Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The creative framing of Northfield February 24, 2022

“Framing the Scene,” a relatively new art installation, right, in the heart of historic downtown Northfield.

AS A MEGA APPRECIATOR of outdoor public art, I delighted in the recent discovery of some new, at least new-to-me, art staged in historic downtown Northfield. This southern Minnesota river town boasts a thriving community of literary, visual and performing artists.

This shows a section of Northfield’s “Poem Steps,” a collaboration of 17 local poets. These poetry steps (covered here with salt residue) are along the Riverwalk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Here you’ll find poems imprinted in sidewalks, painted on steps and read at poetry readings in a city with a poet laureate. Here you’ll see outdoor sculptures scattered about town. Here you can listen to a concert at Bridge Square, a local church, St. Olaf or Carleton Colleges or elsewhere. Here you can enjoy live theater. Here you can appreciate the works of creatives at the Northfield Arts Guild and many other venues.

Northfield truly is synonymous with the arts.

The riverside-themed side of Erin Ward’s “Framing the Scene.” In the background water rushes over the Ames Mill Dam next to the historic mill on the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

So when I spied a recently-installed sculpture, “Framing the Scene” by St. Paul glass artist Erin Ward, I felt a jolt of excitement. The free-standing, two-dimensional mosaic frames the nearby Cannon River and Riverwalk on one side and Bridge Square on the other. It’s meant to be an interactive sculpture for framing photos.

The Cannon River flows through downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

Ward was among five artists awarded $2,000 grants from the Minnesota Arts Board for the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation’s 2021 Artists on Main Street projects. That program aspires to get “creative placemaking” into the historic downtown. The intersection of arts and culture, downtown revitalization and historic preservation all factor into the artistic endeavors.

Lovely historic buildings grace downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

“Framing the Scene” meets all of those criteria, in my creative opinion. The artwork itself represents the vision and skills of a talented artist. The art adds to the downtown Northfield experience. That experience is one of dipping in and out of mostly home-grown local shops or of dining in an historic setting. The cliques “quaint and charming” fit Northfield. This is a community rich in history, rich in historic architecture, rich in natural beauty and rich in art.

So much detail in the mosaic… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I appreciate how Ward melded art and nature in creating a mosaic which honors both. As I studied her interpretation of the Cannon River, I recognized the thought she invested in this detailed art of many many pieces. Her river evokes movement in waters teeming with fish and the occasional turtle. Assorted greens and blues evoke a sense of calm and peacefulness. Ward’s art honors this river which runs through. This river of life, now a backdrop to a community which still appreciates her beauty, her recreational qualities, her history, her aesthetic value.

This side of Ward’s mosaic focuses attention toward Bridge Square and buildings downtown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

And then, on the flip side of “Framing the Scene,” bold pieces of mostly yellow, orange and red triangles create a completely different feeling. It’s as if sunbeams fell from the sun in a chaotic, jumbled mix of happiness. That’s my interpretation.

This side of the art looks toward Bridge Square, community gathering spot in downtown Northfield. Place of concerts and popcorn wagon, Santa house and quiet bench-sitting. Place of artistic activism. And beyond that, to the back of the frame, historic buildings rise.

One final look at Ward’s interpretation of the Cannon River in historic Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Art rises in Northfield, enriching the lives of locals and the lives of visitors like me, come to town to follow the Riverwalk, to walk along Division Street and, then, to pause near Bridge Square and frame the scene.

Please check back for more posts about art in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault’s newest mural reflects love, diversity June 16, 2021

“LOVE FOR ALL” created by Jordyn Brennan. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

THE POWER OF VISUAL ART can’t be underestimated. It heals. Uplifts. Infuses joy. Creates a sense of peace. Brings people together. And so much more.

The ASL symbol for “v” and the peace symbol. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

In Faribault, “LOVE FOR ALL,” a just-finished mural designed and painted by Minneapolis artist Jordyn Brennan, shows the positive power of art in a way that reflects my southern Minnesota community. Yet, the mural’s universal theme of love appeals to everyone.

Jordyn Brennan signed her “LOVE FOR ALL” mural. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I love this 85-foot by 35-foot mural which sprawls across the side of a building (and next to a city-owned parking lot) at the corner of First Avenue NW and Third Street NW in the heart of downtown Faribault. The City of Faribault commissioned Brennan to create the public art. It will be celebrated this week during Faribault Heritage Days with a ceremony at 3:30 pm Thursday, June 17, at the mural site. Guest speakers include city officials, representatives from the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind and Faribault Main Street, and the artist.

The setting sun shines on the northwest corner of the mural. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

When I say I love this mural, I should explain, right? I love the vivid hues defining this art. To look at “LOVE FOR ALL” simply makes me happy. And who doesn’t need to feel happy after these past difficult 14 months-plus of living in a pandemic?

LOVE in assorted colors and languages. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

But beyond that basic appreciation, I value the message of an inclusive Faribault. Mine is a diverse community. Diverse in culture and ethnicity. Diverse, too, in that deaf and blind students come here from all over Minnesota to attend the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind. Some of their families live here. A global student population also attends Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, an historic private boarding and day school on Faribault’s east side.

The three dots below the L are L in Braille. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The artist took those facets of Faribault and incorporated them into her artwork. You’ll see that in the hands communicating love in American Sign Language with the Braille spelling below. The hands are painted in varied skin tones.

Mums, peonies and clematis. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The rare Dwarf Trout Lily. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Faribault’s noted flowers. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And then, above those hands, flowers bloom. Not just any flowers, but mums, peonies, clematis and the Dwarf Trout Lily, all reflective of Faribault’s rich floral history. Read the backstory on that in my initial post about the mural by clicking here.

Painted concrete blocks distance vehicles from the mural. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I feel incredibly grateful to live in a community which values art, including outdoor public art. Many historic-themed murals grace our downtown as do murals on the alley-side of The Upper East Side (213 Central Avenue) and the Second Street Pocket Garden.

The letter L in ASL. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

As a creative and a member of this diverse place I’ve called home for 39 years, I celebrate this newest piece of art. I hope it sparks conversations, creates a strong sense of community and positivity, and reminds all of us that art is powerful. And so is love.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Alley-side art in Faribault May 3, 2021

Faribault’s newest mural, completed late last year.

OUTDOOR PUBLIC ART enhances a community. It provides an outlet for creativity, adds interest to place and often brings joy. At least that’s my assessment.

As someone who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal exposure to the arts—or perhaps more accurately minimal opportunity in the arts—I deeply appreciate the arts.

This sculptor of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My community of Faribault, where I’ve lived for the past 39 years, embraces creativity, centered today at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Yet, the visual arts extend well beyond the walls of the Paradise to stained glass windows in our historic churches, an art collection at Buckham Memorial Library, sculptures, architecture, home-grown shops, historic-themed murals and even the graceful curves of the historic viaduct.

In this January 2016 photo taken from the viaduct, you can see the back of The Upper East Side (white stucco building) before the mural was added. The historic building originally housed W.H. Stevens Drug. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

You can see Faribault’s newest addition to the outdoor art scene from that viaduct, which offers a sweeping view of the downtown area.

Visual layering is part of this mural.

But I viewed this latest public art close up from an alley. On the back and sides of The Upper East Side, an art and gallery space at 213 Central Avenue, Morristown area artist Jeff Jarvis (West Cedar Studio) painted a mural onto the stucco building.

A 1950s scene along Faribault’s Central Avenue is shown in this mural in our downtown district. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The mural differs significantly from the historic-themed murals scattered throughout our downtown as part of The Mural Society of Faribault’s ongoing mural installation efforts.

Close up, colors and graphics pop.

The Upper East Side mural, a project of owner Suzanne Schwichtenberg and Jarvis, is more modern and graphic with strong lines. Less detailed. Bold. With unexpected pops of color. I find the zipper painted into the mural to be especially creative—the unzipping of history, of stories, of past and present. The mural invites introspection rather than simple reflection on an historic place or memory.

That’s my take. Not as someone with an art education, but rather as a creative who has grown to appreciate the arts in her community and beyond.

A locally-themed tote displayed at The Upper East Side. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2018.

FYI: Suzanne Schwichtenberg leads paint-and-sip events and other painting sessions at The Upper East Side and also takes painting/social gatherings on the road. Jarvis is a third-generation artist specializing in historical sketches and scenes from everyday life. He is passionate about local and regional history, authoring a book on the area’s mill history.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling