Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advice to a Faribault teen: Be kind. Be honest. Be real… January 24, 2022

One of my favorite natural places in Faribault, River Bend Nature Center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER while hiking at Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center in late November led me down the rabbit hole of internet surfing on a cold January afternoon. How did I get there and what did I discover? Here’s the backstory and then the story. Sit back and enjoy.

The story begins with me and my camera. I carry my Canon EOS 20-D with me nearly everywhere, especially to natural spaces like River Bend. Another photographer—a young man—happened to notice and inquired about my camera. We talked equipment for a bit before I continued down the woods-edged trail and he returned to senior portrait photography.

My first glimpse of the colorful art car. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

Later, while walking across the parking lot, I spotted a colorful car covered in messages. I put two and two together and determined this vehicle belonged to the young photographer I’d met earlier. I liked the car, a work of art really, enough to snap a few frames.

A loving message on the back of the car. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

Well, those car photos and that chance meeting were forgotten until I rediscovered the file images recently. “I really ought to post those car pictures,” I thought to myself. That led me to Google “Curtis Pecore-Kotek.” I learned he’s a high school senior from Faribault who specializes in photography and videography. Yes, he’s on YouTube and that’s how I ended up watching his video, “How to Get a Girlfriend,” posted a year ago. Note that I rarely watch YouTube.

Identifying messages on Curtis Pecore-Kotek’s car. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

The video title intrigued me, mostly because I wondered where Curtis would go with the topic. I quickly found out. He went to Walmart. And then to Hy-Vee Grocery Store. There he randomly asked shoppers and staff for tips on getting a girlfriend.

Many of them, much to my surprise, responded to the teen thrusting an over-sized microphone toward them. Only one seemed concerned about what Curtis would do with the recording…before giving a lengthy, thoughtful answer.

And what did the fine folks shopping for food and other goods or working advise this teenager about getting a girlfriend?

Be kind. Be nice. Be gentle. Be honest. Be real. Be confident. Be a “good person.” Be yourself. Be the best version of yourself.

Have a sense of humor. Tell a few jokes.

And then there’s this one: Hang out in the right spots (although “right spots” were not defined).

Curtis ends the video by interviewing a girl who wants to be just a friend, not a girlfriend. I sensed her uncomfortableness in the questioning.

I found the video entertaining, interesting and insightful. Interviewees offered great tips, many sharing the same advice. Curtis handled himself well. He seems real, confident, nice, kind and possessing a sense of humor. I’d say he’s got it covered in the qualities he needs to find a girlfriend. Whether he’s connected with a young woman beyond friendship in the year since crafting this video, I don’t know. He’s young, there’s plenty of time for relationships…


TELL ME: What tips would you give Curtis about getting a girlfriend? Or about life in general?

NOTE: In watching this video shot a year ago, I noticed something I rarely see in Faribault now: people wearing face masks to stop the spread of COVID. At the time, a state-wide mask mandate was in place.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Up for auction: original Edward Curtis photogravures April 15, 2021

WHEN THE AUCTION BOOKLET arrived in the mail, I thumbed through page after page of photos showing Native American artifacts. Tools. Knives. Triangle points. And more. Made from bone, stones, quills…

In the auction booklet, Edward Curtis photogravures are featured along with Native American art and artifcats.

But when I reached the middle of the publication from Helbling Auctioneers* for a May 22 “Large South Dakota Artifact Collection” auction in Lakeville, Minnesota, I paused. Item #131 on the auction list features seven original 1907 photogravures by noted photographer Edward S. Curtis. He is well-known for documenting Native Americans living west of the Mississippi River via his incredible photography.

Among the prints of Edward Curtis photos exhibited at the Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

I was first introduced to Curtis while viewing 60 prints in his “The North American Indian” collection at the Montgomery (MN) Arts & Heritage Center in January 2020. It was a temporary installation funded by a $4,000 grant from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation and an incredible gift to this community of some 3,000.

A photo of Edward Curtis with info about this noted American photographer was showcased in Montgomery, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

Curtis has a connection to the Montgomery area, moving from Wisconsin to nearby Cordova as a child. As he grew, Curtis often traveled with his preacher father, sometimes canoeing with him on the Cannon River. That fostered his love of the outdoors. And apparently his interest in photography. By age 17, he was working at a photography studio in St. Paul. Then, in 1887, the family moved to Seattle.

An insightful and beautiful quote by Edward Curtis shown at the Montgomery exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

That’s the brief backstory on the man who would become famous for his historical photographic documentation of Native Americans. He lived with these peoples, observed them, understood them, respected them. And that shows in his portraits, his photographs of everyday scenes, of their lives.

From the auction preview book, the photogravures of Edward Curtis.

The seven original photogravures on the May auction block are a mix of portraits and everyday life. I expect they will draw the interest of historians, collectors and others. Certainly, they caught my eye as I paged through all those photos of artifacts.

Edward Curtis specializes in Native American portraits, like this one up for bid.

I appreciate the challenges long ago photographers like Curtis faced with equipment and the whole photographic process. They couldn’t fire off frame after frame to get the perfect image. Rather, they often had to get it right the first time. When I consider that, I am even more impressed by Curtis’ work. He was a master of craft, honed from his connection to the outdoors, his understanding of Native Americans and his desire to honor them with his photography.

FYI: The May 22 auction at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Lakeville begins at 10 a.m. and features primarily items from the Ernie & Barb Spaid Family Artifact Collection (from South Dakota). However, in the middle of the sale, a small collection from North and South Dakotas will be sold. That includes the seven original Edward Curtis 1907 photogravures. For more info about the auction, click here.

* Bob Helbling of Helbling Auctioneers of Kindred and Hankinson, N.D., is a distant cousin of my husband. I wrote this post because of my interest in the photography of Edward S. Curtis.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota Faces: Life through his lens June 5, 2015

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Portrait #26: Dan Traun

Photographer Dan Traun. Photo by Cynthia Traun. Visit Cyndie's photo blog at cyndietraun.com

Photographer Dan Traun. Photo by Cynthia Traun. Visit Cyndie’s photo blog at cyndietraun.com

One of the best ways to improve one’s photography is to study the work of others.

And since discovering Minnesota photo blogger/photographer Dan Traun of Red Wing, I’ve learned a lot. Dan’s photographic talents are far-ranging. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t shoot and shoot well, from portrait to studio, event, nature, panoramic, and scenic and urban settings.

A recent photo I shot outside of Kwik Trip on Faribault's east side was inspired by the work of Dan Traun. This is the type of scene Dan photographs.

A recent photo I shot outside of Kwik Trip on Faribault’s east side was inspired by the work of Dan Traun.

Dan excels in capturing urban street scenes, moments of everyday city life that, through his eagle eyes and the click of the shutter button, are personalized studies of humanity. His work is truly documentary, focused on ordinary activities and people. A road construction crew. People waiting at a bus stop. A man leaning against the side of a building eating lunch.

This remarkable photographer has taught me the value in the ordinary. He’s taught me to notice alleys, which can reveal as much, if not more, about a business than the public front side. He’s taught me to appreciate streetside interactions. He’s shown me urban Minnesota, an area I seldom frequent.

Every photographer develops his/her own signature style. I’d suggest you check out Dan’s work by clicking here. His photos show an unembellished Minnesota, the type of photos historians value. This is life. This is real.


“Minnesota Faces” is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dan Traun portrait copyright of Cynthia Traun




The I-35 photographer May 18, 2015

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TRAVELING AROUND DOWNTOWN MINNEAPOLIS recently, I spotted this photographer atop a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 35. What, I wondered, was he photographing?


Photographing from a pedestrian overpass in Minneapolis


I was too focused on photographing the photographer to notice what he may have been shooting. I simply found it an unusual spot for someone to set up a tripod and now I’m wishing I had looked where his camera was aiming. Who is he? Why is he shooting here? And what?


© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Doug Ohman preserves Minnesota in photos January 25, 2012

MANY YEARS AGO I heard Minnesota photographer Doug Ohman talk about his Churches of Minnesota book, a project in his “Minnesota Byways” series published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

He’s an impressive speaker, sharing his love for photographing those subjects which hold historical, community and personal significance for so many Minnesotans.

Thus far he’s covered Minnesota churches, barns, courthouses, schoolhouses, cabins and libraries in his series. I don’t think I’ve missed any and I’ve read most. His books also include prose by well-known Minnesota writers like Will Weaver, Jon Hassler and Bill Holm.

If you’re at all interested in the places that are so integral to our lives, you’ll want to read Ohman’s books and, if you have the opportunity, hear him speak.

Buckham Memorial Library, built in 1929, features a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals.

Thursday night, January 26, this noted photographer travels to my community of Faribault, to Buckham Memorial Library, to present “Free to All: Libraries of Minnesota” as part of the Minnesota Book Award Author Tour. His book, Prairie, Lake, Forest: Minnesota’s State Parks, was a 2011 MNBA nominee.

I’ll be there for several reasons: I enjoy Ohman’s books. I want to learn more about his approach to photography. I’m interested in learning more about libraries in Minnesota. I appreciate libraries.

He’ll be at the Faribault library at 6 p.m. for this free event. A photo of Buckham, by the way, is included in his Libraries of Minnesota.

Southeastern Minnesota residents will have plenty of other opportunities to hear Ohman speak on his “Minnesota Byways” series as a dozen additional appearances are scheduled through-out the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating regional library system. Click here to view a complete listing of Ohman’s upcoming visits. His presentations will vary—from schoolhouses to churches to farms and more—depending on location.

I’d recommend taking in one of Ohman’s presentations. You’ll gain insights into Minnesota history and photography and more from a photographer who possesses an unbridled enthusiasm for preserving, in images, that which is part of the Minnesota landscape.

The Houston Public Library is on the cover of Ohman's book, Libraries of Minnesota. I shot this photo last summer of the library in the southeastern corner of our state.

Built in 1912, the library in Janesville is an Andrew Carnegie library on the National Register of Historic Places.

A statue of Linus greets visitors to the Dyckman Free Library in Sleepy Eye. Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts cartoons, based his character Linus on real-life friend Linus Maurer, a Sleepy Eye native. Maurer, a cartoonist, worked with Schulz. Ohman, who managed the former Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America, includes a photo of Linus at the Sleepy Eye library in his book.

Several summers ago I photographed this 1930s Works Progress Administration log cabin in Hackensack. Sitting on the shore of Birch Lake next to a towering statue of Lucette Diana Kensack (Paul Bunyan's sweetheart), the cabin today houses the Hackensack Lending Library.

IF YOU’RE INTERESTED in reading another book about libraries, check out Carnegie Libraries of Minnesota by Kevin Clemens. The book highlights the history and architecture of Minnesota’s Carnegie libraries, primarily in photos. Click here to learn more about the book.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling