Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beauty shop dog January 13, 2011

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Main Street in West Concord, photographed several months ago.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW about West Concord? I’m not talking Massachusetts here. I mean West Concord as in a community of 836 in southeastern Minnesota.

Up until this past fall, I had never set foot in this small town. But, while en route to the historic Dodge County seat of Mantorville, my husband and I detoured into West Concord. The fact that we had never been there prompted the stop. It was as simple as that.

Many times when we travel back roads and drive into small towns, we discover sweet surprises. West Concord was no exception. I found Fonzie there.

While my husband was exploring whatever men investigate when they’re getting impatient, I ducked into Colleen’s Salon & Gifts on West Main Street. There I met Fonzie, the beauty shop dog. He was lounging in a chair next to patron Charlotte Lurken, who was drying her hair under one of those old-fashioned bubble dryers.

Instantly, I knew this would be a story. And the photo ops, well, let’s just say I was nearly giddy when I considered the possibilities.

I wasn’t sure, though, how the women would react to my request to photograph them since they were in curlers. But, no problem. I snapped away.

Here are the results:


Fonzie relaxes in the morning sunshine next to beauty shop patron Charlotte Lurken.

Fonzie didn't even blink an eyelash when I moved in for a close-up.

Salon owner Colleen Snaza, framed by a welcome sign in the gift shop, curls a customer's hair.

Pretty sweet, huh?

Fonzie’s been hanging out at the beauty shop for about two years now, ever since owner Colleen Snaza’s husband, John, passed away. Prior to that, the Shih Tzu had spent five years at home with John, who suffered from a heart condition. And before that, the canine stayed home with Colleen for a year while she recovered from breast cancer.

Colleen began taking Fonzie to the beauty shop because she couldn’t leave him alone. He was too used to company.

Now Fonzie’s just part of the beauty shop. “He gets a lot of lovin’,” Colleen says.

And that’s the story I learned when I took the time to check out a small-town beauty shop on Main Street in West Concord.

FYI: An article I wrote about the beauty shop dog just published in the winter issue of Minnesota Moments magazine. Readers often wonder how I find my stories. It’s as simple as going off the beaten path, snooping around, asking questions and finding the simply extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary places of our lives.

WATCH FOR MORE from West Concord in upcoming blog posts.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Inside a pet portrait studio November 2, 2010

GROWING UP IN HOUSTON—that would be Minnesota, not Texas—Julie M Fakler always envied the farm kids with their farm animals.

Today, though, Julie has no reason to feel jealous. She’s surrounded by a menagerie of animals, some real (her cats), most not.

She’s an artist, specializing in pet portraits. A quick peek inside her Faribault studio and gallery during the recent South Central Minnesota October Studio arTour and Sale reveals that Julie especially loves cats and dogs. They comprise the bulk of her acrylics.



Examples of Julie M Fakler's animal portraits.


Occasionally, though, you’ll see a farm animal like a goat, chicken or calf. Some of those she’s painted at the nearby Rice County Fairgrounds, setting up her easel during the fair to recreate those critters.



Rice County Fair animal portraits painted during the fair.


As I sorted through the photos I took of Julie’s artwork, I finally figured out what was niggling at my brain about her paintings of animals against simple backgrounds of primarily primary colors. Her paintings, in my opinion, would fit perfectly into children’s picture books.

I haven’t asked Julie whether she’s ever considered illustrating a children’s book. But she will paint a portrait of your pet, on commission, or hand-stitch a quilt for you (another one of her artistic endeavors).



Julie painted this neighborhood dog.



Items tacked onto a bulletin board, left, provide Julie with inspiration for her paintings.



A jumble of paint tubes in the studio, which is housed in a former upholstery shop behind her Faribault home.



Paintings propped on the studio floor.



More animal art.



Julie and her sister make books, using them to record their world-wide travels via words and art.



One final nod to Julie's artistic side is represented in this old sink, acquired from a neighbor, and decorated for fall. It's outside her studio/gallery door. She intends to use the sink as a potting station in the spring.


For additional information and to view more of Julie’s art, click here to visit her Web site.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling