Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Portraits honor laborers on Madison’s East Side September 22, 2020

Portraits grace window spaces of Madison-Kipp Corporation, founded in 1898, and located in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. The company produces precision machined aluminum die castings and subassemblies for the transportation, lawn and garden, and industrial markets, according to its website.

 

WHEN I VIEWED PORTRAITS set into former window spaces in an aged industrial brick building on Madison’s East Side, I saw strength.

 

This portrait exudes strength.

 

Strength in the bulk of bodies. Strength in the machines depicted. Strength in the hands and arms and faces of those who labored inside. Strength of work ethic and determination and skill.

 

Portraits of industrial workers stretch along the building.

 

Pride surged, not because of a personal connection to those employed by Madison-Kipp Corporation, but because of the blue collar connection. Too often, society dismisses as secondary those who put hands to machines, hands to tools, hands to steering wheels…

 

That each mural focuses on one worker highlights their individual value to the company.

 

But I recognize their value, for my father and his father before him and the generation prior worked the land. Farming. To feed their families. To feed others. Dirt and grease and backbreaking hard work defined their days. So I honor these men in the history of my life, including my husband, Randy, an automotive machinist for 40-plus years. A customer recently called him “an institution.” That seems fitting given his career longevity and the rarity of his skill set. I have no idea what Randy’s customers will do when he retires because no apprentice waits in the wings.

 

It takes the hands and skills of many to run a company and produce product.

 

Even with a renewed interest in the need for hands-on skilled workers, I don’t expect young people to necessarily embrace these jobs. The four-year college degree mindset has been too long embedded in our psyche. Yet, the need for mechanics, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, factory workers, etc., will only grow as Baby Boomers retire.

 

I appreciate that women are among those featured in this public art.

 

I am grateful for those who work with their hands. They keep our vehicles running, our houses repaired, our grocery store shelves stocked, our factories running…

 

Strong, determined, skilled…

 

When I studied the portraits on the Kipp building along the Capital City State Trail, I noticed, too, the drab shades of brown, grey, blue, green, no single person standing out in flashy colors. Too often those employed by manufacturers, warehouses and more go unnoticed, blending into the landscape of our lives.

 

Credit goes to these groups.

 

So to see this art, this very public art, recognize the often unrecognized pleases me. I value these men and women and the work they do. And now this art which honors them.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

LOVE blooms in Northfield mural September 18, 2020

The Northfield Arts and Culture Commission awarded $3,000 toward this mural project.

 

SUNFLOWERS. LILIES. DAISIES.

 

I love the bold hues of this mural mixed with grey and black.

 

Flowers bloom in bold colors painted onto an exterior block wall in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

Mural on the Domino’s building.

 

Just a half block off Division Street, up the hill from Bridge Square, on the building housing Domino’s Pizza, a colorful mural stretches, drawing appreciative onlookers. Including me. During Northfield’s The Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration last Saturday, many a passerby posed for photos against the colorful and inspiring backdrop.

 

Outlined in blue, the word LOVE.

 

This mural commissioned by the owner of the building and created by Illinois artist Brett Whitacre features more than vibrant flowers. It highlights a single word: LOVE.

 

The signature of mural artist Brett Whitacre on a corner of the mural.

 

And perhaps that is the unconscious draw. We all need LOVE. More than ever right now. These are difficult days of dealing with a relentless and deadly virus, social unrest and injustices, and a country in turmoil.

 

I expect the LOVE mural will continue to be a popular photo backdrop, especially for couples holding their wedding receptions at The Grand Event Center just across the street.

 

To pause for a moment in the chaos and appreciate this beautiful example of uplifting public art is to take a respite. To choose for a moment to embrace LOVE. That one emotion we all need. That connects us. If we allow it to do so.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Northfield: Snapshots of an abbreviated Defeat of Jesse James Days September 17, 2020

The site of the 1876 attempted bank robbery, now the Northfield Historical Society.

 

TYPICALLY, THE DEFEAT OF JESSE JAMES DAYS in Northfield finds Randy and me avoiding this college town only 20 minutes from Faribault. Crowds and congestion keep us away as thousands converge on this southeastern Minnesota community to celebrate the defeat of the James-Younger Gang in a September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank.

 

Waiting for fair food at one of several stands.

 

But this year, because of COVID-19, the mega celebration scaled back, leaving Northfield busy, but not packed. And so we walked around downtown for a bit on Saturday afternoon, after we replenished our book supply at the local public library—our original reason for being in Northfield.

 

The LOVE mural painted on a pizza place in Northfield drew lots of fans taking photos, including me.

 

On our way to Bridge Square, a riverside community gathering spot in the heart of this historic downtown, I paused to photograph the latest public art project here—a floral mural painted on the side of the Domino’s Pizza building by Illinois artist Brett Whitacre. (More info and photos on that tomorrow.)

 

One of the many Sidewalk Poetry poems imprinted into cement in downtown Northfield.

 

Northfield’s appreciation of the arts—from visual to literary to performing—is one of the qualities I most value about this community. As a poet, I especially enjoy the poetry imprinted upon sidewalks.

 

An impromptu concert in Bridge Square.

 

A fountain, monument and the iconic popcorn wagon define Bridge Square in the warmer weather season.

 

Buying a corn dog…

 

I was delighted also to see and hear a guitarist quietly strumming music in the town square while people walked by, stopped at the iconic popcorn wagon or waited in line for corn dogs and cheese curds. Several food vendors lined a street by the park.

 

The Defeat of Jesse James Days royalty out and about.

 

Among fest-goers I spotted Defeat of Jesse James royalty in their denim attire, red bandanna masks, crowns and boots, the masks a reminder not of outlaws but of COVID-19.

 

Photographed through the bakery’s front window, the feet-shaped pastries.

 

Yet, in the throes of a global pandemic, some aspects of the celebration remained unchanged. At Quality Bakery a half a block away from Bridge Square, the western-themed window displays featured the bakery’s signature celebration pastry—De-Feet of Jesse James.

 

A sign outside a Division Street business fits the theme of the celebration.

 

For a bit of this Saturday, it felt good to embrace this long-running event, to experience a sense of community, to celebrate the defeat of the bad guys.

 

© Copyright 2020 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

 

Calling all cats, dogs & creatives July 29, 2020

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A mural on the bandshell in Faribault’s Central Park features the annual Pet Parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THE SHOW MUST GO ON. Or, in this case, the 2020 Faribault Pet Parade.

Now in its 80th-something year, this annual August parade of animals and kids continues even in a global pandemic. Not to worry. Changes have been made to protect participants and parade watchers.

 

This side of the mural shows a typical pet parade. This year, all participants must stay inside their vehicles. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

According to information posted on the Faribault Parks & Rec Department Facebook page, the 6:30 pm, Thursday, August 6, event will be car cruise style. That means no walking; only riding in vehicles. Pets and people.

Organizers encourage folks to get creative with pet-themed vehicles or to load up their pets and hit the lengthy parade route.

 

The complete Pet Parade mural. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Those watching the parade must adhere to social distancing guidelines, the Facebook post states. That goes also for the concert, with a DJ playing kid-focused music, at 7 pm in Central Park. CDC guidelines and crowd limits will be enforced.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Now that you understand the changes and the rules, go ahead and brainstorm. Make this a family project to transform the family vehicle into a pet. Or determine ways to showcase your pets in a festive and fun way.

We could all use a little fun and many reasons to smile. Let’s do it, Faribault. For our community, and especially for our kids. And, above all, stay safe and adhere to the rules.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring Bishop Whipple’s “unfailing love & hope for humanity” on a mural in Faribault June 29, 2020

The Central Park Bandshell mural on the left honors Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple. The one to the right features the Faribault Pet Parade and was placed there several years ago.

 

THE RECENT INSTALLATION of an historic-themed mural on the west side of the Central Park Bandshell in Faribault prompted me to look more closely at the man featured thereon—Bishop Henry Whipple.

 

The middle mural panel features a portrait of Bishop Whipple and a summary of information about him.

 

Just across the street from Central Park, the stunning Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

 

The historic marker posted on the Cathedral bell tower.

 

He is a prominent figure in the history of my community and the history of Minnesota. Explore Faribault, and you will find Whipple’s name on numerous plaques, including across the street from the park at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, the cathedral he helped build as Minnesota’s first Episcopal bishop. He’s buried in a crypt beneath the chancel there. The bell tower was dedicated in his honor by his second wife, Evangeline, as “a monument of love and Christian unity.”

 

Posted outside the front door of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

On the east side of town, Whipple’s name graces an historical marker at The Chapel of the Good Shepherd on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. He helped found the school, separately first as Shattuck School for boys and St. Mary’s Hall for girls, along with St. James and Seabury Divinity schools, all in Faribault.

 

The soaring tower landmarks the Cathedral. Ralph Adams Cram, architect of St. John the Divine in New York City, designed the Cathedral tower. The tower was added as a memorial to Whipple after his death in 1901.

 

The inscription, in stone, on the bell tower.

 

An historic marker on the Cathedral grounds.

 

As admirable as Whipple’s role in founding educational institutions, it is another facet of this man—his humanitarian efforts—which are often cited in history. The inscription on the Cathedral bell tower states that Whipple’s “unfailing love and hope for humanity have made his life an inspiration far and near.”

 

This panel depicts the relationship between Native peoples and Bishop Whipple.

 

Bishop Whipple’s portrait, up close.

 

Details on a sign outside the Cathedral reference Whipple as “Straight Tongue.”

 

What, exactly, does that mean? To understand, one must consider the time period in which Whipple arrived in Minnesota, just years before the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. He was a missionary and, as such, worked to educate and convert the Native peoples to Christianity and agrarian ways. (Not necessarily the adaptive approach one would take today toward other cultures, but the mindset then.) In his work, Whipple observed poverty among the Dakota and Ojibwe and mistreatment by the government and began to advocate for their rights. The Native peoples called the bishop “Straight Tongue.” That title speaks to their trust and respect for him.

 

The mural, in full, including the right panel recognizing Whipple and his first wife, Cornelia, and his second wife, Evangeline.

 

Whipple was among the few leaders who publicly pressed for sparing the lives of 303 Dakota warriors sentenced to death following the war. President Abraham Lincoln spared or pardoned most, but 38 were still hung during a mass execution in Mankato.

Whipple’s strong public stances on behalf of Native peoples were not necessarily widely-embraced. Rice County Historical Society Executive Director Susan Garwood shared at a presentation I attended several years ago that several assassination attempts were made on the bishop’s life. Following the U.S.-Dakota War, about 80 Native people, under Whipple’s protection, moved to Faribault. Some helped build the Cathedral, a construction process which took from 1862-1869. Additionally, several Dakota and African Americans attended Seabury Divinity School, Garwood noted. That, too, caused concern.

 

The Whipples.

 

But through it all, from the information I’ve read, Whipple remained steadfast, unwavering in his compassion toward Native peoples, advocating for them, loving humanity.

 

FYI: The Mural Society of Faribault actively promotes Faribault history through public murals posted throughout the downtown area, this one the latest. Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs crafted, painted and installed the Whipple mural with help from his team.

For more information about Bishop Whipple, click here to reach MNOpedia.

Or read this post I wrote about a Rice County Historical Society event in 2018. The RCHS features a museum exhibit on Bishop Whipple.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mankato’s emerging massive mural represents diversity & more November 18, 2019

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THE ARTWORK CAUGHT ME by surprise as I looked across the Minnesota River toward the grain towers dominating the riverside skyline in Old Town Mankato.

 

One of many sculptures in Mankato and North Mankato that change yearly as part of the city’s sculpture walk.

 

Yet, the presence of an evolving mural in this arts-centric southern Minnesota city didn’t surprise me. Mankato is a community rich in public art from poetry to sculptures. It is one of the qualities which draws me back to this place where I graduated from college in 1978 with a degree in mass communications and a minor in English.

 

My poem, River Stories, attached to a railing along the Minnesota River Trail. In the background are the Ardent Mills silos and the bridge from which I photographed the in-progress mural.

 

This time I arrived in town to view my latest poem selected as part of The Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Spotting the in-progress mural on the 135-foot high Ardent Mills grain silos was a bonus find. I snapped a few quick frames while crossing the Minnesota River bridge and then while heading onto U.S. Highway 169. Only too late did I notice public viewing areas along the roadway.

 

 

Upon my arrival home, I researched the $250,000 project by Australian artist Guido van Helten. Although specifics of the mural design are elusive, the art will represent diversity and more. I saw that in the image of a young Dakota boy already painted onto the towering canvas. This region holds a rich Native Peoples heritage, making the art particularly powerful.

 

“Forgive Everyone Everything” themes this art in Reconciliation Park. Names of the 38 Dakota who were hung at this site in 1862 are inscribed thereon along with a prayer and a poem.

 

Having grown up some 80 miles to the west, in a region between the Upper and Lower Sioux Indian Communities, I’m aware of the strong Dakota history and also of The U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862. Within blocks of the Ardent Mills silos, Reconciliation Park honors 38 Dakota tried and hung by the U.S. government following that war. The healing continues.

 

 

This latest public art represents so much—history, culture, diversity and a coming together of peoples. And today, more than ever, we need that sense of community, of understanding that no matter our backgrounds or the color of our skin or our history, we are simply people who need one another.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of Decorah, Part II November 27, 2018

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A close-up of stacked stones at Phelps Park in Decorah, Iowa, where the Civilian Conservation Corps crafted walls, a fountain and more.

 

WHEN YOU THINK public art, what pops into your mind? Sculptures? Murals? Sidewalk poetry? All fit the definition.

 

An example of the stone art at Phelps Park.

 

But public art stretches beyond the obvious. If you look for it, you will see art everywhere, as I did on a September visit to Decorah. This northeastern Iowa river town is rich in art, natural and otherwise.

 

In a downtown Decorah plaza, “Doe and Fawn” by Victoria Reed.

 

Art enriches a place by adding texture, interest, depth.

 

Look up to see this sculpture on the Nelson & Co building in downtown Decorah.

 

Art personalizes a place with character.

 

The colorful mural by The Cardboard Robot.

 

Art colors a town with vibrancy.

 

On display at Donlon Toy Jungle (inside Donlon Pharmacy), this 6-foot KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Details posted with that Ferris Wheel build.

 

Just another angle of the KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Art brings a community together, creating a cohesiveness that unites in working toward a common goal.

 

An artful door leading to apartments in downtown Decorah.

 

Art comforts.

 

Stacked stone art in Dunning’s Spring.

 

Art empowers, strengthens.

 

Inside The Cardboard Robot, shoppers are encouraged to be hands-on creative.

 

Art expands our imaginations to create.

 

This new bridge at Dunning’s Spring Park replicates a stone bridge of 140 years ago. Master stone mason Ted Wilson crafted the bridge along with Sean Smyth. The bridge features dry stonewalling, meaning there’s no mortar between joints.

 

We need art. Today more than ever. To bridge our differences.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Farmington, Part II: Building community through art August 8, 2018

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I’M A MEGA FAN of accessible outdoor public art. Like murals.

 

 

Earlier this year, I came across a lengthy mural on the side of the Farmington Steak House in the heart of this south metro Minnesota downtown. It is the project of many—adults and youth—and funded by many.

 

 

“Reflections and Visions” embraces the idea of community, past, present and future. I like the concept of people coming together to create, to celebrate history and cultures and more in a work of public art.

 

 

 

 

In this age of so much conflict, so much hatred and anger and disagreement, I appreciate the efforts of these artists to focus on the positive, to see that each of us, though different, define community.

 

 

 

 

I am not so naïve as to think any singular mural will solve the issues that divide us. But we must start somewhere. And art seems a good place to begin.

TELL ME: Have you come across a similar outdoor public art installation that builds community and bridges differences? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Park art August 8, 2017

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mural-in-waterville-36-shelterhouse-mural

 

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.

 

mural-in-waterville-37-close-up

 

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

 

mural-in-waterville-39-close-up

 

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