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

 

From New Ulm: The smallest museum in Minnesota March 23, 2021

THE smallest MUSEUM in MINNESOTA is stationed outside The Grand in New Ulm.

OUTSIDE THE GRAND CENTER for Arts & Culture in the heart of downtown New Ulm, I found a most unusual attraction—THE smallest MUSEUM in MINNESOTA.

And when I write “small,” I mean “small.” The enclosed box museum measures 31.75 inches wide x 32.75 inches high x 7.5 inches deep. Just enough space for artists, makers, collectors, culture buffs, writers and historians to create a mini exhibit.

A full front view of the museum shows the compact exhibit space.

I love this concept for its uniqueness and also its public accessibility. Posted outside The Grand, this museum is viewable 24/7. Similar museums, the Hoosesagg Museum (Pants Pocket Museum) and The Smallest Museum in St. Paul, inspired the one in New Ulm. The museum also reminds me of Little Free Libraries.

The top shelf showing cards from Clay Schuldt’s collection.

Local Clay Schuldt curated the first exhibit, “The Stacked Deck,” featuring select playing cards from decks in his long-time collection. His card showcase continues through April 23 and includes a take-home informational sheet explaining his exhibit. For Schuldt, these cards are not just for playing games. He views cards through multiple lenses of art, entertainment, history, storytelling, marketing and more.

More cards inside the mini museum.

This is what I love about creativity. Creatives bring their backgrounds, experiences and individual interpretations into their work. While I considered a deck of cards as just that, a deck of cards, Schuldt views them differently. And now, because of his featured collection and insights, I view cards from a wider perspective.

I look forward to seeing more of these mini exhibits outside The Grand. Creatives, collectors, historians and others are invited to submit museum proposals. You can do that by clicking here and then clicking on the PDF link. Guidelines call for applicants to consider how the proposed exhibit relates to the region, audience engagement and simplicity.

Selected artists receive a $50 stipend for a two-month exhibit.

Please check back one more time as I return inside The Grand Center for Arts & Culture, and two more particularly creative finds. If you missed my first post on The Grand, click here.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From milling flour to drinking whiskey in Rice County, history tour Part II August 25, 2020

At the ruins of an historic flour mill in Dundas, a kiosk provides historical info, including this map of flour mills in the area.

 

RICE COUNTY IS RICH IN HISTORY, especially in historic buildings. I value that about this region of Minnesota. I appreciate that many aged structures remain, well cared for and treasured. I appreciate, too, those who share their knowledge of the past.

I grew up 120 miles west of here, on the prairie. Given the difference in landscape and settlement time and other factors, the history of southwestern Minnesota differs considerably from southeastern Minnesota. I am still learning about Rice County, the place I’ve called home for 38 years.

 

Vintage vehicles were among those on the history cruise, here at Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church near Millersburg.

 

On Saturday I expanded my understanding of this area by attending the first ever “Cruising Rice County History” tour, an event that took attendees through the county to seven historic sites. In yesterday’s post, I covered three of those places—Prairieville Church, Nerstrand City Hall and Valley Grove Churches.

 

The Archibald Mill ruins are fenced to keep people from wandering onto the historic site.

 

Today we head west to the small town of Dundas, just outside of Northfield, and then even farther west to the even smaller settlement of Millersburg. Pre-tour, I was familiar with each point of interest on the cruise. But I still picked up tidbits of information either new to me or forgotten over the years.

 

A few walls remain of the once flourishing flour mill on the west side of the Cannon River in Dundas.

 

Kiosk info details flour milling history here.

 

Tour participants check in at the flour mill ruins, where they could learn more about Rice County flour mills from local historian Jeff Jarvis, Susan Garwood (director of the RCHS) or read printed info.

 

In Dundas, the ruins of a long-gone flour mill, destroyed by fire, focused the third stop. I learned of the mills the Archibald brothers, from Canada, built here around the 1860s along the banks of the Cannon River. Their flour was world-renowned and their flour patent eventually sold to what is now General Mills. It’s quite a history in a region once known for its flour mills. If only one remained…

 

The history cruise took us throughout rural Rice County. This farm field lies along Rice County Road 1 on the way to Millersburg from Dundas.

 

Before heading to the next stop, Randy and I picnicked at Memorial Park in Dundas. That left us a bit crunched for time as we aimed out of town along Rice County Road 1 past farm sites and farm fields to the Millersburg District #20 School House Museum. We’ve been here before, toured the museum.

 

The former Millersburg School now houses a museum operated by the Christdala Preservation & Cemetery Association. Exhibits include school and church items, tools and info related to the James-Younger bank robbery.

 

While we couldn’t go inside the schoolhouse, we could peek our heads in the door.

 

Appropriately, a bell sat on the check in station at the schoolhouse.

 

An historic marker outside the schoolhouse. You can also see the swings, remaining from the playground, to the right in this photo.

 

The back side of the historical marker outside the schoolhouse.

 

As the story goes, the Younger gang stopped for whiskey at the Millersburg store in September 1876 at the current location of Boonies.

 

But this visit I picked up some info not necessarily related to the 1881 school, but to the 1876 robbery of the First National Bank in nearby Northfield. Here, four members of the James-Younger Gang stopped for whiskey at the then Millersburg Store (today Boonies Bar & Grill across from the schoolhouse), stayed at the Cushman Hotel just down the road and the next day met up with fellow outlaws in Dundas.

 

Christdala’s defining steeple. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Randy and I recently picnicked on the front steps of Christdala.

 

I was delighted to find the doors open to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church.

 

And on their way back from robbing the bank, the gang followed the same route, taking us to the next stop on our tour, Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church. I’ve also visited here many times, including just a few weeks ago. Swedish immigrants built this church in 1878 high atop a hill, spurred by the death of friend and neighbor Nicolaus Gustafson. He was an innocent bystander killed in a shoot out during the Northfield bank raid. Because the Swedish community had no cemetery, Gustafson was buried in Northfield.

 

Simple stained glass windows inside Christdala in colors of the Swedish flag.

 

Today you’ll find Gustafsons buried in the Christdala graveyard along with many others whose surnames end in “son.” This long-closed church was open during the history tour. Although I’ve previously been inside, I wasn’t about to miss another opportunity to step inside this small Swedish church, complete with Swedish flags and stained glass windows in the Swedish colors of blue and yellow.

 

One of the many displays inside the Rice County Historical Society Museum, this one honoring Native Americans who lived in the county.

 

The RCHS recently acquired metal art sculptures from Lockerby Sheet Metal, a long-time Faribault sheet metal fabrication company no longer in business. Those pieces are being restored. This knight currently stands in the museum entry.

 

On the historical society grounds are these two historic buildings: the Pleasant Valley School District #22 schoolhouse (educating children in Bridgewater Township in the late 1850s) and Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in Cannon City in 1869 and later moved here.

 

With time pressing to get back to (event sponsor) the Rice County Historical Society Museum in Faribault, Randy and I didn’t linger for long. We needed to turn in our poker run cards and look around the museum and grounds before everything ended. While Randy handed in our losing poker hand, I breezed through the museum exhibits and took a few photos inside and out.

 

Many of these historic places still exist thanks to preservation groups and history enthusiasts.

 

And I considered what a lovely day it had been. Out and about, enjoying and appreciating local history, thanks to the hard work and efforts of those who value Rice County history enough to preserve and share it.

 

Please check back for a follow-up post on an historic building I discovered in Dundas, and not on the tour, but with a powerful and timely message posted.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Taking my photos beyond this blog March 22, 2019

Me behind my camera. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I NEVER IMAGINED upon starting this blog nearly 10 years ago that my photos posted here would be in demand.

But that proved to be true. I’ve sold photo rights to authors, businesses, tourism offices, marketing agencies, art curators, charities, media outlets and much more. That includes to museums.

 

I sold photo usage rights of this picturesque farm site just north of Lamberton in Redwood County, Minnesota, for inclusion in a museum video. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve yet to see my photos in any of the three museums which bought rights to specific images. Those include The National WW II Museum in New Orleans, which incorporated a southwestern Minnesota farm site photo into a video clip about a Minnesota soldier.

 

My Laura Look-A-Like Contest photo close-up. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

An overview of a section of the Laura Ingalls Wilder exhibit that included my photo, top right. Photo by Laurel Engquist.

 

At the American Writers Museum in Chicago, my photo of girls participating in a Laura-Look-A-Like Contest was included in a past exhibit on Laura Ingalls Wilder. My friend Laurel visited the museum and photographed my photo there.

 

Photo by Amber Schmidt.

 

A close-up of my photo posted at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Photo by Amber Schmidt.

 

And in St. Paul, my eldest daughter photographed my photo of the Wabasha Hardware Hank posted next to the hardware store exhibit in the “Our World” portion of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. The Wabasha hardware store inspired the exhibit which invites kids to “don an apron, strap on a toolbelt, stock shelves and help customers.”

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

It’s an honor to have my work included in these museum exhibits. I appreciate when others find value in my photos. I’ve quickly found, though, that while some people want to use my photos, they don’t always value my images enough to pay for them. Too often I get inquiries to use my photos “for credit and a link.” Nearly every time, I decline the opportunity. “For credit and a link” doesn’t pay bills. “For credit and a link” doesn’t respect me as a professional. “For credit and a link” diminishes my value as an artist. If the individual inquiring about photo usage is being paid for work that will include my photo, then I too deserve to be paid. It’s as simple as that. And, yes, all of my photos are copyrighted. From the moment I create them.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part I: Watkins, beyond vanilla January 6, 2016

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Vanilla has long been a staple bestseller at Watkins.

Vanilla has long been a staple bestseller at Watkins.

MY MEMORIES OF THE WATKINS MAN are peripheral. A man at the door of our farmhouse peddling vanilla and spices to my farm wife mother.

Spices have always been a popular product with Watkins customers. These vintage spice containers are showcased in the museum.

Spices have always been a popular product with Watkins customers. These vintage spice containers are showcased in the museum.

It was an era when rural women mostly stayed home to raise their families, when families owned only one car, when the distance from farm to town was traversed but once a month.

The realy

Early on in the 1900s, the Watkins man delivered products via a horse-pulled wagon.

Salesmen, like the Watkins man, the Fuller Brush Man and the Schwans man brought goods and/or food to doorsteps. Personal service. Meeting a need.

 

Watkins, 451 exterior sign

 

In September, my husband and I stayed overnight in Winona, a southeastern Minnesota community we’ve visited often given our eldest daughter attended college there. Never, though, had we taken the time to explore the J.R. Watkins Museum & Store and the adjacent impressive administrative headquarters. This trip we did.

This portrait of founder J.R. Watkins hangs in the museum.

This portrait of founder J.R. Watkins hangs in the museum.

The business started in 1868, not in Winona, but in neighboring Plainview where Joseph Ray Watkins made and sold Dr. Ward’s Vegetable Anodyne Liniment. He’d secured the recipe from a Cincinnati physician. Today the company still sells a 96.5 percent natural pain-relieving liniment. (Click here to read a synopsis of Watkins’ history.)

The historic Watkins complex (museum on left, administrative building on right) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The historic Watkins complex (museum, first floor on left, administrative building on right) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1885, J.R. moved his business to the growing Mississippi River community of Winona. Through the years, the company flourished, and then floundered as times changed and the door-to-door sales strategy became less effective with more women working outside the home. Consumers’ tastes were also changing. Eventually, the company filed bankruptcy and was purchased in 1978 by businessman Irwin Jacobs. Now his son, Mark, heads Watkins, a thriving business that currently offers 350 products.

Watkins still sells beauty/healthcare items. These samples are in the store.

Watkins still sells beauty/healthcare items. These samples are in the store.

Spices have always been an integral part of Watkins.

Spices have always been an integral part of Watkins.

Watkins recently partnered with Kemps.

Watkins recently partnered with Kemps.

Today Watkins remains an important part of Winona, not only as a business that markets gourmet, bath and body, health, and home care products, but as an integral part of local family histories. You may not learn this touring the museum or reading the company’s history online. But talk to a museum staffer and you will hear about hometown loyalty.

Various sizes of Watkins vanillas are sold in the museum store. A recipe for Vanilla Coffee Creamer is printed on the package holding the vanilla I purchased.

Various sizes of Watkins vanillas are sold in the museum store. A recipe for Vanilla Coffee Creamer is printed on the package holding the vanilla I purchased.

I learned, for example, that the vanilla in most Winona kitchens is Watkins’ vanilla. It has always been a company top seller. The staffer did not offer proof of this claim. But I don’t doubt her assessment. I purchased a two-ounce bottle of Watkins “naturally and artificially flavored double strength vanilla” labeled as “superior quality since 1868” and “awarded Gold Medal for highest quality.”

There's a model of Winona, including the Watkins complex, in the museum.

There’s a model of Winona, including the Watkins complex, in the museum.

But the most interesting local tidbit she shared is that of “Winona Coffee,” coffee sweetened with a drop or two of Watkins vanilla added to the grounds. This is apparently how many Winonans prefer their coffee. And that says a lot for a company based in this city for 130 years.

ARE YOU FAMILIAR with the Watkins Company and, if so, do you have a favorite product?

BONUS PHOTOS:

Entering the museum. Yes, it's up several steps and through a side door.

Entering the museum up several steps and through a side door.

Spices have always been an integral part of Watkins.

Watkins spices are well-known and a major part of the company’s business.

Love the art on this vintage can of Watkins baking powder.

Love the art on this vintage can of Watkins baking powder.

more art

The annual Watkins almanac was printed in The Watkins Print Shop, open for 88 years. The shop is now the site of the Watkins museum, where the almanacs are displayed.

This toy truck, displayed in the museum, carries bags of spices.

This toy truck, displayed in the museum, carries bags of spices.

Watkins produced items for troops during WW II to fulfill government contracts.

Watkins produced items for troops during WW II to fulfill government contracts.

An overview of a section of the museum.

An overview of a section of the museum.

Pine cleaner, compared to the smell of the Minnesota northwoods.

Pine cleaner, compared to the smell of the Minnesota northwoods.

Art in a vintage Watkins calendar.

Art in a vintage Watkins calendar.

Watkins even sold mouse killer (aka warfarin) at one time.

Watkins even sold mouse killer (aka warfarin) at one time.

FYI: The Watkins Museum is open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Friday and from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturdays. It’s located at 150 Liberty Street, near downtown Winona. Admission is free. Also consider touring the administrative headquarters around the corner featuring Tiffany stained glass windows. Check back tomorrow for a post on that building as I continue my series of stories from Winona.

 

Honoring rural life at Heritage Park of North Iowa May 20, 2015

“COME BACK ON SATURDAY,” Monte Topp advised. “There’ll be 25,000 people here.”

“No, thanks,” I said.

Heritage Park of North Iowa is hosting Tree Town Music Festival opening this Thursday.

Heritage Park of North Iowa is hosting Tree Town Music Festival opening this Thursday.

And that is how I learned about the May 21 – 24 Tree Town Music Festival in Forest City, Iowa, with Saturday headliner Blake Shelton. Yes, the Blake Shelton, whom even I, not a fan of country western music, know as a judge from The Voice.

But Monte wasn’t talking much music when I met him at Heritage Park of North Iowa last Saturday morning. He was focused instead on the weekend Steam School which drew folks from around the country to learn the ins and outs of operating steam engines.

Gathered to learn about steam engines.

Gathered to learn about steam engines.

Steam engine tractors.

Steam engine tractors. It takes a full day to move all of the steam engine tractors out of a massive building on-site.

Checking out a steam engine tractor during Steam School.

Checking out a steam engine tractor during Steam School.

A sampling of steam engine tractors were lined up across the road from the historic church.

A sampling of steam engine tractors lined up across the road from the historic Beaver Creek Church.

Yet, he found time to take my husband and me inside two expansive buildings to view massive steam engine and vintage tractors. This member of the Heritage Park board knows his stuff. Names and dates. A quarter of a million dollars to purchase that steam engine tractor and another $250,000 invested in its restoration. One-of-a-kind. Only one left. If you want to know anything about anything steam engine, ask Monte.

A Wallis tractor was among the many tractors stored in a massive building.

A Wallis tractor was among the many tractors stored in a massive building.

A tractor seat.

A tractor seat.

Monte Topp, who hails from Fertile to the east of Forest City, is a John Deere guy.

Monte Topp, who hails from Fertile to the east of Forest City, is a John Deere guy.

We threaded our way around hulks of machinery in spaces so dark I could only take a few photos. Heavy scent of oil overwhelmed as did thoughts of yesteryear at this 91-acre site dedicated to preserving America’s rural history.

Several log cabins are on site, including this trapper's cabin.

Several log cabins are on site, including this trapper’s cabin.

I peered inside a partially open door to see that this building is appropriately dubbed the doll house. It's filled with dolls.

I peered in a window to see that this building is appropriately dubbed the doll house. It’s filled with dolls.

There are even, to my automotive machinist husband's amazement, two buildings devoted to flywheels.

There are even, to my automotive machinist husband’s amazement, two buildings devoted to flywheels.

One of my favorite buildings, a corn crib.

One of my favorite buildings, a corn crib.

A rural heritage park would not be complete without a barn and windmill.

A rural heritage park would not be complete without a red barn and creaky windmill.

A sampling of smaller steam engine tractors were lined up across the road from the park's historic church.

An overview of the grounds. I was about to open the door on the grey house when I realized someone lives here.

Buildings—ranging from a church to log cabins to barn, barbershop, jail, school, farmstead house and much more—create this impressive park. As luck would have it, we were not there when the park was open to the public and had to settle for an exterior walk-around.

“Come back this afternoon,” Monte advised as his phone rang.

We couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we won’t return another time.

FYI: Click here to read my first post from Heritage Park. And check back for one more photo story, this one from downtown Forest City.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III: Oh, the memories, the treasures uncovered in West Concord April 2, 2015

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IT’S EASY, WHEN TOURING a museum like that run by the West Concord Historical Society, to feel overwhelmed by the volume of items displayed.

This struck me as particularly humorous: A Sacred Art calendar, Lutheran edition.

The wording on this beautiful piece of art struck me as particularly funny: A Sacred Art Calendar, Lutheran Edition.

But often certain things will imprint as particularly unique or humorous or as a reminder of something from your past.

When I nearly ran into these dangling beads inside the doorway to The 50's and 60's Room, I knew this would be my favorite themed room. It was.

When I nearly ran into these dangling beads inside the doorway to The 50’s and 60’s Room, I knew this would be my favorite themed room.

The WCHS’s museum, housed in a massive former school, contains so much stuff that you are sure to find multiple pieces of the past that pop out, no matter your age.

This Flecks beer memorabilia is displayed in the West Concord museum even though the beer was made in my community of Faribault 25 miles away.

This Flecks beer memorabilia is displayed in the West Concord museum even though the beer was made in my community of Faribault 25 miles away.

I have no personal connection to West Concord. Yet I am connected by time and by the geography of living in southeastern Minnesota.

Here are some more of my favorite finds inside the WCHS museum:

This entire former classroom is set up to look like the 1930s-early 1940s Flame Room once housed in the Concord Hotel. This space can be rented for gatherings.

This entire former classroom is set up to look like the 1930s-early 1940s Flame Room once housed in the Concord Hotel. This space can be rented for gatherings. Locals dined and danced at The Flame.

Vintage ads and graphics, like this one for pink Frigidaire appliances, always draw my attention

Vintage ads and graphics, like this one for pink Frigidaire appliances, always draw my interest.

This pink Frigidaire electric stove was purchased by Arthur and Lorraine Spreiter in about 1959 from Pirkl and Hall Appliance along Main Street in West Concord. The stove features double oven doors rather than a drop-down door. The Spreiters also purchased an upright pink refrigerator/freezer.

This pink Frigidaire electric stove was purchased by Arthur and Lorraine Spreiter in about 1959 from Pirkl and Hall Appliance along Main Street in West Concord. The stove features double oven doors rather than a drop-down door. The Spreiters also purchased an upright pink refrigerator/freezer.

I was delighted that this apron was saved and displayed in The Farmers and Merchants Room. Lumber yards were once such an important business in small towns.

I am delighted that this apron was saved and displayed in The Farmers and Merchants Room. Lumber yards were once key businesses in small towns. Most have closed, replaced by Big Box lumber sources. The apron is so representative of the personal service offered in small towns.

I collect vintage drinking glasses and once had a red spotted one. My Aunt Jeanette has a collection of these. Love.

I collect vintage drinking glasses and once had a red spotted one. My Aunt Jeanette has a collection of these. Love.

I love vintage signs and graphics. And how many Gambles stores even exist any more? This sign was found in the old West Concord Gambles store opened in about 1935 by Clarence Barwald.

I love vintage signs and graphics. And how many Gambles stores even exist any more? This sign was found in the old West Concord Gambles store opened in about 1935 by Clarence Barwald. It hangs in The Farmers & Merchants Room.

Growing up, I never was impressed by the oil-cloth covered Formica table in our kitchen. But today, well, I feel differently. My husband was especially thrilled to see this yellow table, like the one he remembers from his youth.

Growing up, I never was impressed by the oil-cloth covered Formica table in our kitchen. But today, well, I feel differently. My husband was especially thrilled to see this yellow table, like the one he remembers from his youth.

This shoe is the most colorful and memorable one I've ever seen. It's like a work of art, showcased in The Fashion Room.

This shoe is the most colorful and memorable footwear I’ve ever seen. It’s like a work of art, showcased in The Fashion Room.

One classroom is devoted to a garage sale type space called Grandma's Attic. Here you can purchase secondhand merchandise

One classroom is devoted to a garage sale type space called Grandma’s Attic. Here you can purchase secondhand merchandise with proceeds going to the museum. I purchased a Fire King bowl for $1.

FYI: Click here to read my initial post and my second post on this small town museum. Thank you for following this three-part series on this incredible collection of West Concord area history.

Here’s an upcoming event at the West Concord Historical Society, 600 West First Street, that may interest you: The Czech Area Concertina Band will perform from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 19. Admission is a free will donation.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A must-see Wisconsin museum features paperweights, really old glassware & more May 1, 2014

THEY JOKED ABOUT MY SUGGESTION we tour a paperweight museum.

The museum is housed in an historic home (and addition) along the shores of Lake Winnebago across from a park.

The museum is housed in an historic home (and addition) along the shores of Lake Winnebago across from a park.

But they weren’t laughing once we arrived at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah, Wisconsin.

My husband, Randy, checking out a section of paperweights.

My husband, Randy, checking out a section of paperweights.

If I’d done my research rather than simply skimming a website, I could have advised my husband and daughter Miranda that the museum features more than one of the world’s largest collections of antique and contemporary glass paperweights.

Much more.

Examples of the beautiful glassware.

Examples of the beautiful glassware.

This museum and glass studio housed in a 1929 Tudor mansion and addition along the west shore of Lake Winnebago also showcases really old Germanic glassware. We’re talking glass spanning three centuries, the earliest dating to 1573.

This is some aged glassware.

This is some aged glassware.

“Impressed now?” I asked them. And they were.

One of the contemporary sculptures displayed.

One of the contemporary sculptures displayed.

To impress us even more, the museum includes an exhibit of exquisite contemporary glass sculptures, some part of the permanent collection and some on loan. I was allowed to photograph only those pieces that are owned by the museum.

gigantic paperweight

The Super Magnum Piedouche is one of 10 such paperweights created. This one is dated 1973 and weighs 55 pounds.

All through-out our visit, I wondered at the value of the thousands—2,300 objects in the paperweight collection alone—of pieces shown. An inquiry of a museum worker did not elicit a value, although I learned that the museum is currently attempting to purchase a certain contemporary sculpture and still needs to raise $9,000. She didn’t know how much had already been raised. I imagine a lot.

A close-up side view of a paperweight.

A close-up side view of a paperweight.

And to think this all started with Evangeline Bergstrom’s memories of playing with her grandmother’s paperweight.

These paperweights are truly works of art.

These paperweights are truly works of art.

Long story short (and you can read the long story by clicking here), Evangeline’s husband, John Nelson Bergstrom, bequeathed the couple’s home to the city of Neenah with instructions to build a museum upon his wife’s death for her paperweight collection.

In 1959, that museum opened, imprinting the legacy of the Bergstroms (John co-founded the Bergstrom Paper Company with this father) upon this eastern Wisconsin city.

A carved enamel goblet, ca. 1860, Bohemia.

A carved enamel goblet, ca. 1860, Bohemia.

Likewise, another paper industry leader and Neenah native, Ernst Mahler, gifted a glass collection to the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum. In 1994, the museum received the Germanic glassware Mahler had purchased in 1931 in Austria for his wife, Carol.

History and art detailed on glasses.

History and art detailed on glasses.

I found this aged glassware especially intriguing given the detailed scenes on many of the pieces. It’s fabulous art.

Dated 1693. Cheers.

Dated 1693. Cheers.

If only we could have sampled a dark German beer in one of those over-sized glasses…

Bottom line, don’t underestimate the appeal of a paperweight collection even if you, like my daughter, consider paperweights to be rather useless. Those in the Bergstrom collection possess great artistic and historical value well worth viewing, well worth appreciating.

Detailed floral art on glassware.

Detailed floral art on glassware.

Ditto for the other glass art featured in the museum.

Glassware in an array of colors.

Glassware in an array of colors.

FYI: The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, 165 North Park Avenue, Neenah, is open from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and from 1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Sundays, closed holidays and a few other days.

Admission is, get this, free, although donations are welcome.

mandalas

Fifth and sixth graders at Edison Elementary School in Appleton studied Tibetan Sand Mandalas and then created paper versions, temporarily on display in the lower level of the museum.

At the time of our visit in late March, glass pieces created by students in the Fox Valley area were exhibited. But I was not allowed to photograph these works, some of them mighty impressive.

Annually, the museum’s collection of Victorian glass baskets are also shown, primarily during the spring and summer.

TO VIEW ANOTHER post from the community of Neenah, Wisconsin, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you think Wisconsinites love beer, brats & cheese, you’d be right April 24, 2014

IN THREE YEARS of exploring Wisconsin, I’ve learned a few things:

Wisconsinites are crazy about their Packers.

Wisconsinites love their brats.

Cheese is, indeed, big in Wisconsin.

And, finally, Wisconsin residents love their beer.

Not necessarily in that order.

I base this on observations such as green and gold brat buns sold at an Appleton grocery store where staff wear Packer attire on game day; liquor stores directly connected to grocery stores, walk-in beer coolers at convenience stores and an abundance of bars everywhere, seemingly packed on game day; a decrease in highway traffic during Packers games; frequent homemade roadside signs advertising brat fries; and busy specialty shops focused on selling cheese.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

Now an exhibit, “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat,” at the History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton (that’s in eastern Wisconsin south of Green Bay) confirms my observations and conclusions about Wisconsin.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter "speared" a catfish instead.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter “speared” a catfish instead by thrusting a “spear” at the shadowy fish lurking below the water’s surface. You best know your fish.

The informative and interactive exhibit—try spearing a sturgeon—explores the origins of iconic Wisconsin food traditions.

foods

Visitors uses post-it notes to list favorite foods reflecting their ethnicity.

“From sauerkraut to egg rolls, each food has a story to tell about our regional values and community-making,” so notes a line in the wealth of exhibit information. I’ll admit that I didn’t read all of the info. I am more a visual and interactive learner in a museum setting. But I appreciate the depth of research summarized here.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

That said, join me on this photographic tour of “Food.”

Via museum magic, you can actually press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

Via museum magic, you can press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

 

Smell the cheese.

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive computer screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed "The Dairyland State."

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed “America’s Dairyland.”

 

Test your knowledge of cows.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin's "soul food." lots of cheese, brats and beer answers.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin’s “soul food.” Cheese, brats, beer, fish fry… Add your own answer.

Define Wisconsin “soul food.”

Another overview

A portion of the exhibit focuses on place, like burger joints and supper clubs, etc.

Reminisce about supper clubs and burger stands.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Identify old kitchen tools…

Celebrate the food traditions of Wisconsin:

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

 

Red Dot potato chips

Red Dot potato chips were produced by Red Dot Foods of Madison, Wisconsin, and were once a top potato chip brand.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, area is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, region is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement. One of the Appleton Police Department’s major objectives in 2014 is to combat domestic violence.

Another

The exhibit on the right focuses on supper clubs. Visitors are invited to write characteristics defining a supper club. Answers included, among many others, pickled beets and herring at salad bar; dim lighting; cocktail hour; tavern in front, buffet in back; and old fashion jukeboxes.

Supper club signage close-ups.

Supper club/bar signage close-ups.

The Pig Fair...

The Pig Fair…

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that's Reddi Kilowatt there on the wall.

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that’s Reddy Kilowatt there on the wall.

And then afterward, grab a cold one. It seems only fitting to honor Wisconsin’s love of brats, beer, cheese and Packers. Cheers.

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

The impressive and historic History Museum at the Castle.

FYI: The “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat” exhibit continues through the fall of 2014 at the Castle. There’s much more to see here, including exhibits on local history and a permanent Harry Houdini exhibit. Houdini claims Appleton as his hometown.

Don't miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

Don’t miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

The castle itself is a lovely complex built in 1923 as a Masonic temple and today is on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here to learn more about the History Museum at the Castle.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Smithsonian in Hanley Falls & Hanley Falls in the Smithsonian (exhibit) September 20, 2012

The Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street exhibit, “The Way We Worked,” features snippets from Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Minnesota’s Machinery Museum, Hanley Falls, in rural southwestern Minnesota.

I DOUBT MANY of the 304 residents of Hanley Falls, rural Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota, have ever visited the Smithsonian or even traveled to Washington D.C.

But now this internationally-acclaimed museum has come to Hanley Falls via “The Way We Worked,” a Museum on Main Street project developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and adapted from an original exhibition from the National Archives.

Bottom line, if you can’t bring the people to the museum, bring the museum to the people.

Specifically, from now through October 20,  Minnesota’s Machinery Museum in Hanley Falls is hosting the exhibit on where, how, who and why Americans work.

But that’s not all. Hanley Falls is part of “The Way We Worked,” as are several other Minnesota places and people.

Says Museum Director Laurie Johnson: “It is an honor in itself to be hosting a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit. To be an actual part of the exhibit traveling all over the U.S. is a very big honor.”

Hanley Falls’ place in the exhibit falls in the “Communities at Work” section and features a 1987 aerial view photo of Hanley Falls by Vincent H. Mart sourced from the Minnesota Historical Society. The MHS photographic collection includes 5,697 aerial views from around Minnesota photographed by Mart between 1962-1988.

The 1987 Vincent H. Mart photo showing a portion of Hanley Falls and now part of the Smithsonian traveling exhibit. Photo courtesy of Minnesota’s Machinery Museum.

Mart’s black-and-white shot #5,655 in the MHS archives, and now in the Smithsonian exhibit as image 196, shows the then Hanley Falls Farmers Elevator (now the Farmer’s Co-op Elevator) on the west side of town, plus Bennett Transportation (bus company) and the fourth-generation Oftedahl family farm. As a side note, the elevator celebrated its 100th anniversary this past July on Minnesota’s Machinery Museum grounds with more than 2,000 in attendance.

According to Johnson, the scene in the photograph no longer looks the same. Several of the grain bins were damaged in a wind storm and the main office was  moved and an elevator built to the southwest of the Oftedahl farm. The old elevator remains and is still used by the Farmer’s Co-op.

The exhibit copy which accompanies the Hanley Falls photo reads, in part:

The reminders of a town’s main industry imprint its landscape and identity. Silos dominate the skyline in Hanley Falls, Minnesota as they do in most small, agricultural communities.

And here’s how Johnson summarizes what the Hanley Falls photo tells us about “The Way We Worked:”

Farming is a way of life here and has been for many generations. The exhibit talks about “community” and we are definitely a community that works, worships, (has) neighborhood get-togethers and plays together.

Johnson, who lives on a farm about 10 miles north of Hanley Falls, further explains that the local elevator, banks and gas station provide jobs in town. Some residents work in neighboring towns. Many are retired.

You’ll find plenty of old tractors and farm machinery, along with vintage cars and trucks, in the museum’s outbuildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Already the Smithsonian show is attracting more visitors to Minnesota’s Machinery Museum, defined by Johnson as “an agricultural museum recalling farm life in stories and artifacts from how we farmed with horses to a farm kitchen, bedroom, parlor and general store…preserving our agricultural heritage for generations.”

The entrance to the portion of the museum housed in the former school, a WPA building. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The five-building Yellow Medicine County museum complex, which includes the former Hanley Falls School built in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration, rests on six acres. You’ll find antique tractors, automobiles, gas engines, threshing equipment and other machinery and artifacts in the outbuildings.

A bushel basket, one of the many ag items displayed at the museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Until October 20, you also can find five multi-sided kiosks featuring photos, videos, flip booklets and other interactive activities as part of the Smithsonian’s “The Way We Worked” exhibit.

Besides Hanley Falls, other Minnesota places/information in the show are a photo of women sorting sweet potatoes; quotes from Earl Bakken, founder of Minneapolis-based Medtronics, maker of the first self-contained pacemaker; a 1974 photo from Danheim Dairy in New Ulm; a SPAM Town banner; mention of the Moorhead Spuds (hometown pride for the town team); and a 1928 photo of St. Paul Gas and Light Company workers at a dance.

Johnson has no idea how the Hanley Falls photo became a part of this national touring exhibit. She discovered the town’s inclusion while vacationing in Tennessee, where she stopped to view the exhibit.

An old Hanley Falls fire truck is among vehicles housed in the outbuildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

After leaving Hanley Falls, the exhibit will travel to five other Minnesota locations, including the Wright County Historical Society in Buffalo (Oct. 27 – Dec. 8); the Winona County Historical Society in Winona (Dec. 15 – Jan. 26); the Steele County Historical Society in Owatonna (Feb. 2 – March 16); the Virginia Area Historical Society in Virginia (March 23 – May 4); and the Depot Preservation Alliance in Baudette (May 11 – June 22).

In Hanley Falls, “The Way We Were” can be viewed between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Saturday or from 1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. The museum season was extended to accommodate the show.

Admission to Minnesota’s Machinery Museum is free, but monetary contributions are accepted via a free will donation box.

Located in southwestern Minnesota, Hanley Falls sits nine miles south of Granite Falls or 20 miles north of Marshall along Highway 23. Go one block west of Highway 23 and then a block north to find the museum.

An old-style farm kitchen on the second floor of the museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“The Way We Worked” is presented in Hanley Falls in collaboration with the Minnesota Humanities Center. Funding, says Johnson, is via the Center; The Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment (Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund); the Smithsonian Institute; the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the United States Congress.

Minnesota’s Machinery Museum previously hosted the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street projects “Barn Again” and “Between Fences.”

FYI: To learn more about Minnesota’s Machinery Museum, click here to link to the museum website.

For more info about “The Way We Worked,” click here.

To view additional photos by Vincent H. Mart in the Minnesota Historical Society archives, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling