Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part II: The artistry of St. Michael’s in Buckman January 27, 2021

St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

WHEN I STEP INSIDE A CHURCH like St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Buckman in central Minnesota, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer artistic beauty and craftsmanship. I wonder about those who built this massive church in 1903, dedicating it on September 29, St. Michael’s Day. How did they manage to build this 118 years ago without modern equipment? That amazes me.

Looking toward the front of St. Michael’s. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Beyond the actual structure, which surely took much muscle, many manpower hours and grit to complete, I wonder about the artists behind the artwork inside. Who crafted the stained glass windows? Who built the altars? Who shaped the statues and painted the angels and built the pews?

A stained glass depiction of Jesus carrying his cross. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
One of the side altars, right, at St. Michael’s. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
The Nativity represented in stained glass, left. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I am grateful to those faith-focused artists and craftsman who created such beauty here in the middle of Minnesota. A place for farm families (mostly) to gather for Mass. To praise God. To confess their sins. To press their hearts in prayer. To mourn. To celebrate. To grow deeper in their faith.

The Last Supper is depicted on the lower part of the main altar. Simply stunning. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

The Helbling family made St. Michael’s their church home upon relocating to Minnesota from North Dakota in 1963. My husband, Randy, and his siblings attended elementary school across the street. That school, next to the cemetery, is long gone. My mother-in-law and a brother-in-law are buried here, across Minnesota Highway 25 from the church. So, by marriage, St. Michael’s is now part of my history.

Just look at the emotions sculpted into this art. I see peace, pain, determination… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Certainly, I don’t hold the deep emotional connection that comes from years of worshiping within the walls of this rural Minnesota church. But I still hold a deep appreciation for this place which was such a valued part of my in-laws’ lives.

Stained glass windows and sculptures adorn the side walls of St. Michael’s. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

As a woman of faith—I grew up Lutheran—I value aged churches and art. Religious art is often symbolic, reinforcing Bible truths and stories. It can uplift, comfort, provide peace, bring joy, remind us of our weaknesses and the source of strength and hope. It can center and ground us when we most need to feel centered and grounded.

Massive pipes on the pipe organ in the St. Michael’s balcony. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Many times, church art has reinforced my faith, helped me to feel the presence and closeness of God whether in a stained glass window, the words of a familiar hymn or the comfort of a worn wooden pew.

“Pilate condemns Jesus to death” sculpture between two stained glass windows. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Inside St. Michael’s, generations of families have gathered. I am grateful for those early settlers who labored to create this sanctuary in the small town of Buckman, Minnesota.

Please check back as I take you inside St. Michael’s for the final post in this three-part series.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Good Friday: Faith & Art April 10, 2020

Photographed at St. Jarlath Cemetery, Waseca County, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FAITH INSPIRES ART.

 

Centering the altar is this depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In my many years exploring Minnesota’s backroads and small towns, I’ve discovered impressive art in churches and cemeteries.

 

A stained glass window inside Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

From sculpted tombstones to glorious and vibrant stained glass windows, this art inspires, uplifts and illustrates history recorded in biblical accounts. Like Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus.

 

In the face of Mary, I see profound grief in losing her son, Jesus. Sculpture photographed at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today I’ve selected a few photos from my files that honor Christ, this important day and my Christian faith.

 

A cross in Trebon Cemetery, 10 miles northwest of Faribault in Shieldsville Township. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate the skills of these artists. Their work stirs emotions. And thoughts, especially of gratitude.

 

A monument in St. Michael’s Cemetery, Buckman, MN., where my mother-in-law in buried. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, August 2012.

 

In the darkness and sadness of Good Friday, I anticipate the light and joy of Easter. Even more so in these current difficult days.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The sacred art of Holy Week & of Easter April 21, 2019

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion. I photographed this window at Vang Lutheran Church, rural Dennison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IN MY YEARS of photographing churches, most in rural Minnesota, I’ve grown to appreciate stained glass windows. They prevail in country churches.

 

Jesus’ crucifixion as depicted in a stained glass window inside Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

All tell stories, most biblical. I admire this visual art, this way of sharing scripture and faith that connects beyond words.

 

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church, filled with stained glass windows. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As sunlight streams through the colored pieces of glass, that bold beauty causes eyes to land on the art, to focus on whatever the artist has chosen to depict. Holiness. Reverence. Hope. Eternal life.

 

The women and angel outside the empty tomb on the risen Lord as interpreted on a stained glass window in Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I sorted through my photo files selecting specific stained glass window images that portray today. Easter.

 

This shows a snippet of the center stained glass window in a trio above the altar at Trinity Lutheran Church, Wanamingo, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

May you see in these stained glass art photos the story of Holy Week and the reason I celebrate Easter—the resurrection of Christ.

 

A photo of Christ’s face from a stained glass window in my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A most blessed and happy Easter to each of you, dear friends.

 

NOTE: As I wrote this post Monday afternoon, I heard breaking news of the devastating fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral. While I’ve never been there, my heart breaks for this loss of a house of worship, for the works of art and history and heritage therein. Such a loss causes me to value even more the stained glass windows of the churches I’ve photographed. 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering Minnesota’s oldest Czech church, St. Wenceslaus July 2, 2015

AS A LIFE-LONG LUTHERAN, I’m mostly unfamiliar with patron saints of the Catholic church, even though my husband, now Lutheran, grew up Catholic.

The Church of St. Wenceslaus, New Prague, Minnesota.

The Church of St. Wenceslaus, New Prague, Minnesota.

So when I happened upon the majestic Church of St. Wenceslaus rising above the east end of New Prague’s Main Street, I had to research the saint whose carved image guards the impressive columned front entry.

A close-up of the St. Wenceslaus statue above the main church entry.

A close-up of the St. Wenceslaus statue above the main church entry.

St. Wenceslaus, duke of Bohemia from 921 until his murder in 935, is considered a martyr for the faith and is hailed as the patron of the Bohemian people and the former Czechoslavakia.

A side and rear view of this stunning church.

A side and rear view of this stunning church.

The selection of this saint for the New Prague congregation is fitting for a community with strong Czech roots. Founded in 1856, the Church of St. Wenceslaus is the oldest Czech church in Minnesota. It is now part of the New Prague Area Catholic Community.

This is the old section of St. Wenceslaus Catholic School, located next to the church. An addition was built in 2003. Students from kindergarten through eighth grades attend.

This is the old section of St. Wenceslaus Catholic School, built in 1914 and located next to the church. An addition was built in 2003. Students from kindergarten through eighth grades attend.

The parish also includes a school opened in 1878.

The church features two towers.

The church features two towers.

This duo towered brick church is stunningly beautiful. I paused numerous times while photographing the exterior simply to admire its artful construction. Churches aren’t built like this any more.

Even the side stairs are artful and the entire church well-maintained.

Even the side stairs are artful and the entire church exterior well-maintained.

My single regret was finding the doors locked on a Sunday afternoon. This was not unexpected; most sanctuaries are locked now days. I could only imagine the lovely stained glass windows I would find inside, along with more statues of patron saints and worn pews.

In sunlight (right) and in shade, the exterior tile floor under the columned entry is lovely.

In sunlight (right) and in shade, the exterior tile floor under the columned entry impresses.

Being Lutheran, I am intrigued by aged Catholic churches which are often significantly embellished with ornate details and religious art. This is so unlike most Lutheran churches. I appreciate both, wherein I find solace and peace. And perhaps that is the reason I seek out churches to photograph. Photographing them connects me, in a visual way, to God.

BONUS PHOTOS:

An overview of Mary's Garden, located between church and school.

An overview of Mary’s Garden, located between church and school.

Children surround the statue of Mary in the garden.

Children surround the statue of Mary in the garden.

Children of many ethnicities are part of the Mary statue.

Children of many ethnicities are part of the Mary statue.

More details in the garden statue art.

More details in the garden statue art.

At the foot of the Mary statue, a message, in Czech, says "welcome."

At the foot of the Mary statue, a message in Czech says “welcome.”

Petunias spill from a windowbox at the front of the school.

Petunias spill from a windowbox at the front of the school.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My latest art-at-a-bargain find from the Salvation Army August 7, 2011

My Jose Maria de Servin painting.

WHAT’S YOUR PREFERENCE in art?

Do you shop for mass-produced art at a big box retailer?

Or are you the gallery type, purchasing one-of-a-kind fine art?

Maybe you shop flea markets, rummage sales or thrift stores for hand-crafted or vintage art.

Perhaps you’re artistic enough to create your own art to hang in your home or workplace.

If you know me as well as I expect you may from following Minnesota Prairie Roots, you would rightly guess that I prefer to find one-of-a-kind art at a bargain by shopping second-hand. Notice that I didn’t say bargain art. I said art at a bargain. There’s a difference.

My collection includes original paintings by hobbyist painters, prints by unknown artists, embroidered pieces by someone’s grandma… I’ve purchased most at unbelievably low prices—try 50 cents or $3.

Through the years I’ve even acquired an original Jose Maria de Servin painting and a vintage print of South Dakota artist Harvey Dunn’s  “The Prairie is My Garden” at steal prices. Both times I had no idea what I was purchasing. I simply liked the art.

That’s the thing with me and art. I buy a piece of art not as an investment, but because I like it.

That said, I recently picked up a three-dimensional rendition of  “The Last Supper” at the Salvation Army Store in Faribault. I debated whether I should pay $14 for the made-in-Spain art. In fact, I set the 24 x 17-inch piece down twice before watching another woman pick up and admire it. At that precise moment I decided I really wanted the unique art. I had to restrain my urge to run over and snatch it up after she set it back on the shelf. I waited until she was well out of grabbing range.

The Last Supper three-dimensional art I bought at The Salvation Army Store.

Later, the woman stood behind me in the check-out line and told me how she wished she had “The Last Supper” I clenched in my hands. “Then I saw you pick it up,” she said.

I responded with a seemingly casual remark: “Yeah, if you see something you think you might buy, you shouldn’t set it down…”

HOW ABOUT YOU? Where do you shop for art and what deals have you found?

Close up with Christ and the disciples at The Last Supper.

I hung the three-dimensional The Last Supper in my dining room.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling