Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The art of Dana & Judy in the Paradise March 13, 2017

An overview of Judy Saye-Willis’ exhibit, “From Garden to Gallery: Natures Gentle Colors.”

 

EVERY ARTIST, whether a sculptor, painter, wordsmith, photographer or anything in between, brings values and background into his/her work.

 

A section of Dana Hanson’s portrait of Christ, titled “All For You.”

 

For Faribault artist Dana Hanson, faith clearly inspires her art.

 

Nature’s influence is seen both in the subject and in the weld (a plant) dye used in this art by Judy.

 

For Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis, the natural world seems the most influential.

 

Dana’s “You Are Loved” faith-based painting.

 

They are two diverse artists currently exhibiting at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Dana paints with a brush, oil on canvas. Judy works with fabric and dyes as a fiber artist in this particular From Garden to Gallery—Natures Gentle Colors collection.

 

In her One Color Series, Judy dyed each piece in a single color dye bath.

 

Both infuse passion and devotion into their work. Judy uses natural dyes to color fabric. Rhubarb root, black walnut, sumac, goldenrod, prairie wildflowers and more are dye sources for this artist who, like me, grew up on a southwestern Minnesota farm. Judy played in the fields and pastures of the prairie and I can see that in her art. She holds a closeness to the land.

 

This trio of paintings is titled MESSENGERS OF HOPE with the horses subtitled, from left to right, “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace.”

 

Dana’s art sometimes comes to her, she says, in visions—her faith-based horse paintings inspired during worship. There is symbolism in her work, threads of light and hope. Her art is her visual ministry, Dana writes on her website.

 

A close-up of Judy’s panel tagged as “When Life Gives you Lemons make Art.” She used lemon juice for a discharge and dyed in cochineal. The repetition in the art is in the style of Andy Warhol.

 

I appreciate the artistic talents of both artists. I appreciate also their dedication to the craft. I appreciate the strength of their work.

 

“His Light” by Dana.

 

How I interpret their artwork may or may not match their intentions. But that’s the thing about art. We each bring to art our values, our backgrounds, our experiences. When our eyes lock on a piece of art, we react as only we can, with introspection that is uniquely and individually ours.

 

The Paradise Center for the Arts is housed in an historic former theater in downtown Faribault.

 

FYI: Dana and Judy’s exhibits will continue through March 27 in the main floor galleries at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue, Faribault. These photos are only a sampling of the artwork in their exhibits.

© Text copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork copyrighted by the artists and photographed with permission.

 

A determination to rediscover the joys of winter in Minnesota January 20, 2017

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. I think my uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck to reach the milkhouse.

I pose with my mom and four siblings atop a hard-as-rock snowdrift blocking our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. Location: rural Vesta, Redwood County, Minnesota.

BACK IN MY LIFE-ON-THE-FARM days, I loved winter. Every bucket of snow pushed from the farmyard with the loader of the John Deere tractor created a mountain. Soon a whole range rimmed the yard. There my siblings and I roamed, our imaginations taking us to the wilds of Alaska.

I am trying to reclaim that enthusiasm for winter—for carving caves into snowbanks, for sledding down hills, for building snow forts, for tossing snowballs. Not that I plan to engage in any of those activities. But I need to rediscover that winter can be fun. And my go-to place for that now is Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center.

 

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From 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. this Saturday, January 21, River Bend celebrates its annual WinterFest with kicksledding, snowshoeing, games, nature crafts, animal shows and more.

 

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I’m uncertain whether I will make that event. But I embraced the winter season by hiking the trails of River Bend in the balmy 30-degree warmth of a recent January afternoon. You can read about that by visiting the Faribault Tourism website “Stories” section. Click here. Enjoy.

TELL ME: How do you embrace winter? For those of you living in warm weather climates, go ahead, laugh, or share a story.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

History, mystery & more along the Straight River November 30, 2016

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THERE WOULD BE NO HIKING in the River Bend Nature Center as the sun shifted toward dusk on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The sign, “CAUTION DEER HUNT IN PROGRESS,” caused Randy to step on the brakes, back up the car and exit the entry road. “I don’t think I want to be in the woods this time of day,” he said, explaining that hunters prefer to hunt at dusk and dawn. I wasn’t about to disagree with him.

 

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So off we drove to find another trail, parking on a dead end street near the Straight River Trail in the northern section of Faribault. Our entry point started near an aged limestone building. We wondered aloud about the history of the structure so in need of repair.

 

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I would later learn from Jeff Jarvis, local historian and community enrichment coordinator for the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, that the building was constructed from local limestone in 1903 as the Faribault Gas and Electric Company. Electricity was transmitted by wire from the Cannon Falls hydroelectric facility to the Faribault plant and offered to Faribault customers, he said.

 

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I knew none of this as I studied the historic structure, noting the blocked window openings, the crumbling limestone, the detailed workmanship, the piled pallets, the empty barrels. Melancholy seeped into my thoughts. I’m always dismayed when buildings like this, an important part of local history, succumb to weather and near abandonment.

After snapping photos, I continued along the paved trail, stepping aside as a biker whizzed by. In the distance a trio of walkers approached, one gripping a dog. I am often wary of meeting canines. But this service dog posed no threat.

 

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Eventually, Randy and I veered from the paved path to a dirt trail leading to the Straight River. A massive fallen tree blocked us from reaching the river bank. We could only surmise that September flooding or past floods uprooted the many fallen trees in this flood plain.

 

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I noticed a tire on a sandbar, a man in a blue jacket walking his dog on the other side of the river, a single leaf clinging to a twig.

 

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Pink edged into the day, the light softening. Ideal for photography. We hiked back to the paved path, back toward the aged limestone building and then down once again toward the river along a rock hard trail. Clusters of pipes pocked the woods. We wondered about those and the padlocks fastened to some. A mystery.

 

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Soon the earth softened to river sand as the trail twisted. A buzz of noise cut through the silence, headlights flashing through the woods as an ATV approached, followed by a dirt bike. We stepped aside, allowing the vehicles to skirt us. And we wondered whether they should be there, near the river. Probably not.

 

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We ended our outing at Two Rivers Park, the convergence of the Cannon and Straight Rivers. Men fished. On a nearby path, another man pedaled a three-wheeler, his wheelchair strapped to the back. A woman walked her dog. And I paused on a bridge to photograph the Faribault Woolen Mill and the golden sky.

 

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And then, after crossing under Second Avenue via a recreational trail, I photographed a duck rippling water and light in the Cannon River. Lovely in the gloaming of this November day.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In which I see that, yes, winter really has arrived in Minnesota November 22, 2016

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A scene along Minnesota State Highway 23 between Foley and St. Cloud on Sunday afternoon.

A scene along Minnesota State Highway 23 between Foley and St. Cloud on Sunday afternoon, after the sun emerged from grey skies.

THE FIRST SNOWFALL of the season always arrives with considerable hoopla here in Minnesota. As if we hadn’t seen snow that layers the ground in white.

Round hay bales create a snow fence along Highway 23.

Round hay bales create a snow fence along Highway 23.

Last week, sections of my state got plenty of snow. We’re talking two feet in Leader in north central Minnesota. Mixed with high winds, blizzard conditions prevailed in many regions. Down here in the southeastern section? Only flurries. And I’m just fine with that.

Just outside of Monticello.

Just outside of Monticello.

Under grey skies on the flat land north of Monticello, snow dusts fields.

Under grey skies on the flat land north of Monticello, snow dusts fields.

However, a Sunday day trip 2.5 hours north and west of the metro took my husband and me into a snowy central Minnesota landscape.

Along Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman.

Along Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman, snow covers the rural landscape.

And, yes, I confess, I delighted in seeing snow-covered ground for the first time this winter season. There’s something about that initial snow that is magical and pure and, well, beautiful.

I snapped this wintry scene as we pulled into a convenience store/gas station in Foley.

I snapped this wintry scene as we pulled into a convenience store/gas station in Foley on Sunday afternoon.

This truck clearly has not moved in awhile.

This truck clearly has not moved in awhile.

The heavy, wet snow is piled now along the roadside, here in Foley.

The heavy, wet snow is piled now along the roadside, here in Foley.

A rural resident cleans out the end of his driveway along Benton County Road 3.

A rural resident cleans out the end of his driveway along Benton County Road 3.

Some parking lots were treacherously icy, like this one where we turned our van around in Gilman.

Some parking lots are treacherously icy, like this one in Gilman.

As long as you don’t have to deal with the snow and ice. As long as roads are clear, which they were except for icy patches on Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman.

I especially appreciate the visual contrast of red barns, this one north of Gilman, against the white landscape.

I especially appreciate the visual contrast of red barns, this one north of Gilman, against the white landscape.

Everything always seems sharper, brighter on a white canvas.

I photographed this train by the Minnesota State Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. It's heading for Clear Lake.

I photographed this train near the Minnesota State Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. It’s heading for Clear Lake.

Today brings a predicted wintry mix of precipitation to Minnesota. Rain mixed with snow, which likely will create slick roads. That type of winter weather is always unwelcome. But this is Minnesota. I should expect this.

I'm already waiting for spring, even though winter has just started. Here the same train I photographed in St. Cloud passes through Clear Lake as we all wait.

I’m already waiting for spring, even though winter has just started. Here the same train I photographed in St. Cloud passes through Clear Lake as we all wait.

But I don’t have to like it. And I don’t. Is it May yet? The novelty and excitement of seeing the first snowfall has apparently already faded for me.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods on an autumn afternoon in southern Minnesota November 10, 2016

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I DOUBT I’VE EVER SEEN so many oak leaves layering the ground. Thick. Brown. Rustling underfoot.

As my husband and I hiked into Kaplan’s Woods in Owatonna on Sunday afternoon, I noticed the abundance of oaks that distinguishes this city park from other parks/nature centers I’ve visited.

There’s something about an oak that denotes history and strength.

Yet, the distraction of all those oak leaves crackling underfoot doesn’t detract from my ability to notice nature’s details.

 

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Flash of yellow among mostly brown and grey.

 

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Bare (or mostly bare) branches set against a signature cobalt blue November sky.

 

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Fungi laddering up a tree trunk. Beautiful in an artistic, natural way. Like Nature’s sculpture.

 

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And then an unnatural road block at the end of a muddied path. “A gated community,” Randy jokes. And we laugh. Together. In the woods, under the oaks.

 

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In the dirt, initials carved with a stick, an “A” and maybe a “U.” Another Audrey? Probably not.

We turn around, our path blocked. I suggest we return to the main trail into the woods. We’re unfamiliar with this place and I have no intention of getting lost. Neither does Randy.

 

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Leaves crunch beneath our shoes. But then I stop abruptly, swing my camera left toward a moss covered log, the golden light falling just right.

I fail to hear or notice the runner closing in behind us. I’m in the zone, focused on photographing a selected scene. Randy, however, is watchful. He warns me. We step aside and continue on, a biker now barreling toward us on his mountain bike.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remember this weekend when the snow flies, my dear Minnesotans November 6, 2016

Feeding the ducks in Morehouse Park, Owatonna, Minnesota, Sunday afternoon.

Feeding the ducks in Owatonna’s Morehouse Park on Sunday afternoon.

IF YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA and did not spend most of this past weekend outdoors, then please do not complain come January. For we have had a gloriously long autumn that has extended in to these early days of November.

Walking on a carpet of oak leaves in Kaplan Woods, Owatonna.

Walking on a carpet of oak leaves in Kaplan’s Woods, Owatonna.

What a gift. What an absolute gift. Each day that the weather remains warm, sunny and without snow means one less day of winter.

Every detail, even leaves in a creek in Kaplan Woods, delighted me.

Every detail, even leaves in a creek in Kaplan’s Woods, delighted me.

For that I am thankful.

Some leaves are still clinging to trees like these by Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna.

Some leaves are still clinging to trees like these by Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna.

Sunshine and warmth defined the weekend, one I documented with my camera. When the snow flies and the temps dip to well below zero, I will pull up these photos and remember the delightful Autumn of 2016. And perhaps that will carry me to spring.

Cruisin' with the top down along Intersate 35E north of St. Paul Saturday afternoon.

Cruisin’ with the top down along Intersate 35E north of St. Paul Saturday afternoon.

Following a gravel road near Clinton Falls in Steele County.

Following a gravel road near Clinton Falls in Steele County on Sunday afternoon.

Finishing the corn harvest south of Faribault Sunday afternoon.

Finishing the corn harvest south of Faribault Sunday afternoon.

Mud hens bob across the choppy waters of Lake Kohlmier.

Mud hens bob across the choppy waters of Lake Kohlmier.

Checking out Lake Kohmier at the boat landing.

Checking out Lake Kohmier at the boat landing.

Taking the 1970s Ford Maverick out for a cruise Sunday afternoon by Lake Kohmier.

Taking the 1970s Ford Maverick out for a cruise Sunday afternoon by Lake Kohmier.

Sunday afternoon fishing along the Straight River in Morehouse Park.

Sunday afternoon fishing along the Straight River in Morehouse Park.

Water churns in the Straight River at the Morehouse Park dam.

Water churns in the Straight River at the Morehouse Park dam.

A recreational trail bridges the Straight River/Morehouse Park dam.

A recreational trail bridges the Straight River/Morehouse Park dam, a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts this weekend.

Lots of dogs were out with their owners.

Lots of dogs were out with their owners.

Almost unbelievable: mowing lawn on Sunday, November 6, in Owatonna.

Almost unbelievable: mowing lawn on Sunday, November 6, in Owatonna.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A sweet moment at Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center October 24, 2016

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IT WAS LIKE A SCENE from yesteryear. Two bikes dumped along the side of a trail, just before a bridge. Two blue-jean, t-shirt clad boys on the bridge, so focused they were unaware of my presence.

 

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Until I reached them, paused and asked what drew their attention at the River Bend Nature Center Turtle Pond. Not a turtle could be seen in the stagnant, murky water.

 

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But the boys had stopped to dip their hands into the pond, pulling tiny black snails from the water to place next to a woolly caterpillar clinging to a cottonwood leaf. They’d rescued the caterpillar earlier from a roadway.

 

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This is the stuff of Mayberry. This is the stuff of my childhood—those carefree days when kids roamed and ranged and delighted in the intricacies of nature. This scene, these boys, brought me joy. Rare are the times I see kids playing, exploring, discovering without the supervisory presence of adults in an organized activity.

But on this autumn afternoon, this pair—certainly old enough to be off on their own—delighted in simply being outdoors. As we watched a snail peer out of its shell, I thought, life really doesn’t get any better than this, this slowing down to appreciate nature at a snail’s pace.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling