Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting, celebrating & more at Valley Grove Country Social September 21, 2022

Vehicles line the gravel driveway leading to the hilltop Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand, during the September 18 Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A COUNTRY SOCIAL EVOKES an essence of history, of community celebration, of activities that hearken to a bygone era. The Valley Grove Country Social held on Sunday afternoon high atop a hill near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park fits that and beyond. This site, the location of two historic churches and an adjoining cemetery, marks one of my favorite places in rural Rice County for its history, natural beauty and peace.

Inside the stone church, now used for fellowship, folks grab refreshments, converse and view historical information and art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Among the newest additions to the stone church are four tapestries woven by Minneapolis artist Robbie LaFleur and reflective of Valley Grove. This one is titled “Pastor Quammen Skis between Parishes.” He was the longest serving pastor at the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A vintage buggy adds another historic aspect to the Valley Grove Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On this September afternoon, I delighted in an event that brings people together to celebrate Norwegian heritage and history, people and place, stories past and present, the arts, and, oh, so much more.

Bouquets and vintage photos edge window sills in the oldest church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An organist and violinist play during a recital in the newer church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Horse-drawn wagon rides onto the prairie drew many passengers throughout the afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Grinding corn as part of the hands-on learning opportunities. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Northfield artist David Allen brought his brushes, watercolors and paper to paint on-site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

From garden and prairie flowers tucked into Mason jars set atop window sills in the 1862 stone church to a recital inside the 1894 church to horse-drawn wagon rides to kids grinding corn to an artist painting, the scope of activities proved broad. There was something for everyone from the youngest to the eldest. Generations mingled, connected. One taught, the other learned.

From cemetery’s edge, the open prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Rope making, a nod to Valley Grove’s agrarian roots, was part of the Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
All ages were drawn to these two goats. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

To observe, to converse, to listen, to feel, to experience all of this imprints upon my soul gratitude for those who know this place, this Valley Grove, is worth preserving and sharing. Although I hold no personal connection here, I feel connected. It is my faith, my love of the land, especially the surrounding prairie and farmland, and the quiet of this remote rural location which cause me to feel comfortably at home, at peace.

One of David Allen’s paintings of Valley Grove. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

If you’ve never visited Valley Grove and live near enough to tour, then do. I’ve been here many times to walk the cemetery and grounds, to hike through the prairie, even once sitting on the front steps of the wooden church for a picnic lunch. The churches are locked when not open for events or special services like a wedding or Christmas Eve worship.

A musician performs with the group Hutenanny under the oak trees in the cemetery.

Still, whether inside or outside the two churches, a sense of the past prevails. Gravestone after gravestone bears the names of Norwegian immigrants and their descendants. Study the markers and stories begin to emerge, whether real or imagined. I can only imagine the joys and sorrows shared here.

Toys of yesteryear were available to try. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Valley Grove is about more than a place where historic churches stand next to a cemetery. It is a gathering spot for those who are celebrating, those who are grieving, those who are remembering and, on this afternoon of a Country Social, a place of connecting with community.

Please check back for more photos from the Valley Grove Country Social. And click here to read my first post from the event, a personal piece about a young man named Bjorn.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with community, history & art at Fall Flea Market September 17, 2022

Shoppers peruse the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

SATURDAY MORNING FOUND ME wandering among vendors at the Rice County Historical Society Fall Flea Market in Faribault. It was, as always, an enjoyable event, marked by conversations with friends I haven’t seen in awhile, conversations with vendors and reflecting on the past.

A handwritten sign along Second Avenue points to the flea market in the parking lot and on the grounds of the RCHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A RCHS Faribault sign provides the backdrop for a vendor’s book display themed primarily to Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

One vendor was giving away these plastic bags from the now closed Farmer Seed & Nursery in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Really, this is what local gatherings are all about for me. They’re about community and connecting, about embracing and appreciating this place I call home.

Beautiful bouquets from Erin’s Acre. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I was especially delighted to find, among all the vendors of miscellaneous merchandise, several artists. That includes Erin Sellner Honken of Erin’s Acre at Honken Farms. Erin creates with flowers she grows, tends, harvests and arranges into stunning bouquets for CSA subscriptions and special events. With an abundance of flowers right now, she decided to do a pop-up sale at the flea market featuring $10 dahlia mixed bouquets.

The stunning “river” table by JS Woodcrafts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Just down the way by the historic schoolhouse, I discovered Jeremy of JS Woodcrafts. It was his “river” table which drew my attention and admiration. If I could afford the $500 price tag, this maple top table with stones and pebbles epoxied in the middle like a river, would be mine. Love, love, love this work of art.

Spanky’s Woodshed art made from pallets. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

John “Spanky” St. Clair of Spanky’s Woodshed also specializes in woodcrafting. I learned that he uses pallets and aged barn wood to create. Anyone who recycles to create earns my praise.

A flower created by recycling spoons and forks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An eye-catching Louie Armstrong. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I almost bought the pheasant paint-by-number, one of a trio of paintings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I found more art in spoon flowers, in a Louie Armstrong figure, in paint-by-number paintings, in an endless array of merchandise.

Playing a woodwind in A Fun Lil’ Band. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Propped against the barn near the band (seemingly listening), cut-outs of Ed and Frank, spokesmen for Bartles & Jaymes winecoolers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The band that loves to make music. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

And while I walked I heard music rising from A Fun Lil’ Band in Rice County with a sign declaring WE JUST LOVE TO PLAY MUSIC!! Their music added an extra touch of joy to the morning market.

The RCHS was selling collector limited edition bottles of Fleck’s grape soda. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A view through a vendor’s booth featuring old toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A vintage toy tractor reminded me of the farm toys I played with as a child. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This event is a fundraiser for the Rice County Historical Society. But history is also very much a part of the market in aged and vintage merchandise vended. I reminisced over old farm toys, a baby stroller, a yellow Pyrex mixing bowl. I picked up a few items, pondering whether I should buy, but, in the end, held steady in my determination not to acquire more stuff. I’m at that age…

This colorful character caught my attention. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Parked along Second Avenue at the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
I was pushed in a stroller like this, except the stroller was blue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Instead, I collect with my camera, gathering images to tell a story, to share this market, to showcase the works of creatives, to express my appreciation for my community, this place I’ve called home for 40 years.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So much to do this weekend in the Faribault area September 16, 2022

Performers at the 2019 Hispanic Heritage Celebration in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

IF EVER THERE WAS A WEEKEND packed with community activities, especially in Faribault, this is the weekend. Here’s a summary list of events, most of which I’ve attended through the years.

Let’s start with Friday, September 16:

The artsy front of a Ford Torino at a past car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The final Faribault Car Cruise Night of the season takes place from 6 – 9 pm in the parking lot of Faribault Harley-Davidson. Besides vintage vehicles, there will also be food vendors and music.

Moving to Saturday, September 17:

Goats were a popular draw at Family Day in 2019. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

Start out early by shopping the Faribault Farmers’ Market, which opens at 7 am in Central Park and closes at noon. But this isn’t any ordinary market day. This is Family Day with farm animals, a bounce house and more for kids. That starts at 9 am and continues til noon.

Flea market vendors set up shop on the grounds of the Rice County Historical Society during a past market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Blocks away to the north, the Rice County Historical Society hosts its popular Fall Flea Market from 8 am – 2 pm in the parking lot and on the grounds.

At 11 am, until 2 pm, Harry Brown’s is hosting a Car Show at the fairgrounds.

Riding her Harley during a June 2020 Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Meanwhile, way across town, Faribault Harley-Davidson celebrates an Anniversary Bash from 9 am – 10 pm as the motorcycle dealer marks 45 years in business. There will be a bike show and ride, music and food vendors.

At Divine Mercy Catholic Church on the south edge of Faribault, folks will gather from 4 – 9 pm for the annual Spirit Fest. That features food, music, an auction, bake sale, hay maze, drive-in movie, fireworks and much more.

Out-of-town events on Saturday, September 17:

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, 206 First Street North on the north end of downtown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery has a morning full of activities that include a book-signing by Barbara Marshak of New Prague, author of Painted Skies, beginning at 10 am. Sister Anita Smisek presents on “Minnesota’s Big Woods Musicians” at 11 am. Guests can also view the work of wildlife artist Tom Miller, current exhibitor, and see the Czech dancer topiaries created by Meghan Petricka. The arts center opens at 9 am and closes at noon.

Dancers perform at the 2019 Hispanic Heritage Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2019)

From 11 am – 6 pm at Central Park in Northfield, Hispanic Heritage Celebration 2022 is happening. That event features food vendors, arts and crafts activities, dance and art, all themed to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

One more nearby event, on Sunday, September 18:

Wagon rides are part of the country social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The Valley Grove Preservation Society hosts the Valley Grove Country Social from 1 – 4 pm at its hilltop location near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. This is the site of two historic churches. The event includes an organ recital at 2 pm, Scandinavian music performed outdoors, prairie and cemetery walks, horse-drawn wagon rides, rope-making and more.

There you go. Rain, unfortunately, or fortunately since we need moisture, is in the forecast for Friday and Saturday…

For detailed information on all of these events, please search online.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about dragonflies at Montgomery Orchard September 1, 2022

From an elevated platform, a bird’s eye view of the corn maze and the countryside at Montgomery Orchard in 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2010)

THIS TIME OF YEAR, I see, hear, feel autumn on Minnesota’s doorstep.

Already the next-door-neighbor’s maple is turning color, red leaves spiraling into my yard. Goldenrod flag the landscape. Crickets chirp, their incessant chorus singing a refrain of autumn’s approach. Mornings feel pull-on-the-jeans-and-sweatshirt crisp until sunshine warms the day.

And apple season time is underway with area orchards opening, complete with apple picking, hay rides, corn mazes and other activities to draw in customers.

Montgomery Orchard signage in 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

This weekend Montgomery Orchard, located a mile east of the intersections of Minnesota state highways 13 and 99 in Montgomery Township, opens for the 2022 season. Now I could write about many other orchards opening, too, but chose this one to highlight because of a unique program there on Saturday, September 3. The Minnesota Dragonfly Society will present information on dragonflies at 11 am and again at 1 pm with dragonfly catching after each presentation.

A dragonfly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

Now, I’ve never heard of the Dragonfly Society whose mission is “ensuring the conservation of Minnesota’s dragonflies and damselflies through research and education.” I appreciate that as I find dragonflies fascinating.

The Dragonfly Band has also been booked for the Saturday event at the orchard.

Randy walks through the Minnesota Twins-themed maze in October 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

Montgomery Orchard is going all out with the dragonfly theme this year. The six-acre Be-A-Mazed corn maze is shaped like a dragonfly with interactive trivia about the insect posted throughout the cornfield. Two maze options are offered with a shorter half-hour route geared toward families with young children and a second longer route.

I last visited this orchard 12 years ago, not long after it opened. The business has grown substantially since then, now spreading over 105 rural acres. The Cider Haus is open Saturdays and Sundays, serving five in-house made hard ciders, like Northern Trek and Prairie Harvest, and wine, like the award-winning Plum Crazy and The Full Monty.

Montgomery Orchard bagged apples. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2010)

Apples, in nearly a dozen varieties, are grown and sold here throughout the apple season. Currently ready for picking and/or purchase are Zestar and SweeTango.

In Minnesota, visiting an orchard has developed into an experience, exactly as Montgomery Orchard promotes with its tag, “where friends, family and nature come together.” Hikes and hayrides are also part of the offerings here.

Flamin’ Bleu pizza purchased in-house at Pizzeria 201 in April 2013. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

And on Saturday, popular Montgomery-based Pizzeria 201 will be at the orchard vending pizza from its mobile wood-fired pizza oven. Visitors can also purchase caramel apples, jellies, jams and more from the orchard store.

This orchard is just one of many in my region which I’ve visited and recommend. Others include Apple Creek Orchard, rural Faribault; Trumps Orchard, Faribault; and Fireside Orchard & Gardens, rural Northfield.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite apple orchard? What makes it a go-to destination for you?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wood-fired pizza from “where the hills sing & the trees clap” August 13, 2022

On a perfect summer evening, a crowd gathers for music, pizza and conversation at Christ Lutheran Church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

AS OLD COUNTRY BROTHERS belted out popular songs from The Eagles, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton and many others, volunteers across the backyard of Christ Lutheran Church created, baked and delivered homemade wood-fired pizzas to an appreciative crowd. Randy and I were among those attending the last of the summer Holy Smoke concert series and pizza nights Wednesday at the church on the hill on Faribault’s east side.

The roadside sign posted along Minnesota State Highway 60 by the driveway into Christ Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Old Country Brothers Gregg and Jeff Sartor perform on August 10. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Smoked brisket pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In its sixth year, Holy Smoke is about more than excellent thin crust pizza and music. This is also about a coming together of community on a perfect August evening in southeastern Minnesota. This is also about giving back. Proceeds from the three summer gatherings benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity and HOPE Center.

A themed t-shirt sported by a volunteer who paused to visit with attendees. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

A message printed on some volunteers’ t-shirts and on a bench dedicated to Pastor Craig and Carol Breimhorst (the pastor died of COVID-19; the first death in our county) references Isaiah 55:12, fitting Scripture for this hilltop church edged by trees and a sweeping lawn descending to Minnesota State Highway 60.

The menu posted just inside the front door, ticket table to the right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

There’s joy in that biblical reference just as there’s joy among those who make Holy Smoke happen. A ticket taker, whom I thanked, tapped her hand to her heart, showing me from whence her joy rises.

The pizza bakers at the wood-fired oven just outside the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Plenty of heat here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

An overview of the wood-fired oven system. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I found the same enthusiasm among the crew tending the wood-fired pizza oven. The heat flaming inside to 700-plus degrees made the work station at times uncomfortably hot. But they forged on, baking pizzas.

Volunteers assemble pizzas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Chicken bacon ranch pizza ready for the wood-fired oven. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Inside the fellowship hall, other volunteers layered sliced tomatoes, meat toppings, cheese and more onto rounds of dough.

The busy kitchen crew. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the kitchen, three women worked, two doing dishes, the third snipping chives.

When we arrived at around 5:45 pm to find the parking lot overflowing, I thought the wait would be long. It wasn’t. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Still others rolled pizza cutters across pizzas hot from the oven, pizzas ready for more volunteers to carry to hungry customers. The wait time is short, especially if you order a quarter of a pie.

Attendees spread out across the backyard to listen to Old Country Brothers and to enjoy pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

From my observations, the entire pizza-making and delivery process runs smoothly. Everywhere I saw smiles. Smiles on the faces of volunteers, beginning with the greeter who met us at the door. And smiles among those eating pizza and enjoying the music of Gregg and Jeff Sartor. I felt the joy.

Kids blew and caught bubbles, ran free… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Families and friends gather at Holy Smoke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Kids roll down the steep hillside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Holy Smoke is an event for all ages, from kids blowing bubbles, rolling down the hillside, running across the lawn and climbing on rocks ringing a tree to older folks relaxing in lawn chairs.

There is some on-site seating. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This is a mostly bring-your-own chairs, own napkins (I’d also advise paper plates, wet wipes and a portable side table) event, although limited picnic table space is available.

Connecting in conversation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Mostly, Holy Smoke seems about community. About connecting. About conversations. About supportive businesses. About joy.

Printed on a t-shirt worn by a pizza baker. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the loveliness of the summer evening, I heard the hills sing. I heard the trees clap. And I tasted some “holy smoke, this is good” smoked brisket pizza.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Holy smoke, time for music & pizza June 7, 2022

The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience at a past Holy Smoke concert. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2017)

TIS THE SEASON for outdoor local summer events and gatherings that feature music and/or food.

Christ Lutheran Church, the church on the hill along State Highway 60 on the east side of Faribault, kicks off its Holy Smoke Pizza Ministry this Wednesday, June 8, from 5-8:30 pm. If you live in the Faribault area, this is a must-attend event for the homemade pizza and the music.

I’ve attended numerous times. The pizza, made in an outdoor oven, is savory/delicious/just darned good. I’d recommend the BBQ brisket. Be prepared to wait. And also come prepared with lawn chairs or blankets as picnic table seating is limited.

A photo of pizza from Grandview Valley Winery, used here for illustration only. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

Whole pizzas, in assorted varieties, cost $22. Quarters are also available for $7. All proceeds benefit local charities, this summer Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota, HOPE Center and Rice County Habitat for Humanity.

While the pizza is certainly a draw, so is the music. This week Relativity, a group featuring a vocalist and instrumentalists on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, performs current top 40 songs to classic and folk rock. The trio includes fiddler/mandolin player Mike Hildebrandt, an inductee into the Minnesota Rock & Country Music Hall of Fame.

The steeple of Christ Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2017)

Holy Smoke is not just about music and pizza and giving back to the community. It’s also about gathering with others in a beautiful backyard type setting on a summer evening. It’s a good time to catch up with friends and/or make new friends. Note, though, that anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with anyone who has tested positive in the past 14 days and is not fully-vaccinated should NOT attend. I am thankful for that safety measure. The first person to die of complications related to COVID-19 in my county of Rice was the Rev. Craig Breimhorst, retired pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. He died in April 2020 after returning from a trip to the Holy Land.

If you can’t make this week’s Holy Smoke, two other Wednesday concert-pizza nights will be held. On July 13, Todd Finney performs and on August 10, Old Country Brothers.

A view of St. John’s at a 2016 car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2016)

There’s another concert in the area at 7 pm on Wednesday, June 8, that is also worth your consideration. St. John’s United Church of Christ Wheeling Township (near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park) is hosting a summer evening of outdoor worship featuring the music ministry of 29:11 International Exchange. That group is based in Minnesota and South Africa. Its mission is to “facilitate hope and reconciliation through music, cross-cultural relationships and individual artist development…by recognizing that each of us is worthy of understanding and love, we can bridge the ideological, racial and socio-economic gaps that divide us and live together as citizens of the world.” Again, bring lawn chairs or blankets.

I feel grateful to both St. John’s and Christ Lutheran for hosting these outdoor community-focused summer events which benefit attendees and beyond.

TELL ME: Is there a similar event in your community that you try to attend each summer?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Straight River Art Festival features fine art, music & more May 19, 2022

Promotional graphic created by artist Jeff Jarvis. (Credit: Straight River Art Festival)

WE ARE A CREATIVE BUNCH, we Minnesotans. And this weekend, 20 creatives from Faribault, Northfield and the surrounding area will showcase their work at the Straight River Art Festival.

The new event runs from 9 am–6 pm Saturday, May 21, at Heritage Park, alongside the Straight River, just a block from Faribault’s historic downtown. There fine artists will set up booths to vend their art, engage in conversation and, for some, demonstrate their crafts.

An example of Tami Resler’s pottery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)

Featured art includes stained glass, jewelry, pottery, apparel and accessories, photography, hand-blown glass, textile design, painting, drawing, fiber art, quilting and woodcarving. Some of the artists are familiar, others perhaps not as much. Yet each brings talent and enthusiasm to the creative process. To have them all together in an outdoor setting makes their art easily accessible and visible.

Mark Joseph. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Performing artists are also part of the Straight River Art Festival with music by Lil’ Fun Band (11 am-1 pm), Pop Prohibition (1:30-2:30 pm) and Mark Joseph (3-4 pm).

Hands-on art created at a past arts-oriented event in Faribault and unrelated to this Saturday’s festival. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2019)

The Paradise Center for the Arts is involved, too, offering hands-on art activities for kids.

This mural on the back of The Upper East Side in downtown Faribault features the art of Jeff Jarvis, a multi-talented artist at West Cedar Studio, Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021)

Faribault-based food truck, El Jefe, will be on site vending authentic Mexican food. El Jefe has a restaurant just a block away along Central Avenue, next to Fleur de Lis Gallery. Jess Prill, jewelry artist and gallery owner, is one of the key organizers of the art festival, along with Faribault artists Tami Resler and Paula Person. They’ve also tapped into other artists, like Jeff Jarvis, for help with the fest.

Brigg Evans Textiles are fabric pieces printed from original scanned Seri Batiks created by Suz Klumb, aka Brigg Evans. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Prill loves art festivals. And, obviously, art and artists given her creative bend and home-grown Fleur de Lis Gallery. “Faribault is an amazing town with a ton of talent to highlight so I knew this event would be a great way to do that,” she says. She also notes the need for “more fun things for people in the community to do in town.” Her desire to create a new arts festival drew her to Resler and Person, both actively engaged in the arts and with strong connections to local creatives.

Down to Earth Stoneware, pottery by Diane Lockerby. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

“We are all very passionate about the town and the arts and are very excited to bring this event to the community,” Prill continues.

Bending Sunlight Glassworks, artist Sandra Seelhammer. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

I’m excited, too, as I share Prill’s love of the arts. I cannot imagine a life without writing and photography. Both feed my spirit, my soul, my need to create. And this Saturday 20 creatives who share that passion will fill Heritage Park with their art and creative energy.

FYI: For more information about the participating artists, visit straightriverartfestival.com by clicking here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From $221K for Ukrainian kids to top film awards April 5, 2022

The promo for the final owl art auction. (Source: International Owl Center Facebook page)

IN THE MIDST OF WAR and pandemic, inflation and everyday struggles, I want to pause and focus on two recent bits of good news. One comes from the tiny town of Houston in southern Minnesota. The other comes from the glitz and glamour of the entertainment world. Two complete opposites, yet notable in how important each is in this vast connected world of ours.

Let’s start with Houston, where the International Owl Center just concluded its third online “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids.” The final auction of art created by Ukrainian youth for the center’s annual International Kids’ Owl Art Contest raised $48,893 for UNICEF, designated specifically for kids in Ukraine.

All three auctions raised a whopping $221,353. That’s an incredible amount generated from the sale of 190 pieces of original owl art, limited edition prints and direct donations. The giving spirit of those wanting to help youth in war-town Ukraine stretched well beyond Houston, population around 1,000, to a wide world of caring and generous souls. I am heartened by this show of love and support.

And I am heartened to read on the Owl Center Facebook page that staff connected with some of the young artists and learned that they have fled Ukraine with their families and are safe.

Promo for “Summer of Soul” from the “Summer of Soul” Facebook page.

Now the other bit of positive news has nothing to do with war, but rather with film and music. The documentary, “Summer of Soul,” just won the 2022 Grammy Awards Best Music Film. And a week earlier, it landed an Oscar for the Best Documentary Feature.

Generally, I pay no attention to these awards because, well, they don’t interest me. That’s not to diminish the hard work of these artists because their creativity enriches our lives and world. But I cared about “Summer of Soul” Oscar and Grammy nominations after watching a public television airing of the documentary by filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. His film focused on the Harlem Cultural Festival in the summer of 1969. Six concerts over six weeks brought 300,000-plus people together in Harlem to celebrate the Black culture, specifically music. Performers included the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips… But Thompson’s film was about more than the music. It was about the issues facing Black people, highlighted in interviews woven into concert footage. Many of these same issues remain today.

There’s more to this story. Although produced 53 years ago, “Summer of Soul” was only recently released. In promos for the film, it’s titled as “Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” on ABC. I encourage you to view this enlightening documentary. Experience the music, the culture. And then reflect. For in opening our hearts and minds, we expand our understanding of each other in a world that needs to connect and care.

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

To the creatives behind “Summer of Soul” and to the creatives behind the “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids,” thank you for sharing your talent and for your generosity of spirit. I am grateful.

FYI: The International Owl Center is taking a pause from its “Ukrainian Art for Ukrainian Kids” auctions to prepare for the International Festival of Owls April 30 – May 1. I will update you if/when more fundraisers happen. Or check the International Owl Center Facebook page to stay posted.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Black lives matter times three February 22, 2022

SAY THEIR NAMES NORTHFIELD INTERVENTION #32 chalk art activism at Bridge Square, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

SUNDAY PROVED ENLIGHTENING, educational and reflective. And that’s a good thing because ongoing learning often makes us more informed, compassionate and caring individuals.

The scene from the Riverwalk along the Cannon River in downtown Northfield Sunday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The focus of my learning was not intentional, but rather a coming together of several elements. That began with a decision to follow the Riverwalk in Northfield on a rare February afternoon of sunshine and warmth in southern Minnesota. At 40-plus degrees, it was simply too nice to stay indoors. Northfield, only about a 25-minute drive, is a beautiful progressive river town, home to St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, a thriving downtown historic business district, an active arts scene and more, including community activism.

Bridge Square with its monument and fountain, framed by a mosaic. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
A statement by the artist activists. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Spread out before the Civil War Monument, Black Lives Matter message and names. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

On this Sunday, activism and engagement focused my initial attention as Randy and I exited the van across from Bridge Square, a mini middle-of-the-downtown park next to the Cannon River. As I pulled my camera strap over my neck, I noticed a group of young people chalking the sidewalk leading to and around the Civil War Monument and center fountain. I decided in that moment not to photograph them writing their messages as part of SAY THEIR NAMES INTERVENTION #32. I remembered the controversy over such chalk art at Bridge Square. I believe the City of Northfield enacted an ordinance banning the chalking of the public space, although I could not confirm that information online.

From the SAY THEIR NAMES NORTHFIELD Facebook page: “In honor of Amir Locke and many other Black persons killed by police.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Later, after we walked along the river and then along Division Street, we paused to read the messages printed by SAY THEIR NAMES NORTHFIELD participants who had now left the square. As in previous “interventions,” their words repeated that BLACK LIVES MATTER. All too familiar names were chalked onto the cement—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Daunte Wright… And new to the list, Amir Locke.

Too many names… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As I photographed the names and messages, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness at the injustices, the fact that this is 2022 and we are still grappling with racism and social injustice and many other issues related to race.

Promo for “The Summer of Soul.” (Photo credit: “Summer of Soul” Facebook page)

That evening, the same response repeated as I watched filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s newly-released documentary “The Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” on ABC. The film documents the Harlem Cultural Festival which brought some 300,000-plus people together in Harlem in the summer of 1969 for six concerts over six weeks. Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and other mostly Black musicians performed before a primarily Black crowd. The film, interspersed with concert footage and follow-up interviews with those who participated or attended, is a remarkable historic documentation of not only the music, but also of Black people, their culture, their connections in the community of Harlem and also the issues they faced in 1969. Issues which remain today.

I was especially moved by the joyful performance of “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by Fifth Dimension, complete with audience participation and by the singing of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite hymn sung at his funeral. All were performed against a stage backdrop collage of vibrant squares, rectangles and L shapes. (I’d love to have a poster of that artsy 1969 graphic.)

I felt a mix of sadness and concern that here we are, 53 years later, and just now this film footage has been released. Woodstock, the Apollo moon landing and more overshadowed the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. I appreciate the release of this film nominated for a 2022 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and a 2022 Grammy Award for Best Music Film. It’s important I watched it for, among many reasons, the insights and perspectives gained.

A must-read book of historical fiction.

Before “The Summer of Soul” aired on TV Sunday evening, I’d begun reading Under the Tulip Tree, a historical novel by Michelle Shocklee set in Nashville following the stock market crash of 1929. Only a third into the book, I found it fitting of my unexpected Sunday focus on Black lives The main character is a young White writer interviewing a former slave. And, yes, although fictional, real-life stories weave into the book.

BROWN LIVES FOR BLACK LIBERATION is the message leading to the list of names. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I feel grateful for all the elements—chalk art, a documentary and a book—which came together on a February Sunday in Minnesota to educate and enlighten me about many aspects of Black lives. To learn is to grow in understanding and compassion.

FYI: Activism and art will theme an event on Thursday, March 3, offered through St. John’s Women, a Northfield-based group in its fourth year of sponsoring “Courageous Conversations” via monthly speakers and book studies. Carleton College Professor Cecilia Cornejo, an artist and also leader of the local SAY THEIR NAMES group, will talk about “Anti-Racism Activism Through Community-Engaged Art” at 7 pm via Zoom. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The day the music died” February 3, 2022

Portraits of the deceased musicians inside the Surf Ballroom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

SIXTY-THREE YEARS AGO TODAY, the music died. On February 3, 1959, three musicians—Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson—and a pilot died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. It was, and remains, a monumental moment in American music history.

A broad view of this massive ballroom which seats 2,100. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

Today the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake still hosts a Winter Dance Party honoring the musicians who performed their final concert there on February 2, 1959. Early the next morning en route to Moorhead, Minnesota, the charter flight carrying the rock-n-roll musicians crashed in a field near Clear Lake in northern Iowa.

This display references “American Pie.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

In 2015, Randy and I traveled an hour and 15 minutes south of Faribault along Interstate 35 to Clear Lake, where we toured the Surf. We were mere preschoolers when Holly and the others died. But the story of this tragedy imprinted upon us as teens, when Don McLean released his hit, “American Pie,” in 1971. How well I remember that tribute, the lyrics, the length of the nearly 8.5-minute song.

The ballroom stage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

While in Clear Lake on that May day seven years ago, we didn’t visit the crash site. Rain kept us away. But we certainly enjoyed our tour of the historic ballroom, site to many concerts from greats such as Duke Ellington, Lawrence Welk, the Beach Boys, the Doobie Brothers… The posters and photos, the aged booths, the stage and dance floor, all pay homage to the past, when ballrooms centered entertainment. The Surf, on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated National Historic Landmark, represents another time, another era, not simply a concert venue.

This sign summarizes the importance of the Surf. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

Today I celebrate music and those who create it, past and present. Music enriches our lives beyond entertainment. Music, in many ways, writes like poetry into our hearts, souls and memories. And this February day, I honor the memories of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, as I consider “the day the music died.”

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TELL ME: Have you toured the Surf Ballroom or the crash site? Or do you have music memories of Holly, Valens and Richardson that you’d like to share?

FYI: To see more photos and stories from my visit to Clear Lake, Iowa, please click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling