Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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: Flood survivor January 30, 2015

Portrait #5: Tracy Yennie, after the flood

 

Tracey, Zumbro Falls flood 2010

 

She’s a young woman I will always remember. Tracy Yennie. Strong. Determined. Thankful. A redneck. Her word, not mine.

When I met this mother of four young boys in early October 2010, she was hanging out next to the Salvation Army trailer in downtown Zumbro Falls, a small southeastern Minnesota community ravaged by a September 23/24 flash flood. Tracy’s family lost nearly everything, as did many others, and was camping in a shed on their riverside property.

When I interviewed Tracy, she was waiting on FEMA. She talked strong, invincible. But I could see the weariness in her eyes, edged by dark circles. I saw beneath her tough veneer. I saw a woman concerned about her future.

I wonder sometimes what happened to Tracy and her family. Do they still live in her hometown of Zumbro Falls? Or did the flood force them out?

Of all the portraits I’ve taken, Tracy’s ranks as perhaps my favorite. This photo tells the story of one woman dealing with disaster. And beyond Tracy, if you look at the details, you notice steps leading to the Salvation Army trailer. You notice the flowers behind her, still standing after the flood. You notice a business district seemingly unscathed. But if you were to walk the sidewalks, you would see the damage close-up.

This photo documents disaster in a personal way. It shows disaster as more than a number or an insurance claim. This image puts a face on disaster. And that is powerful.

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This portrait is part of a new series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Layton Fossum January 16, 2015

Portrait #3: Layton Fossum, the ultimate optimist

Layton Fossum posed for me at the August 2010 Cancer Stroll.

Layton Fossum posed for me at the August 2010 Cancer Stroll.

When I met Layton Fossum 4 ½ years ago at the American Cancer Society Straight River Stroll, I looked into the face of an optimist.

The rural Northfield man, despite a difficult struggle with neck and head cancer (the words he used), was upbeat and positive, living life to the fullest.

It was obvious, from looking at him, that he’d been through a lot, that cancer had taken a physical toll. He had no facial nerves on his right side. He’d undergone reconstructive surgery on his drooping face. He’d lost the hearing in his reshaped right ear. Gold weighted his right eyelid.

But Layton didn’t dwell on any of this.

He lived. And he lived a good life. A joyful life.

Layton died on Monday at age 52, losing his long battle with cancer. He will be buried on Saturday.

But his positivity lives on. In condolences posted on the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home website, friend after friend writes of an upbeat man of faith with a beautiful smile, a great sense of humor, a generous and enthusiastic spirit, the type of person we all wish we could be, but likely aren’t.

My favorite comment comes from the folks at Full Service Battery & Salvage in Farmington. (Layton collected and sold scrap metal besides working numerous other jobs.) They wrote:

Layton was our favorite customer. His positive energy always blasted through our doors like hope! You couldn’t be down with Layton around. We will miss him!

That we should all blast through life with hope, like Layton.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling