Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Crochet in Translation”: the art of Malia Wiley July 16, 2019

Malia Wiley’s “Swine in an Afghan.” Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


WE SHARE THE COMMONALITIES of attending the same Christian college, Bethany Lutheran in Mankato, and of being creatives.


Malia Wiley with her oil painting, “Stag Luxuriously Robed in Crochet.” Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


I write and photograph. She paints and crochets. She is Malia Wiley, a young southern Minnesota artist who specializes in painting primarily pet portraits. But Malia also crochets and has now combined her two creative passions into an artistic endeavor, Crochet in Translation.


Flying geese in crochet and painting by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


“Cozy Squirrel” portrait up close by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Love the vivid colors in this rooster portrait by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


The result is a signature art form unlike any I’ve seen. Novel. Unique. Memorable. And truly creative with the colors and textures of crocheted afghans inspiring, weaving into and enhancing Malia’s portraits of animals.


Malia Wiley, left, chats with guests at her recent Owatonna Arts Center Crochet in Translation gallery opening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Recently I attended an opening reception at the Owatonna Arts Center honoring Malia and celebrating her work as an artist. A gallery exhibit of her art continues there until July 28.


“Hens on Crochet” by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


I chatted briefly with this talented artist and learned that her grandma taught her to crochet. Her “Hens on Crochet” incorporates an afghan crocheted by her grandmother and exhibited with the painting.


Malia Wiley crafted this jewel-toned afghan, the inspiration for a peacock painting. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


“Bundled Sheep” by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Afghans from Malia Wiley’s collection stacked in a corner of the gallery. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Malia also crafted a few of the showcased afghans. But most were found—at thrift stores and garage sales. Crocheting an afghan, Malia says, takes considerably more time than painting an animal portrait. I don’t doubt that when you look at the intricate patterns of crocheted afghans.


In addition to originals, Malia Wiley sells prints of her animal portraits. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


That Malia makes her living as an artist delights me. With this Lake Crystal artist’s level of talent and signature style, it’s easy to see how she has become a successful professional artist. On a larger and more public scale, Malia’s work is featured on a mural she painted for the ag-themed Grow-It Gallery at the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato, a museum on my to-see list.


“Preparing the Den” by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


I love when young people, anyone really, follow their passions and find joy in the talents with which they’ve been blessed. We are all the richer for the creatives who enrich our lives through their art.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Paintings were photographed with Malia’s permission.


Red carpet treatment for Faribault artists January 15, 2011

A replica marquee on the historic Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault welcomes guests to the opening night gallery reception for Rhody Yule and Adam Kuehnel.

Rhody Yule & Adam Kuehnel

FARIBAULT FIGURATIVELY rolled out the red carpet last night for two local artists.

I’m thrilled with the receptions given to watercolor artist Adam Kuehnel and my friend, oil painter Rhody Yule, at the Paradise Center for the Arts on opening night of their exhibits. I’m not good at numbers, but I’m certain more than 100 guests, maybe closer to 150, attended Friday evening’s event. That’s an exceptional turn-out.

Adam opened his “Founded Upon the Waters: A Collection of Works.”

Rhody opened his “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection.”

I met Adam for the first time last night and was impressed by this friendly young man who teaches English in nearby Kenyon, has an architecture degree and paints for enjoyment.

I’ve known Rhody for about 1 ½ years, after discovering him via art hung on the side of his rural Faribault garage. Rhody, like Adam, possesses a passion for painting.

To see the two artists together last night warmed my heart. Rhody is 92 and has been painting for 76 years. Adam is exactly 60 years his junior and just beginning his artistic pursuit.

This first-ever gallery show is a long overdue honor for Rhody. It was clear to me from the way guests embraced him and his art last night that they loved what they saw. Every time I glanced over at Rhody, seated just inside the gallery in a comfy chair, someone was bending down to talk to him, to shake his hand, to praise his art.

Rhody, minutes before his gallery show opened.

This photo shows only a portion of the 50-plus paintings in Rhody's exhibit.

I heard the artwork praises, too—from the woman who was surprised at the excellent quality of the art created by this self-taught artist, for Rhody’s ability to paint a variety of subjects from portraits to landscapes to religious works and even a few abstracts, for the way in which he painted well-known religious scenes with a unique perspective, for the…

Among my favorites paintings are Rhody's 1989 self-portrait and the portrait of his wife, Shirley, who died in the spring of 2010.

Rhody and me

I heard praises, too, from those who thanked me for “finding” Rhody. Really, anyone could have “found” him. I just took the time to stop and meet the man who had hung celebrity portraits on his garage.

Because I’m snoopy/nosy/curious—I used all three words last night in explaining how I “found” Rhody—I learned that Rhody’s art had never been publicly exhibited. I decided to change that.

But this show did not happen solely because of me. I made that abundantly clear to all who approached me at last night’s opening reception. This became a team effort. “Team Rhody,” as we begin to call ourselves, worked together to bring “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” to The Carlander Family Gallery.

So, thank you, first of all, to my husband, Randy, for his enthusiastic support and help. Thank you, also, to these Team Rhody members: Bob and Kathi, Dennis and Kathy, Jean, Marian, Mary Ellen, Amy, and the Paradise Center for the Arts Gallery Committee, especially Julie and Deb.

Finally, thank you to all who attended the opening night reception and gave Rhody the red carpet treatment. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

FYI: Rhody and Adam’s shows continue through February 26 at the PCA, 321 Central Avenue North in downtown Faribault. You can view the exhibits Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. or on Saturday from noon until 5 p.m.

Food artists Kathy and Mary Ellen led efforts to pull together a beautiful buffet table for the reception.

Rhody painted this military runway in Nome, Alaska, when he was stationed there during WW II. The scene is painted on an old piece of military tent canvas. To the left is one of two abstracts in the exhibit.

Visitors peruse Rhody's religious paintings.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Gallery show for 92-year-old artist opens tonight January 14, 2011

The artist, Rhody Yule

TONIGHT MARKS A MOMENTOUS occasion for my friend Rhody Yule.

Tonight his first-ever art gallery exhibit opens in The Carlander Family Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

Maybe to most artists, this would not be a big deal. But, when you’re 92, like Rhody, and have been quietly painting for 76 years, it’s a very big deal to put your art out there for all to see in a gallery setting.

During the past six months, as I’ve worked to make this show happen, I’ve met many times with Rhody. Every time we’ve talked, he’s humbly downplayed his talent. That’s just Rhody—a gentle man who prefers not to be the center of attention.

Yet, tonight, along with Adam Kuehnel, a watercolor artist about 60 years his junior and who is exhibiting in another gallery, Rhody will receive the public recognition he deserves for his oil paintings.

I’m glad this night has finally arrived because, more than once, Rhody joked, “I might die before then (the art show).”

I always responded: “Don’t you dare!”

Then he would smile and laugh. Truth be told, though, I worried.

But tonight, ah, tonight we’ll celebrate as “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” opens with an artists’ reception from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.


For decades, most of Rhody's paintings were stored in this trailerhouse behind his rural home. (He has since moved.) The roof leaked and some of his art was damaged.

One of Rhody's rural landscapes, among several now exhibited at the Paradise.

Rhody specializes in portraits and religious paintings like this one of Christ, which he calls "Misery."

Rhody's exhibit also features several of his sketchbooks, including this drawing.

FYI: The exhibit runs through February 26. Gallery hours are Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault nonagenarian’s art show opens on Friday January 11, 2011

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Even his name has an artistic, poetic ring to it.

He’s my friend.

He’s also an artist.

This Friday evening, 92-year-old Rhody, the man I met about a year ago when I stopped to photograph 10 celebrity portraits on his rural Faribault garage, has his first-ever gallery showing. His exhibit opens with a reception from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, in downtown Faribault.

I want you to be there.

I want you there to celebrate the art and the artist.

You will meet a humble, gentle man with a sense of humor and a positive attitude that will surely uplift you.

You will meet a widower who treasures the portrait of his beloved wife, Shirley.

You will meet a veteran who served his country during WW II and painted a military scene on old military tent canvas while stationed in Nome, Alaska, because he had no other canvas.

You will meet a father, a man of faith, who painted his version of “The Last Supper” in honor of his only child, Paul, who died at age 23 in a 1977 car accident.


A snippet of Rhody Yule's painting, "Reverent Prayer," which will be among religious paintings included in his exhibit. This is my personal favorite of all his paintings.

"The Betrayal," among several over-sized religious paintings done by Rhody.

Some 50 oil paintings and other art will be featured in the exhibit, “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection.”

I am honored and thrilled to have helped make this show happen for a man who has been quietly painting for enjoyment since age 16.

That his talent has remained out of the public view for this long still astounds me. Most folks in the Faribault area likely have seen some of Rhody’s work as he painted signs for 33 years. But they have not seen the portraits, religious paintings, landscapes and other art that he created in his free time.


Celebrity portraits on Rhody's garage, where I first discovered his work last fall.

MY DISCOVERY OF RHODY happened by accident, when I saw the 10 celebrity portraits on his garage in the fall of 2009, stopped to photograph them and then knocked on Rhody’s door. I never expected a frail nonagenarian to answer.

That was the beginning of our friendship and my efforts to secure an art gallery show for him. I applied for the show on Rhody’s behalf. And then, when the Paradise accepted his work for a solo exhibit in the Carlander Gallery, Team Rhody formed to make it happen. I’ve been working with Rhody’s family and friends, members of the Paradise Gallery Committee, my husband and even a California graphics designer to pull this all together.

From choosing paintings to hauling, cleaning and titling them; promoting the show; and now, this last week, finalizing details for the finger foods to be served at the reception, this has been a process. Those of us involved can’t wait for you to meet Rhody and view his art.

Team Rhody wants you to be there, to celebrate with those of us who care for and love this man, this artist.

Rhody's self-portrait, 1989

PLEASE JOIN US from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Friday, January 14, for a meet-the-artists opening night reception for Rhody and artist Adam Kuehnel, who creates watercolors and will exhibit in the Lois Vranesh Boardroom Gallery. Adam says his work “exists somewhere on the path between Hemingway’s Two Hearted River and Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.”

As for Rhody, I’ve only labeled his show with the “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” title and not slotted him as an artist.

I think Rhody would simply prefer to be just Rhody.

A recent photo of 92-year-old Rhody.

I saw Rhody on Saturday, when my husband and I picked up the last of his paintings and delivered them to the art center. He was eating breakfast with his friends at the assisted living facility where he resides. As always, he was happy and talkative. He’s sporting a new haircut. He’s picked up a new shirt and corduroys to wear on Friday. A relative says Rhody looks mighty dapper.

He’s ready to meet you. I’m ready for you to meet him, my friend, the artist. Rhody Yule.

IF YOU LIVE in Canada or Finland or Arkansas or Washington D.C. or anywhere that is not within reasonable traveling distance to attend the art show, I understand why you won’t be there. I hope you’ve enjoyed this online introduction to Rhody and a sampling of his art.

However, if you live in Northfield or Owatonna or Waseca or the Twin Cities metro, please consider driving to Faribault for this opening night reception. We’re only a half-hour drive from Burnsville, 45 minutes from Minneapolis. The art center is in the heart of Faribault’s historic downtown. You can’t miss the marquee.

If the weather is bad, please check before coming.

Both exhibits will continue through February 26. So if you can’t make the January 14 opening night event, stop at the gallery from noon – 5 p.m. on Saturdays or from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday.

P.S. If you attend on opening night, you’ll be treated to free food and beverages with an open cash bar also.

You'll even see the Duke at Rhody's show. Sorry, no Elvis.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling