Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

About recycling, a hard truth & what we can do October 27, 2022

A graphic on a recycling dumpster in Northfield inspires. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

JUST INSIDE OUR GARAGE, a green plastic tote rests on a shelf. It’s located a few quick steps from the kitchen door, providing easy access to our temporary recycling box. Once the box fills, Randy dumps the contents into the official hideous dark-blue-with-bright-yellow-lid plastic recycling bin. Every other week the refuse hauler picks up our recyclables for delivery to the Rice County Recycling Center.

The City of Northfield “Youth Live Green Recycling Team” program aims to get youth involved in recycling corrugated cardboard. Participating groups get monetary funds for monitoring the public recycling containers, keeping the area clean and informing the public about cardboard recycling. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Now I should feel mostly good about that, right? I’m placing milk jugs and other plastics, cans, newspapers, envelopes, an excessive amount of campaign mailings, other paper products and more into recycling. I’m doing my part to keep stuff out of the landfill, to protect the environment.

Rules on a recycling container in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But when it comes to plastic, most of my efforts may be for naught, according to a recent report by the environmental education and awareness group Greenpeace. The nonprofit shared that less than five percent of recycled plastics are made into new products. Why? Simply put, it’s costly to collect and sort the plastics. I’m not surprised by that explanation. Money factors into most business decisions.

Youth and adults painted a mural on Just Food Co-op, Northfield. Among the themes, Mother Earth. Rice County Neighbors United led the grant-funded project. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Yet, I’ll continue to recycle and hope for an environmentally-friendly shift in attitudes on both consumer and corporate levels. We as consumers need to consciously choose non-plastics. I’m as guilty as anyone else in not thinking often enough about what I personally can do to reduce my use of plastics, focusing on reduce before I focus on recycle.

Mother Earth in progress on the Just Food Co-op mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

What am I doing right? This has nothing to do with plastic, but rather with reducing energy use. I either line dry my laundry outdoors or indoors on drying racks, with the exception of sheets and towels in the brutal cold of winter. Come a 40-degree sunny January day, though, and you will find my laundry on the line, snow layering the ground.

Mother Earth a month later. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I also buy used. And I donate or give away—rather than toss—items I no longer need. The boulevard along our busy street has proven an ideal location to give away a swing set, bookcase, headboard, recliner and much more. Recently Randy and I hauled several purple dove tail drawers from a vintage school art table to a downtown shop, Lily of the Valley. The owner sells repurposed furniture, gifts, clothing and more in her boutique and I figured she could use the drawers to display merchandise or come up with some other creative use. We kept the maple top to possibly reuse ourselves.

Then there’s our yard. We live in a city with a compost center, a place to haul leaves and plants that are composted, basically recycled back into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer for flowerbeds and gardens. This time of year we make multiple trips to the compost site to dump off mulched leaves fallen from the single tree on our property and from neighborhood trees. I feel good that we are keeping yard waste out of the landfill. I use some of the leaves as winter mulch for my flowerbeds.

A shopper rolls out her cart of purchases in reusable bags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Sometimes I use cloth tote bags while grocery shopping, but sometimes I don’t. I could do better.

Northfield’s recycling containers are outside two grocery stores. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My efforts may not seem like much in the all of the environment. Yet, I know the recycling, the reusing, the things I do matter. What you do matters. Together we can make a difference by our choices.

TELL ME: Do you recycle? I’d like to hear more about your efforts to protect the environment.

FYI: To read the Greenpeace report on plastic recycling, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fish art along the Mississippi in Monticello October 20, 2022

The Mississippi River in Monticello, MN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

ALMOST ON A DAILY BASIS now I hear and read media reports about the Mississippi River, reportedly at its lowest level in a decade. Lack of rain led to this situation which is now causing shipping problems, concerns about drinking water supplies and issues with salt water creeping into the river.

Fish art along the Mississippi in Monticello. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I need only look at lakes, rivers, streams and creeks in southern Minnesota to see how drought is affecting our waterways. Dry creek beds, exposed rock, clearly low water levels raise my concern.

Arrows on the public art list locations along the Mississippi. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Some 270 miles to the north of Faribault in Itasca State Park, the Mississippi River begins. Like most Minnesotans, I’ve walked across the headwaters. The Mississippi starts as a narrow, knee-deep river that widens and deepens and flows 694 miles through Minnesota. It passes through communities like Bemidji (at its northern-most point), Brainerd, Little Falls, St. Cloud, Minneapolis, Hastings and many towns and cities in between before spilling into Iowa on its 2,350-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

These lovely homes are next to the park by the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Recently, on a return trip home from a family member’s lake cabin in the Brainerd Lakes area, Randy and I stopped for a picnic lunch at West Bridge Park in Monticello. On the northwest edge of the Twin Cities metro, this community hugs the Mississippi. The park, just off State Highway 25 by the river bridge, is easily accessible, but noisy with the steady drone of traffic.

Community members designed and painted the individual fish for this project. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The creativity in these fish is unique, a reflection of the community. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Another version of funky fish from community creators. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Yet, even if not peaceful, the park is worth visiting. I discovered here a MontiArts Community Project, “The Funky Fish Sign.” Wooden fish cut-outs painted by community members are attached to the trunk of a dead oak as are wooden arrows crafted from old park benches. Those arrows list destinations and river miles from Monticello. To Lake Itasca, 443 river miles. To St. Paul, 43 river miles. To New Orleans, 1,776 river miles.

Public art posted on a dead oak removed from a local cemetery and “replanted” along the Mississippi River bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This riverside fish tree meets MontiArts’ goal of “using the arts to build community.” This truly was a community project with residents, interns and city employees working together to create public art that connects Monticello to the Mississippi from beginning to end.

I especially like the buffalo plaid on this fish. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But this is about more than a river and geography. In an online video about the project, I learned that the variety in the painted fish represents the differences in people. We are each unique.

From afar, “The Funky Fish Sign” blends into the riverside landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As individual as we are, though, we are collectively all residents of Earth. We are tasked with caring for natural resources like water, like the mighty Mississippi. This beautiful, scenic, powerful waterway is vital to our economy, vital to our water supply, vital to our leisure, our enjoyment, and, in Monticello, to connecting creativity and community.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on harvest from fields to art October 13, 2022

Harvesting, left, in a field along a gravel road near Dundas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

DUST HANGS OVER THE LANDSCAPE like smoke. Hazy. The air dirty with debris kicked up by combines sweeping across corn and soybean fields in southern Minnesota. Harvest is well underway here as farmers bring in the season’s crops.

Trucks haul harvested crops from fields to bins and/or grain elevators. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

From back country gravel roads to the interstate, I’ve witnessed this scene unfolding before me in recent weeks. Combines chomping. Harvested corn and beans spilling into grain trucks.

Harvesting beans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

Farmers work all hours of the day and night in the rush to finish gathering crops before winter arrives. In the dark of night, bright headlights spotlight fields. In daylight, sunlight filters through clouds of dust.

A grain truck pulls into a farmer’s grain drying and storage complex. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Harvest is part of my DNA by having been raised on a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farm. Decades removed from the land, I still take notice of the harvest. The smell. The hues. The hurry. I understand this season in rural Minnesota.

“Harvest” by Raymond Jacobson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In nearby Northfield, I recently happened upon a bronze sculpture, “Harvest,” which had gone unnoticed by me. It’s been there since 2008 at Sesquicentennial Legacy Plaza along the Cannon River, near the post office, near Bridge Square. In all my visits to Northfield, to the Riverwalk area, I missed this public art created by Raymond Jacobson.

Close-up details of the wheat incorporated into “Harvest.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The historic Ames Mill along the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

An interpretation of a stone grist mill for grinding wheat into flour is included in the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

It’s beautiful, fitting for a community rooted in agriculture. The 3,000-pound sculpture symbolizes Northfield’s heritage of wheat farming and milling. Just across the river sits the Ames Mill, where the gristmill in the late 1860s produced 150 barrels of wheat daily.

Malt-O-Meal was a major funder for the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In 1927, John Campbell of the Campbell Cereal Company took over the mill and began producing Malt-O-Meal hot cereal. Today Post Consumer Brands owns the mill and still makes that hot cereal. Dry cereal is manufactured at a nearby production facility. Many days the scent of cereal wafts over Northfield.

Harvested wheat and a plowed field cast into bronze. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

All of this—the smell of cereal, the “Harvest” sculpture, the historic Ames Mill—reminds me of the importance of agriculture in our region. It reminds me, too, of my rural roots. I am grateful for my farm upbringing. I am grateful, too, for those who today plant, tend and harvest crops. They are essential to our economy, feeding the world, providing raw product.

Wheat stalk details on an informational plaque which is nearly impossible to read due to weathering of the writing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

That this season of harvest is honored in a “Harvest” sculpture shows a deep appreciation for history, heritage and agriculture in Northfield. The public art gives me pause to reflect on inspiration in creativity. Today I celebrate the artistic interpretation of harvest displayed along the banks of the Cannon River.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Quirky finds in Elgin June 9, 2022

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Downtown Elgin, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

AS A WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, details matter to me. I notice the unusual, the quirky, the odd in places. That includes in Elgin, a small farming town northeast of Rochester.

A block off the main street, I saw this steeple in a backyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent walk-about through the downtown area, I came upon a church steeple. Not atop a church, but rather in a residential backyard. I have no idea what the story may be behind its placement there or what the homeowners have planned for the structure. But I found the entire scene interesting.

Bathtub turned planter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In that same backyard sits a vintage bathtub repurposed into a planter. The growth springing from the tub suggests these are raspberries. I didn’t feel comfortable moving in closer to confirm my guess.

An angler’s shed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Just across the way, a boat rests on tires outside a shed. More tires sidle the small building. Again, I didn’t move in to snoop. But I speculated that the owner is an avid angler and could spin a story or ten about the big one that got away.

Doors repurposed into a fence in downtown Elgin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

A row of vintage doors, repurposed as a fence next to an architecturally interesting brick corner building, also grabbed my attention. I love when people get creative. There’s a story here in this functional public art and in that historic building.

I’m reflected in the window of this downtown “flower garden.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

As I meandered, I noticed a few other details. Like the colorful fake flowers blooming in a window. That scene simply made me smile.

Be on notice… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But when I spotted a BEWARE OF DOG sign on a garage door, I felt quite the opposite. At least no barking ensued, warning me to keep my distance.

This is the lovely corner building where I spotted the door fence to the far right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I wasn’t in Elgin all that long. Yet, I discovered details that imprint upon my memory. I’ll remember the church steeple in the backyard, the doors repurposed into a fence, the nuances that caught my eye. I take joy in finding these small town quirks/oddities/characteristics and I encourage you to look for the same when you’re out and about.

O’Neill’s Pizza Pub, which serves more than pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

FYI: Click here to read my previous post focusing on Elgin’s downtown business district. If you have information on any of the discoveries mentioned in this post, please share that with me in a comment.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Northfield tunnel art features spring in the Big Woods & more May 11, 2022

Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is featured in a public mural by Adam Turman. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

IN THE UNLIKLIEST of places—in the underpass tunnels of a roundabout—bold, nature-themed murals flash color onto concrete in Northfield. I love this public art created by renowned Minneapolis muralist Adam Turman in the pedestrian and biking underpasses at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 246 and Jefferson Parkway.

The rare Dwarf Trout Lily grows in only several places in the world, including at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

The art is unexpected. It’s vibrant. And it honors the ecologies of the Northfield area with four focused themes: Nerstrand Big Woods, the Cannon River, Oak Savannas and Prairie.

The recreational trail leading to one of the underpasses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

With the exception of winter, the paintings also cover three of Minnesota’s four distinct seasons.

An overview of the Nerstrand Big Woods underpass mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Because it’s spring, I’ll start by showing you the spring-themed art depicting nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The park proves a popular hiking spot with attractions like Hidden Falls, the rare Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily and, in the autumn, spectacular colors.

A rare Dwarf Trout Lily up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Seeing these murals for the first time calls for a thoughtful pace of studying the art, appreciating it and reflecting on how beautiful the natural world in and around Northfield.

Wild geraniums grace the Big Woods mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Vehicles may be passing overhead, but inside those underpasses the quiet beauty of nature prevails.

Adam Turman’s painting of Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

This roundabout came about because of a need for improved pedestrian safety and traffic flow along stretches of roadway used by commuters and kids/families going to and from school. I expect the roundabout, once people adjusted to it, has achieved its goal.

Stepping stones and rock cairn in the Big Woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

And then to have that bonus art beneath, well, what a welcome addition to an otherwise utilitarian project. The public art in Northfield brings to mind another such space that would work well for a nature-themed mural. That’s the tunnel under Highway 371 in Nisswa, a small, but busy, tourist town in the central Minnesota lakes region. Last time I walked through the 371 underpass from downtown Nisswa to Nisswa Lake Park, chalk art marked walls. I can envision Adam Turman’s bold graphic murals brightening this pedestrian and biking route with scenes depicting nature or perhaps Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox of Minnesota northwoods lore.

The artist’s signature. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

“Up North” themes more work done by Turman, who tags himself as an artist, muralist and screen printer. In my community, he’s created, loon, Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness and S’mores art for throws and pillowcases crafted at Faribault Mill (formerly Faribault Woolen Mill). He’s created for many other entities throughout Minnesota and the world. Target. Duluth Trading Company. The Minnesota State Fair. And many more.

Into Nerstrand Big Woods State Park via an underpass mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

For now, I appreciate seeing Turman’s work here in southern Minnesota, in neighboring Northfield.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for posts featuring the other three themed art tunnels in Northfield.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the heart of Northfield: A sculpture reflects community love April 12, 2022

Fused glass hearts on the sculpture “Spreading the Love.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

IN SOME WAYS, the “Spreading the Love” sculpture reminds me of a box of crayons. It’s a boldly colorful work of art sidling next to a sidewalk near the corner of Division and Sixth Streets in downtown Northfield.

The sculpture is located along Division Street, near Armory Square and Imminent Brewing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The crayon comparison comes in the mix of colors that combine in fused glass hearts created by Geralyn Thelen. The Northfield glass artist crafted the sculpture in collaboration with Hastings metal artist Dale Lewis as part of the 2020 Artists on Main Street Program.

Against a blue sky, a bold and beautiful multi-hued heart. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Signage explains the meaning of the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The heart-filled tree represents community. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The result is this metal community tree adorned with vibrant heart “leaves.” The heart shape represents love. And the mixed hues of those hearts represent inclusiveness, that all are welcome here.

Many hearts in many colors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

That brings me back to crayons. Remember the thrill of a new box of Crayola crayons? The scent. The sharp points. The rows of neatly packed colors in, oh, so many hues and shades? What kid didn’t want a box of 64 crayons versus the standard 24?

A full view of “Spreading the Love.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Yet, even though we had all those choices in colors, there were expectations. Grade school worksheets directed us to color the sun yellow, the grass green, the horse brown, the heart red, for example. To earn an S+ on a paper, we needed to follow directions. It was a way to teach reading and colors. But that left zero options for creativity, for an opening of the mind.

This shows how metal artist Dale Lewis attached the hearts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

To the child who yearned to use all the colors in the crayon box, following directions stifled creativity in the necessity of conformity. I’d like to think as adults that we consider all the colors in the crayon box. If only that were true.

Geralyn Thelen’s fused glass hearts represent love. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

That’s why projects like “Spreading the Love” hold such value. Art encourages us to see, to think, to open our minds and reflect. To color the sun purple, the grass orange, the horse pink, the heart in a mix of hues. Ours is a multi-colored world of skin tones, beliefs, lifestyles and more. Yet, we all share the commonality of love. Giving love. Receiving love. Feeling loved. And, it is my hope, spreading love.

TELL ME: How do you spread love?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Newest student sculpture graces library corner in downtown Northfield March 7, 2022

Historic buildings provide a backdrop for the Young Sculptors’ Project latest installation along Division Street in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

THE WELDED STEEL RODS arc and curve, bending toward Division Street alongside the Northfield Public Library. Dinner plate-sized poured aluminum sculptures attach to the rods, adding detailed interest to this public work of art.

The sculpture sits on a corner by the Northfield Library and changes out every two years. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

This sculpture, installed in 2021, is the latest in the Young Sculptors’ Project, a collaboration of the Northfield Public Schools and the Northfield Arts and Culture Commission “to increase visibility and value for the arts through public sculpture in the community.” It’s funded via a Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage grant through the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council.

Against the blue sky, the rods arc art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As someone who values the arts, especially accessible public art, I truly appreciate this joint effort. Professional artists guide the Northfield students who meet in the school’s art and industrial tech departments once a week during the school year to craft the sculptures.

A space theme defines this sculpture plate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Art and architecture create a pleasing visual along Northfield’s Division Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Butterfly, bug, florals fill this sculpture plate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Northeast Minneapolis professional artist Sara Hanson, along with sculptor apprentice William Lanzillo, led the 18 young creatives in their most recent endeavor. According to info about Lanzillo and the project on the Carleton College Studio Art website, the newest sculpture reflects aspects of Northfield which the students value and celebrate.

This corner by the library is the site for the Young Sculptors’ Project ongoing sculptures. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Through the years, I’ve delighted in discovering this public art at the base of the library hill on the corner of Division and Third Streets in the heart of downtown Northfield. The sculptures remain there for two years before being moved to a courtyard sculpture garden at Northfield High School.

Another poured aluminum sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The over-sized sculptures give me reason to pause, consider, reflect.

Such talent in these young artists. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As I reflect, I think how wonderful that these young people, these young artists, are guided, supported and encouraged. They are learning, growing, building their confidence. What a gift that is from this community and from those professional artists who guide them, who show them their work, their creativity, is valued.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Cannon Falls’ new mural November 2, 2021

Cannon Falls’ newest mural, completed earlier this year. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

WHEN ART INTEGRATES into a community in a publicly accessible way, I celebrate. There’s a reason I feel such gratitude. I grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal art exposure. Yet, today, I work as a creative. Expressing myself via writing and photography is my passion. My path to creativity began with the Little House books read aloud to me and my classmates by a grade school teacher. As I listened, words painted images of the scenes Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her writing.

That’s the backstory behind my deep appreciation for the arts—from visual to literary to performing.

A section of the mural also celebrates Minnesota with iconic images like Paul Bunyan, pine trees, a loon and notable buildings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021

I believe art should be accessible to everyone no matter their location, their income, their anything.

The mural is in a highly-visible location. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

So when I happened upon a new mural in the heart of downtown Cannon Falls recently, I felt grateful. Here, on the side of the Cannon Falls Area Chamber of Commerce building at a busy intersection along Minnesota State Highways 19/20 (4th and Main Streets), a colorful mural depicts the culture, heritage and history of Cannon Falls and the surrounding area.

History in words and art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The art reveals much about this small town along the Cannon River, about the early influence of Native Americans and French fur traders. Today, outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to canoe that same river. Others bike, walk and run on recreational trails.

A farmer hauls his grain through downtown Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The mural shows, too, the importance of art and agriculture here. On the day I visited Cannon Falls, a farmer steered his John Deere tractor, pulling a wagon heaped with corn, through downtown. Past the mural. I love moments like this when art and reality intersect. This mural truly reflects its community.

The importance of sports and a local park are depicted in the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

A close up look reveals the words Burch Park on a scoreboard behind a ball player. That references nearby John Burch Park, home to the Cannon Falls Bombers, Cannon Falls Bears and other teams. Sports, in most small towns, are a source of community pride, of togetherness.

Artist info… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

This new public mural also brought people together. Under the artistic leadership of Cannon Falls native and New York artist Kelli Bickman, some 30 community members and students joined to make this mural happen. Bickman is the founder and director of Youth Mural Arts, which taps into student talent to create public art. A $3,000 grant from Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to the Cannon Arts Board along with a Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation Paint the Town Grant (for 15 gallons of paint) made the project possible.

A close-up of the mural reveals a map, a list of parks, the importance of agriculture and more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As I stood viewing and photographing Cannon Falls’ newest mural, I wondered about the middle and high school students who painted the scenes before me. I hope they feel valued, appreciated and, most of all, inspired. Art opens doors. Doors to the future. Doors to seeing the world in a new way. And that is powerful.

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NOTE: Please check back as I take you inside the Cannon Falls Library to view more art.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The leaping deer of Deerwood August 24, 2021

Leaping whitetail deer art in Deerwood, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I APPRECIATE OUTDOOR public art. That includes kitschy roadside sculptures that define communities. The walleye in Garrison. The prairie chicken in Rothsay. The otter in Fergus Falls. Babe the Blue Ox in countless Up North Minnesota towns.

And in Deerwood, a Crow Wing County community of around 550, a leaping whitetail deer. The jumping deer, located in Elmer Park, is visible from Highway 6. I snapped a shot of it from the road last trip through this town in mid-July.

A little poking around online revealed that Deerwood was originally known as Withington. But, after being too often confused with Worthington in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, it was officially named Deerwood. That makes sense given its location among the lakes and hardwoods of central Minnesota where deer abound.

I learned a bit more history. Cuyler Adams of Deerwood discovered the iron ore which led to mining in this region. Thus the name Cuyuna Range—a combination of Adams’ first name and the name of his dog, Una.

Oh, the things you learn upon seeing, and photographing, a memorable deer sculpture next to a roadway.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite roadside sculpture? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Latest mural blooms in downtown Faribault June 4, 2021

“LOVE FOR ALL” mural photographed on May 29, 2021. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

ART BLOOMS ON A MASSIVE white canvas, brightening a street corner in the heart of downtown Faribault with flowers in vibrant hues.

It’s an in-progress floral delight created by Jordyn Brennan. The Faribault City Council selected the Minneapolis-based visual artist to paint the 85 x 35-foot instagrammable mural on a blank wall next to a parking lot on the corner of First Avenue NW and Third Street NW.

A big space to fill. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

A week ago I photographed the project, which differs from the many historically-themed murals scattered throughout the downtown. This one, while also incorporating history, is more universal.

Yet, Brennan thought local when designing this “LOVE FOR ALL” mural. She’s incorporating the word LOVE—spelled in American sign language, braille and text. Faribault is home to the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind. Skin tones on the signing hands will also vary, celebrating our community’s diversity.

The flowers, too, hold significance, according to Brennan’s Facebook page. Yellow mums trace back to Lehman Gardens, founded here in 1931 and nationally-recognized for its mums. The mum gardens drew thousands of visitors. The mum business continues today as Mums of Minnesota owned by Faribault Growers, Inc.

The peonies painted into the mural honor the long ago Brand Peony Farm, no longer in existence. The nationally-renowned peony grower/developer earned Faribault the title of “Peony Capital of the World.” The community celebrated with an annual peony festival and parade, and brides stored peonies in caves along the river. In many Faribault residential neighborhoods you’ll see peonies bushes, currently in bloom.

Brennan also painted another Faribault famous flower, the clematis, in to her mural. Donahue’s Greenhouse, just blocks from my home, grows one of the largest selections of clematis in the country.

Finally, the rare, endangered Dwarf Trout Lily also earned a spot in this floral garden. The mini lily grows in only three places in the world—in Rice, Steele and Goodhue counties—and can be found locally at River Bend Nature Center.

To the left in this image, you can see one of the architecturally beautiful historic buildings that define downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

I love how this young Minneapolis artist put so much thought into designing a vibrant mural that is universally appealing yet reflective of Faribault. I expect this oversized public art piece will provide the backdrop for many a fun photo opp. For visitors and locals alike. Maybe even for brides clutching peony bouquets.

FYI: Jordyn Brennan, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Arts, has been working hard on the mural with a goal of completing it by mid-June, just in time for Faribault’s Heritage Days celebration. She’s painted more since I took these photos. I will do a follow-up post when the mural is done. This talented young artist is also pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. She’s completed other flower and nature-themed murals. Be sure to visit her website.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling