Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring farm women via my poetry in a Minnesota museum April 27, 2021

My poem (to the left of the woman in the dress), my mom’s high school graduation photo and a four-generation family photo of me, my mom, eldest daughter and granddaughter are included in a museum exhibit in southwestern Minnesota. Photo courtesy of the Lyon County Historical Society Museum.

AS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH ends this week, I want to share exciting news about a rural-themed poem I wrote. The poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” originally published in South Dakota State University’s literary journal, Oakwood, in 2017. Today that poem is part of a museum exhibit in Marshall, Minnesota, 60 miles to the northeast of Brookings, South Dakota.

My poem first published in South Dakota State’s Oakwood literary magazine.

I feel humbled and honored to have my poem, inspired by memories of my hardworking farm wife mother, in the Lyon County Historical Society Museum’s newest semi-permanent exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home.” The exhibit opened in January. Its purpose, according to Executive Director Jennifer Andries, is “to share stories, artifacts, and photographs from Lyon County after World War II and to inspire residents and visitors to share their memories and experiences of growing up and living in Lyon County and the region.”

4-H and more are featured in this section of “Making Lyon County Home.” Photo courtesy of the Lyon County Historical Society Museum.

I grew up in this prime agricultural region, some 20 miles to the west on a dairy and crop farm near Vesta in Redwood County. I knew Marshall well back then as a shopping destination. A place to buy clothes, shoes and other essentials. But even more, I understood rural life decades ago because I lived it. I witnessed, too, how my mom worked hard to raise six children on our family farm. Before marriage, she attended Mankato Commercial College and then returned to her home area to work an office job in Marshall. Like most women of the 1950s, once she married, she stopped working off the farm.

These family photos complement my poem. Photo courtesy of the Lyon County Historical Society Museum.

My poem honors her in a poetic snapshot timeline of life beginning shortly before she married my farmer father. Saturday evening dances. Then rocking babies. Everyday life on the farm. Challenges. And finally, the final verse of Mom shoving her walker down the hallways of Parkview.

Whenever I write poetry, especially about life in rural Minnesota, I find myself deep within memory. Visualizing, tasting, smelling, hearing, even feeling. Although I took some creative license in penning “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” (I don’t know that Mom ever drank whiskey or danced at the Blue Moon Ballroom in Marshall), it is primarily true. She met my dad at a dance in southwestern Minnesota. She washed laundry in a Maytag, baked bread every week, made the best peanut butter oatmeal bars…

An overview of the exhibit space featuring my poem and family photos. Photo courtesy of Lyon County Historical Society Museum.

I expect many who lived in this rural region in the 1950s-1970s can relate. Says LCHS Director Andries of my poem: “It is a good fit for the exhibit and fits with the agriculture section and the role of farm wives and mothers. The poem itself goes beyond just the agriculture area. I feel many people can resonate with the poem with the sense of being carefree while we are young but at some point we all have responsibilities but that doesn’t mean we lose our carefree spirit.”

Exactly.

Those sentiments were echoed by Tom Church, former managing director of Minneapolis-based Museology Museum Services, lead contractor for the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit. Church first contacted me more than a year ago about using my poem. He said then that the poem “offers a nice snapshot of the era and setting we’re trying to evoke in several places within the exhibit and will fit well with our story.”

A 1950s era kitchen, left, is part of the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Lyon County Historical Society Museum.

I appreciate stories rooted in a strong sense of place. The new exhibit features themes of natural landscape, agriculture, education, industry and community. For example, the devastating and deadly June 13, 1968, F5 tornado in Tracy centers a display with information and oral histories. How well I remember that disaster. The 1980s farm crisis focuses another section. A late 1950s era kitchen fits the beginning time period of my poem.

Although I have yet to view the exhibit, I hope to do so this summer. And even more, I want my mom to know how she, and other farm women of the era, are honored via my poem. I want them to see themselves in my words, to understand the depth to which I value them. My mom, through her selflessness, her hard work, her kindness, her love, her faith, helped shape me. Today, as Mom lives out her final days in hospice, her memory and cognition diminished, I feel a deep sense of loss, of grief. But I hold onto the memories of a mother who read nursery rhymes, gardened, and, before I was born, enjoyed carefree Saturday evenings out with friends. Dancing. Laughing, Delighting in life.

FYI: The Lyon County Historical Society Museum, 301 West Lyon Street, Marshall, is open from 11 am – 4 pm Monday – Friday and from noon – 4 pm Saturdays. The “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit was partially funded by a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant. The exhibit is semi-permanent, meaning artifacts and stories can be rotated to fit within the themes.

Ode to My Farm Wife Mother

Before my brother,

you were Saturday nights at the Blue Moon Ballroom—

a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey in a brown paper bag,

Old Spice scenting your dampened curls,

Perry Como crooning love in your ear.

Then motherhood quelled your dancing duet.

Interludes passed between births

until the sixth, and final, baby slipped into your world

in 1967. Thirteen years after you married.

Not at all unlucky.

Life shifted to the thrum of the Maytag,

sing-song nursery rhymes,

sway of Naugahyde rocker on red-and-white checked linoleum.

Your skin smelled of baby and yeasty homemade bread

and your kisses tasted of sweet apple jelly.

In the rhythm of your days, you still danced,

but to the beat of farm life—

laundry tangled on the clothesline,

charred burgers jazzed with ketch-up,

finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

Yet, you showed gratitude in bowed head,

hard work in a sun-baked garden,

sweetness in peanut butter oatmeal bars,

endurance in endless summer days of canning,

goodness in the kindness of silence.

All of this I remember now

as you shove your walker down the halls of Parkview.

in the final set of your life, in a place far removed

from Blue Moon Ballroom memories

and the young woman you once were.

#

Poem copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Blog post © Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Smithsonian & companion exhibits in St. Peter focus on water August 24, 2016

"Water/Ways" prompts me to think about all the uses of water.

“Water/Ways” prompts me to think about all the uses for water and much more.

I FLUSH THE TOILET. Wash my hands. Drink a glass of water. Throw laundry in the washing machine. Shower. Water plants.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something. In this interactive exhibit, I learned that 240 gallons of water are needed to make a single smartphone.

And I never think about it. Water. It’s just always there, flowing from the faucet.

This "Water/Ways" art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

This “Water/Ways” art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

But “Water/Ways,” a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, and “We Are Water MN” are causing me to consider this vital natural resource that flows through every aspect of my days.

The Treaty Site History Center sits along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

The sidewalk curves like a river to the Treaty Site History Center along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon I visited the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter where the Nicollet County Historical Society is hosting joint national, state and local water-themed exhibits through September 25. After that, the Smithsonian show will move to these Minnesota communities: Red Wing, Sandstone, Lanesboro and Detroit Lakes.

Entering the "Water/Ways" exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

Entering the “Water/Ways” exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

What does water mean to you? That question posted on a display panel sets the tone for this exhibit packed with information about water. More than simply words, the panels feature interactive aspects that stretch this beyond a compilation of facts and accompanying visuals.

According to this graphic, 40 states are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. that includes Minnesota.

According to this graphic, 40 states (in red) are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. That includes Minnesota.

What would you lose if you did not have water?

A section of the exhibit shows the most common pollutants in Minnesota waters.

A section of the Minnesota exhibit asks, “What’s in the water? Minnesota’s common pollutants and where they come from.” Visitors can pull the cards from the rack (shown here) and learn about those common pollutants to Minnesota waterways.

What’s in the water?

Visitors share water memories.

Visitors share water memories.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

Visitors are encouraged to share their memories of water, to list ways they can protect water, to learn what’s in Minnesota’s water and more. In this state of 11,842 lakes, water covers more than 13 million acres (or six percent of Minnesota), more than any other state. That’s according to a 2010 “Minnesota Water Facts” report I found online from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

I appreciate the "We Are Water MN" aspect of the exhibit.

I appreciate the “We Are Water MN” aspect of the exhibit.

The Minnesota Humanities Center collaborated with the DNR and other agencies in creating the companion exhibit, “We Are Water MN.”

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Additionally, Nicollet County infused its water history. The Minnesota River runs through this county with 105 miles of river front land and was instrumental in bringing early settlers to the region. My own maternal ancestors settled in the Minnesota River Valley near Courtland.

In a side room, you'll find Kay Herbst Helms' photo exhibit, "Water Rights?" In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

In a side room, you’ll find Kay Herbst Helms’ photo exhibit, “Water Rights.” In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

A photo in Kay Herbst Helms' "Water Rights" exhibit.

A photo of a photo in Kay’s exhibit.

On droplets of water,

On paper droplets, visitors write about water.

Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms brings her photographic perspective to “Water/Ways” with 19 black-and-white water-themed photos in her “Water Rights” collection. Her exhibit, she says, “celebrates water and some of the people who are helping to protect our water rights now and for generations to come.”

Another idea expressed about water.

More ideas expressed about water.

This isn’t the first time Kay has focused on water in photography. She created “Water Vapors” and now “Water Vapors II,” showing through September 30 in the History Center Art Gallery at the Blue Earth County Historical Society in Mankato.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

This quote in the “Water/Ways” exhibit strikes me more than any other:

No water, no life.
No blue, no green.

These panels address the cultural

These panels address how water inspires humanity in our art, music, dance and literature.

What does water mean to you?

BONUS PHOTOS:

"We Are Water MN" pins in a jar at the exhibit.

“We Are Water MN” pins in a jar.

This section directs us to look to the future as it relates to water.

This section directs visitors to look to the future of water.

There's even a section for the little ones to put on a puppet show.

There’s even an area for little ones to put on a puppet show.

More panels, more information to digest.

More panels, more information to digest.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about a celebration I participated in as part of the “Water/Ways” exhibit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A historical look at weddings in Steele County, Part I May 3, 2016

This sign marks the exhibits currently showing in the Steele County History Center through spring 2017.

This sign marks the exhibits currently showing in the Steele County History Center through spring 2017.

THE DETAILS ARE, OH, SO LOVELY. Dainty buttons. Lace. Shiny satin. You’ll see them all in Wedding Traditions of Steele County, a newly-opened exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna.

This section highlights dresses from the 1910s and 1920s.

This section highlights dresses from the early 1920s.

Nearly two dozen wedding dresses take center stage in this exhibit created by three volunteers and a museum staffer over some six months.

The exhibit team carefully researched the genealogies of the brides and grooms.

The exhibit team carefully researched the genealogies of the brides and grooms.

But this exhibit extends well beyond dresses to include wedding history, traditions and genealogy. It’s an impressive visual documentation, especially fitting as the wedding season begins.

The dress and matching feathered hat worn at this 1923 wedding are in lovely brown tones.

The dress and matching feathered hat worn at this 1923 wedding are in lovely brown tones.

Did you know, for example, that a bride didn’t always wear white? Prior to 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in an all-white gown, a bride simply wore her best dress, no matter the color. Blue, rather than white, once symbolized purity.

"Something blue" is woven into this crocheted ring bearer's pillow.

“Something blue” is woven into this crocheted ring bearer’s pillow.

And about that “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”…this started as a tradition to ward off evil spirits. You’ll learn that and a whole lot more as you peruse this multifaceted exhibit.

Fuller and lacier dresses defined the style of gowns in the 1950s.

Fuller and lacier dresses defined the style of gowns in the 1950s.

Volunteer Char Ost spent hours researching and planning with team members at meetings and at home as this exhibit came together. She’s a former museum staffer and board president who simply thought the project would be fun. The team reviewed photos of wedding dresses in the museum collection before choosing gowns that would display nicely and were in suitable condition to showcase, she said. Those selected gowns cover the time period from 1896 – 1997.

This photo shows the details on a 1950s dress.

This photo shows the bead and lace details on a 1950s wedding dress.

Missing, though, are wedding dresses from the 1980s and more from the 1990s. People are still familiar with those bridal gowns and those brides are not giving away their dresses, including to the museum, Ost noted. That explains why I didn’t see 1980s dresses reflecting the royal influence of Princess Diana’s wedding gown. I was married in 1982 and my $80 wedding dress definitely did not have beads, sequins, puffy sleeves or a long train like that of the princess.

Margaret Ringhofer wore this dress at her August 25, 1931, wedding. It reminds me of my Grandma Josie's bridal gown.

Margaret Ringhofer wore this dress at her August 25, 1931, wedding. It reminds me of my Grandma Josie’s bridal gown.

As I studied the gowns, grouped by time periods, it was easy to see the period influence. In the glass encased Depression era dresses, conservatism shows in neck lines, fabric choices and style. I spotted a 1931 gown that looks a lot like my maternal grandmother’s, a simple style I considered wearing on my wedding day until discovering I was considerably taller than Grandma Josephine.

Wedding dresses from the 1960s.

Wedding dresses from the 1960s.

In the 1960s, bridal gowns reflected “anything goes,” according to a posted sign. How true of that decade.

These three dresses were designed by Scott Nylund, a 1995 graduate of Owatonna High School. He once worked for music superstar Beyonce'.

These dresses worn by Maggie, Genny and Anne were designed by Scott Nylund, a 1995 graduate of Owatonna High School. He once worked for music superstar Beyonce’.

Three dresses from the 2000s are also included, specifically sought out for the exhibit. Owatonna native and fashion designer Scott Nylund created the gowns. They are luxuriously stunning with laces from Paris, a brooch from the East Village of NYC and fabrics of silk chiffon and silk duchess satin.

The invitation to the wedding of Charlene Newman and Stuart Ost is displayed in a case.

The invitation to the 1959 wedding of Charlene Newman and Stuart Ost is displayed in a case.

Char and Stuart Ost's 1959 wedding cake topper.

Char and Stuart Ost’s wedding cake topper.

You’ll find other wedding related items displayed, including an invitation, napkin, cake topper, photo and hand-sewn apron from volunteer Char’s 1959 wedding.

Portraits, too, tell a story about styles, traditions and even photography.

Portraits, too, tell a story about styles, traditions and even photography.

Many wedding portraits are interspersed with dresses as is information about traditions like dowries, engagement rings, feeding of the wedding cake and even the bunny hop.

Even handwritten vows are part of the exhibit.

Even handwritten vows are part of the exhibit.

The display gets as personal as Jason and Angie’s wedding vows hand-printed on recipe cards.

Volunteers worked hard to assure that descriptions of the dresses were accurate, team member Char Ost said.

Volunteers worked hard to assure that descriptions of the dresses were accurate, team member Char Ost said.

It’s clear the organizers of this exhibit invested a lot of time in gathering and sharing of information, from the genealogy associated with each dress to the descriptions of the dresses right down to the type of fabric, neckline, sleeves and more.

Some dresses could not be fully closed on the fuller forms.

Some dresses could not be fully closed on the forms.

Once all that research was completed, the crew faced one more challenge. “We did contortions to get some of those dresses on (the forms),” Char said, noting that perhaps corsets also should have been shown.

It was then that I suggested a follow-up exhibit, Wedding Traditions of Steele County II. I loved the exhibit that much.

FYI: Wedding Traditions of Steele County will be on display until the spring of 2017. Museum hours are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursdays; and from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturdays. Closed on Sunday. The history center is located at 1700 Austin Road on the southeast side of Owatonna. Admission is charged. While there, you can also peruse an exhibit on disasters in Minnesota and in Steele County.

On Thursday, June 9, the history center will host Toss the Bouquet: The Wedding Professionals Spin from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Wedding industry leaders will share their thoughts on wedding trends and also talk about wedding planning details.

Check back tomorrow for Part II in this series on the Wedding Traditions of Steele County exhibit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wisconsin exhibit highlights Leonardo da Vinci’s inventive side November 27, 2012

Another facet of Leonardo da Vinci, on exhibit in Appleton, Wisconsin.

QUICK. When I say “Leonardo da Vinci,” what pops into your mind?

For me, it’s his “The Last Supper” painting.

Inside The History Museum, a sign welcomes visitors to the da Vinci exhibit.

I do not even think of him as a scientist or inventor.

But this Renaissance man surely was, a fact emphasized in a current exhibit originating in Florence, Italy, and currently showing at a northeastern Wisconsin museum through January 6, 2013.

The History Museum at the Castle, 330 W. College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

Two months ago I toured “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion” at The History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton, a hip and historic city some 300 miles from my southeastern Minnesota home and today home to my daughter Miranda.

An overview of one exhibit room, a working crane in the front and a tank in the back, right.

Typically I would not get particularly excited about a show which features mechanical-oriented displays. But given da Vinci’s notoriety and my interest in art and in sharing discoveries with you, I embraced this working models exhibit of 40 da Vinci machines. Modern day scientists and artisans built the machines based on da Vinci’s codices.

This is an interactive exhibit.

Kids will thrill in “Machines in Motion” as much as adults.

An informational sign summarizes well the multiple talents da Vinci possessed:

Perhaps more than anyone before him—and perhaps anyone since—Leonardo was a great scientist, engineer, and artist all in one. He combined a scientist’s passion for exploring how things work and an artist’s ability to vividly illustrate his revelations. His machine designs were ingenious and visionary—often ahead of his time. They illustrate principles at the heart of machines today.

One of da Vinci’s more impressive flight designs, suspended from the ceiling of an auditorium at the History Museum.

In his study of air, water, earth and fire, this genius—and I don’t hesitate to term someone of da Vinci’s intellectual and artistic talent as thus—created ideas which evolved into workable solutions aiding mankind.

See for yourself via these selected photos from the exhibit or by traveling to Appleton to tour this vast, interactive display. Click here for more information about “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion.”

An illustration by the scientist/inventor, Leonardo da Vinci.

Machines created from da Vinci’s codices.

More inventions showcased.

Da Vinci’s version of a horse-drawn armored military tank.

The bird’s wings flap as it moves across the stage during theatrical performances.

A machine in motion.

Da Vinci the artist and da Vinci the scientist.

Da Vinci’s idea to traverse water.

One final exhibit overview.

Disclaimer: I received a $25 gift certificate from Downtown Appleton, Inc., prior to my visit and used that money toward museum admission for myself, daughter and husband. That did not influence my decision to post about the da Vinci exhibit.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Musings of a Baby Boomer upon touring a museum exhibit in Moorhead November 15, 2012

I’M WONDERING IF the rest of you baby boomers out there feel as I do, that youthful years have vanished, poof, just like that.

I need only look in the mirror to see the patches of ever spreading gray (time for a dye, again), the lines and creases and sagging skin to realize that Age has crept into my life to the point that I no longer can deny her presence.

Age has also shoved me into the corner of those who are overwhelmed by technology. It’s like the boxing gloves never come off as I resist, rather than embrace, technological changes. No Facebook or Twitter for me. No PayPal or paying bills online. And what is a smart phone and an iPad?

I am not joking, people. I need to enroll in a Technology 101 course or persuade the 18-year-old son, who is pursuing a degree in computer engineering, to tutor me.

Interestingly enough, this musing relates to a recent tour of  The Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County exhibit, “The BOOM 1945-1960 in Clay County,” at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.

While I was only a few years old at the end of that boom period, much of what I saw in that exhibit, including the outhouse, looked pretty darned familiar:

These books are shelved in a mock boom era one-room schoolhouse display. I own that exact Dick and Jane book.  I love Dick, Jane, Sally, Tim, Spot and Puff. They taught me to read. Oh, I mean my teacher taught me to read via that book series.

Fun with Dick and Jane book. Check.

So familiar to me, desks just like I sat in through my years at Vesta Elementary School. The blackboard, though, is not correct. Ours was black, not green.

Rows of school desks. Check.

I remember the floral print plastic curtains which once hung in the tiny wood-frame house where I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Today I collect vintage tablecloths like the one draping the table here. And, yes, I use them. Come to dinner at my house and you’ll find one gracing the table. I love retro.

A floral print curtain and floral print tablecloth. Check.

Tucked behind the close-up of the vintage plate, you’ll spy eyeglasses. I’ve worn prescription eyeglasses since age four, including the cat eye style and dark brown framed ones.

Dark-framed eyeglasses and vintage tableware. Check.

Popular Baby Boomer toys, ones my children, born between 1986 and 1994, also played with. Some toys truly are timeless, although I expect the View-Master isn’t. I played with Mr. Potato Head in the background, but he was not a favorite.

An Etch a Sketch, View-Master reels and Tinker Toys, all among my favorite childhood toys. Check, check and check.

There was not a piece of technology in sight save the old grainy black-and-white television.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling