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.

 

Contrasts in art at the Owatonna Arts Center September 21, 2018

“It’s a Party!” yardage wall piece; both procion dyes and pigment paints all painted at the same time by Candy Kuehn.

 

I STOPPED AT THE OWATONNA ARTS CENTER specifically to view The Art of Friendship, an exhibit of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota. But I discovered also a second intriguing exhibit, Fabric Fascination by Minneapolis artist Candy Kuehn.

 

From the Big Brothers and Big Sisters exhibit, a simple drawing.

 

Kuehn’s “The Earth Winds,” nassen paste resist on silk charmeuse.

 

The two shows contrast—one a complex swirl of colors, the other much simpler in design.

 

Kuehn’s art extends into the OAC entry exhibit space.

 

One fills an entire gallery and down a hall to a second exhibit space.

 

The Big Brothers and Big Sisters artwork hangs in a hallway cove and around the corner along the hall.

 

The other tucks into and along a short hallway. Yet, whether the work of novices or a seasoned professional, whether many pieces or few, the art in each show deserves attention.

 

Garments and photo art created by Kuehn.

 

“Garden Plaid in Reds,” digitally-printed poly-chiffon by Kuehn drapes across a window, sunlight streaming through the print.

 

More of Kuehn’s art.

 

Kuehn, whose credentials include “a revered member and teacher at Minnesota’s Textile Center” and recipient of many awards in multiple art forms, impresses. As I meandered among the numerous pieces on display, I felt as if I was peering through a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting patterns and colors. The drape and seamless flow of fabric spoke poetry to me. I am not artistically knowledgeable enough to understand the processes of Kuehn’s work. But I see, enjoy and appreciate the creativity of an artist clearly passionate about creating art.

 

Yet more of Kuehn’s signature wearable art.

 

The public can learn more at a presentation and free (but must pre-register) Fascination workshop beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 23, at the Owatonna Arts Center. Attendees will transform plain headbands with decorative items.

 

 

 

 

 

Down the hall from Kuehn’s exhibit, the art of youth and their mentors highlights the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. In the artwork, I see friendships forged, joy in bold colors, the authenticity of an artist in handprinted block letters. I especially like the featured quote: Art is everywhere—even in the simplest of friendships.

 

Fitting for the season, art from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters exhibit.

 

Art truly exists everywhere, if we choose to see it. And I, for one, see it—in simple lines drawn by a child, in complex patterns created by a professional artist and now, in this season of autumn, outdoors in the landscape of the land.

TELL ME: Where do you see art?

FYI: If you want to see these exhibits, stop at the OAC soon. They close on September 26 and 30.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Varied art by a trio of artists showcased in Owatonna April 25, 2018

A sculpture inside the Owatonna Arts Center Library. The library is a must-see. It also features a vibrant ceiling mural.

 

SEVERAL DAYS REMAIN—until April 29—to view the work of three artists at the Owatonna Arts Center. Their art is notably distinct.

 

A section of “Winter Dreams of Spring.”

 

A solo piece of textile art showcases the work of Jan Myers-Newbury in the open space leading into the art center complex. “Winter Dreams of Spring” is a stunning quilted piece by this Pennsylvania artist with a Minnesota connection. She graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield.

 

A close-up of Dana Hanson’s oil painting, “The Native Man, His Eagle & His Chanupa.”

 

Featured gallery artist Dana Hanson of Faribault focuses on “Healing the Land” in her powerful exhibit on the Dakota people. Through visions and dreams this Christian artist was inspired to create oil paintings that honor the memory and heritage of this Native people.

 

“Protector of the 38 + 2,” an oil on canvas by Dana Hanson.

 

She narrows her subject to the Dakota who were hung in the largest mass execution in US history following the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862. She also highlights an annual memorial ride honoring those 38 men.

 

 

I suggest you visit this exhibit, study the paintings and read Dana’s words about this important, and too often forgotten, difficult chapter in Minnesota history.

 

A portion of the painting “Taking His Licks,” done by Raymond Stuart in 1958.

 

Once you’ve finished that, skirt into the art center hallways to view the whimsical and delightful work of Raymond Stuart, who years ago created calendar art. A native of Illinois, he eventually settled near his wife’s native Meriden (near Owatonna) to set up his home and art studio in a barn. His work seems Midwest Normal Rockwell-type to me. It’s rural, humorous and everyday. Delightful.

 

“Bug Attack” by Raymond Stuart, date of painting unknown.

 

I’m always amazed at the variety of art I can see right here in southeastern Minnesota. How fortunate we are to have places like the Owatonna Arts Center to share and celebrate the arts.

 

I love the expressions in Raymond Stuart’s’ art, like this of the boy in his 1954 painting “Surprised.”

 

FYI: The Owatonna Arts Center is open from 1 – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday and is located at 435 Garden View Lane.

 

UPDATED: 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 27, to correct the last name of the Meriden artist.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

All artwork was photographed with permission. Copyrights for art belong to the artist or rightful owner of those copyrights.

 

Why I appreciate the arts in Minnesota May 11, 2017

A snippet of the colorful and whimsical mural created by Lynette Schmidt Yencho for the Owatonna Arts Center library. Art surrounds these children.

 

GROWING UP IN RURAL southwestern Minnesota many decades ago, my exposure to the arts was minimal. I don’t recall attending a single art show, concert or theatre production outside of a public school. If such opportunities existed, I was either unaware of them or my parents had no money for such extras.

 

During a one-day fundraiser, the Owatonna Arts Center sold original serigraphs (silkscreen prints) produced by Alice Ottinger and Jean Zamboni of OZ Press in Owatonna. The press no longer operates. If you are interested in a print, contact the art center.

 

Opportunities to develop my creative interests did not extend much beyond English, music, art and home economics classes, except for the two weeks of shop class in which I crafted a linoleum block print. I always wished I could play piano or an instrument. But there was no time or money for either. I still cannot read a single note of music.

 

Fruit bowl art in the Owatonna Arts Center library.

 

I don’t begrudge my parents for not exposing me to the arts. They had to keep the dairy and crop farm running and a family of eight fed. Finances were tight.

 

The 65th Annual Steele County Art Exhibition is currently showing at the Owatonna Arts Center. Here’s a sampling of art in that show.

 

Early on I learned that, if I wanted new clothes, I would have to sew them. This was back in the day when sewing clothing was far less expensive than buying ready-made. If I got store-bought clothes, they always came from the sales rack. I loved the sewing process—paging through thick volumes of Simplicity, Butterick and McCalls patterns; perusing bolts of fabric; and then cutting and sewing the fabric into wearable clothing.

In some small way, I created art. Not of my own design. But I could express myself through fabric selection and pattern choice.

 

Another section of the Owatonna Arts Center library mural by Lynette Schmidt Yencho. My love of reading as a child spurred my interest in writing.

 

I also created art in my writing. No teacher encouraged me, other than to praise my near-perfect penmanship, spelling and excellent English language usage skills. My writing was limited to class assignments and later writing for the high school newspaper, The Rabbit Tracks. I attended high school in Wabasso, which means “rabbit” in Ojibwe. Our mascot was a white rabbit.

 

A room of books and art…in the Owatonna Arts Center library.

 

Why do I tell you all of this? I share this because my background explains why I have such a deep appreciation for the arts. That cliché of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” can be applied to the near absence of art in my life early on.

 

Doors open into the OAC gallery housed in an historic building.

 

Today, living 120 miles to the east of my hometown, I have many opportunities to enjoy the arts locally in Faribault and neighboring Owatonna and Northfield at arts centers, public schools, colleges and more. I am grateful that the visual, literary and performing arts hold such high value in Minnesota.

 

More art in the Steele County artists’ show.

 

Some would argue that the arts are not necessary. I contend that they are. We all have within us that innate need to connect with others. The arts offer that interconnection, that weaving together of creativity, of humanity, of a desire/need to express ourselves. I am grateful to be part of the community of artists through my writing of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and blog posts and through my photography. I am thankful, too, for the art opportunities available to me right here in my backyard and throughout Minnesota.

 

TELL ME: Do you embrace the arts either/and or by creating or enjoying them? Please share specifics.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork photographed with permission of the Owatonna Arts Center. Art is copyrighted by the artists and may not be copied and/or reproduced.

 

In Owatonna: Showcasing the work of fashion designer Spencer Versteeg May 9, 2017

Two of the dresses Spencer Versteeg designed, now on display at the Owatonna Arts Center.

 

HIS PASSION FOR FASHION is evident. It shows in his work, in his enthusiasm, in his energetic vibe.

 

Spencer answers questions about his fashions during his OAC gallery reception.

 

I observed all of that Sunday afternoon at an Owatonna Arts Center reception honoring Spencer Versteeg who returned to his hometown for his first ever gallery showing. He’s an apparel design student heading into his senior year at the University of Minnesota.

 

The exhibit features notebooks and pages of Spencer’s design sketches.

 

Spencer has known since age seven that he wanted to design clothing.

Spencer has known since age seven that he wanted to design clothing. He pursued that interest early on via local theatre and a high school internship at Kristi’s Clothing Boutique.

 

 

 

Already Spencer is making an imprint on the fashion scene. Last fall his work was showcased in the noted Envision Fashion Show at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. And this summer he’s interning at Target, working on a floor set that should land his women’s clothing designs in Target stores.

 

 

 

Front dress details drape.

 

Spencer’s clothing designs hang high on a gallery space wall.

 

Asked to describe his design style, Spencer paused, then responded with a single word: vibrant. That seems accurate when I consider his fashion designs beyond hue and pattern. His clothing possesses a vibrancy in a sense of motion, in the flow of fabric, in the impression it exudes.

 

Spencer talks with a gallery guest about his fashion designs. He invited visitors to page through his sketchbooks.

 

And then there’s Spencer himself, engaging family and friends with a notable appreciation for their support and with a deep love for the creative process of fashion design.

 

Rows of sketches by Spencer are taped to a gallery wall.

 

When I inquired about his future, he provided an honest answer. “That’s a good question,” Spencer said, offering no hint at the direction his life may take after graduation from the U of M.

 

The bodice of a particularly creative dress shown at the Envision Fashion Show.

 

“New York?” I asked.

 

 

He’s been to New York, Spencer said, enough to understand he needs space, open physical space. But I expect if opportunities present themselves in the New York fashion scene, this Owatonna native will embrace them.

 

 

 

Clothing patterns are tapped to gallery windows.

 

 

 

I know next to nothing about fashion, although I sewed my own clothing (from purchased patterns) while in high school. But I understand the need, the desire, the passion to create. Just like Spencer.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Incredible quilt art in Owatonna April 9, 2014

The entry to the Owatonna Art Center

The entry to the Owatonna Arts Center, inside the former Minnesota State Public School for Dependent  and Neglected Children, later renamed the Owatonna State School. The City of Owatonna now owns the site, today called West Hills with the OAC located at 435 Garden View Lane.

HE EXPRESSED IT so well, the quilter’s husband waiting outside the Owatonna Arts Center Sunday afternoon for invited guests to arrive from Rochester.

A quilted work of art bursts with color.

A quilted work of art bursts with color.

Quilting, he surmised, has evolved from a homemaker’s craft to a recognized form of art.

The quilter's husband and the quilter view the extensive collection of quilts.

The quilter’s husband and the quilter view the extensive collection of quilts.

He’s so right.

If you appreciate art and quilts, you will want to see "Quilts in Bloom"

If you appreciate art and quilts, you will want to see “Quilts in Bloom”

“Quilts in Bloom,” featuring around 80 quilts stitched by members of the local Piecemakers Quilt Guild, blossoms in the nooks and crannies of gallery space in an exhibit that runs from now until April 27.

Baskets of blossoms and more.

Baskets of blossoms and more.

This show simply blooms with creativity:

A close-up of the traditional Dresden Plate pattern in the foreground with a second quilt in the background.

A close-up of the traditional Dresden Plate pattern in the foreground with a second quilt in the background.

A contrast of modern geometrical to the traditional Sunbonnet Girls.

A contrast of modern geometrical to the traditional Sunbonnet Girls.

This block from the 1930s Sunbonnet Sue pattern features quilting and embroidery.

This block from the 1930s Sunbonnet Sue pattern features quilting and embroidery.

I really liked this pairing of wood sculpture with quilt art. The wood tone compliments the earthy colors of the quilt.

I really like this pairing of wood sculpture with quilt art. The earthy tones in each complement one another.

For $1, you can buy a chance to win "Stars in My Garden."

For $1, you can buy a chance to win “Stars in My Garden.”

A block in a teapot themed quilt.

A block in a teapot themed quilt.

During the open reception, musicians performed in the venue space, where several quilts are displayed.

During the opening reception, musicians performed in the venue space, where several quilts are displayed.

Whimsical art.

Whimsical art.

Touring the exhibit on opening day.

A Faribault quilter and his wife tour the exhibit on opening day.

Floral design at its quilting best.

Floral design at its quilting best.

Quilt art lines a hallway.

Quilt art lines a hallway.

From the playful to geometric, abstract, traditional, whimsical and more, you’ll discover an array of eye-pleasing colors and patterns here.

Artist Lois Doyle created "Mountain Laurel," a quilt she started 25 years ago. She has several quilts in the show. Laurie Spindler machine quilted this quilt.

Artist Lois Doyle created “Mountain Laurel,” a quilt she started 25 years ago. She has several quilts in the show. Laurie Spindler machine quilted this quilt. Even with arthritic hands, Lois still quilts. Remarkable.

The talent of these quilters impresses me. Truly, they deserve the title of artists.

This sign posted at the quilt show says it all.

This sign posted at the quilt show says it all.

FYI: This marks the 10th annual Piecemakers Quilt Guild show, which is held every three years. You can tour “Quilts in Bloom” during gallery hours, from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday. A $3 donation is suggested. Click here for more information.

BONUS PHOTO: 

While at the show, be sure to stop and appreciate this beautiful space connecting the Owatonna Arts Center to the

While at the show, stop to appreciate this beautiful space connecting the Owatonna Arts Center to the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum. I’d suggest allowing time to tour the museum and nearby cottage. Check hours before coming as they may differ from gallery hours.

© Copyright 2014 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