Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Stitches of the past February 10, 2013

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DECADES LATER I can still feel the slight resistance as I draw yarn through holes punched into light-weight cardboard.

I can hear, too, the grating of thread against pulp, as deplorable to me as chalk squeaking across a blackboard.

Yet, my remembrances of stitching yarn into sewing cards rate mostly as a favorite childhood activity I had long forgotten until recently rediscovering those cards tucked away in a chest of drawers.

I pulled out the cards and studied them, for the first time, as vintage works of art.

The cards are smudged and grimy and creased, corners bent, one even torn. But that adds to their character, to their nostalgic  folk art appeal.

It is during these years of aging, of realizing less of your life lies ahead of you than behind, that the past rushes back.

These sewing cards opened the doors to memories of nursery rhymes…

"There was an old woman who lives in a shoe..."

“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…”

…and frightening stories of goats crossing bridges where trolls lurk…

"Three Billy Goats Gruff"

“Three Billy Goats Gruff”

…and Cinderella fairy tales with happily-ever-after endings…

...where frogs turn into princes

…where frogs turn into princes

…and vivid recollections of evil roosters that pursued and pecked (for real, not in any fairy tale)…

The real, pecking, children-chasing roosters were not at all this pretty.

The real, pecking, children-chasing roosters were not at all this pretty.

…and calves that needed to be fed and certainly didn’t smell of daisies.

The calves I fed were black-and-white Holsteins smelling of barn.

The calves I fed were black-and-white Holsteins smelling of barn.

Powerful memories are stitched into these time-worn cards that I now prop as rotating art on the chest of drawers once shared by my dad and his oldest brother.

It seems some days that my thoughts dwell more on memories than the future.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Do you have a particular possession that evokes strong childhood memories?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Beyond just a holiday art exhibit at the former Owatonna orphanage December 15, 2011

A door into the Owatonna Arts Center in southern Minnesota.

BEHIND THE BACK BLUE DOOR of the Owatonna Arts Center, housed in a former orphanage, past the guardian nutcracker, up the stairs and just to your left, you’ll discover a sprinkling of holiday magic and realism in “The Story Books of Christmas” exhibit.

As OAC Art Director Silvan Durben tells me, the exhibit doesn’t specifically emphasize Christmas books—although two are holiday-themed—but rather impresses the sharing of a storybook with a child and the warm memories that evokes.

You’ll experience that bonding over books in a rotating display of Mother Goose tales crafted onto cardboard and placed next to a Christmas tree embraced by teddy bears tucked among branches.

Who among us doesn’t remember with fondness the recitation of nursery rhymes?

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick.

Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one. The mouse ran down. Hickory, dickory, dock.

Or the story of the “Old Man in the Moon?”

It was not lost on me, though, that the orphaned children who once tread these floors did not experience the closeness of clutching a teddy bear or cuddling on a lap while listening to nursery rhymes as they drifted into sleep.

A rotating exhibit of several Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

A close-up of art in the Hickory, dickory, dock rhyme.

Many dreamed of escaping—and some did via rail—the drudgery and abuse at the former Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children.

That reality struck me as I viewed an over-sized silver jingle bell and the word “BELIEVE” punched into an equally-large golden ticket at The Polar Express display. In that children’s picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, a young boy boards a train to the North Pole as the story unfolds to reveal the magic of Christmas.

The large, magical silver bell in The Polar Express display.

Although I did not ask, I wonder if the creators of “The Story Books of Christmas” considered the double-meaning of selecting The Polar Express to highlight in this place where so many children wished for a ticket out.

I found the selection fitting, touching and sad. And a wee bit hopeful.

FYI: “The Story Books of Christmas” exhibit runs through December 29 at the OAC, 435 Garden View Lane. OAC hours are from1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday, closed Mondays. The OAC will also be closed December 23 – 26.

The display highlighting the book, Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.

CHECK BACK for another blog post from the art center and for a photographic tour of Cottage 11, once home to orphaned boys.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling