Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Plainview: Jon Hassler’s “the village in the corn” June 15, 2022

A portion of the Plainview mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

LAND. PEOPLE. ARTS. COMMUNITY. Those words theme a public mural stretching across the Plainview Area Community and Youth Center in the heart of this southeastern Minnesota small town.

The mural graces a wall of the community center, across the street from the former Jon Hassler Theater. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I remember the mural from my last visit here in 2013. I appreciate this public art now as much as I did then, for art can reveal much about a place.

In the heart of the community, the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, now closed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

While Plainview has lost some of its “arts” character with closure of the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, it will always claim title (along with Staples) as the boyhood home (s) of noted Minnesota writer Jon Hassler. He moved to Plainview with his parents at the age of 10, remaining there until shortly after his 1951 high school graduation.

Hassler’s Grand Opening is based on Plainview.

Hassler, one of Minnesota’s most-beloved authors, focused his fiction on small town life. That includes Grand Opening, a novel based on Plainview. As in real life, the main character’s parents buy a run-down grocery store in rural Minnesota.

Source: Afton Press

While I have not yet read Grand Opening, I just finished Days Like Smoke, A Minnesota Boyhood. This is Hassler’s memoir, a manuscript published by Afton Press in 2021, many years after the author’s 2008 death. Edited by friend Will Weaver, another well-known Minnesota writer, this slim volume offers insights into Plainview, into Hassler’s experiences there and how that shaped his writing. He credits his parents’ Red Owl Grocery Store as the training grounds for his writing, the place where he acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist. In that grocery store, Hassler stocked shelves, ground coffee, interacted with and observed customers, and more.

The land (farming) is integral to the economy of Plainview, which is surrounded by corn and soybean fields. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This sentence in Hassler’s memoir is so telling of the influence Plainview had on his writing: I see the villagers passing along the checkout counter like the cast of characters they eventually turned out to be in my novel about this village in the corn. I love that phrase, “village in the corn,” for it fits agriculturally-based Plainview. The community is home to food processors, Plainview Milk Products Cooperative and Lakeside Foods, and celebrates Corn on the Cob Days each summer. Farming centers the local economy.

Two of the people featured on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It’s the people, though, including the characters, who truly define community. And Hassler shares plenty from Plainview, where he lived across from the stockyards for awhile, tried to derail a train, played high school football for the Gophers, watched endless movies at the Gem Theater, bloodied the nose of a third grader, sat at the bedside of his dying 11-year-old friend, biked to the bluffs along the Whitewater River to camp and fish, served as an altar boy…

The mural includes a faith-based dedication to Pauline Redmond. She co-owned the North Country Anvil Magazine/Anvil Press with her husband, Jack Miller. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In his memoir, Hassler remembers St. Joachim’s Catholic Church and Immanuel Lutheran Church standing as sentinels of the soul at opposite ends of Main Street. That’s such an insightful visual. Hassler valued his Catholic upbringing and faith throughout his life. But he also admits in his memoir to the strong current of religious animosity running under the surface of daily life in the village of my youth between Catholics and Lutherans. This comes as no surprise to me, growing up in rural Minnesota with the same denominational tension.

People also define place as noted on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It was that undercurrent—specifically the defeat of Hassler’s father in a school board election—which ultimately caused Hassler’s parents to leave Plainview and return to Staples. He writes: I, newly graduated from high school, loved Plainview too dearly to follow them.

The interior entrance to the Jon Hassler Theater, photographed during a 2013 visit to Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

Hassler’s love for Plainview endured, long after he left to attend college, then to teach, then to write and then to retire in 1997 after 17 years as writer-in-residence at Saint John’s University. Visit Plainview today and you get a strong sense of the place that shaped this writer. While businesses and people have come and gone, at its core, this remains “the village in the corn.”

TELL ME: Have you read any of Jon Hassler’s 12 novels or his nonfiction? I’d love to hear your take on his writing and what books you recommend.

Please check back for more posts from Plainview next week. Be sure to read my previous posts on Plainview published this week.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Revisiting Plainview, a must-visit community in southeastern Minnesota June 13, 2022

A mural themed to people, land, community and the arts graces a corner building in downtown Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

I FELT COMFORTABLY, nostalgically, at home in Plainview, a farming community of some 3,340 in southeastern Minnesota’s Wabasha County.

This Norman Rockwell type scene depicts small town Minnesota, here on a Saturday afternoon in Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Here kids bike along the main drag through town, passing by homegrown shops and other businesses. Here friendly shopkeepers engage in easy conversation that made me feel incredibly welcomed. And connected.

Just a block off Broadway, the local co-op. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

This is a rural community through and through. Home to the Plainview Milk Products Cooperative. Surrounded by farm fields. And, at its essence, home to residents rooted in rural life. Noted Minnesota author Jon Hassler, who penned novels about small town life, grew up here (and in Staples). His parents owned the local Red Owl grocery store.

Right forefront, The Shop on Broadway vends antiques and collectibles. It’s an uncluttered shop with artfully displayed one-of-a-kind merchandise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At The Shop on Broadway, relative newcomer to the area and co-proprietor Sonia spoke about a recently-purchased rural property.

Like a step back in time…J.T. Varieties & Toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At the variety store, the clerk and I exchanged histories of growing up on dairy farms.

Young Love is a combo floral and gift shop, plus small event center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Inside Young Love Floral & Finds, I found plenty of cow art to love.

A close-up of the lengthy mural on a building across the street from the former theater/arts center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Plainview, in many ways, surprised me. I’d been here previously, nearly 10 years ago when a wrong turn led Randy and me to this small town some 20 miles northeast of Rochester. During that brief stop, we popped into the Jon Hassler Theater/Rural America Arts Center. The theater closed soon after and the arts center followed. But both impressed me. This return trip to Plainview revealed a new side, a thriving business district of welcoming, one-of-a-kind shops.

Although I didn’t pop into the quilt shop, Piece by Piece Creative Collaboration, I should have. Next time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Not all were open on the Saturday of my mid-May visit. But I perused enough to get a feel for what this community offers. As cliché as it sounds, Plainview seems an undiscovered gem with its independently-owned shops staffed by friendly folks with time to chat. I felt unrushed in uncrowded stores. Browse at my own pace. Take in the setting and merchandise and down-home feel of being in the moment in rural Minnesota.

J.T. Variety & Toys sells fabric and so much more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

That comes from someone who is not a shopper, who easily tires of mass-produced whatever in Big Box stores. But I didn’t feel that here in Plainview. Inside The Shop on Broadway and J.T. Varieties & Toys, I found nostalgia. Antiques and collectibles in The Shop. And at the Variety store, I stepped back in time, into a mercantile akin to the Ben Franklin or Woolworth’s of my youth. I eased down narrow aisles jammed with merchandise—ran my hand across beautiful cotton fabric layered on shelves, eyed endless knick knacks, appreciated the Little Golden Book storybooks for sale.

Created by Shantelle Speedling at Young Love Floral & Finds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At Young Love Floral & Finds, historic photos, a vintage Mallard Seeds sign (the seed company was once housed here as was a bank) and the First National Bank vault (now a storage space) revealed more about this community. I love this little shop owned by floral designer/creative Shantelle Speedling. The biggest surprise here: wood flowers. Speedling uses them in her floral designs and they are unbelievably beautiful.

The display window at Magnolia Cottage showcases women’s clothing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Another surprise came in finding The Magnolia Cottage Boutique. If this had not been my last shop stop, I may have tried on some of the clothing therein because I loved the styles. But I was tired and it takes a lot for me to try on clothes. The shop also sells home décor, gifts, flowers and more.

From what I read online, this cupcake shop is open only occasionally, It gets rave reviews for its artsy and delicious cupcakes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Next door, Cakes Etcetera was closed, so no cupcakes for me on this Saturday afternoon.

Love this vintage sign marking the bowling alley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

A few doors down, I spotted a vintage sign for Gopher Lanes Bar & Grill. The bowling alley is closed—for the summer. But that didn’t keep me from admiring the sign which is, oh, so Minnesotan. Before Plainview schools merged with Elgin and Millville, their mascot was the Gophers. And just some 10 miles to the southwest of Plainview, the town of Viola celebrates the lowly pocket gopher with an annual community celebration, the Viola Gopher Count. The 148th annual festival is scheduled this week on June 15 and 16. That’s another story and Viola, another place to visit. Just like Plainview.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from Plainview. I’ll take you inside shops, show you signs, art and more discovered on a Saturday afternoon along Broadway. I’m sure I missed a lot of what Plainview offers. So if you are from this town, or have visited, I welcome your insights on places to check out.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Northfield tunnel art features spring in the Big Woods & more May 11, 2022

Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is featured in a public mural by Adam Turman. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

IN THE UNLIKLIEST of places—in the underpass tunnels of a roundabout—bold, nature-themed murals flash color onto concrete in Northfield. I love this public art created by renowned Minneapolis muralist Adam Turman in the pedestrian and biking underpasses at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 246 and Jefferson Parkway.

The rare Dwarf Trout Lily grows in only several places in the world, including at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

The art is unexpected. It’s vibrant. And it honors the ecologies of the Northfield area with four focused themes: Nerstrand Big Woods, the Cannon River, Oak Savannas and Prairie.

The recreational trail leading to one of the underpasses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

With the exception of winter, the paintings also cover three of Minnesota’s four distinct seasons.

An overview of the Nerstrand Big Woods underpass mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Because it’s spring, I’ll start by showing you the spring-themed art depicting nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The park proves a popular hiking spot with attractions like Hidden Falls, the rare Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily and, in the autumn, spectacular colors.

A rare Dwarf Trout Lily up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Seeing these murals for the first time calls for a thoughtful pace of studying the art, appreciating it and reflecting on how beautiful the natural world in and around Northfield.

Wild geraniums grace the Big Woods mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Vehicles may be passing overhead, but inside those underpasses the quiet beauty of nature prevails.

Adam Turman’s painting of Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

This roundabout came about because of a need for improved pedestrian safety and traffic flow along stretches of roadway used by commuters and kids/families going to and from school. I expect the roundabout, once people adjusted to it, has achieved its goal.

Stepping stones and rock cairn in the Big Woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

And then to have that bonus art beneath, well, what a welcome addition to an otherwise utilitarian project. The public art in Northfield brings to mind another such space that would work well for a nature-themed mural. That’s the tunnel under Highway 371 in Nisswa, a small, but busy, tourist town in the central Minnesota lakes region. Last time I walked through the 371 underpass from downtown Nisswa to Nisswa Lake Park, chalk art marked walls. I can envision Adam Turman’s bold graphic murals brightening this pedestrian and biking route with scenes depicting nature or perhaps Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox of Minnesota northwoods lore.

The artist’s signature. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

“Up North” themes more work done by Turman, who tags himself as an artist, muralist and screen printer. In my community, he’s created, loon, Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness and S’mores art for throws and pillowcases crafted at Faribault Mill (formerly Faribault Woolen Mill). He’s created for many other entities throughout Minnesota and the world. Target. Duluth Trading Company. The Minnesota State Fair. And many more.

Into Nerstrand Big Woods State Park via an underpass mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

For now, I appreciate seeing Turman’s work here in southern Minnesota, in neighboring Northfield.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for posts featuring the other three themed art tunnels in Northfield.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: A pivoting parking lot perspective December 9, 2021

The back of buildings in the 400 block of Central Avenue, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021)

EVERY DAY WE PASS BY sights which often become so woven into our environment that we no longer see them. Until one day we pause. And notice.

Recently, I stopped to look around me, standing in a parking lot along Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street, a half-block off Central Avenue next to Corks & Pints.

I rotated, taking in seemingly ordinary scenes. Part of the fabric of Faribault. Past and present.

A sign marks Jack Cruikshank’s business. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021)

Cruikshank Construction. I don’t know whether Jack Cruikshank still has his construction business. But, many decades ago, he installed replacement windows in our home. And he operated a paint store that was our go-to place for paint. Jack knew paint and was willing to share his expertise. For a while, he also had a bookstore in his shop. Jack was/is an exceptional individual and businessman—trustworthy, friendly, kind, knowledgeable, genuine and caring…

A cab company with a focus and message. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021)
More messages on this cab. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021)

I saw the same care written upon windows of a van, from which a couple disembarked while the driver of Cross Road Cab waited inside. I didn’t talk to him, but rather noted the messages of support for veterans, troops and freedom. Plus his stand against driving while intoxicated.

The grey building in the foreground houses Corks & Pints with 10,000 Drops in the brick building. The historic brick structure originally housed Peterson Art Furniture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

The pair walked toward Corks & Pints and 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers. A mural, “Ice Skating on the Straight River,” graces the side of 10,000 Drops. It’s based on a vintage photo. The transformation of this downtown anchor corner has been a real asset to our community. Pre-distillery, the building housed an antique shop and architectural salvage business. It was dark, cluttered and not all that appealing. But now, wow. With the inside gutted and opened up, the distillery interior features wood floors, exposed beams, brick walls and much more, including cozy spaces to visit. It’s unlike any other place in Faribault. An inviting setting to enjoy a locally handcrafted cocktail with friends. Inside, or outside on the patio. Corks & Pints is part of the complex, housed next door in the former F-Town Brewing located in a former garage. It’s a tap house and wine bar, another welcoming spot to connect and converse.

Cry Baby Craig’s can’t miss signature orange truck. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021)

A while ago, Cry Baby Craig’s focused conversation in our downtown. Craig Kaiser moved his hot sauce business to Faribault, into a former sporting goods store at 405 Central Avenue North. CBC’s highly-acclaimed habanero and garlic hot sauce is a staple in our refrigerator. And it’s become a favorite among restaurants in the metro and beyond.

If you’re mostly unfamiliar with Faribault, I hope you’ve learned a thing or ten about our town via my pivoting parking lot perspective. And, if you’re local, I invite you to pause and appreciate all that our community offers.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another creative look at Cannon Falls November 8, 2021

This ghost sign and stairway caught my interest in downtown Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I VIEW THE WORLD through a creative lens. So when I see an exterior metal stairway, I see beyond the intended purpose of a pathway up or down. Rather, I see the angles, the details, the architectural, artsy side of the utilitarian.

Look to the right to see the lovely floral design in the bracing bracket. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

On a recent visit to Cannon Falls, a small town in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota, I noticed a metal stairway hugging the side of Antiques on 4th. I paused to appreciate the construction and the artwork. Curved braces detailed with florals support the stairway. I love that incorporation of art.

Aiming my camera lens up to the underside of that artsy stairway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

And I appreciate, too, the fading ghost sign lettering for a dry goods and clothing store painted on the brick building.

I spotted this magnetic word board at the library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

JUST UP THE STREET a half a block away at the public library, a magnetic word board invites patrons to create. And while I didn’t, I took note of the coupling of words, whether by intentional placement or not:

smile just once

SHOP sausage

AMERICAN SPORTS are on fire

You bellow blind information like an ugly flood of manure

AMERICANS like cake more

This mural graces Cannon River Winery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

WE AMERICANS ALSO LIKE our wine. Back across the street, near the artsy metal stairway, Cannon River Winery also embraces the arts with a sprawling mural on the side of its building. The scene depicts the area’s rural-ness and the business of growing grapes and crafting wine.

I’ll raise my glass to that—to the winery, to the library, to the antique shop and to all the places in, and people of, this Minnesota community who value the arts. Thank you. I am grateful for the creativity in Cannon Falls.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Once Upon a Time at the Cannon Falls Library November 3, 2021

The “Once Upon a Time” mural in the Cannon Falls Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

TUCKED INTO A SIDE CORNER, behind a nondescript cushioned seat for two, a bold mural pops color into the Cannon Falls Library.

The mural is fun, playful, colorful, inspirational… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I discovered the art on a recent day trip to this small Goodhue County community along the Cannon River. A sign in a downtown storefront window promoting the library’s “Mailbox Mysteries” program led me to the library. Once inside, I registered for the mystery challenge and then browsed. Not books. But art.

This tastefully and artfully decorated library creates an inviting setting in a cozy space. I felt comfortably at home here, where a fireplace angles into a corner with cushy seating nearby.

So much to see and interpret. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

But it was that vivid mural which focused my attention. There’s so much to take in. Even now, as I scroll through my photos, I note details previously unnoticed. This mural requires study and an appreciation for nuances.

What a fitting theme for this library mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Titled “Once Upon a Time,” this artwork was created by local students under the direction of Cannon Falls native and New York artist Kelli Bickman. A similar, and much larger, Youth Mural Arts project graces the exterior of the local Chamber of Commerce building 1 ½ blocks away.

Among the many inspirational quotes incorporated into the library mural is this favorite. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As a wordsmith, I especially appreciate the inspirational quotes incorporated into the painting: Today a reader, tomorrow a leader. The noblest art is that of making others happy.

Love this quote… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

And my favorite: Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light. How well that quote fits today as we deal with the darkness of a global pandemic. The artists could not have known that, just months after the dedication of this mural in June 2019, darkness would descend upon our world. Now, more than ever, those words of encouragement—of remembering to turn on the light—resonate.

Once Upon a Time can take you anywhere. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Art is always open to interpretation. So what I take away from this mural may differ from the artists’ vision or from others who view it. I see strength and grace. I see reaching for the stars and achieving goals. I see fiery passion and the fluidity of life. I see going places that may lead far from Cannon Falls, from Minnesota even. I see dreams taking wing. I see how books and music and art and nature influence us.

A stack of books painted into the mural fits the setting and the theme. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I see that Once Upon a Time is our story to write. We write the words and paint the scenes to create the personalized murals which depict our lives. And, in the darkest of times, we can choose to switch on the light, to see happiness.

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NOTE: Please check back for more from the Cannon Falls Library. Click here to read my earlier post on the newest downtown mural. Click here for a brief tour of downtown. And, finally, click here for a post about Hi Quality Bakery.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Cannon Falls’ new mural November 2, 2021

Cannon Falls’ newest mural, completed earlier this year. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

WHEN ART INTEGRATES into a community in a publicly accessible way, I celebrate. There’s a reason I feel such gratitude. I grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal art exposure. Yet, today, I work as a creative. Expressing myself via writing and photography is my passion. My path to creativity began with the Little House books read aloud to me and my classmates by a grade school teacher. As I listened, words painted images of the scenes Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her writing.

That’s the backstory behind my deep appreciation for the arts—from visual to literary to performing.

A section of the mural also celebrates Minnesota with iconic images like Paul Bunyan, pine trees, a loon and notable buildings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021

I believe art should be accessible to everyone no matter their location, their income, their anything.

The mural is in a highly-visible location. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

So when I happened upon a new mural in the heart of downtown Cannon Falls recently, I felt grateful. Here, on the side of the Cannon Falls Area Chamber of Commerce building at a busy intersection along Minnesota State Highways 19/20 (4th and Main Streets), a colorful mural depicts the culture, heritage and history of Cannon Falls and the surrounding area.

History in words and art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The art reveals much about this small town along the Cannon River, about the early influence of Native Americans and French fur traders. Today, outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to canoe that same river. Others bike, walk and run on recreational trails.

A farmer hauls his grain through downtown Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The mural shows, too, the importance of art and agriculture here. On the day I visited Cannon Falls, a farmer steered his John Deere tractor, pulling a wagon heaped with corn, through downtown. Past the mural. I love moments like this when art and reality intersect. This mural truly reflects its community.

The importance of sports and a local park are depicted in the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

A close up look reveals the words Burch Park on a scoreboard behind a ball player. That references nearby John Burch Park, home to the Cannon Falls Bombers, Cannon Falls Bears and other teams. Sports, in most small towns, are a source of community pride, of togetherness.

Artist info… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

This new public mural also brought people together. Under the artistic leadership of Cannon Falls native and New York artist Kelli Bickman, some 30 community members and students joined to make this mural happen. Bickman is the founder and director of Youth Mural Arts, which taps into student talent to create public art. A $3,000 grant from Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to the Cannon Arts Board along with a Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation Paint the Town Grant (for 15 gallons of paint) made the project possible.

A close-up of the mural reveals a map, a list of parks, the importance of agriculture and more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As I stood viewing and photographing Cannon Falls’ newest mural, I wondered about the middle and high school students who painted the scenes before me. I hope they feel valued, appreciated and, most of all, inspired. Art opens doors. Doors to the future. Doors to seeing the world in a new way. And that is powerful.

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NOTE: Please check back as I take you inside the Cannon Falls Library to view more art.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Insights from a pocket garden June 21, 2021

2nd Street Garden in downtown Faribault. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

WHEN YOU CONSIDER THE WORD pocket, what flashes into view? A side or back pocket in your jeans? A place to tuck your cellphone or keys? A slip of fabric stitched to the front of a shirt? How about a garden? Yes, a garden.

Downtown Faribault features a pocket garden, a mini garden sandwiched in an open space between buildings. I love the concept, the artsy and practical use of a spot that might otherwise exist as unused and unsightly.

In 2018, two sisters and two artists created the 2nd Street Garden next to DuFour’s Cleaners thanks to funding from Faribault Main Street. That downtown-focused group secured a $15,000 grant from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the Bush Foundation for six creative placemaking art projects, including the pocket garden.

With financial support, sisters Dee Bjork and Beth Westerhouse (who has since died) and husband-wife team Ann Meillier and Dave Correll (Brushwork Signs) designed and created the garden. It incorporates metal flowers, real flowers and plants, a bench and floral art.

A bench offers a place to rest and ponder. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The result is an inviting oasis that feels tranquil and welcoming. And unexpected.

Left behind by a recent visitor to inspire kindness. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Recently, I revisited the garden and discovered a mini stuffed bear on the park’s bench. An attached tag invited visitors to take a photo and to use #LovePeopleBeKind. The bear, with red heart connected, fits the garden’s theme of Love One Another.

An important message tagged to the bear. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

It’s such a simple concept: Love One Another. But it’s not always easy to do. We say and do things that hurt others. We fail to listen. We blame and criticize and jump to conclusions. And with technology, it’s easier than ever to fire off words in the heat of the moment. Without thinking. Without considering. Without putting our fingers and mouths on pause.

The positive message painted onto a fence panel in the garden. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted and edited photo, August 2019.

I’d like each of us to step into a pocket garden. To sit on a real or imaginary bench, surrounded by natural and artistic beauty, and to contemplate. To think beyond ourselves. To think of ways we can grow more loving and caring. To consider that what we say, write and do matters. In either a positive way or a negative way. We can hurt people. Or we can choose to love one another. We can choose to show, and grace others with, kindness, love, care, empathy and compassion.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault’s newest mural reflects love, diversity June 16, 2021

“LOVE FOR ALL” created by Jordyn Brennan. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

THE POWER OF VISUAL ART can’t be underestimated. It heals. Uplifts. Infuses joy. Creates a sense of peace. Brings people together. And so much more.

The ASL symbol for “v” and the peace symbol. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

In Faribault, “LOVE FOR ALL,” a just-finished mural designed and painted by Minneapolis artist Jordyn Brennan, shows the positive power of art in a way that reflects my southern Minnesota community. Yet, the mural’s universal theme of love appeals to everyone.

Jordyn Brennan signed her “LOVE FOR ALL” mural. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I love this 85-foot by 35-foot mural which sprawls across the side of a building (and next to a city-owned parking lot) at the corner of First Avenue NW and Third Street NW in the heart of downtown Faribault. The City of Faribault commissioned Brennan to create the public art. It will be celebrated this week during Faribault Heritage Days with a ceremony at 3:30 pm Thursday, June 17, at the mural site. Guest speakers include city officials, representatives from the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind and Faribault Main Street, and the artist.

The setting sun shines on the northwest corner of the mural. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

When I say I love this mural, I should explain, right? I love the vivid hues defining this art. To look at “LOVE FOR ALL” simply makes me happy. And who doesn’t need to feel happy after these past difficult 14 months-plus of living in a pandemic?

LOVE in assorted colors and languages. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

But beyond that basic appreciation, I value the message of an inclusive Faribault. Mine is a diverse community. Diverse in culture and ethnicity. Diverse, too, in that deaf and blind students come here from all over Minnesota to attend the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind. Some of their families live here. A global student population also attends Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, an historic private boarding and day school on Faribault’s east side.

The three dots below the L are L in Braille. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The artist took those facets of Faribault and incorporated them into her artwork. You’ll see that in the hands communicating love in American Sign Language with the Braille spelling below. The hands are painted in varied skin tones.

Mums, peonies and clematis. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The rare Dwarf Trout Lily. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Faribault’s noted flowers. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And then, above those hands, flowers bloom. Not just any flowers, but mums, peonies, clematis and the Dwarf Trout Lily, all reflective of Faribault’s rich floral history. Read the backstory on that in my initial post about the mural by clicking here.

Painted concrete blocks distance vehicles from the mural. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I feel incredibly grateful to live in a community which values art, including outdoor public art. Many historic-themed murals grace our downtown as do murals on the alley-side of The Upper East Side (213 Central Avenue) and the Second Street Pocket Garden.

The letter L in ASL. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

As a creative and a member of this diverse place I’ve called home for 39 years, I celebrate this newest piece of art. I hope it sparks conversations, creates a strong sense of community and positivity, and reminds all of us that art is powerful. And so is love.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Latest mural blooms in downtown Faribault June 4, 2021

“LOVE FOR ALL” mural photographed on May 29, 2021. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

ART BLOOMS ON A MASSIVE white canvas, brightening a street corner in the heart of downtown Faribault with flowers in vibrant hues.

It’s an in-progress floral delight created by Jordyn Brennan. The Faribault City Council selected the Minneapolis-based visual artist to paint the 85 x 35-foot instagrammable mural on a blank wall next to a parking lot on the corner of First Avenue NW and Third Street NW.

A big space to fill. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

A week ago I photographed the project, which differs from the many historically-themed murals scattered throughout the downtown. This one, while also incorporating history, is more universal.

Yet, Brennan thought local when designing this “LOVE FOR ALL” mural. She’s incorporating the word LOVE—spelled in American sign language, braille and text. Faribault is home to the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind. Skin tones on the signing hands will also vary, celebrating our community’s diversity.

The flowers, too, hold significance, according to Brennan’s Facebook page. Yellow mums trace back to Lehman Gardens, founded here in 1931 and nationally-recognized for its mums. The mum gardens drew thousands of visitors. The mum business continues today as Mums of Minnesota owned by Faribault Growers, Inc.

The peonies painted into the mural honor the long ago Brand Peony Farm, no longer in existence. The nationally-renowned peony grower/developer earned Faribault the title of “Peony Capital of the World.” The community celebrated with an annual peony festival and parade, and brides stored peonies in caves along the river. In many Faribault residential neighborhoods you’ll see peonies bushes, currently in bloom.

Brennan also painted another Faribault famous flower, the clematis, in to her mural. Donahue’s Greenhouse, just blocks from my home, grows one of the largest selections of clematis in the country.

Finally, the rare, endangered Dwarf Trout Lily also earned a spot in this floral garden. The mini lily grows in only three places in the world—in Rice, Steele and Goodhue counties—and can be found locally at River Bend Nature Center.

To the left in this image, you can see one of the architecturally beautiful historic buildings that define downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

I love how this young Minneapolis artist put so much thought into designing a vibrant mural that is universally appealing yet reflective of Faribault. I expect this oversized public art piece will provide the backdrop for many a fun photo opp. For visitors and locals alike. Maybe even for brides clutching peony bouquets.

FYI: Jordyn Brennan, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Arts, has been working hard on the mural with a goal of completing it by mid-June, just in time for Faribault’s Heritage Days celebration. She’s painted more since I took these photos. I will do a follow-up post when the mural is done. This talented young artist is also pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. She’s completed other flower and nature-themed murals. Be sure to visit her website.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling