Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on September 11 in photos from NYC, thoughts from Minnesota September 11, 2020

My son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11. He was a third grader in a Christian school and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us.

 

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. The date is forever seared into our memories as the day terrorists targeted the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a jetliner flying over Pennsylvania. When those planes crashed. When those towers fell. When fires raged. When thousands died, we grieved. Individually. And collectively as a nation.

 

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumni, Ann Nelson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

Yet, as a Minnesotan nearly 1,200 miles removed from New York City and D.C. and Pennsylvania, I did not experience the same depth of fear and grief as others much nearer to the target sites or with loved ones lost.

 

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Sure, I remember where I was—at home with my kindergarten age son and another boy in my care. I remember how the boys stacked wooden toy blocks and then crashed toy airplanes into the two towers, copying the scenes played and replayed on television because I could not bring myself to shut off the TV.

I recall, too, the eeriness, the feelings of uncertainty and worry and disbelief.

 

The Faribault firefighters pay special tribute to the fallen New York firefighters on their memorial sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But none of this, none of this second-hand experience, compares to those who lived it and saw it. Like NYC photographer Keith Goldstein, a gifted creative whose work I follow on his blog, Far Earth Below. Keith excels in portrait photography. On the street, not the studio. Real. Everyday life. Raw and emotional and difficult sometimes to view. But honest in every way.

Keith was there on 9/11. He saw the devastation, destruction, death as he headed from his East Village home toward the towers. He found himself unable to photograph the horror unfolding before him. But several years later, as construction began on the Freedom Tower, he lifted his camera to undertake a project, “Looking On, Watching the Building of the Freedom Tower.”

The photos of people watching construction of the tower are signature Keith Goldstein. Honest. Emotional. Real. Every time I view Keith’s work, I wonder how he does it. How does he manage these focused, powerful images without his subjects noticing his presence? It’s a gift, a talent honed from years of experience.

That talent was recognized by Olympus Passion, which published a portion of his “Looking On” project in November 2018. Keith shared that publication on his blog today and I invite you to study his images and read the story he wrote about his 9/11 experiences. I expect you will be as impressed as I am by his work and the insights his photos provide.

I invite you also to continue following Keith’s photo blog. I appreciate how his images show me a world far removed from my Minnesota home. A world much different. Yet, a world I need to see because, even though my life and world are much different than his, we still live in this place called America.

Keith is as kind and decent and caring as they come. We’ve communicated occasionally via email, so I know this to be true. Several years ago he gifted me with a colorful print on aluminum of an immigrant vending t-shirts. My choice of photos. Choosing an image proved challenging. But I wanted a portrait. Signature Keith.

As different as we are, we are connected by our love of photography. And by our desire to share the world we view through our cameras.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Immigrants, Escape Artists &, yes, Elvis in the house September 1, 2020

“Ashley,” portrait by Kate Langlais.

 

“GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM. GO BACK TO MEXICO AND NEVER COME BACK!”

 

A snippet of Ashley’s story, as posted with her portrait.

 

I intentionally capitalized and boldfaced those angry words spoken to a 5-year-old by a “mean girl.” Can you imagine hearing such awful, horrible words directed at you? Yet, they are all too common. If not spoken, then thought.

 

Kate Langlais, painting at a recent concert in Faribault’s Central Park as part of “Art in the Park.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

 

Ashley, the subject in an art exhibit, “I Am Minnesota,” by Faribault portrait artist Kate Langlais, experienced that hatred. She reported the insult to her mom and her principal. I’m thankful she called out the bully, because no one should have to endure such disrespect, especially a kindergartner.

 

“Faysel” up close by Kate Langlais. He fled war in Somalia.

 

And I’m thankful to Kate, the artist, for taking on this project which features portraits of first and second-generation immigrants living in Faribault and their stories. Her portraits are currently exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault through September 12.

 

The title of each portrait is simple. The subject’s name.

 

Kate invites viewers to “recall what they know about their family’s immigration stories.”

 

Parker, four months, the son of an immigrant who arrived here at about the same age. Portrait by Kate Langlais.

 

But she pushes beyond that to prompt thought about problems immigrants must overcome—language barriers, cultural differences, acceptance (or not) by neighbors.

 

An overview of a portion of the Escape Artists exhibit.

 

After viewing Kate’s thought-provoking portraits and accompanying life summaries, I walked over to a larger gallery featuring art by the Escape Artists. Right away, I connected the two. Not because the art is at all alike. But because of the word “escape.” The subjects in Kate’s portraits escaped oppression, war, poverty and more for life in America. The Escape Artists are a group of artist friends who, 30-plus years ago, began escaping together to create art.

 

A section of “On the Ragged Edge” by Theresa Harsma.

 

As I meandered through the gallery, I considered the Escape Artists’ art with the imprint of Kate’s portraits on my mind. For example, Theresa Harsma writes in her artist’s statement for “On the Ragged Edge” of sorting through her collection of found objects and choosing those that seemed to want to be part of the piece. Just like immigrants want to be part of the piece that is America.

 

“1938 Church Wedding” by Linda Van Lear is based on The Holy Innocents Episcopal Church located at the Rice County Fairgrounds/Historical Society Museum Grounds.

 

I expect LInda Van Lear’s painting of “1938 Church Wedding” includes immigrants among wedding guests, probably even in the bridal party.

 

“Lasso the Moon” by Susanne Crane.

 

And I interpreted Susanne Crane’s “Lasso the Moon” as lassoing dreams. Dreams of a better life for those who came to America, including my forefathers, and probably yours.

 

This photo shows part of “Streams of Consciousness, Rivers of Green” by Theresa Harsma.

 

“Maria” by Kate Langlais.

 

Back to artist Theresa Harsma, another work, “Streams of Consciousness, Rivers of Green,” struck me in its connection to one story in “I Am Minnesota.” Three times Maria attempted to cross the river from Mexico into the U.S. The determination, the exhaustion, the despair—they’re all woven into her story. No matter how you feel about immigration issues, at the very core is a human being, now a Minnesotan, with struggles, hopes and dreams.

 

An overview of the Cash-Elvis exhibit.

 

Julie M Fakler created this piece, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” inspired by Elvis’ song.

 

A close-up of Dan Rathburn’s “A Man in Black” (aka Johnny Cash).

 

Once I finished touring the Escape Artists’ exhibit, I shifted my focus to a Johnny Cash and Elvis pop-up show in a small corner gallery. In some ways, these two musicians were escape artists, too, escaping through their music.

 

“Tree of Life with Mother Nature’s Daughters” by Susanne Crane.

 

I love when art, from a divergence of artists, connects. We are all different. Yet alike in our humanity.

 

The Paradise Center for the Arts marquee.

 

FYI: The Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault, is open Thursday-Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. The above exhibits close on September 12.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A must-see NYC photo blog November 21, 2019

A Minnesota version of the Statue of Liberty at the Holiday Haven motel in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

FOR A FEW YEARS NOW, I’ve followed the work of award-winning New York City photographer Keith Goldstein. His credentials are extensive and impressive.

But beyond that lengthy list of accomplishments is my genuine appreciation of his work. He specializes in street portraits and in architectural photography. Goldstein captures some pretty incredible pictures of people going about everyday life in the big city and I often wonder how he does it. But he’s that good, unobtrusively photographing individuals in an urban environment that is also part of each photo story. I often find myself studying a frame, surprised by what I see.

New York City is about so much more than the nearby Statue of Liberty and Wall Street and 9/11. This noted photographer reveals that in his images.

Recently, Goldstein’s photo blog has focused on NYC buildings, truly foreign to my rural flatlander background. I’ve only been to this East Coast city once, decades ago while in college. I remember standing on a street corner then, craning my neck toward the skyscrapers. And nearly being run over by someone pushing a garment rack down the sidewalk. I don’t ever intend to return to NYC. I really don’t much care for big cities.

 

Photographed in June 2014 at a shop in Farmington, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

But, through Goldstein’s photography, I am shown this world so different from mine in rural Minnesota. I see the humanity of NYC, raw and exposed. Sometimes I just want to reach into those portraits and wrap my arms around the people who are hurting. Give hugs. I want to stop and listen and offer a smile and encouragement. In the sea of humanity that defines this place, Goldstein manages to find the individuals, to tell their stories through the lens of his camera.

 

Another Statue of Liberty, this one at Hot Sam’s Foto Park near Lakeville. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2012.

 

I consider his photography a gift. Real. Unfiltered. It’s important that I see the peoples and architecture of New York City because these images broaden my world. Goldstein’s photos stretch my compassion and my understanding of these United States of America. We are, no matter where we live, still just people with emotions and needs and hopes and dreams. And we all hold within us the capacity to connect and to care. Goldstein, in his art—because his work truly is art—offers that. And for that I am grateful.

TO VIEW Keith Goldstein’s blog, Far Earth Below, click here.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What a joy to watch Izzy grow September 15, 2017

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My granddaughter Isabelle.

 

I WONDER SOMETIMES HOW I, a woman who has birthed and raised three children, can find such novelty in the transition of a baby girl into her own person.

 

Izzy stole Grandpa’s lawn chair and settled in for a few seconds.

 

But every time I see my 17-month-old granddaughter, I delight in the new things she can do. Her personality is emerging with each skill learned, each developmental stage reached, each step of independence. And it’s a joy to watch.

 

And then Grandpa found an Izzy sized lawn chair in the garage, saved from when our kids were little.

 

I’ve seen it all before. Thrice. But this is different because I’m not the mom. I’m the so-in-love grandma.

 

My eldest, Amber, helps her daughter with a bubble blower because Isabelle wants to blow bubbles all by herself.

 

This time the let me do it attitude charms.

 

Grandpa stands nearby just in case Izzy needs help. She didn’t.

 

The climbing onto and off an adult-sized lawn chair is not dangerous, but applause worthy.

 

I love this sweet photo of two of my three children (Caleb and Amber) and darling Isabelle back in Faribault for a recent family reunion. Caleb flew in from Boston for a long weekend. Our other daughter, who lives in northeastern Wisconsin, was already gone when I shot this portrait.

 

In my eyes, I see only a sweet little girl whom I adore with a love I never imagined.

 

Getting a 17-month-old and her uncle to sit still is not always easy. But I find the photo still endearing.

 

I love being a grandma.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault artist honors Prince, Dylan & other musicians through her oil portraits October 17, 2016

Dana used a stencil to incorporate musical notes in to this painting of Prince. Notice the detail of the heart-shaped mole on the musician's cheek.

Dana Hanson used a stencil to incorporate musical notes in to this painting of Prince. Notice the detail of the heart-shaped mole on the musician’s cheek. Prince Rogers Nelson was inducted in to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

DANA WARMINGTON HANSON can’t read a single musical note. But she doesn’t need to. She paints music.

Using a photo as her guide, Dana works on her Dylan portrait.

Using a photo as her guide, Dana works on a portrait of Bob Dylan during a summer concert in Faribault’s Central Park. He was inducted in to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1991. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, July 2016.

This past summer, the Faribault artist painted several Minnesota Music Hall of Fame inductees during Faribault’s Concert in the Park Series as part of the Artgo! group of plein air artists.

Dana's younger version of Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman.

Dana’s younger version of Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman.

Her decision to paint Prince and Bob Dylan, especially, seems particularly fitting given the recent focus on those world-renowned musicians. Last week Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature. And Prince’s Paisley Park Museum opened temporarily to fans.

"Bob Dylan: A Voice to be Remembered," a 22 x 28-inch oil portrait by Dana Hanson priced at $1,400.

“Bob Dylan: A Voice to be Remembered,” a 22 x 28-inch oil portrait by Dana Hanson priced at $1,400.

Dana says she appreciates the musical talents of both. Back in the day, she listened to Dylan, which may explain why she painted two portraits of the Hibbing native.

Prince by Dana Hanson.

“Prince: A Voice We Remember,” a 22 x 28-inch oil painting on canvas by Dana Hanson priced at $1,400 honored the musician who died in April.

As for Prince, she’s not a fan per se, but calls him “an extremely talented and gifted musician.”

And I call Dana an extremely talented and gifted artist.

A poster posted at the initial exhibit.

A poster promotes an exhibit of Artgo! work in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Her artwork exudes the passion she holds for creating art. I’ve watched her paint for two summers now during the concerts in the park. She paints with a flair, with a zeal, with an obvious love for the craft. As a freelance artist, Dana does commission work of animals and people. She’s also created cover art for books and is currently working on contracted art for a children’s book.

Dana Hanson's oil paints.

The artist’s oil paints on foil during a summer concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

At her full-time job in Faribault’s Fareway Foods Bakery, Dana uses her creative skills, too, to bake and to decorate cakes along with her sister Bobbi Dawson. The two long-time professionally trained cake decorators call themselves the Sweet Sisters. Dana is certainly that. Sweet. Friendly. Talented. She hopes to some day make art her full-time work. For now, she paints when she can, with a regular first and third Saturday painting time at House Church in Eagan.

Dana Hanson's artist statement posted at the 2016 Artgo! art show in Faribault.

The artist statement for Dana Hanson posted at the 2016 Artgo! art show in Faribault.

Her artistic talents trace through her family. Dana’s grandma, Frieda Lord, founded the Faribault Art Center, today the Paradise Center for the Arts. Dana has a show coming there in February. It will be just one more opportunity to view and appreciate the talents of this gifted Faribault artist.

Dana Hanson also painted this portrait of Judy Garland, who was inducted in to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1991. Judy was born as Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and starred in "The Wizard of Oz."

Dana Hanson also painted this portrait of Judy Garland, who was inducted in to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1991. Judy was born as Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and starred in “The Wizard of Oz.” The portrait is a 22 x 28-inch oil priced at $1,400 in titled “Judy Garland: Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”

FYI: If you are interested in purchasing one of the portraits featured here, contact the Paradise Center for the Arts, Jeff Jarvis at the City of Faribault or me and we will connect you with Dana.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos of Dana Hanson’s art were taken with permission of the artist.

 

Minnesota Faces: Northfield historian September 11, 2015

Portrait #39: Christian Hakala

Christian Hakala talks about gang members involved in the Northfield bank raid, pictured to his left: Frank and Jesse James; Cole, Bob and Jim Younger; Clell Miller; William Chadwell; and Charlie Pitts.

Christian Hakala talks about gang members involved in the Northfield bank raid, pictured to his left: Frank and Jesse James; Cole, Bob and Jim Younger; Clell Miller; William Chadwell; and Charlie Pitts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

To say folks in Northfield, Minnesota, appreciate local history would be an understatement.

Take Christian Hakala. He has a Master of Arts in history, has taught history, has served as Northfield Historical Society Board president and volunteers as a tour guide.

During his day job, he’s Director of Individual Giving at Northfield’s Carleton College.

It was in his capacity of NHS tour guide that I met Hakala in September 2012 as he walked visitors through the “Attempted Bank Raid” exhibit. That would be the September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank of Northfield by the James-Younger Gang. A bank cashier, a Swedish immigrant and two of the outlaws died in seven minutes as townspeople fought back.

Northfield this week is celebrating the heroism of locals during the annual The Defeat of Jesse James Days, an event which is among Minnesota’s most popular community celebrations. DJJD includes bank raid re-enactments. Hakala has participated in those, too, role-playing a townsperson.

If you appreciate history and drama and community celebrations, then head on over to Northfield this weekend. This beautiful historic river city knows how to showcase local history in a big way.

FYI: Click here for more details about The Defeat of Jesse James Days.

Minnesota Faces is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Camp counselors July 24, 2015

Portrait #32: Counselors at Camp Omega, rural Waterville, Minnesota

Camp Omega counselors at July Fourth North Morristown celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013

Camp Omega counselors at July Fourth North Morristown celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013

They are the faces of enthusiasm, of adventure, of leadership, energy and a passion for the outdoors. They are summer camp counselors in Minnesota. Friends, surrogate moms/dads, teachers—they are all of these and none of these. They are young people. Who care.

I never had the opportunity to attend summer camp while growing up—there was no money for such extras. But my younger siblings did. When I had children of my own, I determined they would go to summer bible camp no matter the financial sacrifice.

My girls, from kindergarten age on, every summer, went to Camp Omega near Waterville. The first time I sent my eldest away for a weekend, I wondered how I would make it through camp. Me. Not her. I survived her absence and she thrived in the serene setting of woods and water in the care of faith-focused counselors.

Amber loved Camp Omega so much that she eventually volunteered there during high school and then worked two summers as a counselor. The friendships she forged and the confidence and faith-growth she experienced were immeasurable.

Some things cannot be taught by parents at home. Some must be learned in a canoe, in a raucous competition, on a climbing wall, around a campfire roasting marshmallows, in a circle of new friends with a counselor strumming a guitar, in the top bunk of a lumpy bed with whispers in the dark and the brush of branches against roof.

Mosquito bites and sunburn. Raccoon eyes and bounce of a flashlight. Rousting out of bed and falling asleep exhausted from a day of running and screaming and breathing in all that fresh air.

Camp. Counselors. Summertime in Minnesota.

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Minnesota Faces is a series featured nearly every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: A teen and his cat May 29, 2015

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Portrait #25: Ian

Portrait 25, Ian and Zephyr

 

He loves physics and raw asparagus. Or at least Ian did when I met him in 2012. I expect he still does.

A year later I saw Ian again, at his family’s rural acreage south of Worthington. I remember how my friend Gretchen welcomed us with such enthusiasm, noting that she was thrilled to have dinner guests. My husband and I were happy to spend an evening with my blogger friend, her husband and their three children. They are a delight.

Ian and his sisters toured us through the family’s 10-acre wooded and hilly creek-side property while their parents prepared dinner. Dad at the grill, Mom mixing salads. The kids clearly love their oasis in the middle of southwestern Minnesota’s prairie farmland.

These are a talented group of siblings—into theatre and music and more—and just great kids who are friendly and kind and polite.

As the evening ended and we prepared to leave, Gretchen and I simply had to have photos. I commanded a snapshot of myself standing with the sisters in the middle of the gravel road running past this family’s home. That put me with one foot in Minnesota and one foot in Iowa. Yes, they live on the border.

Ian wasn’t game for that shot, but the then 14-year-old did pose with the family cat, Zephyr. The lighting was perfect as was Ian’s pose. There’s something about this image that is sweet and timeless, that speaks to appreciating the moments of life, to simpler times, to the unencumbered spirit of youth. I expect, I mean know, that Ian is growing into a fine young man.

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

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: A World War II veteran from Kenyon May 22, 2015

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Portrait #24: Howard Homeier

Howard Homeier in his cherished early 1950s Chevy pick-up truck.

Howard Homeier in his cherished early 1950s Chevy pick-up truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

When I met World War II veteran Howard Homeier of Kenyon, in Kenyon, in August 2009, he’d just come from Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park. There, with other members of the Kenyon Veterans Color Guard, he’d participated in a ceremony during this southern Minnesota community’s annual Rose Fest.

Howard and I chatted briefly about his service with the U.S. Army in the China Burma India Theater. Then I admired his vintage 50s truck, with Howard allowing me to photograph it and him in it.

What I mostly admired, though, was Howard’s patriotism and support of veterans. Although I didn’t ask, I’m certain he does not take freedom for granted. He understands its cost. This vet put his freedom into practice by serving in Kenyon city government.

Nearly six years after meeting Howard, I still remember him. I hope you, too, this weekend remember and honor a veteran.

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

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota Faces: Allis Chalmers devotee May 1, 2015

Portrait #19: Juanita

 

Portrait 19, Rice Co. Steam 2012, Juanita

 

I love how natural light from an open doorway provided the perfect lighting for this portrait of Juanita. This was an impromptu photo snapped in a blacksmith shop at the 2012 Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show, rural Dundas. To this day, it remains one of my favorite portraits.

I love the image not only because of its great lighting and composition, but because it truly captures the spirit of Juanita. Look at how her eyes sparkle, how her genuine smile dimples her cheeks, creases the corners of her eyes and spreads across her freckled face. I’ve always found Juanita, whom I met some five years ago at her dad’s Allis Chalmers tractor auction at his North Morristown farm, a people-person.

She’s also very much her own woman, one who unabashedly wears orange (here around her hat and neck) to honor her love of the Allis Chalmers brand. Juanita dresses practically and sensibly, usually with a rural fashion touch of orange.

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

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling