Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This ain’t no museum July 11, 2017

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SMALL TOWNS PRESENT a visual smorgasbord of signage that often humors, delights and entertains me. While day tripping to southeastern Minnesota communities last week, I spotted numerous such signs, including this one on the front display window of Thrifty Chix in Elysian:

 

 

I confess that I’ve often been guilty of museum type viewing in shops, especially antique shops. I enjoy perusing vintage and antique merchandise that I remember with fondness from years past. Seldom do I purchase anything, primarily because of cost but also because I don’t really “need” whatever I want.

This particular sign caused me to pause and consider and, then, to laugh out loud. Humor, when used well, works for me. How about you?

TELL ME about any particularly humorous signs you’ve discovered.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My appreciation for small town hardware stores January 13, 2017

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

IF YOU GREW UP in rural Minnesota like I did, you likely hold fond memories of the local hardware store.

Two hardware stores once served my hometown of Vesta, a farming community on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. While I remember Joe Engel’s Hardware store as the place to buy rolls of perforated caps for my cap gun, my father shopped there, or a few doors down at Marquardt’s Hardware, for all his hardware needs. Like bulk nails and screws stashed in cubbies, the merchandise weighed and parceled into brown paper bags.

I remember, too, the worn wood floors, the narrow aisles, the old fashioned screen doors that banged shut.

To this day, I find myself drawn to the hardware stores that still exist in many small towns. They represent a connection to my past, to simpler days, to outstanding customer service, to a Main Street necessity. So I photograph them, usually the exteriors.

Nothing says "small town" like a hardware store, including this Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha.

Nothing says “small town” like a hardware store, including Hill’s Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

One of my hardware store images—that of Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha—will soon become part of a renovated “Our World” gallery at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. The photo will grace signage for a mini town that includes a hardware store. Hill’s inspired the facade of the replica hardware store in which children can play. The updated exhibit opens this spring.

I am honored to have my photo displayed at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. I hope it inspires others to appreciate the value of hardware stores in rural Minnesota. They are as important today as they were when I was growing up in the 1960s. In Owatonna, Arrow Ace Hardware plans to relocate into a new and much larger space by next Christmas, more than doubling its size to some 11,000 square feet. That’s encouraging. There’s still great value in local hardware stores.

TELL ME: Do you shop in hardware stores? If yes, why? Are they still of value in today’s marketplace?  Or what are your hardware store memories? Let’s talk hardware stores.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II: The disasters of Steele County April 15, 2016

Steele County disasters, 107 pandemic display

 

OF ALL THE DISASTERS HIGHLIGHTED in a current local disasters exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna, it is the flu pandemic of 1918 that feels most personal. To read the names of victims like Cora, Helen and Forest and to see photos of gravestones grieved me. Every winter, even today, we hear of those who’ve died from the flu. Young. Old. In between. Thankfully, we have vaccines that prevent the illness from infecting most of us.

Snowdrifts blocked a train as noted in this news clip.

Snowdrifts blocked a train as noted in this news clip.

This detailed exhibit, an off-shoot of the Minnesota Historical Society Traveling Exhibit Disasters of Minnesota: Stories of Strength and Survival, connected a worldwide tragedy to Minnesota. To the county just to the south of mine.

Masks, precautions and isolation helped protect against the flu epidemic. To the left in this photo are names of Steele County residents who died from the flu in 1918.

Masks, precautions and isolation helped protect against the flu epidemic. To the left in this photo are names of Steele County residents who died from the flu in 1918, plus photos of some of their gravestones.

In Minnesota alone, according to one report, as many as 12,000 died of the flu in 1918. Worldwide, sources put deaths at 40 or 50 million.

Activities that brought people together were suspended during the flu outbreak.

Activities that brought people together were suspended during the flu outbreak.

I’d never considered the vast scope of this tragedy, how fearful folks must have been, how deep the grief at losing loved ones and friends. I also hadn’t thought about the impact on everyday life. As I browsed the exhibit, I noted news stories about libraries, dance halls, theaters and churches closed because of the pandemic.

I am old enough to remember also the fringe ending of the polio epidemic, highlighted, too, in this exhibit.

These newspaper articles feature snowstorms in the county.

These newspaper articles feature snowstorms in the county.

Steele County has experienced plenty of floods.

Steele County has experienced numerous floods.

Fires, too, have devastated the county.

Fires, too, have devastated the county.

Steele County has experienced plenty of disasters involving snow, heat, wind, water and fire. These are outlined in panel displays.

Portrait of Virginia Hart

Portrait of Virginia Hart

It would be easy to become discouraged, to feel only despair that so many southern Minnesota residents have suffered so much through the years. I was especially appreciative of stories that uplifted me, like that of Ruth Weinmann. The young teacher, ill with the flu in 1918, was taken in by a doctor’s family after her landlady refused to house her and the hospital was full. In gratitude to Dr. Alfred and Alice Hart, Ruth painted a portrait of their daughter, Virginia. It is a lovely expression of thankfulness.

 

Steele County disasters, 104 chicks hatch in heat

 

And then there’s the story of chicks hatching in the middle of Steele County’s longest, hottest heat wave—13 straight days of temperatures above 100 degrees beginning on July 5, 1936. Mrs. Tilford Morreim left five eggs on the window sill of her woodshed. In the heat, the eggs hatched. I needed to read that humorous story in the midst of all the suffering and loss.

Information on tornadoes in Steele County.

Information on tornadoes in Steele County.

In every disaster, we must find a reason to be hopeful, to survive, to share our stories…for in sharing exists hope and resilience.

These two exhibits are on display through March 2017.

These two exhibits are on display through March 2017.

FYI: For more information about this exhibit, click here. To read my first post about this exhibit in Owatonna, click here. Check back for a post on a wedding dress exhibit also now showing at the Steele County History Center.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One artist’s interpretation of his walk from Minneapolis to Northfield April 4, 2016

An overview of The Via Northfield exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

An overview of The Via Northfield exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

WHEN EXPECTATIONS DON’T MATCH reality, it is initially disappointing. But then, when you reflect, perception sometimes changes and an aha moment emerges. Such was the metamorphosis for me regarding Minneapolis artist and writer Andy Sturdevant’s The Via Northfield project  showing now through April 17 at the Flaten Art Museum on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield.

The introduction to Andy Sturdevant's project.

The introduction to Andy Sturdevant’s project.

I expected a straight-forward documentary exhibit with journaling and photos of Sturdevant’s two-day, 40-mile trek from Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis to St. Olaf in September 2015. The Via Northfield was anything but. And if I’d bothered to research in advance of my recent exhibit tour, I would have realized Sturdevant would not follow my expected path. He walks a detoured path of creativity. And it works in the kind of artistic way that weaves the present and the past, stories with facts, visuals with words, into a multi-faceted exhibit.

A copy of a newspaper clipping summarizes the death of a man in a profoundly succinct way.

A copy of a newspaper clipping summarizes the disappearnace of a man in a profoundly succinct way.

Pinpointing 15 locations (way stations) along his route, this artist focuses on specific place details through photos, newspaper clippings, artwork, stories and atypical items like a lost cat flier and a gravestone rubbing.

This photo of two Carleton students and their story captivated me.

This photo of two Carleton students and their story captivated me.

My personal favorite is a photo of Carleton College students and an accompanying note. The trio walked from Northfield to the Mall of America, stopping to rest on a couch in a supercool yard in Eureka Township. The note, addressed to dear wonderful people, is signed Kathy, Wren and Bettina. The writer in me latched onto those names, especially the poetically-pleasing Wren.

Sturdevant focuses on places as specific as Eureka Township.

Sturdevant focuses on places as specific as Eureka Township.

Sturdevant’s exhibit calls for close study. And, I’ll admit, I didn’t give it the complete focus it deserves as my energy waned at the end of a long day exploring rural Minnesota.

But I caught some details that caused me to laugh—like Sturdevant’s use of the words soybean farms to describe farms upon which soybeans are grown. I’ve never heard the term. I’ve ever only known such Minnesota farms as crop farms. I grew up on one.

And I laughed at a story about a Dundas man’s journey to a Fargo convention and a subsequent question, Is the Corner Bar still there? Yes, Dawn’s Corner Bar remains a corner anchor in downtown Dundas.

A snippet look at The Via Northfield.

A snippet look at The Via Northfield.

These are the types of stories that connect an exhibit like The Via Northfield in a personal way to those who view it.

Sturdevant personalizes, too, by memorializing pedestrians who died along his traveled route. He uses black circles with name, date and sparse details.

A strong visual.

A strong visual at the end of the exhibit.

Even his ripped pants hang on a wall.

At one of two tables, exhibit visitors can sit and file a Pedestrian Report...

At one of two tables, exhibit visitors can sit and file a Pedestrian Report…

...by following these instructions...

…by following these instructions…

...and then using a typewriter...

…and then using a typewriter…

...or a pencil...

…or a pencil…

...to record a personal story.

…to record a personal story.

This exhibit isn’t just about reading and viewing. It’s also participatory. Viewers are welcome to file their stories in a Pedestrian Report typed on a manual typewriter or written in pencil. Not with any pencil, though, but rather with one imprinted:

I WALKED
“THE VIA NORTHFIELD”
MINNEAPOLIS TO NORTHFIELD, MINN.

The exhibit is promoted on a screen outside The Flaten Art Museum.

The exhibit is promoted on a screen outside The Flaten Art Museum.

FYI: You can view The Via Northfield exhibit from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Wednesday, from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday, and from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. weekends at the Flaten Art Museum in the Dittmann Center on the campus of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. Admission is free.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memories from “A Night at the Museum” October 5, 2015

Museum, 90 family photo outside church

 

ON THE FRONT STEPS of Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, a family posed for photos.

 

A boy feigns mock injuries for the living history event in Faribault.

A boy feigns mock injuries for a living history event in Faribault on Saturday.

Under a Red Cross tent, nurses tended a young boy kicked in the head by a horse.

The one-room Pleasant Valley School quickly filled with students as the teacher led his class in songs.

The one-room Pleasant Valley School quickly filled with students as the teacher led his class in songs.

Inside Pleasant Valley School, students sang “If you’re happy and you know it…” along with their accordion-playing teacher.

Every time this little guy poked the duck hunter, a duck call emitted. Eventually, he figured out that a real man, Brian Schmidt, was under all that garb. This is the moment Brian revealed himself.

Every time this little guy poked the duck hunter, a duck call emitted. Eventually, he figured out that a real man, Brian Schmidt, was under all that garb. This is the moment Brian revealed himself.

Inside Harvest and Heritage Hall, a boy poked at a duck hunter, wondering whether the camouflaged man was mannequin or real.

Mrs. Morris takes a break from making applesauce.

Mrs. Morris takes a break from making applesauce.

I love photographing moments like this of people connecting.

I love photographing moments like this of people connecting, here outside the Morris “home” in the Harvest/Heritage Hall.

Next to Mrs. Morris’ front porch, a trio of men visited while the lady of the house peeled apples in her kitchen.

Participants in "A Night at the Museum" file into the Harvest and Heritage Hall.

Participants in “A Night at the Museum” file into the Harvest and Heritage Hall.

Scenes. Some part of living history activities. Others authentic, in the moment. But all part of the Rice County Historical Society’s annual “A Night at the Museum.”

Many kids were dressed in period costume.

Many kids dressed in period costume.

A near perfect Saturday in October brought families and others to the museum grounds in Faribault to participate in this living history program that seems to grow in popularity every year. It’s an engaging event that includes a local history quest game for kids and plenty of learning and reminiscing opportunities for the adults.

Horse-drawn wagon rides around the Rice County Fairgrounds were popular.

Horse-drawn wagon rides around the Rice County Fairgrounds proved popular.

And mixed in with all the education and fun is the building of memories. I expect kids will remember riding in the horse-pulled wagon, searching for the Bruce Smith display to determine the year the Faribault native and University of Minnesota football player won the Heismann Trophy (1941), struggling to walk on stilts and more. One boy may even remember answering an old crank phone to the question, “Would you like to order a pizza?”, posed by my husband on the other end.

Old books were laid out on school desks.

Old books were laid out on school desks.

I’ll remember, not so pleasantly, the stressed mom who yanked and yelled at her daughter and how I tried to comfort the young girl cowering behind the schoolhouse door. Sometimes life’s moments hurt. But I delighted in finding a scythe I will return to photograph for an author writing a book about Laura Ingalls Wilder. And I was impressed by Gunnar, the friendly and confident elementary-aged boy who informed me that I was landscaping. He was right. I was photographing landscape (horizontal) images with my camera.

I expect this young girl will remember being pushed around in a wheelchair by a Red Cross nurse during this historical reenactment.

I expect this young girl will remember being pushed around in a wheelchair by a Red Cross nurse during this historical reenactment.

Aside from the unsettling incident I witnessed, I observed moments to savor. Moments that become part of an individual’s history, a family’s history, a couple’s history—remember that night we went to the museum…

BONUS PHOTOS:

A scene photographed looking from the outside into the historic log cabin.

A scene photographed looking from the outside into the historic log cabin.

Ready to iron outside the log cabin.

Ready to iron outside the log cabin.

Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School.

Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School.

Art in a classroom window.

Art in a classroom window.

A student reenactor sings along with her class.

A student reenactor in class.

Inside the main museum building, I studied a map with a magnifying glass. Minnesota was spelled with one "n."

Inside the main museum building, I studied an 1849 map with a magnifying glass. Minnesota was spelled with one “n.” And the Minnesota River was labeled the St. Peter River.

Mike and Pat Fuchs brought their horses and wagon for free rides.

Mike and Pat Fuchs brought their horses and wagon for free rides.

The beautiful horses.

The beautiful horses.

Driving through the fairgrounds.

Driving through the fairgrounds.

Stacked inside the Harvest and Heritage Halls are these crates from Fleckenstein, which brewed beer and made soda in Faribault.

Stacked inside the Harvest and Heritage Halls are these crates from Fleckenstein, which brewed beer and made soda in Faribault.

A high school reenactor reads a book in the museum barbershop.

A high school reenactor reads a book in the museum barbershop.

Behind the historic church, I walked through the graveyard.

Behind the historic church, I walked through the graveyard.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Civil Rights Movement as photographed by Stephen Somerstein April 23, 2015

POWERFUL. HISTORIC. MEMORABLE.

Looking through a window into an exhibit space at Flaten Art Museum.

Looking through a window into the “Selma to Montgomery” exhibit in the Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.

That trio of adjectives describes Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail, an exhibit of 45 black-and-white photos documenting the 1965 Civil Rights Movement through the work of photographer Stephen Somerstein.

I was only eight years old in 1965, living in rural southwestern Minnesota, far removed from what was occurring in Alabama.

The faces of the Civil Rights Marches and Movement include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Stephen Somerstein.

Faces of the Civil Rights Movement include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, and his wife, Coretta Scott King, right. This shows a snippet of a photo by Stephen Somerstein.

But the exhibit, showcased at the Flaten Art Museum of St. Olaf College, took me to Alabama in 1965 and into the movement for equality in an up close and personal way.

An overview of a section of the exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

An overview of a section of the now-closed exhibit at St. Olaf College.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Somerstein’s pictures are worth 45,000 words. My one regret is that I did not visit this exhibit until the day before it closed on April 12 thus failing to inform you, my readers, of the opportunity to see this for yourselves.

This portion of a photo by Stephen Somerstein drew my attention.

This portion of a photo by Stephen Somerstein drew my attention.

As I circled the museum space, I studied many of the photos in detail. These images by Somerstein, a then student at City College of New York and editor of the school newspaper, call for close examination. It is in the details that we begin to fully understand, to see the fear, the hope, the defiance, the anger, the love, the determination.

I found myself drawn to hands and arms—those of an interracial couple, that of a union member gripping a sign, activists carrying American flags, a soldier focusing binoculars, a mother cradling her son:

One of my favorite images

One of my favorite photos by Stephen Somerstein.

Skin color matters not, as showcased in this section  of a Stephen Somerstein photo.

Skin color matters not, as showcased in this section of a Stephen Somerstein photo I photographed.

The two things I noticed in this Stephen Somerstein photo: the marcher carrying and American flag and the soldier atop the building scanning the scene with binoculars.

The two things I noticed in this Stephen Somerstein photo: the marchers carrying American flags and the soldier atop the building scanning the scene with binoculars. It’s truly a multi-layered image.

The Teamsters Union

The Teamsters Union Local 239 sent supplies to activists who were marching. This is a selected section of a photo by Stephen Somerstein.

Eyes and words also drew me in:

vote

Bobby Simmons, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, wearing zinc oxide to prevent sunburn, wrote VOTE onto his forehead. This is a section of Stephen Somerstein’s portrait of Simmons.

The exhibit featured explanatory information about photos and the movement.

The exhibit featured explanatory information about photos and the movement.

And although I did not participate in the interactive portions of the exhibit created by artist Nancy Musinguzi, I appreciated that visitors could photograph themselves and pen thoughts on working toward justice and equality.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the exhibit and express their thoughts.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the exhibit and express their thoughts.

Opinions expressed in the exhibit polling place.

Opinions expressed in the exhibit polling place.

They could also vote in a People’s Survey. Vote.

A St. Olaf College student staffing the museum makes sure a video is working properly.

A St. Olaf College student staffing the museum makes sure a video is working properly.

The exhibit drew a wide range of interest at St. Olaf College with students in social work, history, art history, gender studies and more viewing the photos, says Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson. The timing of the exhibit—on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, relating to current day issues and release of the movie, Selma—added to the interest.

Another overview of part of the exhibit.

Another overview of part of the exhibit. Photos displayed are by Stephen Somerstein.

Additionally, Becker Nelson notes that the exhibit connects to the 50th anniversary of the death of St. Olaf graduate James Reeb. (More to come on that in a post next week.)

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate.

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate.

This remarkable collection of documentary photos impresses in a deeply personal way. Beyond headlines. Beyond news stories. Beyond the pages of history books. Somerstein’s photos document the humanity of the Civil Rights Movement in the eyes, in the hands, in the stances of individuals. And that connects all of us, no matter our skin color.

#

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Original photos are by Stephen Somerstein. My photos of Somerstein’s images are published here with permission of Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf College.

Selma to Montgomery was booked through New York-based National Exhibitions & Archives.

 

In which I discover the art treasures of St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges April 20, 2015

SOMETIMES I FEEL like I am missing out on a whole big wide world of art.

Not because art is absent here in outstate Minnesota. It isn’t. Recent years have seen a renewed effort to bring the arts—visual and performing—to communities like mine outside the Twin Cities metro area. Faribault has the Paradise Center for the Arts. Neighboring Owatonna, Northfield and Waseca also have art centers. Even the community of Zumbrota, population around 3,400, has the thriving Crossings at Carnegie.

So there are plenty of opportunities to engage in the arts at a local and regional level without venturing into Minneapolis or St. Paul, which I really prefer to avoid given my aversion for traffic congestion and big cities in general.

Despite an abundance of wonderful local art, I was still missing that segment of art created by renowned artists or by artists outside of Minnesota.

That is until I recently realized that I can see that type of art, too, right in my backyard.

In the center of this display space outside the Flaten Art Museum is a poster for the "Selma to Montgomery" exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement.

Promotional posters posted in the Dittman Art Center at St. Olaf College show the wide variety of artistic offerings.

Two colleges in Northfield, a 22-minute drive from my Faribault home, both sometimes showcase notable art from their collections in exhibits that are open to the public. They also bring in outside artists and traveling exhibits. Entrance to Carleton’s Perlman Teaching Museum and St. Olaf’s Flaten Art Museum is free. No cost and no traffic are a winning combination for me.

Items from St. Olaf's art collection were displayed in the recent "Interrogating Genders" exhibit.

Items from St. Olaf’s art collection were displayed in the recent “Interrogating Gender” exhibit.

Together, these two prestigious private colleges hold more than 6,500 paintings, fine art prints, photographs, sculptures and more in their collections.

Entering the Flaten Art Museum Atrium, I encountered this mega sculpture just outside the "Selma" exhibit.

Entering the Flaten Art Museum Atrium, I encountered this mega sculpture just outside the “Selma” exhibit.

I discovered Carleton’s gallery space about 18 months ago and St. Olaf’s just recently, when I arrived at the college atop the hill to view Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail, an exhibition of Stephen Somerstein’s photos.

Walking across the hall from one museum space to another, I found Michon Weeks' "Wheel Within Wheel (#1-44) paintings hung along the atrium wall. The acrylic on paper on wood panel is a visual inventory of items in her Northfield garage.

Walking across the hall from one museum space to another, I found Michon Weeks’ “Wheel Within a Wheel (#1-44) paintings hung along the atrium wall. The acrylic on wood panel paintings are a visual inventory of items in her Northfield garage.

After studying Somerstein’s remarkable images, I strode across the hall to see the Interrogating Gender exhibit, since closed.

Rosa Bonheur's "Cows in Pasture."

Rosa Bonheur’s “Cows in Pasture.”

The 16th Century "Madonna and Child, an oil painting on panel by Adriaen Isenbrandt of Belgium.

The 16th Century “Madonna and Child” by Adriaen Isenbrandt of Belgium.

The angle at which I photographed "Archaic Greek Statue of a Woman" makes it appear as if the Italian terra cotta sculpture is studying the art on display.

The angle at which I photographed “Archaic Greek Statue of a Woman” makes it appear as if the Italian terra cotta sculpture is studying the art on display.

There I marveled in getting close up to photographs taken by Andy Warhol. Yes, the Andy Warhol. I stood in reverent awe before a 16th Century oil painting on panel of Madonna and Child by Adriaen Isenbrandt. I enjoyed art from Africa and Italy and the Cows in Pasture pencil on paper by Rosa Bonheur.

A wood sculpture from Africa, artist unknown, and titled "Seated Maternity Figure."

A wood sculpture from Africa, artist unknown, and titled “Seated Maternity Figure.”

I could have reached out and touched the art, except I didn’t. It was that comfortably accessible and intimate. I didn’t have that feeling I often get in galleries of “be careful and don’t touch,” although I was aware of cameras on the premise.

My husband peruses the art.

My husband peruses the art.

I only wish I’d realized years ago that I could simply walk onto these college campuses and view art by well-known and other artists and students, too.

I got down low to photograph the Greek woman sculpture encased in glass.

I got down low to photograph the Greek woman sculpture encased in glass.

Now that I know, I’ll be back.

FYI: All of the exhibits mentioned in this post are no longer showing. Both colleges will be featuring a Senior Art Show in their exhibit spaces.

Please check back for a story and photos of the Selma to Montgomery exhibit.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling