Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Feeling especially valued as a Minnesota creative February 18, 2022

A serene rural scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, my home county, shows the roots of my creativity in the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2013)

I’VE ALWAYS SENSED within the artistic community an unwavering support of one another. A kinship in creativity. A connection sparked by the sheer act of creating, whether by words, by music, by paintbrush or pencil or camera or hands or…

Craig Kotasek crafted these letterpress print promo posters for his current show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

And today I’m feeling especially valued by an artist I posted about just days ago—Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing in Le Sueur. I wrote about his Letterpress Print Show at The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery (Minnesota). If you haven’t viewed that story yet, click here to read my insights into his work and to see his incredible letterpress artistry showcased in my photos.

Well, Craig heard about my post, followed up with an email to me and then posted the kindest/loveliest/nicest review of my work on his website (click here). I am not only humbled by his generous words, but by his detailed gratitude for Minnesota Prairie Roots. He clearly understands me, my artistic and journalistic passions, my love for small towns and rural Minnesota, and my desire to share my discoveries.

Craig is just one example of how generous this community of creatives.

When we create, we share part of ourselves with the world. I cannot imagine not creating. That comes from a southwestern Minnesota farm girl who grew up with minimal exposure to the arts. No music lessons. No art classes. No gallery shows. No community concerts. Nothing outside the basic core of required class courses in middle and high school.

A snippet of the land my father farmed, my middle brother after him, on the rural Vesta farm where I grew up. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2013)

But what I lacked in the arts I found in the prairie landscape. In the unrelenting wind. In sunsets bold and beautiful. In snowstorms that washed all color from the earth. In wild pink roses pushing through road ditch grass. In the earthy scent of black dirt turned by a plow. I took it all in, every detail in a sparse land.

And I read. Laura Ingalls Wilder, pioneer girl from Walnut Grove only 20 miles distant. Nancy Drew with her inquisitive mind. Whatever books I could find in a town without a library.

Today I feel grateful to live blocks from a library. I feel grateful to have access to the arts. You will find me often posting about creatives on this blog. Creatives like Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing. He’s a gifted craftsman and artist specializing in letterpress printing. What a talented community of artists we have in rural Minnesota. I feel grateful to be part of that creative community.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Montgomery: Featuring the letterpress art of Tin Can Valley Printing February 16, 2022

A promo poster printed by Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

INSIDE AN HISTORIC 1892 BRICK BUILDING in the heart of Minnesota Czech country, a Letterpress Print Show drew me to The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery. The show, continuing until February 26, features the art of Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing Co. in nearby Le Sueur.

The historic Hilltop Hall houses The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery on the right and Posy Floral & Gifts, left. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Inside the center, Kotasek’s prints plaster walls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The artist includes some background info about himself, this sheet focused on his time at The Gaylord Hub. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As a journalist and an art lover especially appreciative of letterpress printing, I delighted in this exhibit of an art now in revival. Not only that, I hold a connection to Kotasek. We both worked at The Gaylord Hub, me as my first newspaper reporting job straight out of college in 1978 and he as an apprentice printer there in 1999. We learned under the mentorship of Jim Deis, then editor and publisher of the generational family-owned newspaper. I’ve never met Kotasek, yet I feel linked via The Hub.

This shows the steps in creating a multi-hued print. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

To view his art is to gain an appreciation for a past printing process. In letterpress printing, movable raised wood or lead letters/type are pieced together in a frame, then secured before inking onto paper via a printing press. That’s a simplistic explanation. If multiple ink colors are required, the process is layered, longer, more labor intensive. Likewise, art carved from linoleum or wood blocks goes through a similar process in creating fine art prints, gig posters and more.

Volunteer JoAnn Petricka with Kotasek’s prints to the left. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

When I entered the narrow room which houses The Arts & Heritage Center in the small southern Minnesota community of Montgomery and saw Kotasek’s letterpress art, memories rushed back. Memories of the strong scent of ink, the clacking of noisy printing presses, scenes of printers Dale and Bucky laboring in stained printers’ aprons, me trying to hear phone conversations with sources. Me pounding out news stories on an aged manual typewriter against the backdrop of all that noise.

Hand-carved blocks were used to create this art titled “Eight-Pointed Star.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

But on this February morning, quiet prevailed as I studied the work of this craftsman, this visual artist. Letterpress is both craft and art.

Kolacky Days queens in framed photos over prints from Tin Can Valley Printing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
One of his specialties is creating posters for musical gigs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Beneath professional portraits of Kolacky Days queens, which ring this room near the ceiling, hang examples of Kotasek’s assorted creations. Gig posters for musical groups (including his own Oxbow Boys band). Fine art prints created with hard-carved blocks. A mix of letterpress and block. And on a shelf, a box of his popular letterpress greeting cards. Another display holds his $10 numbered prints.

A hand-carved block for printing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I feel such an appreciation for Kotasek. His love for the letterpress craft shows in his printing skills, his creativity. To get clear, crisp prints takes patience, practice, time, effort. But before that comes the visualization, the creativity, the ability to bring many elements together in hands-on work.

Type in a tray. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Cans of ink to color his art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Roller and carved blocks to print. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

A tall enclosed cabinet holds some of Kotasek’s tools of the craft. Letters. Rollers. Ink. Wood-cuts. All offer a glimpse into this artist’s world. He’s gathered abandoned, about-to-be-scrapped printing presses and other printing tools from small town newspapers in Minnesota and set up shop in a renovated granary on the family farm just outside Le Sueur. His studio overlooks the valley, home of the Jolly Green Giant associated with Minnesota Valley Canning Company, later Green Giant.

Kotasek has created numerous Green Giant prints. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kotasek pays homage to the vegetable canning company in the name of his printing business, Tin Can Valley Printing. On his website, he offers several explanations, one referencing a farmer who fed discarded canned vegetables to his pigs from damaged cans. As the story goes, the pig farmer tossed those empty tin cans into a ravine. During a massive flood of the Minnesota River Valley in 1965, the cans reportedly floated into town, causing an array of issues. The name Tin Can Valley stuck. I like the historic reference, the memorable moniker.

Featured art includes Jolly Green Giant prints, right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
More food art prints. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
In the corner of my “Niblets of Corn Sign” print. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I found myself drawn to Kotasek’s Green Giant-themed prints. I purchased No. 38 of his 2019 “Niblets Corn Sign” 8 x 10 card stock print. It’s a reproduction of a metal sign that once marked the Green Giant canning factory in Le Sueur. The four-color print, crafted from wood type and hand-carved wood and linoleum blocks, features the legendary Green Giant hefting a massive ear of sweetcorn. The image is iconic rural Minnesota.

This particular poster has an old style newspaper vibe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kotasek represents in many ways the past of newspapers in Minnesota. Early editors printed their papers with letterpress. They also served their communities as print shops. When I worked at The Gaylord Hub, farm auction bills flew off the aged printing presses. Kotasek remembers the endless fundraiser raffle tickets he printed while learning the printing trade.

A poster fitting for the Czech farming community of Montgomery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

If you’re interested in meeting Kotasek, visit The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery, 206 First Street North, between 9 am – noon on Saturday, February 26, during an artist’s reception. The center is open limited hours: from 2-5 pm Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 am-noon on Saturdays. The show closes February 26.

While in Montgomery, be sure to check out the shops (gift, floral, quilt, thrift, drugstore…) and stop at Franke’s Bakery for a sweet treat. You’ll find kolacky there in this self-proclaimed “Kolacky Capital of the World.” The town is also home to Montgomery Brewing and Pizzeria 201 (a popular local eatery with curbside pick-up only currently). I encourage you to check destination hours in advance of a visit to avoid disappointment. Also notice the historic architecture, the photo tributes to veterans and the town mural (across from the bakery). Montgomery rates as one of my favorite area small towns…because of The Arts & Heritage Center and more.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of rural roads & polka music in Minnesota Czech country October 21, 2021

A farm site near Richter Woods County Park, rural Montgomery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

AS WE ROLLED THROUGH THE COUNTRYSIDE on an October afternoon in rural Minnesota, Randy switched on the radio. To KCHK, a New Prague-based radio station.

Gravel roads, sky and fields stretch before us in the southern Minnesota countryside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Polka music pulsed through the van in a rhythmic beat. It was an unusual station choice given I listen primarily to contemporary Christian music on KTIS and Randy enjoys talk radio. But, occasionally on his 22-minute drive home from work, Randy tunes in to KCHK to listen to late afternoon featured 50s-70s music.

A farm site tucks behind a hill in LeSueur County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

In the heart of Czech country, though, the radio station is known for its day-time polka programming.

Occasionally we passed between colorful treelines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
A common Minnesota harvest scene: a farm truck parked in a field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
Love the copper hue of this barn roof on a farm just off State Highway 13 between New Prague and Montgomery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As we drove along back country gravel roads—past farm sites and harvested fields and farmers working in the fields—the rhythm of polkas, of accordions pushed in and pulled out to create music, set a joyful tone. The music fit the scenes unfolding before us.

The music reminded me, too, of wedding dances back home decades ago in southwestern Minnesota. Of couples twirling across a well-worn wooden dance floor. Of booze bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. Of extended families gathered in a simple town hall to celebrate a marriage. Of The Bunny Hop and The Butterfly and all those dances that brought people together for an evening of fun.

Just harvested corn flows into a grain truck along Lake Avenue west of Lonsdale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Those memories lingered as polkas played on KCHK. As just-harvested corn flowed into a grain truck. As we passed a mailbox with the name Skluzacek posted thereon. We were deep in the heart of Czech country near New Prague/Lonsdale/Montgomery.

Near Richter Woods County Park west of Montgomery, a farm site overlooks the countryside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

There is something incredibly comforting about the mix of memory and music and meandering in rural Minnesota. Moments like this impress upon me the need to simply be. To recognize the value in an afternoon drive in the country. No destination. No haste. No agenda.

A farm site hugs a cornfield along Lake Avenue west of Lonsdale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Time to just appreciate. The hard work of the farmer during harvest. The farm sites. Gravel roads.

As we passed this rural property along 60th Street West southeast of New Prague, I photographed this horse sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

And the unexpected sighting of horseshoe art where horses graze.

Oh, the glorious hues of autumn in rural southern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I treasure the memories shared and made with my husband of nearly 40 years as we followed rural routes, polka music thrumming in the background.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering Richter Woods, rural Montgomery October 19, 2021

Richter Woods County Park and the on-site barn in LeSueur County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

EACH DAY OF SUNSHINE and warmth this late in October in Minnesota presents as a gift. We long-time Minnesotans understand that and celebrate. One less day of winter. One less day of cold and snow when the season of autumn extends. The recent weather has proven simply glorious.

Richter Woods Barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Late last week Randy took two days off work to savor these final days of autumn. And while we didn’t travel far, we delighted in nearby discoveries. We got a late start on Thursday, catching up on some much-needed rest. So we stayed close to home, aiming for western Rice County into LeSueur County.

Trees line both sides of the gravel road leading to Richter Woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Eventually, we landed at Richter Woods County Park 1.5 miles west of Montgomery. I’d heard of the park, but had yet to visit.

The hilly countryside near Trondjhem Church, rural Lonsdale. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We followed the slow-paced route there along mostly back country gravel roads.

An unexpected sighting of two swans. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We paused once so I could photograph a pair of swans gliding across a small lake.

An aged barn along a gravel road. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I photographed, too, a weathered barn with fieldstone foundation. I often wonder how long barns will remain a landmark of our rural landscape. I feel an urgency to document their existence before roofs cave, boards rot, and only foundations remain.

A playground sits next to Richter Barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

At 80-acre Richter Woods, a mammoth barn looms, centering the park gathering space. The barn is available to rent for $75/day from April-October. With a spacious loft and main level, the barn offers plenty of room for events like weddings, reunions and much more.

Looking up to the haymow. Trees shadow the barn door. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I couldn’t access the locked barn. But I could envision the interior, especially the haymow with its curved wood frame. Many bridal couples covet rustic settings like this. I wonder whether many have discovered this barn circled by woods in the quiet countryside near Montgomery.

A splash of red/pink flowers bloom on a bush next to the green barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As much as I appreciated the barn, I couldn’t get over the forest green color. I longed to see that barn in red, a historically-accurate hue. I expect others, too, have wondered at the unusual color choice. As a photographer, I find a red barn much more visually-pleasing.

One of two trails we took into Richter Woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
No maps in this mailbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
There are lots of picnic tables on-site, some nice, others not so much. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Before pulling out our picnic lunch to dine near the barn, Randy and I stretched our legs. We followed a leaf-strewn dirt trail into the woods with no map to guide us. The on-site mailbox was without the promised maps.

Maple leaves galore. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Maple leaves, especially, blanket the earth.

Looking up toward the colorful tree canopy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

In a few spots, I looked overhead to a canopy of red and yellow trees set against the deep blue sky of October.

A recently-sawed tree. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We noticed, too, the many rotting and recently-sawed trees, I felt inwardly thankful for an afternoon without strong winds to possibly topple dead trees, loose branches.

Mushrooms on a fallen tree. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Mushrooms thrive in decay.

Loving the graceful curve of the barn roof. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Mostly, though, I noticed the peace. The quiet. I feel incredibly grateful to have access to natural settings like Richter Woods County Park. And I feel grateful, too, to live in this decidedly rural region of Minnesota within an hour of downtown Minneapolis. I feel grateful for gravel roads to follow. For barns that still stand. For warm and sunny October days that draw me into the countryside, into the woods.

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PLEASE CHECK BACK as I take you on to more backroads in Rice and LeSueur counties.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating, & branding of, small towns March 18, 2021

Belview, located in southwestern Minnesota, some seven miles from my hometown of Vesta.

FOR THOSE OF YOU who’ve followed my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog for awhile, you understand that I value small towns. They are a favorite destination, an escape of sorts back to my rural prairie roots. To a less-populated place, typically rooted in agriculture.

The grain complex in unincorporated Bixby in Aurora Township in Steele County, MN, reflects in the passenger side mirror.

That said, I recognize that my definition of a “small town” may differ from yours. I view small towns as communities with populations of several thousand or less. I would not, for example, consider my city of Faribault to be small. Others would given its population of around 24,000.

A favorite stop (when it’s open) is Rainbow Antiques, Crafts & Junque in Belview. Other attractions in Belview include the historic Odeon Hall, Rock Dell Lutheran Church, rural Belview, and Grandview Valley Winery, to the north of town. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2011.

What draws me to small towns, to photograph and write about them, beyond my desire to reconnect with rural places and share my finds?

I love this kitschy bar stool atop the City & Country Tavern roof overhang in Morgan in southwestern MN.

It’s discovering nuances of character. It’s connecting with people. It’s the architecture and oddities and so much more. Exploring small towns is like taking a basic sentence and enhancing the main subject with adjectives.

This prairie chicken statue along Interstate 94 in western Minnesota celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2013.

Yet, I realize not everyone appreciates language like I do. All too often, small towns are bypassed or driven through—seemingly not a place that would attract visitors. But I am here to tell you they are worth the detour off the interstate, the destination for a day trip, the stopping on Main Street.

Popular Franke’s Bakery anchors a corner in downtown Montgomery, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

Montgomery, Minnesota, for example, is one of my favorite nearby small towns. Why? I love going to Franke’s Bakery, a staple in this community for 100-plus years. The bakery specializes in Czech treats, in this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. Across the street from the bakery, a mural tells the history of this town. Aged buildings line the main business district, with home-grown shops and eateries and bars. The adjectives enhancing the main subject.

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, right, and Posy Floral, left, along First Street North on the north end of downtown Montgomery, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

The Montgomery Arts and Cultural Heritage Center and Montgomery Brewing also draw me to this Le Sueur County community. And the signs and architecture.

The good folks of Montgomery have branded their community, tapping into their heritage and then building on that to create a place that attracts visitors. I think potential exists in every small town to do the same. And it starts with recognizing the strengths, the uniqueness, of a community. I know that requires time, money and effort. But, oh, the possibilities.

The community of New Ulm is home to many home-grown restaurants, like the Ulmer Cafe.

I, for one, love small town bakeries, antique shops, thrift stores, art centers and home-grown cafes with meal offerings that are crafted by hand, not pulled from a freezer and heated. I recently saw a sign for Beef Commercials in New Ulm. I haven’t eaten one—roast beef layered between slices of white bread, topped with a dollop of mashed potatoes and smothered in gravy—for years. Had it been meal time and not a pandemic, I may have stopped to indulge in nostalgia.

New Ulm, population 13,500, is not exactly small town by my definition, but it’s definitely a city that excels in attracting visitors via branding built on its German heritage.

A thriving grocery store in small town Ellendale, MN.

Now I know every community can’t tap into heritage like New Ulm and Montgomery. But, each place truly possesses potential to attract visitors. In Ellendale, for example, the award-winning Steve’s Meat Market draws meat lovers. I am partial to Lerberg’s Foods and its worn wooden floor, narrow aisles and aged moose head looming over cans of stacked corn.

Outside the local hardware store in the downtown main business district, this heart art shows pride, marketing savvy and identity in Blooming Prairie. This small town is located in southern Steele County, south of Owatonna.

I delight in such discoveries. Kitsch. Identity. A strong sense of place and pride. I hope that, by sharing my thoughts and photos, you, too, will view small towns through a lens of appreciation.

TELL ME: Have you discovered a small town that you just love. I’d like to hear.

PLEASE CHECK BACK as I expand on this post with more photos from some of the communities featured here.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Montgomery’s new mural details this Czech community August 19, 2020

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A family views Montgomery’s updated mural by Victor A. Garcia.

 

PUBLIC ART, WHEN RESEARCHED, well thought out and created by talented hands, enhances any community. Montgomery, Minnesota included.

 

The new mural, recently installed in Montgomery.

 

Recently, this town of some 3,000 in Le Sueur County unveiled a new historic-themed mural done by former long-time Montgomery resident and artist Victor A. Garcia, now of Belle Plaine.

 

A close-up shot of the prior Montgomery mural, photographed around 2013. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The latest 40-foot long painting replaces a weather-beaten mural Garcia created about 25 years ago.

 

Montgomery’s main street, circa 1900. Overhead lights shadow across the mural.

 

A current day view of a section of downtown Montgomery. The mural is to the left, on a side street.

 

Like the previous scene, the new mural depicts a view of the town’s main street, First Street, around 1900. But this time, both sides of the street are included in the painting.

 

A “key” of sorts to the mural. And a thank you to supporters.

 

Kolacky Days honored in the mural.

 

Garcia also featured “Montgomery Identifiers” to search for in his artwork. Like kolacky. This Czech community is, after all, the self-proclaimed “Kolacky Capital of the World.”

 

Franke’s Bakery is among businesses incorporated into the mural.

 

My photo of Franke’s photographed from across the street, by the mural.

 

Right across the street from the mural sits Franke’s Bakery, a popular local source for this fruit-filled Czech pastry.

 

The artist’s signature and a “Redbird.”

 

Cardinals are also painted into the mural, honoring the former school mascot, the Redbirds, before schools merged and the mascot became the Titans.

 

The local newspaper gets a place on the mural.

 

A Czech flag and the Green Giant and many more details incorporated into the mural depict the history and heritage of Montgomery.

 

One of several names I spotted on the mural.

 

Garcia even added some personal touches in images and words.

 

One last look at the Montgomery mural on Ash Street.

 

This mural calls for close study, not just a quick drive-by or look. Next visit to Montgomery, I’ll take more time to study the details I missed. For it is in the details that we learn the intricacies of a community and its history. And grow to understand and appreciate that which defines a place.

 

FYI: This $20,000 project was funded and supported by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, The Montgomery Community Foundation, Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, individuals, businesses and more.

This concludes my series of blog posts from Montgomery.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

LaNette’s, more than a coffee shop in small town Montgomery August 18, 2020

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A view outside LaNette’s Coffee Shop, 225 First Street South, Montgomery, Minnesota.

 

FOUR PLASTIC MOLDED CHAIRS in a blue that seems more beachy than rural Minnesota, angle outside LaNette’s Coffee Shop. Two women sit here, sip coffee, engage in conversation on this sunny summer Saturday morning.

 

A close-up of that kitschy cute cone art.

 

The occasional vehicle passes by or stops at the stop sign before crossing or turning onto First Street. LaNette’s anchors a corner on the south end of Montgomery’s main business district and is housed in a small brick building marked by smiling waffle cone art that identifies this as more than just a coffee source.

Besides a variety of coffees and bakery treats like muffins, cinnamon rolls and cookies, Owner LaNette also serves up ice cream in homemade waffle cones. I’ve yet to try any of her treats. Next visit.

 

Pat Preble won first place for “Old Barn” and “Cows in the Field,” both displayed in the front window of the coffee shop.

 

But this time in town, I’d already eaten my sweet for the day—from Franke’s Bakery just up the street. Instead, I popped into La Nette’s for a closer look at the art displayed in her front window as part of the local “Celebrating Farmers and Agriculture” Exhibit coordinated by the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center. I asked LaNette if I could turn a barn painting by Pat Preble to photograph it. She quickly agreed.

 

An example of the art in LaNette’s.

 

I noticed the work of other artists showcased and available for purchase in LaNette’s shop. I love when local businesses support local artists. And writers, as noted by a Hometown Authors section in a wall display.

 

The inviting interior.

 

An antique doorstop keeps the front door open.

 

LaNette’s with mismatched tables and chairs, inviting sitting spaces, art, a few antiques, a pine plank floor and the aforementioned beverages and treats, has a comfortable feel of neighborliness. Of gathering with friends. Of catching up on family and town news. Of enjoying the often slower pace of life found in small town Minnesota. Of contentment.

 

A neon sign in the front windows signals that the coffee shop is open.

 

FYI: LaNette’s Coffee Shop is open from 6 am – 3 pm Monday-Saturday. Please check back for one final post from Montgomery tomorrow.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Anything but prune & much more in Montgomery August 17, 2020

Popular Franke’s Bakery anchors a corner in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

 

SMALL TOWN MINNESOTA. What is it about our rural communities that holds my heart? Surely, my upbringing on a crop and dairy farm in the southwestern region of our state influences how I feel about rural places.

 

Farms and fields surround Montgomery.

 

But it’s more than that. I see in these communities, like Montgomery in Le Sueur County, a distinct character, a connection of people, an appreciation for the quieter life afforded to those who live in this ag-based area.

 

Art in downtown business windows showcases the town’s annual Kolacky Days celebration.

 

Fresh-baked kolacky are always available at Franke’s Bakery.

 

One of my favorite signs in Montgomery banners the 106-year-old bakery.

 

I’ve written about and photographed Montgomery many times. Each visit I notice the details that define this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World with its strong Czech heritage. Kolacky are a fruit-filled (sometimes poppyseed, too) Czech pastry, available at the century-plus-old Franke’s Bakery and elsewhere.

 

A quilt adorns an historic downtown building.

 

When I walk along First Street, the main street through the downtown business district, I always notice the historic buildings.

 

 

And the home-grown businesses, including multiple meat markets.

 

The Monty Bar is missing its corner signage, which I loved.

 

And, like many small towns, multiple bars. Montgomery also has a craft brewery, Montgomery Brewing.

 

Signs plaster the front of the Monty Bar, including this one.

 

But I also notice the signage that is distinctly Montgomery. Like the best place to buy Jell-O shots (the Monty Bar).

 

An historic building houses the Happy Hour Bar & Grill.

 

The Happy Hour lunch special on the day of my visit.

 

Or the lunch-time Sloppy Joe special at the Happy Hour Bar & Grill.

 

Signage marks the Rustic Farmer.

 

The inviting dining space in front of the Rustic Farmer along Montgomery’s main street.

 

It is this type of signage that reveals much about a town and its people. When I spot the event space, Rustic Farmer on Main, and later sit there at a patio table to enjoy a custard-filled sweet treat from Franke’s, I think on that name. Rustic Farmer. It fits this rural community.

 

Hilltop Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The same goes for Hilltop Hall, an historic building perched atop a hill on the north end of downtown. It’s home to Posy Floral & Gifts and the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center.

 

I photographed this puzzle at Herrmann Drug, where it’s available for purchase.

 

That center houses a small gift shop and heritage displays, including Kolacky Days celebration buttons. Photographer Sarah Dolejs designed a 513-piece jigsaw puzzle featuring a photo of a button collection. The puzzle is available in local businesses and online. Recently, organizers of this year’s virtual Kolacky Days held a “Jigsaw Puzzle Competition from Your Kitchen Table” to see who could assemble the puzzle the fastest. The winning time was 67 minutes by Team Sherman. They beat out Anything but Prune (a reference to prune kolacky) by a mere minute. The Poppyseed Posse (another reference to kolacky) and the Laughing Polka Ladies didn’t even come close to winning.

 

The town’s water tower is located near the Montgomery National Golf Club.

 

I love those creative names. They reveal a sense of humor, a sense of pride, a sense of appreciation for heritage and all that defines this town. This Montgomery, Minnesota.

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A section of downtown Montgomery, including the popular eatery, Pizzeria 201, on the left. It’s located in the historic Westermann Lumber Office & House.

 

Please check back as I continue my series of posts from Montgomery. Upcoming posts will feature the community’s redone mural and a downtown coffee shop.

© Copyright 2020 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

 

Building on history in Montgomery August 12, 2020

Fire destroyed an historic building at 104 South First Street in downtown Montgomery during the early morning hours of July 29.

 

ANY TIME AN HISTORIC BUILDING falls, I feel a certain sadness. You can’t replace a structure built half a century, maybe even 100 years, ago. Stories and memories remain. But there’s something lost when a building crumbles, collapses, comes down, for whatever reason.

 

The long-time barbershop, a local gem, did not catch fire.

 

Recently, the small town of Montgomery—self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World—lost one (possibly two) historic buildings in an early morning July 29 fire. The fire started on the second floor of a vacant building previously declared hazardous and slated for demolition in mid-August. The blaze then spread to an adjoining building which houses a plumbing and air conditioning business and an apartment. Main Street Barber, located in a diminutive building next door, was spared.

 

The fire site.

 

Just days after the fire, the smell of smoke still lingered. Barricades and a fence blocked access to the pile of rubble. As I photographed the scene, I considered the depth of loss to this Le Sueur County community. Locals with the Montgomery Historical Society have been inventorying and documenting the downtown in an effort to get historic district designation, helpful in attracting visitors. This was a snag in that process.

 

One of many historic buildings in Montgomery. Several are already on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

I recognize the importance of that historic district designation. According to the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, a historic district is “a geographically defined area with a concentration of historic buildings, structures, site, spaces and objects unified by past events, physical development or design.”

 

A snapshot section of Montgomery’s downtown.

 

No one needs to sell me on the historic beauty and connections in downtown Montgomery. The aged buildings are one of the reasons I love this small town. Every time I visit, I walk through the main business area downtown, photographing buildings and signs and whatever else draws my eye.

 

In the window of a downtown business, art promoting Montgomery’s Kolacky Days, held virtually this year. Kolacky is a Czech pastry.

 

But buildings do not define a place. People do. And I have always found the people of Montgomery to be incredibly welcoming. I appreciate their friendliness, their community spirit, their cohesive respect for their Czech heritage, their efforts to build Montgomery, even when buildings fall.

Please check back for more posts from Montgomery.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling