Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Incredible quilt art in Owatonna April 9, 2014

The entry to the Owatonna Art Center

The entry to the Owatonna Arts Center, inside the former Minnesota State Public School for Dependent  and Neglected Children, later renamed the Owatonna State School. The City of Owatonna now owns the site, today called West Hills with the OAC located at 435 Garden View Lane.

HE EXPRESSED IT so well, the quilter’s husband waiting outside the Owatonna Arts Center Sunday afternoon for invited guests to arrive from Rochester.

A quilted work of art bursts with color.

A quilted work of art bursts with color.

Quilting, he surmised, has evolved from a homemaker’s craft to a recognized form of art.

The quilter's husband and the quilter view the extensive collection of quilts.

The quilter’s husband and the quilter view the extensive collection of quilts.

He’s so right.

If you appreciate art and quilts, you will want to see "Quilts in Bloom"

If you appreciate art and quilts, you will want to see “Quilts in Bloom”

“Quilts in Bloom,” featuring around 80 quilts stitched by members of the local Piecemakers Quilt Guild, blossoms in the nooks and crannies of gallery space in an exhibit that runs from now until April 27.

Baskets of blossoms and more.

Baskets of blossoms and more.

This show simply blooms with creativity:

A close-up of the traditional Dresden Plate pattern in the foreground with a second quilt in the background.

A close-up of the traditional Dresden Plate pattern in the foreground with a second quilt in the background.

A contrast of modern geometrical to the traditional Sunbonnet Girls.

A contrast of modern geometrical to the traditional Sunbonnet Girls.

This block from the 1930s Sunbonnet Sue pattern features quilting and embroidery.

This block from the 1930s Sunbonnet Sue pattern features quilting and embroidery.

I really liked this pairing of wood sculpture with quilt art. The wood tone compliments the earthy colors of the quilt.

I really like this pairing of wood sculpture with quilt art. The earthy tones in each complement one another.

For $1, you can buy a chance to win "Stars in My Garden."

For $1, you can buy a chance to win “Stars in My Garden.”

A block in a teapot themed quilt.

A block in a teapot themed quilt.

During the open reception, musicians performed in the venue space, where several quilts are displayed.

During the opening reception, musicians performed in the venue space, where several quilts are displayed.

Whimsical art.

Whimsical art.

Touring the exhibit on opening day.

A Faribault quilter and his wife tour the exhibit on opening day.

Floral design at its quilting best.

Floral design at its quilting best.

Quilt art lines a hallway.

Quilt art lines a hallway.

From the playful to geometric, abstract, traditional, whimsical and more, you’ll discover an array of eye-pleasing colors and patterns here.

Artist Lois Doyle created "Mountain Laurel," a quilt she started 25 years ago. She has several quilts in the show. Laurie Spindler machine quilted this quilt.

Artist Lois Doyle created “Mountain Laurel,” a quilt she started 25 years ago. She has several quilts in the show. Laurie Spindler machine quilted this quilt. Even with arthritic hands, Lois still quilts. Remarkable.

The talent of these quilters impresses me. Truly, they deserve the title of artists.

This sign posted at the quilt show says it all.

This sign posted at the quilt show says it all.

FYI: This marks the 10th annual Piecemakers Quilt Guild show, which is held every three years. You can tour “Quilts in Bloom” during gallery hours, from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday. A $3 donation is suggested. Click here for more information.

BONUS PHOTO: 

While at the show, be sure to stop and appreciate this beautiful space connecting the Owatonna Arts Center to the

While at the show, stop to appreciate this beautiful space connecting the Owatonna Arts Center to the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum. I’d suggest allowing time to tour the museum and nearby cottage. Check hours before coming as they may differ from gallery hours.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In which I meet Amish quilter Fannie Miller on her Lenora farm October 11, 2013

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THE AMISH HAVE ALWAYS intrigued me. I can’t explain specifically why, except to admit that perhaps I am a bit envious of their minimalist lifestyle, one likely similar to that of my farmer forefathers.

Never have I gotten a closer look at Amish life than on an early October 2012 day trip to the Lenora/Canton/Harmony area of southeastern Minnesota.

My first glimpse of the Amish began in unincorporated Lenora in southeastern Fillmore County where my husband and I were searching for the historic Lenora Methodist Church. Unable to initially locate the church (how we could miss it in tiny Lenora is beyond me), we stopped at Summer Kitchen Antiques, which was closed, and then began driving east onto a gravel road.

An Amish buggy approaches our car just on the outskirts of Lenora.

Just barely past the antique shop, an Amish buggy came into view and I raised my camera to snap two quick photos through the passenger side windshield. Now I know how the Amish forbid face photos, and I am (mostly) respectful in their close presence. But when they are traveling on a public roadway in a region that markets itself as a “see the Amish” destination, from which the Amish benefit financially, I do not feel obliged to keep my camera tucked away.

A close-up look at the approaching buggy shows a young Amish boy reading a book to his little sister as their mother guides the horse and buggy down the gravel road.

After that initial sighting, we came upon a roadside sign advertising quilts and table runners less than one-quarter of a mile from Lenora. My excitement heightened as we turned into the Amish farmyard, even though I was acutely aware I’d need to keep my shutter button finger mostly still.

That proved to be a challenge as I desired more than anything to photograph the red-haired pre-teen Amish girl with the pinkish birthmark splotched across her right cheek lolling on the feather-littered lawn next to her younger brother with the bowl-cut auburn hair.

When I cannot take a photo, I imprint visual details upon my mind.

Fannie Miller’s brick house is on the right, her shop in the attached lean-to just to the left.

The siblings directed us toward a lean-to attached to a stately and aging brick house adjacent to a wood-frame house. Dogs roamed while a third one, tethered to a thick chain in a pole shed next to an Amish buggy, barked with a ferocity that made me thankful he was restrained.

My first glimpse of the Millers’ dog chained in the pole shed.

The pungent smell of silage wafted across the yard as, across the gravel road, a farmer pushed the fermented corn with his tractor and loader.

Stepping onto the lean-to porch, I eyed a handwritten “no photos” sign and pulled my camera close to my side. Randy made a point of pointing out the warning to me, as if I couldn’t see it.

And then we met Fannie Miller, whose name aptly describes her rotund physical appearance. She settled onto a chair and watched as I caressed her fine handiwork, praised her stitching. I admired the sturdy, blue built-in wall of cupboards in the corner and told Fannie so.

I wished, in that moment, that I could photograph the entire scene before me and through the doorway into the next room where Fannie’s husband napped in a chair by the wood-burning stove. His chin dipped, his scruffy beard defining my side view of the old man sleeping. In the corner I spotted a patchwork quilt snugged across a single bed. I dared not look more for fear Fannie would banish me from her home.

I hang my laundry outside, so I was particularly intrigued by this circular drying rack onto which handkerchiefs were clipped on the porch of Fannie’s house.

I remember thinking, though, before exiting Fannie’s shop, before asking her if I could photograph hankies drying on her porch on this Monday wash day in October, how perfect and lovely the natural light that filtered into the two rooms of her house.

The children ran into this house after I stepped out of Fannie’s shop.

She granted me permission to photograph outside, as long as I did not photograph the children. I told her I would respect her request, then watched the red-haired siblings scamper inside their house.

Just another buggy parked on the Miller farm. I was surprised to see the round bales.

I snapped several more building and buggy photos, though not too many as to overstay our welcome, before passing by the now placid chained dog and turning onto the gravel road back to Lenora.

My final photo on the Miller farm, of the dog turned docile.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for another post about the Amish in the Canton and Harmony areas.

Click here to read my previous post about the historic Lenora United Methodist Church.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Quilt art celebrates rural Faribault woman’s passion for quilting July 3, 2013

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The sun sets as I approach Barb and Bob's farm east of Faribault.

The sun sets as I approach Barb and Bob’s farm east of Faribault.

ON A RECENT RURAL OUTING to forage rhubarb from my friend Barb’s abundant patch, I noticed a work of art I hadn’t previously seen displayed on her farm east of Faribault.

A a display of Americana art.

A display of Americana art.

Attached to weathered tin on the end of a pole shed hangs a red, white and blue “Star Shadow” quilt block painted on an eight-foot square of plywood.

The barn quilt is tied to Barb’s passion for quilting, something she’d do all day if only she didn’t have to cook or clean or…

"Star Shadow."

“Star Shadow.”

She’d seen similar painted quilts on barns, always wanted one and a few years ago, along with husband Bob, chose the Star Shadow design for their quilt art. No particular reason for the design—just one they both liked, although they knew the paint hues would be in the trio of patriotic colors.

Barb’s a long-time seamstress who once sewed her own clothes, embroidered and then began making simple block quilts before attempting a tulip quilt. She struggled with the tulip quilt, finishing it in the early 1990s, some 40 years after beginning the project.

Since that quilting success, Barb’s emerged as an avid quilter, stitching countless bed-sized quilts, wall hangings, placemats, table runners and more. She keeps her work or gives it away, including to charities. As a member of the Blue Chicks, a local quilting group that meets monthly, Barb has sewn quilts for the Ronald McDonald House. She also quilts with her sisters once a month and recently joined the quilting circle at her church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. That church group donates most of its quilts to charity.

“I’m infected with the pox,” Barb says of her quilting passion. She collects fabric, goes on fabric-shopping road trips with fellow quilters…

Although my friend doesn’t design her own quilt patterns, she enjoys the creative aspect that comes in selecting designs and colors, pulling it all together in a work of art—whether stitched or painted.

BONUS FARM PHOTOS:

The beautiful barn on Barb and Bob's 100-year-old plus family farm.

The beautiful barn on Barb and Bob’s 100-year-old plus family farm.

Rhubarb grows by the old smokehouse, which now houses garden tools.

Rhubarb nudges the old smokehouse, which now houses garden tools.

This farm is typical old style farmplace with lots of outbuildings, including the granery on the left, one of the oldest buildings on the farm.

This farm is typical old style farm place with lots of outbuildings, including the updated granery on the left, one of the oldest structures on the farm.

The message on the granery door reflects Barb's attitude: "The sheds are full of stuff and it's all good."

The message on the granery door reflects Barb’s attitude: “The sheds are full of stuff and it’s all good.”

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet finds in downtown Montgomery, Part I April 10, 2013

Rani's Furniture @ Antiques housed in a former hardware store in downtown Montgomery.

Rani’s Furniture @ Antiques housed in a former hardware store in downtown Montgomery.

I LOVE A SWEET vintage find. However, I can’t always own what I covet, even if the price is right. That’s reality. My pockets are not deep nor my house large.

But that doesn’t keep me from shopping thrift and antique shops like those my husband and I perused on a recent visit to Montgomery, Minnesota. I suggested we take the van, just in case we found a piece of furniture for the son who is moving into his first apartment in six weeks.

Randy saw right through that smokescreen.

I purchased the white table on the right and had to keep myself from buying the $60 dining room set.

I purchased the white table on the right and had to keep myself from buying the $60 dining room set. Note the beautiful original wood floor in this former hardware store building.

At Rani’s Furniture @ Antiques, Montgomery’s newest business (opened on April 3), I found my furniture find, much to the spouse’s chagrin. He couldn’t quite understand why I just “had to have” a $15 shabby chic round table with peeling paint.

I practiced my persuasive speaking skills. Think al fresco dining or an indoor/outdoor plant stand or a guest bedroom bed-side table and/or a really cool table to use at the daughter’s upcoming wedding reception in an historic venue. Randy wasn’t exactly buying my arguments, but acquiesced and dutifully loaded the table into the back of our van.

This 100-plus-year-old Hoosier cabinet had seven layers of paint on it before Mary Bowen refinished it. The cabinet is being sold in her son Dean Turnlund's store for $325.

This 100-plus-year-old Hoosier cabinet had seven layers of paint on it before Mary Bowen refinished it. The cabinet is being sold in her son Dean Turnlund’s store for $325.

I wished I could have stuffed a round dining room table with the heaviest wood chairs I’ve ever lifted; a 100-plus-year-old Hoosier cabinet resplendent with tip-out bins; and two aged wardrobes into the van, too. But I wasn’t about to push my luck and purchase this furniture I neither needed nor have space for in our home.

Love these old wardrobes for sale at Rani's.

Love these old wardrobes for sale at Rani’s.

A girl can dream, though, can’t she?

The stone block steps leading into Rani's.

The stone block steps leading into Rani’s.

I tend to get all starry-eyed whenever I enter an antique or other shop featuring vintage furniture. Rani’s, housed in a hulking corner brick building labeled as “Lepeskas Block 1898,” had me in her clutch even before I stepped onto the substantial stone steps leading into the former hardware store.

Michelle McCrady owns Quilter's Dream and the adjacent music store, 116 First Street South in downtown Montgomery.

Michelle McCrady owns Quilter’s Dream and the adjacent Montgomery Music Studio.

Likewise, even though I’m not a quilter, Michelle McCrady’s Quilter’s Dream dreamy quilt shop, located two blocks north of Rani’s in the Old Ben Franklin store and complete with an impressive original tin ceiling, charmed me, too. I cannot resist the sweet touch of historic features.

Quilter's Dream features a beautiful original tin ceiling and a wonderful collection of quilts, fabrics, notions and more.

Quilter’s Dream features a beautiful original tin ceiling and a wonderful collection of quilts, fabrics, notions and more.

Plus, entering Michelle’s shop was like stepping into spring with vibrant hues splashing across quilts and bolts of fabric. This quilt shop reawakened the seamstress in me—the teen who, in the seventies, stitched clothing from hot pants to the shortest of short skirts to sensible simple dresses for Grandma.

Bolts of eye-catching fabrics in bright hues line shelves.

Bolts of eye-catching fabrics in bright hues line shelves.

I’ve never lost my appreciation for bolts and bolts and bolts of cotton fabric awaiting the pinning of straight pins, the snip of scissors, the stitch of thread. There’s something artfully satisfying about creating from fabric.

A sampling of the gorgeous quilts you'll find in Michelle's shop.

A sampling of the gorgeous quilts you’ll find in Michelle’s shop.

Fifteen minutes in Michelle’s shop will convince you that this mother of 11 is passionate about quilting and all things fabric. She teaches classes, leases out time on her long-arm quilting machine and stitches up plenty of cute gifts from aprons to bibs, not to mention the many fabulous quilts gracing her store walls.

This owl quilt centers a back nook.

This owl quilt centers a back nook.

Who knew such sweet finds await shoppers in Montgomery? Not me.

Another nook, this one at the front of the quilt shop.

Another nook, this one at the front of the quilt shop.

Michelle uses this long-arm sewing machine to quilt at the shop. Quilters can also pay to use the machine.

Michelle uses this long-arm sewing machine to quilt at the shop. Quilters can also pay to use the machine.

FYI: Quilter’s Dream, 116 First Street South, is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday and from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday.  Click here to reach the Quilter’s Facebook page.

One of my other favorite finds at Rani's, a vintage 50s toy chest.

Two other favorite finds at Rani’s: a vintage 50s toy chest and Cabbage Patch dolls.

And just because I appreciate vintage graphics, here's the label inside the toy box lid.

And just because I appreciate vintage graphics, here’s the label inside the toy box lid.

Rani’s Furniture @ Antiques, 300 First Street South,  is open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday – Saturday.

CHECK BACK TOMORROW as I take you into more sweet shops in this southern Minnesota community. Click here to read my introductory post to this small town. And click here to view my photo essay on an old-fashioned Montgomery barbershop, Main Street Barber.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stitches of love April 6, 2011

Handmade quilts drape across pews at St. John's United Church of Christ.

INSIDE THE LIMESTONE CHURCH, patchwork quilts drape across the backs of pews, spilling onto cushy red seat cushions.

Only hours earlier during the Sunday morning church service, worshippers settled onto the quilts handmade by St. John’s United Church of Christ members.

On a Saturday in February, members of the Women’s Guild, and a few husbands, gathered at this country church in Wheeling Township in southeastern Rice County to stuff the quilts with batting, add backings and tie together the layers with snippets of yarn.

 

St. John's old stone church has been in continuous use for more than 150 years. German settlers founded the congregation in 1856.

This year, according to church member and quilter Kim Keller, the quilters made 13 baby quilts and 13 big quilts.

The handmade blankets will go to graduating high school seniors—two at St. John’s this spring—and to missions, mostly local.

 

One of the many handmade quilts that will be given away.

As I perused the quilts, I considered the devotion of those who piece together the swatches of fabric, tie together the layers and knot the strands of yarn. These quilts represent gifts that touch the recipients physically, but, more importantly, emotionally and perhaps spiritually.

Stroke the fabric and you can almost feel the love stitched into each quilt.

That these blankets are then displayed for worshippers to see, and sit upon, adds another dimension to the project. As I photographed the quilts, as the sun streamed through the church’s restored stained glass windows, I thought of the blessings received by both the givers and the receivers. Joy that comes in selfless giving. Joy that comes in knowing someone cares enough about you and your needs to stitch a quilt.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

The stained glass windows at St. John's were restored between 2004 - 2006 at a cost of more than $30,000.

 

A view from the St. John's balcony of the church interior and the quilts.

TEN MILES AWAY in Faribault, about a dozen women at my church, Trinity Lutheran, meet every Wednesday morning from September through May to finish quilts that are donated to those in need. Seamstresses sew the quilt tops at home and then bring them, along with the backings, to church where the Trinity Quilters add the batting and then tie together the layers with yarn.

For 60-plus years now, the women of Trinity have been stitching quilts. “It’s a mission project,”  says long-time quilter Betty Gudknecht. “I want to help other people. You want to do things for the Lord because you want to do it (not because you’re paid).”

With that spirit of giving and serving, the Trinity quilters make about 200 quilts annually. They donate them to places like Minnesota Teen Challenge, the Orphan Grain Train, the Red Cross, Burdens to Blessings, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots, and to others in need. Trinity’s graduating high school seniors also receive quilts.

This week the Trinity Quilters are auctioning off three quilts in a silent auction that ends mid-morning on Sunday, April 10. They need the auction money to purchase batting for their 60 x 80-inch quilts. A single roll of recently-purchased cotton batting, which will make 16 quilts, cost $90, and that was at 50 percent off.

In the past, the quilters have gotten creative, using old blankets, mattress pads and even the outsides of electric blankets, as “batting.” They still plan to use those resources, but would also like to use the softer, purchased cotton batting.

While the quilt-makers sometimes buy fabric, most often it is donated.

If you’re interested in bidding on one of the quilts at Trinity Lutheran Church—and I’m sorry, I don’t have photos of the quilts—get your bids in this week.

Cash donations are also being accepted to help the quilters purchase batting.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

 

The steeple of St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, Rice County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating quilt art at the cathedral October 4, 2010

A banner in front of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour along Second Avenue N.W. in Faribault draws visitors to the Rice County Piecemakers Quilt Show.

AS MUCH AS I ENJOYED the Rice County Piecemakers Fall Splendor Quilt Show at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault this past weekend, I was nagged by guilt.

First, my paternal grandma was a quilter. Therefore, it seems I should be genetically predisposed to quilting. But I am not.

Second, I won a door prize—a stash of fabric pieces—that I was delighted to win because I like to win. The patches were even in my favorite color, green. But, because I don’t quilt, I almost felt like I should return the prize to be awarded to some deserving quilter. I didn’t. Instead, I gave the pieces to my friend Marilynn and her daughter Kellie, who are beginning quilters.

Third, several of the quilters asked if I was a quilter. I replied that I made several baby quilts more than 20 years ago and that I sewed nearly all of my clothes when I was a teenager. I don’t think they were impressed. But it was the best I could offer.

Really, these quilters were very nice and they do some mighty fine work. Their quilts are works of art, masterpieces, examples of detailed stitchery and creativity that leaves me wishing I possessed even an ounce of their talent.

Pam Schuenke received the Viewer's First Choice Award in the Challenge Division for her 28-inch square pineapple block pattern creation. She pieced together 150 fabric swatches into nine blocks and added some autumn pizazz by blanket-stitching the seams with gold metallic thread. Entrants in the Challenge Division had to visibly incorporate five specific fabrics into their quilt pieces. Pam also won the top award in the miscellaneous category with an oriental table runner. She's been a Piecemakers member since the late 1980s.


Rows of quilts hung in the cathedral's Guild House.

Quilts and stained glass complemented each other.

Brenda Langworthy created this whimsical "Dog Show" quilt.

Some of the challenge quilts, which included five selected fabrics.

Twyla Sporre quilted "Pop Goes the Weasel" in the challenge competition of the Piecemakers exhibit.

The Piecemakers laid quilts across the 50 some pews in the sanctuary. A total of 200 quilts were shown through-out the church complex. Visitors were asked to vote for their favorites in the following categories: bed quilts, throws/lap quilts, baby items, wall hangings, miscellaneous and challenge quilts.

These adorable quilted bear potholders were on sale in the dining room.

Mary Peterson created "My Fine Sweet Girls," and here's one of those sweet girls.

THE RICE COUNTY PIECEMAKERS meet from 7 – 9 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, 219 N.W. Fourth Avenue, Faribault. Meetings feature speakers, demonstrations, and “show and tell.” There are no dues and the club’s motto is “Sewing friendships one stitch at a time.”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling