Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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