circles with name, date and sparse details.

A strong visual.

A strong visual at the end of the exhibit.

Even his ripped pants hang on a wall.

At one of two tables, exhibit visitors can sit and file a Pedestrian Report...

At one of two tables, exhibit visitors can sit and file a Pedestrian Report…

...by following these instructions...

…by following these instructions…

...and then using a typewriter...

…and then using a typewriter…

...or a pencil...

…or a pencil…

...to record a personal story.

…to record a personal story.

This exhibit isn’t just about reading and viewing. It’s also participatory. Viewers are welcome to file their stories in a Pedestrian Report typed on a manual typewriter or written in pencil. Not with any pencil, though, but rather with one imprinted:

I WALKED
“THE VIA NORTHFIELD”
MINNEAPOLIS TO NORTHFIELD, MINN.

The exhibit is promoted on a screen outside The Flaten Art Museum.

The exhibit is promoted on a screen outside The Flaten Art Museum.

FYI: You can view The Via Northfield exhibit from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Wednesday, from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday, and from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. weekends at the Flaten Art Museum in the Dittmann Center on the campus of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. Admission is free.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling