Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From rural Minnesota: Farmer of the Year film showing this weekend in Faribault March 23, 2019

Near Edgerton, 30 miles south of Tyler, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

CALL US THE BOLD NORTH, Fly-over Land, that place that’s too cold and snowy—whatever your description of Minnesota, I love this place. Most of the time.

We are a place of prairie vistas, lakes and woods, rolling hills, river bluffs. We are urban and rural. We are separately and together Minnesota.

The Minnesota I know best, and love most, is rural. South of the Twin Cities metro. Gravel roads and small towns. Church gatherings and family reunions. Popping into the grocery store only to strike up conversations with friends and acquaintances. This is the place of hotdishes (not casseroles) and recipes passed among generations.

 

 

But we are also a place of growth. In technology, industry, education, the arts. This weekend art follows rural roads to my native southwestern Minnesota. To an independent feature film written by former Lincoln County Dairy Princess Kathy Swanson. I blogged a few days ago about Farmer of the Year, a film which Kathy co-produced and directed with her partner, Vince O’Connell.

Even though she now calls Vermont home, Kathy remains true to her rural roots in the writing of this fictional story about a retired farmer embarking on a cross country road trip. I’m thankful for that rural authenticity. I’m thankful for Kathy’s creative focus on her rural southwestern Minnesota. It’s a place too often overlooked. Even by Minnesotans. When I tell people where I grew up, I often get a blank look. So I work my way back east, asking whether they know the location of New Ulm. If not, I backtrack even farther east to Mankato. Or often I will say “half-way between Redwood Falls and Marshall” and let them figure out the precise location of Vesta, my hometown. Portions of the film are shot in Marshall, but most are primarily around Kathy’s hometown of Tyler. That includes on her childhood family farm, still in the family.

 

A scene photographed from Rice County Road 15 between Faribault and Morristown, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I hope you will follow Interstate 35, Minnesota State Highway 60, or whatever highway or backroad to Faribault this weekend to view the Minnesota made film Farmer of the Year by YellowHouse Films. It’s showing at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 24, at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

If you are interested in viewing this independent feature film in your community, talk to the folks at your local movie theater or arts center as the film is not widely distributed. Then connect with Kathy at YellowHouse Films so she can follow up. Whether you live in Minnesota or New York or California or any place in between, Kathy’s happy to work with you in bringing Farmer of the Year to a screen in your area. I’d love for you all to see this rural Minnesota made film that features the place of my roots, southwestern Minnesota.

CLICK HERE to view a trailer of the film and for additional info.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Acoustic gallery at the Paradise tonight March 21, 2019

The marquee on the historic building housing the Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault promotes upcoming events.

 

TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT. Not of Rod Stewart—which may have been your thought if you, like me, remember that hit from 1976.

Rather tonight’s the night for the Acoustic Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

I blogged about this several days ago so won’t rehash all the details. But, basically, this is a Thursday evening of music, art and poetry by local performing, visual and literary artists. Neymeyer & Co kicks off the event with music from 6 – 7 p.m.

Poetry readings by five Cannon Valley poets follow from 7 – 8 p.m. That includes me.

And guests can, at their leisure, wander the Paradise galleries to explore the artwork of three artists.

 

 

The whole Acoustic Gallery concept is new to the Faribault art center. I love the idea of sharing local and regional music and art close-up in the intimate setting of the lobby and galleries. I’m excited to read my poetry in the community I’ve called home for 37 years.

I realize many people, when they hear the word poetry, want to run the other way. But I suggest you rethink preconceived ideas and give this poetry reading a try. Poetry read aloud is a bit like music. Lyrical. Of storytelling. A performance. Only in hearing poetry can you truly grasp its depth. I’ve heard these other poets read. And when they read, the cadence of their voices mesmerizes, draws you into their poems. Beyond written words.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Celebrating music, art & poetry at the Paradise March 19, 2019

Promo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

WE CREATE BECAUSE WE MUST. With instruments. With words. With brushes and pencils and cameras. With our hands. With our imaginations, our minds, our hearts. Our souls. We are creatives—visual, performing and literary artists who unleash ourselves in artistic ways that connect, communicate, enlighten, inspire and much more.

 

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

 

I am honored to be among creatives featured in the Paradise Center for the Arts Acoustic Gallery during an evening of music, art and poetry on Thursday, March 21, in historic downtown Faribault. I join noted, published Cannon Valley area poets Peter Allen, Larry Gavin, Rob Hardy and John Reinhard for a poetry reading from 7 – 8 p.m.

 

Jason Neymeyer of Neymeyer & Co. Photo courtesy of Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

But the event begins an hour earlier with music by Neymeyer & Co. led by Faribault singer and songwriter Jason Neymeyer performing from 6 – 7 p.m. He utilizes pop punk, indie and alternative sensibilities. His original and upbeat music is billed as “intimate storytelling,” a phrase that appeals to the poet in me.

In the intimate setting of the Paradise lobby and galleries, guests can experience art up close. It’s a space that encourages conversation and a connection-to-the-artists appreciation of the arts. There will be free appetizers, treats and a cash bar.

 

A sampling of art in the Jim Zotalis exhibit in the Carlander Gallery.

 

The works of visual artists James C. Zotalis (formerly of Faribault, but now of Kasson), Shelley Caldwell of Delevan and Lauren Jacobson of Faribault will be on display in the galleries. Zotalis’ historic building and streetscapes, most in Minnesota, are done in watercolor, pen, ink and pastel. Caldwell’s exhibit focuses her ongoing study of Minnesota’s floral through micro pen with India and acrylic inks. And in the student gallery, high schooler Jacobson showcases her artsy digital photography.

Whatever your artistic bend, please consider joining us in celebrating the arts in Faribault this Thursday evening. Listen, enjoy, appreciate. And introduce yourself to those of us who create. Because we must. For ourselves. And for others.

FYI: The event is billed as free with a suggested donation of $5. The Acoustic Gallery is funded in part with a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through the voter-approved arts and cultural heritage fund.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to PCA Director Kristin Twitchell talk about art center events and activities, including the March 21 Acoustic Gallery (beginning at 4:50 minutes).

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Prairie-rooted farm film, Farmer of the Year, comes to Faribault March 18, 2019

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HER BACKGROUND MIMICS MINE. Grew up doing chores on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm in a community where everyone knows everyone. Surrounded by a large, extended family. Danced at the American Legion Hall, ate beef commercials and called the noon meal dinner, the evening meal supper.

 

Filmmakers Kathy Swanson and Vince O’Connell.

 

Although I’ve never met Kathy Swanson, I feel a sisterhood with her. We are both creatives, decidedly connected to the Minnesota prairie of our roots. The place that shaped us, that remains a part of our identities and our creative work.

 

Poster promo photo courtesy of YellowHouse Films.

 

That mutual rural background is the reason I’m so excited about Kathy’s award-winning independent feature film, Farmer of the Year, produced and directed with her life partner, Vince O’Connell. That film by YellowHouse Films (named after the yellow house in Vermont where the couple lives) shows at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 24, at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. Ticket cost is $10. When Kathy reached out to me asking for help in bringing the film to Faribault, I didn’t hesitate. I’m always happy to assist another creative and especially someone from my home region. My native county of Redwood is a bit farther to the north and east of hers.

 

Filming in southwestern Minnesota. Photo courtesy of YellowHouse Films.

 

Kathy, a former Lincoln County Dairy Princess, grew up near Tyler, a farming community of some 1,100 within a half hour drive of the South Dakota border. The Vermont filmmakers took their cast and crew to southwestern Minnesota, shooting scenes on Kathy’s home farm (now owned by her brother and his wife), inside her octogenarian father’s house, at the local Citizens State Bank, on area roads and more. The crew also filmed in places like The Lunch Box Cafe and Hole in the Mountain Park in Lake Benton and in downtown Marshall. The film takes viewers along Interstate 90 in Minnesota and into South Dakota, right up to the famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. Other shots are of Mesa, Arizona. And, most unique, 1950s farming footage from Kathy’s dad’s 8mm film incorporated into Farmer of the Year. Such documentation can only add to the authenticity of the film.

The mail carrier in the film is the real Tyler mailman. The guy mowing the cemetery is the guy who mows the cemetery. This is real rural life, a life Kathy understands well and tapped into when writing the script.

 

A scene from the film with main characters Hap and Ashley. Photo courtesy of YellowHouse Films.

 

The character-driven film tells the story of an 83-year-old widower farmer who has just sold his farm, then gets an invitation to his World War II Army reunion in California. Hap Anderson and his granddaughter take off in a 1973 Winnebago with plans to stop in Nebraska so Hap can reconnect with an old flame.

So much of the promo material about Farmer of the Year resonates with me:

The film aspires to have a sense of real life within the rural Midwest vernacular.

Farmer of the Year blends the comedy and drama of life into a deceptively simple story of aging, transition and resilience.

Life is one long growing season.

Rated between a PG and a PG13 film, Farmer of the Year has already been widely-shown and praised in Minnesota. It stars noted performers like Barry Corbin of Northern Exposure fame, Mackinlee Waddell of Good Christian Belles, Terry Kiser of Weekend at Bernie’s and others with impressive credentials. YellowHouse Films has 20 short films to its production credit.

 

Just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, my home county. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I look forward to watching this 1-hour, 43-minute film in my community of Faribault, a 2 ½-hour drive from my hometown of Vesta. I value the exposure southwestern Minnesota gets in Farmer of the Year. This rural region seems too often underappreciated, too often considered the middle-of-nowhere. But it’s some place. It’s the place that shaped creatives like Kathy and me. It’s a place we once called home among people we loved in a land we loved. Still love.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos (unless otherwise noted) courtesy and copyright of YellowHouse Films

 

Inside the Paradise: the work of young Faribault area artists March 12, 2019

Parrot painting by Ava Nelson, 8th grader at Faribault Middle School.

 

THEIR LEVEL OF TALENT always impresses me. Every single time I view the annual Faribault Area Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

Viewing student art inside the second floor gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

As I peruse the art of students from Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt elementary schools, Faribault Middle School and Cannon River STEM School, I recognize how this early public appreciation of student art can encourage a life-long love of the arts. The student art lines hallway and gallery walls on the second floor of the Paradise.

 

Cat face completed drawing by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Lily Thompson.

 

 

Believe by Mackenzie Miner, eighth grader at Faribault Middle School.

 

It’s colorful. Subdued. Abstract. Real-life. Introspective. Creative. Everything you would expect in art.

 

Portraits by Alex Hernandez Perez, left, and Cesario Hernandez, both fifth graders at Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

By Alicia C., Cannon River STEM School eighth grader.

 

By Damarius Cisneros, Jefferson Elementary School third grader.

 

Subjects span portraits to scenery. In all seasons. Vivid hues. Monotone. Textured.

 

 

By Henry Dulac, second grader at Lincoln Elementary School.

 

 

By Amirah J., second grader at Cannon River STEM School.

 

This art sparks smiles, makes me wonder about the thoughts of the artists. Were they simply completing an assignment? Or were they moved beyond that to put themselves into their creations?

 

Colorful tree in foreground is by Addison L., first grader at Cannon River STEM School.

 

To the art teachers who guide and encourage these students, thank you. Your efforts show.

 

 

To the student artists, thank you for sharing your art. May art always hold importance in your life, whether in creation of art or in a deep appreciation of art. To create is to express yourself. To create is to make a difference in this world. To create is to boldly put yourself out there. I welcome the opportunity each winter to see the works of these students, these artists.

FYI: The student art exhibit runs through April 6.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault students: Simply art February 27, 2019

Henry Johnson of Nerstrand Charter School created this vivid work of art for the Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault during a past art show. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ART, WHETHER VISUAL, literary or performing, enriches our lives.

Art helps us view the world from creative and differing perspectives. It jumpstarts thoughts and conversations, broadens our world, enhances our lives with beauty, causes us to pause and consider. Art stimulates change, builds bridges, enlightens and much more.

We need art. From early on. It’s just as important as math, science, technology…

 

Art from a past exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Give children crayons to scribble, wooden spoons to beat a rhythm upon kettles, books to read or simply turn the pages.

Let them dance. Let them write stories. Let them splash in puddles. Let them create art with chalk and fingerpaints and markers.

Delight in their creativity. Encourage it. Embrace it. Appreciate it. For art holds great value.

 

The art exhibit threads along hallways, into corners and into a room on the second floor of the Paradise. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from a past show.

 

My community values the creativity of young artists. This Friday, March 1, one of my favorite annual local shows, the Faribault Area Student Art Exhibit, opens at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. Student art will line second floor hallways and fill the second floor gallery.

 

Woven art created by students from the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind for the 2017 art exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

The student art always impresses me. The simple. The detailed. The colorful. The color-less. The texture, the patterns, the shapes.

 

Roosevelt Elementary fifth grader Jose painted this portrait for a previous student art exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Each artist holds within himself or herself the ability to express creativity. Certainly, some students are more gifted in art than others. But that matters not in this art show. There are no ribbons, no awards, no rankings or ratings. There’s art. Simply art.

 

Bold, vivid art by students from Divine Mercy Catholic School for a previous exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

For young people to have this opportunity within my community to publicly show their art pleases me. We are telling them we value their creativity. We are teaching them the value of art. And that is a good thing in a world that needs art now more than ever.

 

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on the value of art?

FYI: An opening reception for the student artists is set for 5 – 7 p.m. March 1. The exhibit runs through April 6.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The Santa Diaries II” debuts in Faribault with humor & so much more December 11, 2018

From The Merlin Players Facebook page.

 

WHEN I ATTENDED The Merlin Players’ performance of The Santa Diaries four years ago at the Paradise Center for the Arts, I laughed. And I cried. Playwrights and performers brought a moving message coupled with comedy to the stage.

And now they’ve done it again in A Christmas Wedding—The Santa Diaries II. I attended Saturday evening, a day after the play debuted. Writers Laura Ambler and Mala Burt flew in from Maryland to watch as a talented cast—many of whom performed in the first Santa Diaries—took the stage.

The play focuses on a Hollywood couple returning to their hometown for their desired small town Christmas wedding. Except others have other ideas, including making the wedding a reality TV event. So the story evolves with humor aplenty, conflict and discerning what’s most important in life. Choose fame and fortune? Or love, happiness and contentment?

I realized part way into the play that I was smiling nearly non-stop. That says a lot for the writing and the performing. But when the script got serious, my thoughts turned introspective also. Like the characters in the play, we all have choices to make, especially this time of year. It’s easy to get caught up in finding the perfect gift, the material things that we think will make us, or our loved ones, happy. But really, it is the gift of time, of being with family and friends, that’s most important. I left the theater with that point reinforced.

I also left with awe at The Merlin Players’ performance, echoed by the playwrights with whom I chatted briefly. Laura Ambler praised the cast. I did, too, But I also praised her writing and that of co-writer Mala Burt. It takes a good, strong script to make a play successful as much as good, strong performers and production staff.

And there were many talented actors and actresses. Plus singers. Solos by Mandie Siems and Paige Pick held a quality of pureness. I could sense the raptness of the audience as the two sang.

I especially appreciated the ways in which the play became distinctly Minnesotan, even distinctly Faribault. Local radio personality Gordy Kosfeld voiced the radio announcer. Casseroles became hotdish, at least in one reference. Poinsettias set on stage came from Donahue’s Greenhouse, so said one of the performers. Details like that endear a performance to a local audience.

The playwrights also endeared themselves to me in their appreciation of Faribault, telling me how much they enjoyed the fresh snow and exploring my community. I loved hearing that. Locals don’t always appreciate Faribault’s historic setting and small town feel. This really is a special place.

And that includes the Paradise Center for the Arts. I am so grateful to have this arts center in the heart of our historic downtown with professional theater and so much more available locally.

FYI: Additional performances of A Christmas Wedding–The Santa Diaries II are set for 7:30 p.m. on December 13, 14, and 15 and at 2 p.m. December 16 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling