Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Park art August 8, 2017

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THE POSTCARD STYLE MURAL pops color in to the mini shelterhouse at Lions Park in Waterville.

But it’s more than that. The painting by Kimberly Baerg also provides a snapshot glimpse of this southeastern Minnesota resort and farming community.

 

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Examine the details and you will see a tractor, a canoe, a buggy, a train. All important in the history of this town.

 

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This mini mural is an example of how a little artistic ingenuity, effort and paint can transform an otherwise plain cement block wall in to a canvas that promotes a place, shares history and pops with community pride.

Well done, Waterville.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Faribault’s newest mural depicts timeless 1950s street scene October 9, 2016

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LATE SATURDAY MORNING, I stood in the parking lot next to Faribault Vacuum & Sewing Center, eyes and camera fixed upward.

 

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On the side of the brick building in the heart of historic downtown Faribault, artist Dave Correll rolled a clear top coat across this community’s newest mural depicting a late 1950s streetscape. The large-scale painting replicates art commissioned for a Northern Natural Gas Company ad campaign decades ago. The artist is unknown, but permission was secured to reproduce the work.

 

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It’s a stunning and vibrant piece highly visible to motorists driving westbound on Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street. And it’s the eighth historic-themed mural to grace downtown Faribault.

 

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Dave, who owns Brushwork Signs along with his wife, Ann Meillier, teamed up with Adam Scholljegerdes to design and paint the sign. Daughter Madeline Correll also assisted, traveling back from Milwaukee upon her parents’ request.

 

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Saturday Dave worked to finish the project before a 1 p.m. dedication while Ann kept a watchful eye from below…until she climbed into a lift for a close-up view and photo opps.

 

This restored 1915 clock was installed on the Security State Bank Building, 302 Central Avenue, on Saturday.

This restored 1915 clock was installed on the Security State Bank Building in September 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

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The Faribault Rotary Club led efforts to bring this newest mural to downtown, and fittingly so. The subject matter ties to a previous Rotary project—raising $25,000 for restoration of the Security Bank Building clock. Just a year ago, that refurbished historic clock was installed at 302 Central Avenue, 1 ½ blocks away. The clock is a focal point in the mural.

 

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Credit for the mural subject goes to Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Kymn Anderson who discovered and purchased the original fifties streetscape painting. Once the Rotary mural planning team saw the art, they knew it would be perfect. And it is.

 

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I love how this latest mural honors the 1950s history of Faribault. I appreciate the vintage street scene and its connection with the 2015 restoration of the Security Bank clock. Faribault is a community which values its past. That’s evident in projects like the clock restoration, well-kept historic buildings and historic murals. Public art expresses visible community pride. And every community needs such pride to thrive in to the future.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Murals & a myth at an historic mercantile in Weaver February 18, 2016

The historic former Weaver Mercantile Buiilding, once home to Noble Studio & Gallery.

The historic former Weaver Mercantile Building, once home to Noble Studio & Gallery.

AGED BUILDINGS, like one in Weaver just off U.S. Highway 61 in southeastern Minnesota, intrigue me. Initially, the architecture and photographic opportunities draw me in. But then I start thinking about the history and the stories.

Carl and Marie Noble opened Noble Studio & Gallery here in 1955.

Carl and Marie Noble opened Noble Studio & Galleries here in 1955.

As luck would have it, a local was jogging down the street toward the former Weaver Mercantile when I happened upon the historic building during an early September get-away. She tipped me off that the building last housed an art gallery. Signage confirmed that. The current owner, she added, lives on the second floor.

Historic designation came six years after Carl Noble's death.

Historic designation came six years after Carl Noble’s death.

The young woman also expressed her dream of someday transforming the place into a winery. She and her husband, she said, make wine from black caps growing wild on the hillside behind their Weaver home. Then she continued on her run through this unincorporated village of some 50 residents and I continued my exterior photographic exploration of this building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the 1978 nomination for historic designation, the building is a “well-preserved example of commercial architecture in the Mississippi River Valley.” Hardware, groceries and dry goods were once sold in the first floor of Weaver Mercantile while furniture was sold on the upper floor. Additionally, the building housed the Weaver Post Office for many years.

A mural on the east side of the building denotes this as an artist's haven. Cannot you decipher the first word for me?

A mural on the east side of the building denotes this as an artist’s haven. Can you decipher the first word in the top portion, left?

Wanting to know more, I continued my internet search. In 1955, artist Carl E. Noble claimed this place as Noble Studio & Galleries (his home, studio and gallery). He died in 1972. An obituary for his widow, Marie Noble, who died 11 years ago, yielded the most information.

More signage toward the back of the building.

More signage toward the back of the building promotes Noble’s art.

Carl was, by the few accounts I found, an artist for the Federal Art Project of the Work Projects Administration in 1938. His name is listed among photos of FAP art in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.

Another view of Carl and Marie Noble's studio and galleries.

Another view of Carl and Marie Noble’s studio and galleries.

A muralist, cartoonist, illustrator and portrait artist, Carl Noble reportedly studied under Norman Rockwell (according to his wife Marie’s obit). I’ve been unable to verify that via a second source. However, the Nobles lived for awhile in Boston; Rockwell made his home in Stockbridge, MA.

The building was constructed in 1875 and opened as Weaver Mercantile.

The building was constructed in 1875 and opened as Weaver Mercantile.

I discovered that Carl painted six oil on canvas murals for Fire House, Southside Hose Co. No. 2 in Hempstead, New York, in 1938. The artwork depicts the history of local firefighting. Other than that, I’ve been unable to find other information of his WPA art or work at Noble Studio & Galleries. The former gallery itself, though, apparently showcases Carl’s murals on interior walls. If only I could have gotten inside to see and photograph his artwork.

One can only imagine the fun times here as guests enjoyed Marie's hospitality.

One can only imagine the fun times here as guests enjoyed Marie’s hospitality.

After her husband’s death in 1972, Marie opened a Bed & Breakfast in their home with a party area in the basement. That would explain the faded Mardi Gras Lounge sign above a back entry.

An overview of the Mardi Gras entry at the back of the building.

An overview of the Mardi Gras entry at the back of the building.

Marie reportedly regaled guests with stories, including that Jesse James robbed the Mercantile on his way to robbing the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota. Not believing everything I read, I contacted Mark Lee Gardner, noted historian, writer and musician on the western experience. He penned a book, Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape. He confirmed what I suspected. The story of the Weaver robbery is just that, a story.

Here’s Gardner’s response to my inquiry:

I’m afraid the story of Jesse robbing the building in Weaver, Minnesota, isn’t true. The Northfield Raid, as well as the known movements of the James-Younger gang, was heavily reported in the Minnesota newspapers at the time, and if they had been connected with a robbery in Weaver, it should appear in those papers. I never came across any mention of Weaver in my research. The other problem is that the gang didn’t go through Weaver on its way to Northfield. They are documented as having come from the west and south of Northfield.

…There are lots of Jesse James stories out there, and most of them are from someone’s imagination.

My first view of the former Weaver Mercantile and Noble Studio & Galleries.

My first view of the former Weaver Mercantile and Noble Studio & Galleries.

Still, none of this diminishes my appreciation for the Italianate style building in Weaver and my interest in the artists (Marie’s obit notes that she created many lovely paintings) who once lived and created therein.

The village of Weaver is located along U.S. Highway 61 north of Winona in Wabasha County.

The village of Weaver is located along U.S. Highway 61 north of Winona in Wabasha County.

IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING MORE about Carl and Marie Noble, their gallery and art or about the history of the building, I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome to St. Charles, Minnesota, Part I November 18, 2015

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Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

ST. CHARLES LIES in southeastern Minnesota farming country just off Interstate 90.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

It’s home to a pocket of Amish.

We just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus "hair."

During my September visit, I just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus “hair.”

And site of an annual Gladiolus Days celebration. That event honors the late Carl Fischer, once the world’s leading hybridizer of new and distinctive gladiolus.

These friendly locals at the Whitewater Cafe gave us directions to the glad field and Amish farms.

Coffee time at the Whitewater Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I’d been to St. Charles several years ago, even dined at the Whitewater Cafe.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica along Winona County Road 33.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica (near St. Charles) along Winona County Road 33. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I saw the glad fields, the Amish and the historic buildings downtown. But on a return trip in early September, my husband and I took even more time to explore.

Here’s an overall look as we drove into St. Charles from the east, swung through a residential neighborhood and then parked downtown:

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14.

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14. There’s a John Deere dealer in town.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. I don't know why.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. This is a rural community with a John Deere dealer in town, remember.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown. They also show community pride and care.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were "modernized" and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were “modernized” and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

More interesting signs.

More interesting signs. Every small town needs a hardware store.

Now, if I’ve piqued your interest, return tomorrow when I’ll take you inside an impressive St. Charles antique shop.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Traveling through Minnesota’s Bluff Country November 12, 2015

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The terrain here, outside of Rushford in southeastern Minnesota, is similar to that around Houston. Turn left at the intersection and you will be headed for Houston.

The terrain here, outside of Rushford in southeastern Minnesota, is similar to that around Houston, Minnesota. Turn left at the intersection and you will be headed for Houston.

DRIVING ALONG A WINDING and steep ridge road toward Houston, Minnesota, on an October autumn afternoon, I am taken by the ruggedness of this land. Friends Doreen and Tom, who left the Twin Cities decades ago to settle in this area, warned my husband and me about Houston County Road 13. Yet, I was unprepared for the curves, the heights, for the vastness of the valley below, for the overwhelming feeling of smallness I experienced. I suppose others would say the same about the prairie—except for the height part. Familiarity equates comfort. And I suspect Doreen understood that a native flatlander like me might find her neck of the woods a tad daunting. I do. I am not a lover of heights.

Bluffs just minutes from Rushford, Minnesota.

Bluffs just minutes from Rushford, Minnesota.

 

Aged farmsteads dot this region.

Aged farmsteads dot this region.

 

This farm sits just below the ridge near Houston.

This farm sits just below the ridge near Houston.

 

But I have grown to appreciate this corner of southeastern Minnesota with its rolling hills and bluffs, density of trees and rivers. Add in the small towns therein and the ruralness of this region and I want to return again and again to explore. I’ll never love the heights, though.

 

Everywhere bluffs rise up.

Everywhere, bluffs rise.

 

Near LaCrescent, Minnesota, just across the river from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Near La Crescent, Minnesota, just across the river from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

Nearing the Mississippi River bridge to cross from Minnesota into Wisconsin.

Nearing the Mississippi River bridge to cross from Minnesota into Wisconsin.

 

I am always impressed at the diversity of Minnesota topography. Within hours, you can drive from plains to woods, hills to prairie. Trees or no trees. Lakes or rivers. City or country.

Bluff country mural

Doreen and Tom’s son, Brady, painted this mural on the hardware store in Houston years ago when Brady operated Iceman Custom Paint. He set up a projector in the middle of Minnesota State Highway 16 in the wee hours of the morning to get the image onto the wall. As luck (or not) would have it, a state trooper came upon the scene and investigated.

 

The rest of the hardware store mural promoting Bluff Country.

The rest of the hardware store mural promoting Bluff Country.

 

I love this state of mine. I truly do. Except for winter. I don’t miss the fierceness of a prairie winter. And I certainly wouldn’t want to deal with Duluth or Moorhead winters. And I imagine traveling southeastern Minnesota ridge roads in the winter could prove challenging. I take that tip from Doreen and Tom who are migrating south this winter to Texas.

BONUS PHOTOS from Houston, Minnesota:

 

After photographing the hardware store mural, I turned to see this man walking to his pick-up truck parked across the street at River Valley Convenience Store. The business is owned by Doreen and Tom's son Brady and his wife, Tracy. It was the leafy vegetables in the pick-up bed that caught me eye.

After photographing the hardware store mural, I turned to see this man walking to his pick-up truck parked across the street at River Valley Convenience Store. The business is owned by Doreen and Tom’s son Brady and his wife, Tracy. The leafy vegetables in the pick-up bed caught my eye. An interesting note about River Valley: The business features Full Service Wednesday from 1 – 3 p.m. On that afternoon, Tom shows up to pump gas and wash windshields. That’s a small town for you.

 

While I didn't stop at Barista's Coffee House, its exterior charmed me. The business is for sale.

While I didn’t stop at Barista’s Coffee House, its exterior charmed me. The business is for sale and is located right next to the convenience store just off the main highway through Houston.

 

I spotted this co-op fuel truck from nearby Hokah and flashed back to my Uncle Harold's fuel delivery truck at this Midland gas station, long-closed in Vesta, Minnesota.

I spotted this co-op fuel truck from nearby Hokah and flashed back to my Uncle Harold’s fuel delivery truck at his Midland gas station, long-closed in Vesta, Minnesota.

 

Check back tomorrow as I take you inside a special attraction in Houston. 

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault mural honors Heisman Trophy winner & native son Bruce Smith November 3, 2015

ATTEND A FOOTBALL GAME in Faribault, and you’ll cheer from Bruce Smith Field.

Peruse the Rice County Historical Society, a short distance from the football field, and you’ll discover an exhibit about Bruce Smith.

In mid-June, pop over to the Faribault Golf Club for the annual Bruce Smith Golf Classic.

Head downtown to Buckham Memorial Library and you’ll find a locally-produced DVD titled Bruce “Boo” Smith #54: 1941 Heisman trophy winner.

Faribault's newest mural honors native son and Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

Faribault’s newest mural honors native son and Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

Now Faribault has added one more item to its Bruce Smith list—a mural. Last Friday the Mural Society of Faribault installed a downtown mural honoring Smith, who won the 1941 Heisman Trophy for most outstanding college football player. He was the first Minnesotan to garner that prize from the Sportswriters and Sports Broadcasters of America. Smith, a team captain and All-American halfback for the University of Minnesota Gophers, received the award on December 9, 1941, in New York City. That’s two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Bruce Smith, as painted by Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs.

Bruce Smith, as painted by Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs.

After college, Smith would go on to serve his country as a Navy fighter pilot during WW II. He also played football with the Navy.

The mural includes substantial information about Bruce Smith, a nice addition to the mural.

The mural includes substantial information about Bruce Smith. Click on the image to enlarge.

While researching Smith, born in Faribault in 1920, I learned that he:

  •  played professional football for four years—for the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.
  •  starred in a 1942 Columbia Pictures movie about himself, Smith of Minnesota.
  •  nearly died of a ruptured kidney during a 1947 football game.
  •  retired from football at age 29.
  •  co-owned a sporting goods store in Northfield and worked in sales for a clothing store and a beer distributor. (Perhaps F-Town Brewing,  Faribault’s new craft brewery, could name a beer after him; makes marketing sense to me.)
  •  died of cancer in August 1967 at the age of 47.
  •  was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
  •  had his number, 54, retired by the Gophers, a first for the U.
The mural honors Faribault's most-renowned athlete.

The mural honors Faribault’s most-renowned athlete.

Probably the most interesting fact I uncovered is Smith’s 1978 nomination for sainthood in the Catholic church. A man of strong faith, he prayed before and after games and also ministered to young cancer patients. I find this nomination especially notable given today’s often less than saintly behavior among many football players. But from all accounts I’ve read, Smith was a wholesome hometown boy, much beloved by his community. And that, in my opinion, holds an honor as great as winning the Heisman Trophy.

The mural is tucked away on the back of an historic downtown building.

The mural, comprised of panels rather than painted directly onto brick, is displayed on the back of a flooring business.

FYI: The Bruce Smith mural is located on the back of Floors by Farmer at the corner of Central Avenue and Fifth Street Northwest in historic downtown Faribault. The latest mural joins murals of town founder Alexander Faribault (directly across from the Smith mural), Fleck’s Beer, the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ice Skating on the Straight River, historic downtown Faribault overview and the annual Pet Parade. Faribault based Brushwork Signs designed, created and installed the murals.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sources:

http://heisman.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=8&path=football

http://www.minnesotaalumni.org/s/1118/content.aspx?pgid=1307

http://rchistory.org/exhibits/

https://www.facebook.com/rchistory/

http://selco.ent.sirsi.net/client/en_US/far/search/results?qu=bruce+smith&te=&lm=FAR_LIMIT

 

A quick tour of Rochester shows me its artsy side June 24, 2015

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The southbound exit off U.S. Highway 52 which took us to the Rochester Civic Center Theater.

The southbound exit off U.S. Highway 52 which took us to the Rochester Civic Center Theater.

FIFTEEN MINUTES. That’s all the time I had to view downtown Rochester before I needed to be at the Civic Center Theater for a weekday evening Poetry Bash.

Almost to the theater, left.

Almost to the theater, left.

So my husband parked the car across the street from the theater. I grabbed my camera and we headed the opposite direction toward the heart of downtown.

A great idea for turning an otherwise mundane utility box into a work of art.

A great idea: Turning an otherwise mundane utility box into a work of art.

We’d made it only half a block, almost to the railroad tracks, when I noticed art painted on a utility box. First photo snapped.

My first glimpse of the music themed mural.

My first glimpse of the music themed mural.

Across the tracks, more art—this time a music themed mural on a building next to a vacant, fenced lot—distracted me. Focus, snap, focus, snap, focus, snap, focus, snap. Until I’d lost count, so intrigued was I by the mural fronting a dramatic high rise backdrop.

 

Rochester, mural 2

 

Rochester, mural 5

 

Rochester, mural 4

 

Rochester, mural 3

 

“Are you photographing the tall building?” a passerby inquired. I was and I wasn’t. It was the art that interested me more than the structure. I chatted a bit with the man from Chicago who was in town for treatment of his skin cancer at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic which centers this southeast Minnesota city’s downtown.

Kahler Hotel

The historic Kahler Grant Hotel in the heart of downtown has been around for 80 years and offers 660 rooms and suites.

Next I photographed the Kahler Grand Hotel’s iconic sign, a work of art, too.

A skyline snapshot shows a mix of old and new.

A skyline snapshot shows a mix of old and new.

A glance at my watch told me there was no time to wander any farther. The muses were calling.

But I am determined to return to Rochester and explore this city which we always bypass on our hurried way to somewhere. Its artsy vibe appeals to me. And I’d really like a closer look at the Mayo Clinic, only glimpsed as we swung through downtown after the Poetry Bash. By then darkness had descended. I couldn’t help but think of all the people from all over the world who would sleep this night in Rochester, perhaps restlessly, and rise in the morning to meet with medical professionals and undergo tests and receive diagnosis. Does the art distract them as it distracted me?

BONUS PHOTOS:

Waiting at a stoplight along Civic Center Drive, I spotted this artwork.

Waiting at a stoplight along Civic Center Drive, I spotted this artwork.

Downtown: the Rosa Parks Pavilion. I have no idea what is housed here.

Downtown: the Rosa Parks Pavilion, a Mayo Clinic administration building and a former Dayton’s Department Store. The building was named in 2008 after Parks, well-known in the Civil Rights movement for refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

Another scene in downtown Rochester.

Another scene in downtown Rochester.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling