Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Way too cold here in the Bold North January 25, 2019

The FOX 9 News weather report Thursday morning on my TV.

 

A YEAR AGO, PROMOTERS tagged Minnesota as the Bold North while marketing the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. They wanted locals and visitors to embrace the cold and snow. View both as positives, see Minnesota as a place that celebrates winter.

Today I doubt many of us Minnesotans feel like celebrating winter. It’s just too darn cold. An Arctic blast, bone-chilling cold front, whatever phrase you want to throw out there for absurdly cold temperatures, has parked itself here in the Bold North.

 

No relief in sight…

 

With 30 – 40 mph winds in the western region of Minnesota and frigid air temps, feels-like temps dipped into the minus 30-degree range on Thursday. Some parts of our state will experience minus 50-degree windchills through noon today. Forecasters predict the cold snap will continue into next week.

 

Source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

What does that mean in a state which brags an image of ruggedness and toughness in the words Bold North? It means canceled events. Like the St. Paul Winter Carnival parade, canceled Thursday evening due to the bitter cold. And cancellation of activities at the Vulcan Snow Park, also part of the St. Paul carnival. Ironic, isn’t it, that winter cancels winter? It happened here in Faribault in December, too, with a major winter storm postponing the Winterfest parade. But, hey, we have the annual Faribault Flannel Formal coming up on February 9.

 

 

In the meantime, we must survive these days so brutally cold that venturing outdoors requires layers of clothing—which probably include flannel. Plus stocking caps snugged on our heads, boots strapped on our feet, warm winter coats bundled around our bodies and mittens/choppers clamped on our hands. This cold is serious stuff. Frostbite serious. Exposed skin can potentially freeze in minutes. Remember that, smart hat-less teens walking to school.

And, yes, the brutal cold has closed schools and delayed start times.

But it isn’t stopping Owatonna from going on with its Bold & Cold Winter Festival running through this weekend. Snow sculpting, sledding, ice fishing, iceskating, ice bocce ball and more are slated for the celebration. We’ve got the cold. Let’s hope everyone also owns bold.

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Wabasso Public School. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AT MY ALMA MATER, illness, not frigid temps, closed schools on Thursday and again today. Some 20 percent of the student population (74 students) were absent from class on Wednesday, according to a Facebook video posted by the superintendent of Wabasso Public Schools. Staff, too. Yes, this is a small rural district in southwestern Minnesota.

You would think no virus could survive in this current cold. But this is exactly when illnesses spread, when cold keeps us indoors, close to one another, here in the Bold North.

HOW DO YOU, or how would you, handle such Bold North frigid winter weather?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Who screams for ice cream? November 19, 2018

I’ve never been to Conny’s Creamy Cone, just noticed it recently while enroute to Como Park. The shop, open from March to October, is on the corner of Dale Street and Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. It features 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream and a menu that includes burgers, cheese curds, onion rings and much more. Have you ever been here? Spotting this shop inspired this post.

 

SEASONAL ICE CREAM SHOPS have mostly shuttered here in Minnesota as demand drops with the onset of cold and snow. Or does it? I still eat ice cream from November – March. Straight from a carton in my freezer into a bowl onto a spoon and into my mouth. Yum.

 

The Betty, Cool Mint Flavor Burst ice cream, crème de mint and Oreos flurried together, then topped with whipped cream, and served at The S’Cream in Owatonna, one of my favorite ice cream shops. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

As much as I enjoy ice cream at home, I also enjoy the occasional stop at an ice cream shop once those businesses re-open around April 1, depending. There’s just something about standing outside a walk-up window, scanning the choices and choosing a treat to welcome spring or to cool down on a humid summer day that makes me happy. You know, the kid with an ice cream cone kind of happiness, although I seldom choose a cone. I prefer a shake or something more complex.

 

Lots of dogs waiting in line with their owners at Blast Softserve. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

I also prefer homegrown ice cream shops with creative names for both business and offerings to chain anything. Ditto for restaurants. I want to experience a sense of place by dining at original, hometown eateries.

 

One of my favorite area bakeries, Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

I like small town bakeries, too. And craft breweries.

 

Long lines formed to the two serving windows at Blast Softserve, 206 West Rose St., Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

None of this should come as a surprise if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile. I delight in exploring small towns, discovering that which defines the character of a community and makes it memorable. It could be a sign, architecture, a person, an event… Or a sweet little ice cream shop.

 

Serving up a cone at The Whippy Dip in Decorah, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

TELL ME: What’s your favorite homegrown ice cream shop?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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.

 

Domestic abuse awareness takes center stage in Owatonna February 16, 2018

This graphic from the Little Theatre of Owatonna Facebook page promotes its current show, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

 

WITH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE remaining in the national spotlight, most recently via accusations against a former staff secretary to President Donald Trump, it’s important to remember that this issue reaches beyond DC and Hollywood. In every corner of our country—from rural to city—abuse happens. To think otherwise is to turn our eyes from the problem.

That’s why I so appreciate efforts to discuss domestic violence locally. Little Theatre of Owatonna is tackling the topic as it presents Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The storyline of this Pulitzer Prize winning drama deals, in part, with domestic abuse.

Rather than simply practice, perform and then move on to the next production, LTO is seizing the opportunity to educate its audience on domestic abuse. The theatre troupe will provide information from the Crisis Resource Center of Steele County at each of its shows. And following the 2 p.m. matinee this Sunday, February 18, Jeffrey Jackson addresses how he approached the subject of domestic abuse in his director’s role.

I applaud this director, this cast, this small town Minnesota theatre company for taking that extra step to create awareness of domestic abuse and violence. It would be easy enough for them to let the curtain fall and walk off stage. But they are choosing to make a difference, to care, to educate, to enlighten. They understand this is their issue, too, not just something that happens in DC and Hollywood. But in Owatonna, Steele County, Minnesota. They understand that domestic abuse happens across the street, across the aisle, across town and perhaps even within their own families and/or circle of friends. They get it. And for that I am grateful. Awareness breaks the silence, brings hope and help to victims, to survivors and to those who love them.

 

 

From sunshine to storm on Labor Day September 4, 2017

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Looking to the north and the Minnesota River Valley just outside Delhi around 4 p.m. Monday.

 

TO THE NORTH, storm clouds bruised the sky late Labor Day afternoon.

 

To the east of Delhi heading toward Redwood Falls.

 

Brooding blue, then masses of grey before the rain gushed near New Ulm as we drove east from the southwestern Minnesota prairie toward home. The rainfall, while heavy at times, seemed nothing more than a September downpour.

 

Sky and corn define this area of Minnesota.

 

Well before we got to Mankato, the rain stopped.

 

The farther east we drove, the more ominous the clouds appeared.

 

Yet clouds continued to stack and I began to consider the possibility of severe weather as we entered Waseca, then Steele, counties. Randy switched on the radio to a local station but then turned it off when our son called from Boston. I ended the conversation as we reached Owatonna and exited U.S. Highway 14 onto Interstate 35.

Rounding the entrance ramp, Randy noticed a state highway patrol car and, then, a short distance later, another. By that time the rain had ramped. Wheels hydroplaned. And the wind blew so fierce the van rocked.

“I’m scared,” I said. “I want to get off the interstate.” Randy steered the van off the next exit, much to my relief. But I was still scared. I don’t like storms or strong winds like these of probably 50 mph. I’ve seen the damaging power of tornadoes and straight line winds and I respect them enough to fear them.

 

Just a few miles from Faribault on Rice County Road 45.

 

We drove through part of Owatonna, the wind still whipping trees. The short detour off I-35 proved enough to semi calm me before Randy directed the van out of town along a back county road. I wanted nothing more than to get home to Faribault. I’d had enough of the wind and the rain on an otherwise glorious September day in southern Minnesota.

 

TELL ME: Have you ever been caught on the roadway in a storm that scared you? I’d like to hear about your experiences.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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.