Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

All about loons in Otter Tail County & beyond in Minnesota October 28, 2019

The world’s largest loon sculpture in Vergas, Minnesota.

 

IN MINNESOTA WE HAVE the comedic and musical actresses the Looney Lutherans, who showcase our ya, sure you betcha Scandinavian image. We decorate our Up North cabins with loon décor in honor of our state bird. Minnesota writer Gerald Anderson features the loon in Murder Under the Loon as part of his An Otter Tail County Mystery series. And if all that loon madness isn’t enough, the village of Vergas boasts the world’s largest loon sculpture.

 

 

Look closely at the sign in the photo above and you will see this rock art balancing on the sign.

 

This rock art left on the dock by the FM Rock Hounds made me smile.

 

Aquatic life up close in Long Lake.

 

Recently I sought out that roadside art while in Otter Tail County. I always appreciate kitschy art that defines a place. And Vergas, population 350, is all about embracing loons. Each August, the community celebrates Looney Daze. The Frazee-Vergas baseball team is named the Loons. And then there’s that 20-foot tall loon statue looming over Long Lake.

 

 

But finding that loon proved difficult, even after getting instructions from a local to follow that road (he pointed), turn right, cross the tracks… No loon. Eventually Randy and I found the loon sculpture dedicated in 1963 to Postmaster Ewald C. Krueger. The Vergas Fire Department sponsored the community project.

 

The only loon I’ve ever seen up close.

 

Now, if I actually spotted a real loon up close, I will have completed my loon fix. But I’ve only ever seen them from a distance, in the middle of a lake. You see, even though the loon is our state bird, it is primarily a central or northern Minnesota bird. Not necessarily representative of the entire state.

 

 

But the loon is representative of one small Minnesota town situated in the lake country of Otter Tail County.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Off I-94: Artsy Fergus Falls June 17, 2011

The vintage-looking sign on the side of a building in downtown Fergus Falls caught my attention. The Market sells a variety of merchandise from kitchen to bath and body, garden and home accent products and lots more.

UNTIL LAST SATURDAY, I’d never entered Fergus Falls, only driven past this west central Minnesota community along I-94 en route to the Dakotas. After miles and miles of interstate travel, the towns don’t seem to matter any more. On the fringes, one seems like the other—just another rest break, a place to tank up on gas or a quick stop for a bite to eat.

Sadly, that marks the reality of today’s fast-paced, get from point A to point B, world.

But then one day you have a reason to pull off the four-lane, to explore one of these interstate-side communities and you discover a town with a personality and identity, and you wonder why you have not come here before this day.

And so that is how I found Fergus Falls, population 14,500, when I traveled there last weekend to view my Roadside Poetry Project poem displayed on four billboards. (My spring poem has since been replaced by a summer poem.)

After photographing my poem and dining at the downtown Viking Café (click here to read my earlier post on this vintage restaurant), I explored this Otter Tail County seat with my husband, Randy.

Certainly, we saw only a small portion of this riverside town. But I toured enough of Fergus Falls to come up with a single word to describe it: artistic.

I wonder if the folks who live in Fergus also see their hometown as an art community. Or would they choose another word to describe their town?

Here are photos to back up my word selection.

Knit graffiti circled a tree downtown. Bottlecaps were strung on another tree by this one. What a simple and memorable art idea.

Fergus Falls Summerfest happened to be on when we were in town. Here's one section of the event.

Clear Lake, S.D., artist Karlys Wells of Back Porch Art created this gourd art, among my favorite art at the fair.

Even signage can be art, like this on a downtown bakery.

Call it art, or something else, but this Rice Krispie cake in a bakery window display made me laugh out loud.

Kaddatz Galleries, a nonprofit art gallery, showcases the work of Charles Beck and other local artists.

Woodcuts and woodblock prints by one of Minnesota's most-recognized artists, Charles Beck of Fergus Falls. His subjects are the landscapes and nature of Otter Tail County. Until I walked into this gallery, I do not recall having ever heard of Beck. His earthy, rural art appeals to me.

I was impressed with the number of visitors in the Kaddatz Galleries.

The doors to the Fergus Theatre were locked, or I would most definitely have gone inside. The vintage exterior adds so much to the charm of downtown Fergus Falls.

I am a big fan of vintage signs for the character they add to a community.

SO HAVE I CONVINCED you to pull off I-94 in west central Minnesota and explore Fergus Falls? Fergus lies 2 1/2 hours northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul, mighty close to Fargo, N.D.

Here are several websites to check out and learn more about some of the places highlighted in my photos and story:

www.VisitFergusFalls.com

www.kaddatzgalleries.org

www.fergusarts.org

www.fergusfallssummerfest.com

www.roadsidepoetry.org

www.marketfergusfalls.com

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling