Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Alley art in New Ulm April 9, 2021

One of several brick sculptures on the side of a building along North Minnesota Street in downtown New Ulm.

I CALL IT ALLEY ART. That tag in no way diminishes its value. Rather, the moniker fits the public art I’ve discovered in alleys, most recently in downtown New Ulm.

Part of an art installation at Lola, an American Bistro.

During a brief stop in this southwestern Minnesota city, Randy and I walked several blocks along the north side of Minnesota Street, popping into The Grand Center for Arts & Culture and also Antiques Plus of New Ulm. Mostly, though, we simply followed the sidewalk with me pausing whenever I found something of photographic interest.

A view of the brick sculptures looking from the end of a deck toward Minnesota Street. The art depicts life in the region in the 1850s.

I’m always delighted when I find the unexpected. And I found that along Minnesota Street in the form of outdoor public art. As an appreciator of the arts, especially easily accessible public art, I get excited about such creative installations.

The finds I feature here represent only a sampling of art you can enjoy in New Ulm. These three were new to me, although they likely have been around for awhile. Brief online searches yielded no information.

Historic German flags created from handcrafted tiles.

That doesn’t matter as much as my reaction to, and appreciation of, this art. Here were history and heritage. Creative expression. Art which enhances New Ulm and the experiences of visitors like me. Hopefully locals, too.

I considered the early settlers to this region, including the maternal side of my family with roots in neighboring small town Courtland. Generations of the Bode family still live in the area. Drop that German name in New Ulm and locals will recognize it.

Information about the tile flags on the side of a building along Minnesota Street.

I considered, too, the German heritage of this city. Tourism is based primarily on that heritage.

The mug art at Lola’s, found in the alley.
Signage on the alley side door. Lola is located at 16 N. Minnesota Street.
Mugs frame the doorway at Lola, an American Bistro.

And then I considered how a place like Lola, an American Bistro, can carve a food and creative niche here also, drawing my camera eye with an over-sized blue plywood mug constructed around an ally entrance. Mugs attached.

More mugs, up close.

The trio of public art installations I discovered during my short walk along the north side of Minnesota Street added to my appreciation of downtown New Ulm. I expect next time I’ll find even more. If not in an alley, then elsewhere.

FYI: This concludes my recent series of blog posts from New Ulm. Check my March 19, 23 and 24 posts if you missed those. Or type “New Ulm” into my blog search engine to read the many stories I’ve written on this southwestern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Along Minnesota Street in New Ulm April 8, 2021

The hometown beer showcased on signage on a business along Minnesota Street.

NEW ULM, NO MATTER how often I visit, continues to draw me back. There’s simply so much to see and do here. This decidedly German community is also conveniently located along US Highway 14, the main route we follow from Faribault to my native southwestern Minnesota.

One of many restaurants along Minnesota Street in downtown New Ulm. The Ulmer Cafe features menu items like meatloaf, liver and onions, chicken spaetzle soup and Beef Commercials.

Recently, while returning from a visit with my mom in her Belview care center, Randy and I stopped in New Ulm, the half-way point on our trip. I wanted to see The Grand Center for Arts & Culture. Once we’d viewed the exhibits, we walked along the sunny side of Minnesota Street in the heart of downtown, popping into only one business. We remain COVID-cautious.

One of several racks of lovely vintage clothing at Antiques Plus. I love the sweet yellow dress.
I was drawn to this artsy fashion display inside Antiques Plus.

With the sun shining and the temp around 60, lots of people were downtown, enjoying an absolutely beautiful Saturday afternoon. We revisited Antiques Plus of New Ulm, a long, narrow shop packed with antiques, vintage finds and collectibles. I found myself once again drawn to the vintage clothing. I couldn’t help but think the lovely formal dresses would fly off the racks in the Twin Cities metro given their pristine condition and prices.

Photographed at Antiques Plus.

I also photographed beer cans inside Antiques Plus, including Schell’s. That’s the hometown beer, brewed at August Schell Brewing, the second oldest family-owned brewery in the US, crafting beer since 1860. You can tour the brewery and sample beer. Across town, Schell’s also features a German beer hall style taproom, The Starkeller, offering mostly sour beers.

Posted in a restaurant window in downtown New Ulm.

But back to downtown, where you can also find plenty of places to drink and dine. If you appreciate German food, New Ulm offers options. I spotted a handwritten sign in a restaurant window for ethnic meals.

MN EIS serves ice cream and sweets in downtown New Ulm and recently reopened for the season.

I had hoped MN EIS—Ice Cream & Sweets Shoppe would be open. But it remained closed for the season, although it’s since opened. Next time.

Signage remains for this former department store.

While walking along Minnesota Street, we passed the vacated Herberger’s, a regional department store shuttered in 2018. It was a downtown New Ulm anchor for 72 years. The signage remains, a reminder of a once thriving business.

Roger’s is sandwiched into a small space.

Signage at Roger’s Barber Shop also caught my interest on this business wedged between buildings.

Gnomes are a “thing” in New Ulm. I spotted this one in a downtown window display.

I made three more discoveries while on our several-block walk along one side of Minnesota Street. Check back to see what I found as I conclude my series on New Ulm.

TELL ME: Have you visited New Ulm? If yes, what would you recommend seeing/doing while there?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, the joy of the unexpected in a Minnesota arts center March 24, 2021

Jimmy Reagan’s art splashes across a tote and backpack for sale in a New Ulm arts center gift shop.

IT WAS THE VIVID COLORS which first caught my eye inside The Grand Artisan Gift Shop in downtown New Ulm. Bold hues flashed, accented by strong lines of color, as if the artist had pulled every crayon from a box of crayons and dashed them across the canvas.

Backpacks feature Jimmy Reagan’s colorful art.

This is the work of Jimmy Reagan, a 27-year-old St. Paul artist influenced by the likes of Picasso and van Gogh. His art graces backpacks, totes, sweatshirts in this gift shop on the first floor of The Grand Center for Arts & Culture. You’ll find a wide selection of art from other creatives here also.

Reagan’s work “offers him a means to illustrate his perspective of the world,” according to a promotional bio I picked up in the gift shop. This young man views life through the lens of autism. He was diagnosed with complex autism as a toddler.

These sweatshirts, with Jimmy’s signature “tick marks” (left), hang in the entrance to The Grand Kabaret, an entertainment space in The Grand.

Since 2009, he has created art and is internationally-recognized. I admire Reagan, who rose to the challenges of his autism to express himself and to communicate. Strong colors, simple images and signature “tick marks” (those short dashes of color) define his art. I, for one, am a fan.

The colorful bathroom with the canvas for chalk art above.

I’m also a fan of the public restroom on the second floor of The Grand. It’s not often I write about or photograph restrooms, although two photos I took of “The View from Our Window: Grant Wood in Iowa” rest area along I-380 northbound near Cedar Rapids published in the book, Midwest Architecture Journeys, edited by Zach Mortice and printed by Belt Publishing.

A sampling of the temporary art.

The Grand restroom in New Ulm is not artist-themed, but rather an artistic canvas for anyone who steps inside. The lime green walls first caught my eye as I walked past the bathroom. (As a teen, my bedroom was painted a similar lime green.) And then I noticed the chalk art above the tile and thought, what a great idea. Maybe it’s nothing novel for a public bathroom. But it was to me. And, although I didn’t pick up chalk and add to the black canvas, I photographed it. And that, too, is art.

Check back for more photos from downtown New Ulm.

© 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

 

Discovering New Ulm’s The Grand Center for Arts & Culture March 19, 2021

AS SOMEONE WHO GREW UP with minimal exposure to the arts, I feel not so much deprived as deeply appreciative of creativity. I consider myself an artist—of images and of words. To write and to photograph, oh, the joy.

A snippet of an acrylic, “Guitar,” by Caitlin Lang.

I feel gratitude for all the creatives out there who share their talents, whether in published works or performances or art exhibits or whatever in whatever space they choose.

The Grand Center for Arts & Culture in downtown New Ulm.

Recently I discovered a new-to-me center for the arts in New Ulm, a southern Minnesota city known for its German heritage and so much more. Like the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, the Hermann the German Monument, August Schell Brewery, the Wanda Gag House, the Glockenspiel…small town shops and eateries and, well, enough attractions to fill a weekend.

Beautiful signage and architectural details make this building visually appealing.

During a brief Saturday afternoon stop in New Ulm, my first must-see destination was The Grand Center for Arts and Culture, housed in a former historic hotel in the heart of downtown. The building itself drew my interest with its appealing signage and lovely architectural details.

A portion of the historical plaque outlining the history of the former Grand Hotel, now an arts and cultural center in New Ulm.

A front face plaque summarizes its history. You’ll find such historical info throughout this downtown on plaques, benches and even picnic tables. I appreciate the easy access to history.

Outside the front entry to The Grand Center for Arts & Culture in New Ulm.

Inside the arts center, the first floor features a gift shop brimming with great art and, across the hall, The Grand Kabaret, for entertainment/the performing arts. Downstairs, the basement houses Cellar Press, a letterpress and printmaking studio, which I didn’t see (but must).

Light floods the gallery, on these walls the art of Sam Matter.

A steep flight of stairs leads to 4 Pillars Gallery and studio space on the second floor. The compact gallery, with abundant natural light flowing into the room, feels intimate, inviting, ideal for showcasing art.

Musician portraits by Caitlin Lang.

Caitlin Lang of Springfield and Sam Matter of New Ulm are the current featured artists in a joint mixed media exhibit, “Intentionally Accidental.” Their show runs through April 3.

The bios of Caitlin Lang and Sam Matter, along with a guestbook, sit on a table in the gallery.

What a joy to see the work of these two young artists. Lang specializes in portraits and Matter describes his art as “a small scene from my heart to the viewer.” I love that poetic description.

Sam Matter’s art, created from the heart.

And I love this center for arts and culture, a must-see in New Ulm.

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FYI: The Grand Center for Arts & Culture is changing its hours starting March 23 and will be open from 11 am – 4 pm Tuesday – Saturday.

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Please check back for more photos from the arts center.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating, & branding of, small towns March 18, 2021

Belview, located in southwestern Minnesota, some seven miles from my hometown of Vesta.

FOR THOSE OF YOU who’ve followed my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog for awhile, you understand that I value small towns. They are a favorite destination, an escape of sorts back to my rural prairie roots. To a less-populated place, typically rooted in agriculture.

The grain complex in unincorporated Bixby in Aurora Township in Steele County, MN, reflects in the passenger side mirror.

That said, I recognize that my definition of a “small town” may differ from yours. I view small towns as communities with populations of several thousand or less. I would not, for example, consider my city of Faribault to be small. Others would given its population of around 24,000.

A favorite stop (when it’s open) is Rainbow Antiques, Crafts & Junque in Belview. Other attractions in Belview include the historic Odeon Hall, Rock Dell Lutheran Church, rural Belview, and Grandview Valley Winery, to the north of town. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2011.

What draws me to small towns, to photograph and write about them, beyond my desire to reconnect with rural places and share my finds?

I love this kitschy bar stool atop the City & Country Tavern roof overhang in Morgan in southwestern MN.

It’s discovering nuances of character. It’s connecting with people. It’s the architecture and oddities and so much more. Exploring small towns is like taking a basic sentence and enhancing the main subject with adjectives.

This prairie chicken statue along Interstate 94 in western Minnesota celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2013.

Yet, I realize not everyone appreciates language like I do. All too often, small towns are bypassed or driven through—seemingly not a place that would attract visitors. But I am here to tell you they are worth the detour off the interstate, the destination for a day trip, the stopping on Main Street.

Popular Franke’s Bakery anchors a corner in downtown Montgomery, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

Montgomery, Minnesota, for example, is one of my favorite nearby small towns. Why? I love going to Franke’s Bakery, a staple in this community for 100-plus years. The bakery specializes in Czech treats, in this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. Across the street from the bakery, a mural tells the history of this town. Aged buildings line the main business district, with home-grown shops and eateries and bars. The adjectives enhancing the main subject.

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, right, and Posy Floral, left, along First Street North on the north end of downtown Montgomery, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

The Montgomery Arts and Cultural Heritage Center and Montgomery Brewing also draw me to this Le Sueur County community. And the signs and architecture.

The good folks of Montgomery have branded their community, tapping into their heritage and then building on that to create a place that attracts visitors. I think potential exists in every small town to do the same. And it starts with recognizing the strengths, the uniqueness, of a community. I know that requires time, money and effort. But, oh, the possibilities.

The community of New Ulm is home to many home-grown restaurants, like the Ulmer Cafe.

I, for one, love small town bakeries, antique shops, thrift stores, art centers and home-grown cafes with meal offerings that are crafted by hand, not pulled from a freezer and heated. I recently saw a sign for Beef Commercials in New Ulm. I haven’t eaten one—roast beef layered between slices of white bread, topped with a dollop of mashed potatoes and smothered in gravy—for years. Had it been meal time and not a pandemic, I may have stopped to indulge in nostalgia.

New Ulm, population 13,500, is not exactly small town by my definition, but it’s definitely a city that excels in attracting visitors via branding built on its German heritage.

A thriving grocery store in small town Ellendale, MN.

Now I know every community can’t tap into heritage like New Ulm and Montgomery. But, each place truly possesses potential to attract visitors. In Ellendale, for example, the award-winning Steve’s Meat Market draws meat lovers. I am partial to Lerberg’s Foods and its worn wooden floor, narrow aisles and aged moose head looming over cans of stacked corn.

Outside the local hardware store in the downtown main business district, this heart art shows pride, marketing savvy and identity in Blooming Prairie. This small town is located in southern Steele County, south of Owatonna.

I delight in such discoveries. Kitsch. Identity. A strong sense of place and pride. I hope that, by sharing my thoughts and photos, you, too, will view small towns through a lens of appreciation.

TELL ME: Have you discovered a small town that you just love. I’d like to hear.

PLEASE CHECK BACK as I expand on this post with more photos from some of the communities featured here.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

En route to visit Mom in a Minnesota care center July 6, 2020

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A rural scene between New Ulm and Morgan.

 

THE HIGHWAY STRETCHED before us, long, like a line drawn through the landscape. Separating fields and farm sites under clouds suspended in an infinite blue sky. The type of clouds that identify a summer day in Minnesota. Southwestern Minnesota. It is my favorite of skies.

 

Agriculture defines this region of Minnesota.

 

Our destination, a care center, lay 120 miles to the west. As Randy and I traveled, I tried not to think about what may await us. Would the visit go well? I’d arranged earlier in the week for an outdoors visit with my mom as allowed now by the Minnesota Department of Health. It’d been nearly four months since I’d seen her, on the weekend before care centers closed to visitors due to COVID-19. My mom is on hospice, has been for a year. I recognize that in itself is remarkable. I needed to see her. Phone calls and/or video chats have not been an option due to her health.

 

A red barn pops among grain bins on this farm site along Brown County Road 29 near New Ulm.

 

Along the route, I like to photograph scenes. I set my camera on a fast shutter speed, try to frame as best I can and shoot through windows that are all too often splattered with bugs or reflecting sunlight. But I still photograph. It passes the time and allows me to share my world and perspectives in a way that words don’t always fully cover.

 

Acres and acres of corn and soybeans (with some oats and peas mixed in) spread across the southwestern Minnesota landscape, broken only by farm sites and small towns.

 

Once on the west side of Mankato, I feel like I’m entering my home territory, the place of expansive farm fields and wide skies. The place where I feel small compared to both. It is a familiar and comforting world. The place that shaped me and which I still hold dear.

 

My favorite beauty of a barn along Brown County Road 29.

 

Some barns are weathered by time and the elements and often fall into piles of rotting wood.

 

I’m wondering whether this barn/shed is old or new. No matter, it’s lovely.

 

I appreciate well-kept farm sites where owners show care in upkeep of buildings. Along Brown County Road 29, what I call the back road between New Ulm and Morgan, sit some particularly lovely old barns, a vanishing landmark. Few of these hold animals anymore, which leads to the demise of these once hardworking agrarian buildings.

 

 

I also am drawn to vintage silos, now abandoned. Farming has changed so much, making the buildings of our ancestors outdated and mostly now storage spaces or simply visual reminders of the past.

 

The front entry of Parkview Senior Living in Belview, our destination.

 

All of that I considered as the miles rolled before us. After a pit stop at a park restroom in Redwood Falls, we covered the last 15 miles, arriving at our destination 10 minutes late. Had I not stopped first at the Faribault Farmers’ Market for a garden flower bouquet, we would have arrived on schedule. But I wanted to bring Mom a gift. And flowers are universal in their ability to bring joy.

Following a temp check, health screening, providing contact info and signing necessary forms, we were ready for the supervised one-hour allotted outdoor social-distancing visit. I already expected the designated visit site, a patio in full morning sun and next to three noisy air conditioners, would not work. It didn’t. No one could hear and the heat was too much. We shifted to Plan B, which was to talk via phone with Mom on one side of glass doors/windows, us on the other. That also proved challenging as Mom didn’t understand anything Randy or I said. But the staffer, bless her, repeated whatever we said and thus we managed.

I found myself trying to talk on topics that would spark a connection with Mom. A mention of Curious George, which she’s developed a fondness for, brought a smile. The Parkview staff has ordered dvds for Mom (so caring) after discovering the naughty monkey of children’s book fame makes her happy and holds her interest. I brought two Curious George books and she smiled at the gift.

Mom also reacted when I talked about her childhood pet lamb, Duke. I recognize that memories of yesteryear are much stronger than the memories of 20 minutes ago for the elderly. The aide mentioned that Mom’s one-room country school teacher lives at Parkview, too. I knew this as Mom told me years earlier. Hazel is 104, Mom 88.

We held our cell phones up to the glass, showing Mom photos of her great grandchildren/our grandchildren, four and 18 months. She’s never met Isaac. But images of the pair and photos of her own grandchildren brought smiles.

When I observed Mom drifting, her eyes shifting away from us, I would wave my hands and say, “Mom,” and then she would come back, into the moment. That happened often. I could tell she was tiring and it was time to leave. As much as I wanted to rush through the glass barriers and hug her, I couldn’t. So I told her repeatedly that I loved her. And I fake-blew a kiss. And in that moment, as the aide swung Mom’s chair to wheel her back to her room, I felt a strong connection of love. A bittersweet moment. I just stood there and watched. My heart breaking, yet filled with gratitude for one more visit.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road in southwestern Minnesota January 16, 2020

Almost to Morgan last Saturday morning.

 

BY THE TIME we drive into Morgan on the eastern edge of Redwood County, I just want to reach our destination, Belview in southwestern Minnesota.

 

Farm sites abound along back county roads between New Ulm and Morgan.

 

It’s not that we’ve been on the road an interminably long time—around two hours. But the drive seems to lengthen between New Ulm and Morgan, and especially between Morgan and Redwood Falls.

 

A farm east of Morgan photographed in December 2019.

 

This is farm country. Mostly flat. Stretching as far as the eye can see, broken only by farm sites embraced by windbreaks. Or countless power poles fading into infinity.

 

Morgan is a farming community defined visually by its grain elevator complex.

 

Or by the grain elevators and water tower in Morgan.

 

Near Morgan and photographed on January 11.

 

Randy and I talk as we travel, commenting on snow cover in the winter, crops in the other seasons. Oftentimes we reminisce about our farm upbringings, prompted by the rural landscape enveloping us. We are still farm kids at heart, in memory, in the essence of our beings.

 

A not uncommon scene in rural Minnesota, this one in Morgan.

 

Conversation passes the time as does photography. I feel compelled to photograph this place that is so much a part of me. Familiar. Comforting. Forever home.

 

I find myself repeatedly photographing this beautiful barn and farm site west of New Ulm.

 

But my photography isn’t only about me and my connection to this land. It’s also about my desire to document and share this place with those unfamiliar with southwestern Minnesota. I recognize that not everyone appreciates the prairie. Its spacious skies and wide expanse of land can feel unsettling to those who have always only known metro areas. Or trees. I get it. Plop me inside a city and I feel boxed in by tall buildings and uncomfortable on too much concrete among too much traffic.

 

Main Street Morgan photographed in late December 2019.

 

Still, despite the differences between rural and urban dwellers, we all still see the same sun, the same moon. And we are all journeying somewhere on the same planet.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road in southwestern Minnesota, a photo essay November 25, 2019

Sometimes I photograph scenes in the passenger side mirror, here the grain elevator in Morgan.

 

IF I STOPPED TO PHOTOGRAPH everything that grabbed my interest while on the road, I would never get anywhere. So I’ve learned to shoot on the fly—from the passenger seat and out the windshield or the side window. I set my camera’s shutter speed in sports mode (a fast speed to catch action) and then scan for photo ops.

Photographing in this style calls for a watchful eye, an ability to compose/frame a scene at a moment’s notice and a lot of luck. Factor in dirty/tinted windows and reflections and the challenge is even greater.

 

I often think, this creamery in Courtland would make a lovely brewery. I’m unsure of its use, but I think it’s a residence/apartments.

 

Still, I manage to capture plenty of images that I wouldn’t otherwise get.

 

Courtlands’ Swany’s Pub, left, always draws my eye for the signage.

 

With that background, I take you on the road, westbound toward my native Redwood County. My photo tour begins about 1 ½ hours into this road trip, in Courtland, This small town is a pass-through point for busy US Highway 14. It’s also the home of my maternal forefathers. Not a lot changes in Courtland, although the Crow Bar burned down a few years ago and has since been rebuilt. It’s across the street from Swany’s Pub.

 

The curve of this tire shop draws my focus.

 

The Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm, which I have yet to visit.

 

A billboard near New Ulm advertises Schell’s Brewery’s seasonal snowstorm beer.

 

Continuing west, New Ulm now requires driving through this long river town (due to a major road construction project on Highway 14). I love New Ulm, just not the time it takes to get through the city when you want to reach your destination quickly. The strong German heritage of this place, its natural beauty and a variety of attractions (including Schell’s Brewery) make me a fan of New Ulm.

 

Harvest was in full swing during my most recent trip to southwestern Minnesota a few weeks ago. This is near New Ulm.

 

Once outside the seat of Brown County, the rural landscape continues on the long stretch of roadways to Morgan.

 

Driving through Morgan, a small farming community.

 

Waiting at the elevator in Morgan.

 

I photograph this co-op elevator nearly every time we drive through Morgan.

 

Now I’m back in Redwood County and the familiarity of grain elevators and small town Main Streets.

 

Near Redwood Falls, a grain truck in a cornfield.

 

Photographing breaks the boredom of too many miles between Morgan and Redwood Falls.

 

Driving through part of the business district in downtown Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

 

Redwood always brings out mixed emotions in me. I attended junior high here, the worst two years of my youth due to bullying in school. From both teachers and classmates. Yes, teachers. But Redwood also evokes some wonderful memories of visiting my maternal grandfather, of hiking in beautiful Alexander Ramsey Park (known as The Little Yellowstone of Minnesota) and buying fabric in the basement of the J.C. Penney’s store. I sewed most of my clothes as a teen.

As I photograph these places, I am documenting my life. Not always directly, but indirectly. And if not my life, then the lives and places of those who call southwestern Minnesota home.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Back home” in rural southwestern Minnesota November 22, 2019

Along U.S. Highway 14 west of Mankato. I grew up some 80 miles west of here.

 

ALTHOUGH I’VE LIVED IN TOWN longer than in the country, I still feel most at home in the familiar surroundings of endless land and vast sky. Southwestern Minnesota. It is the place of my roots, the place of my heart, the place where I feel overwhelmingly comfortable.

 

Farms edge U.S. Highway 14 in this region of Minnesota.

 

I expect most people connect to a geographic location. Do you?

 

Another farm along Highway 14 west of Mankato.

 

Every time I’m back home, because, yes, I still call this rural region back home, I sweep my eyes across the landscape, noticing always how small I feel in this setting. The sky and land overtake every aspect of this place, dwarfing farm sites and farm machinery and people. Only grain elevators seem to hold any sort of visual power.

 

An old-style machine shed in southwestern Minnesota.

 

As I travel through this farming region, I study building sites, pleased by sturdy, maintained barns, dismayed by those with roofs caving. Too many barns are vacant of animals, an almost certain start of their demise.

 

Grain bins define a farm site near Delhi, Minnesota, in my native Redwood County.

 

Like the farmer’s daughter I am, I notice the status of crops from spring planting to harvest. It’s in my DNA, this natural instinct to focus on corn and soybean fields, to assess the growing season, to care about the weather.

 

A farm site west of New Ulm, Minnesota.

 

Although I’ve left this land of my youth, I remain grateful for the earth, the sky, the wind, the communities, the schools, the churches and peoples of southwestern Minnesota. All influenced and shaped me. And still do.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling