Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Up for auction: original Edward Curtis photogravures April 15, 2021

WHEN THE AUCTION BOOKLET arrived in the mail, I thumbed through page after page of photos showing Native American artifacts. Tools. Knives. Triangle points. And more. Made from bone, stones, quills…

In the auction booklet, Edward Curtis photogravures are featured along with Native American art and artifcats.

But when I reached the middle of the publication from Helbling Auctioneers* for a May 22 “Large South Dakota Artifact Collection” auction in Lakeville, Minnesota, I paused. Item #131 on the auction list features seven original 1907 photogravures by noted photographer Edward S. Curtis. He is well-known for documenting Native Americans living west of the Mississippi River via his incredible photography.

Among the prints of Edward Curtis photos exhibited at the Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

I was first introduced to Curtis while viewing 60 prints in his “The North American Indian” collection at the Montgomery (MN) Arts & Heritage Center in January 2020. It was a temporary installation funded by a $4,000 grant from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation and an incredible gift to this community of some 3,000.

A photo of Edward Curtis with info about this noted American photographer was showcased in Montgomery, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

Curtis has a connection to the Montgomery area, moving from Wisconsin to nearby Cordova as a child. As he grew, Curtis often traveled with his preacher father, sometimes canoeing with him on the Cannon River. That fostered his love of the outdoors. And apparently his interest in photography. By age 17, he was working at a photography studio in St. Paul. Then, in 1887, the family moved to Seattle.

An insightful and beautiful quote by Edward Curtis shown at the Montgomery exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

That’s the brief backstory on the man who would become famous for his historical photographic documentation of Native Americans. He lived with these peoples, observed them, understood them, respected them. And that shows in his portraits, his photographs of everyday scenes, of their lives.

From the auction preview book, the photogravures of Edward Curtis.

The seven original photogravures on the May auction block are a mix of portraits and everyday life. I expect they will draw the interest of historians, collectors and others. Certainly, they caught my eye as I paged through all those photos of artifacts.

Edward Curtis specializes in Native American portraits, like this one up for bid.

I appreciate the challenges long ago photographers like Curtis faced with equipment and the whole photographic process. They couldn’t fire off frame after frame to get the perfect image. Rather, they often had to get it right the first time. When I consider that, I am even more impressed by Curtis’ work. He was a master of craft, honed from his connection to the outdoors, his understanding of Native Americans and his desire to honor them with his photography.

FYI: The May 22 auction at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Lakeville begins at 10 a.m. and features primarily items from the Ernie & Barb Spaid Family Artifact Collection (from South Dakota). However, in the middle of the sale, a small collection from North and South Dakotas will be sold. That includes the seven original Edward Curtis 1907 photogravures. For more info about the auction, click here.

* Bob Helbling of Helbling Auctioneers of Kindred and Hankinson, N.D., is a distant cousin of my husband. I wrote this post because of my interest in the photography of Edward S. Curtis.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Montgomery celebrates agriculture with art August 13, 2020

“Stop to Remember,” a pen and watercolor by Cami Vargo, was awarded third place in the show by judges Dale and Gale Looft. The art depicts her Great Grandpa Orville Richter’s 1965 Ford tractor.

 

THEIR ARTIST STATEMENTS are as compelling as their art.

 

Cami Vargo’s artist statement about her tractor art.

 

In a new exhibit, “Celebrating Farmers and Agriculture,” coordinated by the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, 15 artists share their deep love and appreciation for all things rural. Recently I viewed the 22 pieces of art displayed in the front windows of the arts center and businesses in the heart of this small Minnesota town.

 

One of two photos by Liz Krocak, this one titled “Apple Harvest Visitors.”

 

Through the screen window, you can read this artist statement by Liz Krocak.

 

Bold and beautiful stained glass art by Annette Stavos hangs in a window of Hermann Thrifty White Pharmacy. If the drugstore is open, go inside and view the art to see the sun shining through it. Another stained glass creation by Mona Grimm hangs in a window of Montgomery Chiropractic and was awarded second place in the show.

 

From cows to a rooster to a farm dog, from tractors to windmills, from barns to country scenes, the art showcases important aspects of rural life.

 

Constructed from cardboard by Brian Prchal, this is a replica of a modified 4020 John Deere.

 

Brian Prchal shares the stories behind his two art pieces.

 

And the stories that accompany that art are often deeply personal. Rooted in the land.

 

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center (right side of building), 206 First Street North on the north end of downtown.

 

In the ag display, 4-H buttons.

 

County fairs are an important part of rural life.

 

Before beginning my tour, I stopped first at the arts and heritage center to pick up a map and to view an exhibit of local ag-related memorabilia showing the importance of agriculture in this community.

 

The grain elevator complex in Montgomery.

 

Just down the hill from the arts center, grain elevators loom, a strong visual of ag’s local economic value. On the opposite end of town, the canning company processes sweetcorn. And on every border of town, homes or businesses adjoin farm fields.

 

Future Farmers of America, based at the local high school.

 

Recognizing 4-H in Le Sueur County.

 

Lots of signs downtown celebrate kolacky, a Czech pastry sold at Franke’s Bakery and Mackenthune’s Fine Foods.

 

Montgomery centers on agriculture and its Czech heritage as the self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. So it seems particularly fitting that the arts center would focus its new exhibit on farmers and agriculture. The project was funded with a Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council grant and donations from the Bob and Mary Jo Loftus Foundation and Compeer Financial.

 

“The Nuts & Bolts of Farming” fits this tractor art crafted by Tyler Fromm.

 

Area artists clearly enjoyed the challenge of creating ag-themed art. I saw that in tractor art drawn, formed from string and nails, cut and crafted from cardboard, welded from nuts and bolts.

 

Pat Preble won first place for “Old Barn” and “Cows in the Field.” She incorporated a “Star of Heaven” quilt block into her barn art in honor of her mom, a quilter.

 

Stained glass. Batik. Wood. Photos. Quilts. So many different tools and styles and ways of creating art add to the interest.

 

This artist statement made me laugh out loud. Because of glare, I was unable to photograph Anna’s cow art.

 

The art honors pioneer women who pieced quilts, an uncle, farm wives… Liz Krocak writes in her artist’s statement, “Behind every good farmer is his wife, rolling her eyes.” Yes, humor even infuses some of the artist statements.

 

Glare made it really challenging to photograph Carol Ehrhardt’s entire cattle and windmill art. But I decided I like this image showing only the top of the windmill and the reflection of an aged building. Ehrhardt was awarded third place in the show.

 

Annette Stavos, who grew up on a hobby farm, honors her uncle. “My uncle was the real farmer and we helped him pick rocks and bale hay.”

 

A close-up of Susan Hayes batik art titled “Summer Fields.”

 

Susan Hayes, a city girl who married a farmer, writes. “…I’ve had first hand experience with agriculture and life on a small farm. It’s not easy getting up before 5 am to milk the cows or baling hay in 100 degree weather. She created a beautiful batik piece, “Summer Fields.”

 

A farm in the Montgomery area.

 

Anna Prchal expresses her love of rural life in these words: “The fresh air, hard work ethic and never having a dull moment there are the things I love most about the farm.”

 

The countryside near Montgomery.

 

For Kimmie Loranger, who once traveled with the carnival, worked as a nanny and waitress, and who was at one time homeless, living in rural Montgomery and now creating art “is the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life.”

 

Tyler Fromm drew this picture of his “beloved farm dog, Buddy.” Oak siding from the corn crib on his family’s century old farm frames the art.

 

These are the stories that make this exhibit especially meaningful, especially touching, especially impressionable. This isn’t just another art show, but rather an expression of emotions with a rural perspective. Written. And showcased in art.

 

FYI: You can view this exhibit any time during the day as the art is visible from outdoors in front windows. Note that glare and reflections sometimes make seeing the art a challenge. The Arts & Heritage Center, however, is open limited hours from 2-5 pm Thursday and Friday and from 9 am to noon Saturdays. The exhibit runs until the end of November. Maps to the art locations are available from several downtown Montgomery businesses in addition to the arts center. Be sure to vote for your favorite for the People’s Choice Award. This blog post represents only a sampling of art in the exhibit.

Please check back next week for additional posts from my visit to Montgomery.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look back at high collars in light of 2020 Oscars fashion February 11, 2020

Note the high stand-up collars in fashion in the 1930s (top row) in this photo taken of Kolacky Days queen portraits. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

 

LEATTA. EMMA. GLADYS. Leone. Josephine.

Cynthia Erivo.

If you watched the Oscars or have seen the movie “Harriet,” you recognize Erivo’s name. She was nominated for best actress. And she performed “Stand Up,” in the running for best original song, during Sunday evening’s star-studded awards night. She won neither.

Typically I don’t watch the Oscars. My knowledge of celebrities is minimal. I last saw a movie in the theater about 2 ½ years ago. One I walked out on last May and demanded a refund for doesn’t count. That said, I really want to see “Harriet,” a movie based on former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Erivo and background gospel singers presented a moving and powerful performance of “Stand Up” during the Oscars. The singer/actress wore a shimmering gold gown with a high stand-up collar. And, as we all know, those glamorous gowns garner lots of attention. Even from me, someone who doesn’t much bother with fashion. Peek into my closet and you’ll find primarily jeans, tees and flannel shirts.

But the Oscars fashion interested me. And apparently my husband. “Remember those pictures of the Kolacky queens?” Randy asked Sunday evening as I commented on Erivo’s high collar dress.

“Huh?” I responded.

Randy suggested I review my photos of 1930s Kolacky Days queen portraits taken during a recent visit to the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center. That would be in Minnesota. Not Alabama. So I did. And sure enough, there were Leatta, Emma, Gladys, Leone and Josephine wearing gowns, or maybe it’s capes, with high stand-up collars. Just like Cynthia Erivo some 90 years later.

TELL ME: Did you watch the Oscars? Any observations you would like to share on gowns past or present?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How a small Minnesota town celebrates the arts & its Czech heritage February 4, 2020

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center in small town Minnesota.

 

IN THE HEART OF CZECH COUNTRY, in the small southern Minnesota community of Montgomery, population 3,000, the arts thrive.

 

Photographed in the arts center gift shop.

 

That’s a testament to the devotion of those who care about the arts and about preserving Czech culture and heritage in this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. (Kolacky are a Czech pastry.)

 

Beautiful Hilltop Hall with the arts center on the right and a floral and gift shop on the left. A performing arts space is located on the second floor.

 

In a section of historic Hilltop Hall—yes, appropriately named for its hilltop location in the heart of downtown—the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center centers the arts. I love this place, where I’ve attended theatrical performances and viewed exhibits, most recently vintage photos of western U.S. Native Americans photographed by Edward S. Curtis.

 

The Edward Curtis exhibit in the foreground and the gift shop in the back.

 

Czech glassware in the gift shop.

 

After touring that exhibit, I walked toward the back of the narrow room to the gift shop which features Czech, handcrafted and other goods.

 

Portraits of past Masopust kings in Montgomery.

 

There I also spotted portraits of Masopust kings, young men crowned at the community’s annual Czech Mardi Gras. That celebration is set for noon – 5 p.m. Sunday, February 23, at American Legion Post 79 and includes a costume ball, polka music, silent auction and Czech food.

In April, the Legion hosts an Escape Room Experience fundraiser for the Arts & Heritage Center through Tri-City United Community Ed.

I love how people in small towns work together and support one another. At different times from March into May, the arts center will exhibit the artwork of local elementary, middle and high school students.

The arts center is also honoring Montgomery’s rural-ness with a “Celebration of Farmers and Agriculture” exhibit of art at local businesses from mid-May to the end of October. Work from artists, in any 2D or 3D medium, is being sought with a March 1 registration deadline. To entice entrants, there’s a top prize of $1,000. That’s substantial. Prizes will be awarded during Kolacky Days weekend July 24-26.

 

A sampling of Kolacky Days queen portraits.

 

Jane shows me a group photo of Kolacky Days queens.

 

Czech words I inquired about.

 

As I meandered through the Arts & Heritage Center, I noticed portraits of Kolacky Days queens rimming the room near the ceiling. Jane, volunteering her time to staff the center on the day of my visit, pulled down a group photo of past queens riding together on a Kolacky Days float. She’s of Czech heritage. But she couldn’t translate a posting of Czech words I spotted. Not that I, of German heritage, could translate German words, even if I studied German for six years. I understand.

 

Volunteer Jane stationed near the front door.

 

Jane presented a warm welcome to this exceptional small town Minnesota center for the arts and preservation of the community’s Czech heritage. I encourage you to visit Montgomery. Stop at the Arts & Heritage Center, walk through the main business district, shop the small shops, grab a bite to eat, maybe even a beer at the local brewery. There’s so much to appreciate about Montgomery. (Keep in mind that this is a small town and places are open limited hours.)

 

Quilt art honoring Montgomery’s Czech heritage hangs in the gift shop.

 

This community is the focus of my monthly Through a SoMinn Lens photo essay, publishing soon in Southern Minn Scene magazine.

 

 

FYI: The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center is open from 2-5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 a.m. – noon on Saturdays. It is supported primarily by memberships, fundraisers and donations. Visit the center’s Facebook page for more info on events mentioned in this post.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Montgomery: Historic photos of Native Americans by Edward Curtis January 31, 2020

Prints of Edward Curtis photos now exhibited at the Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center.

 

BENEATH PORTRAITS OF KOLACKY DAYS queens, early 1900s era sepia-tone photos stretch along walls and grace tables in the narrow room. Prints of images taken by a man considered one of America’s greatest photographers. Edward S. Curtis.

 

A permanent exhibit of Kolacky Days queen portraits hangs above the temporary exhibit of Edward Curtis photos of Native Americans.

 

A photo of Edward Curtis with info about this noted American photographer.

 

Visitors are welcome to sit and page through Edward Curtis books.

 

Despite his outstanding photographic reputation, Curtis was previously unknown to me. But no more. Recently I visited an exhibit of around 60 selected photos from his “The North American Indian” collection at the Arts and Heritage Center in Montgomery. His entire body of work encompasses 40,000 photos, many published in 20 volumes.

 

Historic Hilltop Hall houses the Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center on the right and a floral and gift shop on the left.

 

To see these photos, termed part of the “most complete visual record of Native Americans west of the Mississippi,” right here in rural Minnesota is such a gift. A $4,000 grant from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation funded the exhibit in Montgomery, a community of some 3,000 just 20 miles northwest of Faribault.

 

Edward Curtis photographed Native Americans of the west over a 30-year period.

 

Displaying Curtis’ photos here brings the photographer full circle back to Le Sueur County. At the age of five, he moved here with his parents from his native Wisconsin, eventually settling in Cordova. Here he grew up to appreciate the outdoors as he canoed with his preacher father along the Cannon River. By age 17, Curtis was working at a photography studio in St. Paul. In 1887, he moved to Seattle.

 

A snippet of a 1906 comment about Edward Curtis by President Theodore Roosevelt.

 

That’s the backstory of a photographer who earned the praise and financial support of President Theodore Roosevelt, who called Curtis a “close observer.” That is evident in the documentary photos of the Native Americans Curtis came to know well and to, clearly, value and love.

 

“Wishham girl,” 1910

 

Text accompanies the “Wishham girl” photo.

 

A portion of the portrait of “Chief Joseph– Nez Perce”, 1903

 

His portraits of western Native Americans document not only a culture, but also history and personalities. As I studied the photos, I admired faces weathered by wind and sun, steady strength in profiles, joy and sadness in eyes. I admired, too, the artistry of woven baskets, handcrafted pottery, curved canoes, feathered headdresses and detailed beadwork.

 

An insightful and beautiful quote by Edward Curtis.

 

I expect if I was to revisit this exhibit, I’d notice details I missed. There’s just so much to see, to take in, to appreciate, to contemplate. A culture. A people. A way of life. A history. A connection to nature.

 

More photos from the exhibit.

 

I am grateful to long-ago photographers like Edward Sheriff Curtis for his efforts in connecting personally with his subjects, for caring and for documenting with his camera. His work is truly remarkable.

 

Info about Edward Curtis included in the show.

 

FYI: “The North American Indian” exhibit at the Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center continues until Saturday, February 29. The arts center is open from 2 – 5 pm Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 am – noon Saturdays and is located at 206 First Street North in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling