Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Red carpet treatment for Faribault artists January 15, 2011

A replica marquee on the historic Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault welcomes guests to the opening night gallery reception for Rhody Yule and Adam Kuehnel.

Rhody Yule & Adam Kuehnel

FARIBAULT FIGURATIVELY rolled out the red carpet last night for two local artists.

I’m thrilled with the receptions given to watercolor artist Adam Kuehnel and my friend, oil painter Rhody Yule, at the Paradise Center for the Arts on opening night of their exhibits. I’m not good at numbers, but I’m certain more than 100 guests, maybe closer to 150, attended Friday evening’s event. That’s an exceptional turn-out.

Adam opened his “Founded Upon the Waters: A Collection of Works.”

Rhody opened his “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection.”

I met Adam for the first time last night and was impressed by this friendly young man who teaches English in nearby Kenyon, has an architecture degree and paints for enjoyment.

I’ve known Rhody for about 1 ½ years, after discovering him via art hung on the side of his rural Faribault garage. Rhody, like Adam, possesses a passion for painting.

To see the two artists together last night warmed my heart. Rhody is 92 and has been painting for 76 years. Adam is exactly 60 years his junior and just beginning his artistic pursuit.

This first-ever gallery show is a long overdue honor for Rhody. It was clear to me from the way guests embraced him and his art last night that they loved what they saw. Every time I glanced over at Rhody, seated just inside the gallery in a comfy chair, someone was bending down to talk to him, to shake his hand, to praise his art.

Rhody, minutes before his gallery show opened.

This photo shows only a portion of the 50-plus paintings in Rhody's exhibit.

I heard the artwork praises, too—from the woman who was surprised at the excellent quality of the art created by this self-taught artist, for Rhody’s ability to paint a variety of subjects from portraits to landscapes to religious works and even a few abstracts, for the way in which he painted well-known religious scenes with a unique perspective, for the…

Among my favorites paintings are Rhody's 1989 self-portrait and the portrait of his wife, Shirley, who died in the spring of 2010.

Rhody and me

I heard praises, too, from those who thanked me for “finding” Rhody. Really, anyone could have “found” him. I just took the time to stop and meet the man who had hung celebrity portraits on his garage.

Because I’m snoopy/nosy/curious—I used all three words last night in explaining how I “found” Rhody—I learned that Rhody’s art had never been publicly exhibited. I decided to change that.

But this show did not happen solely because of me. I made that abundantly clear to all who approached me at last night’s opening reception. This became a team effort. “Team Rhody,” as we begin to call ourselves, worked together to bring “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” to The Carlander Family Gallery.

So, thank you, first of all, to my husband, Randy, for his enthusiastic support and help. Thank you, also, to these Team Rhody members: Bob and Kathi, Dennis and Kathy, Jean, Marian, Mary Ellen, Amy, and the Paradise Center for the Arts Gallery Committee, especially Julie and Deb.

Finally, thank you to all who attended the opening night reception and gave Rhody the red carpet treatment. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

FYI: Rhody and Adam’s shows continue through February 26 at the PCA, 321 Central Avenue North in downtown Faribault. You can view the exhibits Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. or on Saturday from noon until 5 p.m.

Food artists Kathy and Mary Ellen led efforts to pull together a beautiful buffet table for the reception.

Rhody painted this military runway in Nome, Alaska, when he was stationed there during WW II. The scene is painted on an old piece of military tent canvas. To the left is one of two abstracts in the exhibit.

Visitors peruse Rhody's religious paintings.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gallery show for 92-year-old artist opens tonight January 14, 2011

The artist, Rhody Yule

TONIGHT MARKS A MOMENTOUS occasion for my friend Rhody Yule.

Tonight his first-ever art gallery exhibit opens in The Carlander Family Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

Maybe to most artists, this would not be a big deal. But, when you’re 92, like Rhody, and have been quietly painting for 76 years, it’s a very big deal to put your art out there for all to see in a gallery setting.

During the past six months, as I’ve worked to make this show happen, I’ve met many times with Rhody. Every time we’ve talked, he’s humbly downplayed his talent. That’s just Rhody—a gentle man who prefers not to be the center of attention.

Yet, tonight, along with Adam Kuehnel, a watercolor artist about 60 years his junior and who is exhibiting in another gallery, Rhody will receive the public recognition he deserves for his oil paintings.

I’m glad this night has finally arrived because, more than once, Rhody joked, “I might die before then (the art show).”

I always responded: “Don’t you dare!”

Then he would smile and laugh. Truth be told, though, I worried.

But tonight, ah, tonight we’ll celebrate as “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” opens with an artists’ reception from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

 

For decades, most of Rhody's paintings were stored in this trailerhouse behind his rural home. (He has since moved.) The roof leaked and some of his art was damaged.

One of Rhody's rural landscapes, among several now exhibited at the Paradise.

Rhody specializes in portraits and religious paintings like this one of Christ, which he calls "Misery."

Rhody's exhibit also features several of his sketchbooks, including this drawing.

FYI: The exhibit runs through February 26. Gallery hours are Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Praise for a 92-year-old artist September 28, 2010

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The historic Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church.

INSIDE THE SMALL country church, I place my hand atop his, the coolness of his skin seeping into the warmth of my fingers. I feel the slight tremble of his hand, a hand that for some seven decades lifted brush to canvas and metal and wood as he painted.

He is cold, even though dressed in layers. I am warm in my short-sleeved shirt. We wait—me in the stiff-backed pew and him in a folding chair.

In just a few minutes, I will introduce my 92-year-old artist friend to a sanctuary full of worshipers, briefing them on his life as a painter. But how do you condense seven decades of painting into 180 seconds? I do, because I don’t enjoy public speaking and I have time constraints.

He is Rhody Yule, a former sign painter by day. And by night he painted to express himself in hundreds of portraits, landscapes, still-lifes and religious scenes created through the decades.

On this Sunday afternoon we have come by invitation of the Christdala Church Preservation and Cemetery Association of rural Millersburg to showcase nine of Rhody’s religious paintings, including one of Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church which he painted in 1969.

This is his debut public art showing and I am thrilled at the opportunity for Rhody, first the subject of a magazine feature article I wrote and now, I am honored to say, my friend.

A humble man of faith, who on more than one occasion has claimed that his paintings “ain’t nothin’” or “aren’t much,” deserves this public display of his art.

So on this perfect Sunday afternoon in September, when the sun filters through leaves tipped in red and golden hues, my husband and I have come to this hilltop site to set his paintings upon easels against the backdrop of the 1878 wood frame church. A woman in reverent prayer. Judas betraying Jesus. The Last Supper.

The simple lines of the church provide an ideal backdrop for Rhody's paintings.

Rhody's depiction of Judas betraying Jesus is among the paintings displayed.

"Our Glorious Savior," "The Empty Tomb" and "The Last Supper" on exhibit.

Jesus appears to, and blesses, doubting Thomas in Rhody's painting.

Rhody calls his painting of the suffering Christ, "Misery."

Here in the churchyard, on a strip of grass between the church and the gravestones of Swedish immigrants, those who have come for Christdala’s annual worship service/open house peruse the nine religious paintings, chat with Rhody, chat with me. They share their admiration for his art.

I am smiling. This is as it should be. Praise for the artist, the slight wisp of a man who, since age 16, has quietly sketched and drawn and painted for the joy of creating.

Artist Rhody Yule sits next to some of his paintings displayed at Christdala.

As the afternoon gathering draws to a close, Rhody gives his Christdala painting to the preservation society. I am unaware that he planned to do this. “It belongs here,” he tells me later. That is so Rhody, to quietly, without a big to-do, present his Christdala painting to those who will most appreciate it.

Rhody's 1969 painting of Christdala church.

THANK YOU to B. Wayne Quist for inviting Rhody and me to participate in Christdala’s annual open house. I am especially grateful for this opportunity to display Rhody’s art for the first time ever. He has also been accepted for a solo art show January 14 – February 26, 2011, in the Carlander Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for posts about historic Christdala, which closed in 1966.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Visit Christdala Church for worship, art and a history tied to outlaws September 25, 2010

Steps lead from Rice County Road 1 to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church.

I DOUBT ANY OTHER MINNESOTA church can claim roots in a notorious attempted bank robbery. But Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church of rural Millersburg can.

The long-dissolved congregation traces its origins back to the September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank in nearby Northfield. During that failed crime, Nicolaus Gustafson, a Swedish immigrant from Millersburg, was shot point blank in the head by outlaw Cole Younger. He died four days later and was buried in Northfield because the Millersburg Swedish community didn’t have a graveyard, or a church.

The evening of the bank robbery, the Swedish immigrants met to talk about constructing a church and soon thereafter built Christdala.

This Sunday, September 26, the Christdala Church Preservation and Cemetery Association will open the doors to this historic church which sits high atop a hill overlooking Circle Lake just west of Millersburg along Rice County Road 1. On this roadway that passes by the 1878 country church, the James-Younger Gang fled after the botched Northfield raid.

The doors to Christdala, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I’ll be there Sunday for the 2 p.m. fall worship service led by the Rev. Ralph Baumgartner, pastor of Galilee Evangelical Lutheran Church in Roseville, who has family ties to Christdala. I’m anxious to get inside this sanctuary, which I’ve only viewed through the slats of Venetian blinds while photographing the locked building on a Sunday afternoon in July.

I've only peered through the blinds into the sanctuary.

This Sunday I’ll arrive well before worshipers and the curious and the families with a connection to Christdala. I’ll arrive with a van full of paintings by my 92-year-old artist friend, Rhody Yule of Faribault. Rhody, who has been creating art for 76 years, did an oil painting of the church in 1969. He’s showing that piece and eight other religious-themed works at Christdala’s open house.

He’ll talk a bit. I’ll talk a bit. But mostly, we welcome visitors to pause and study the paintings, to feel the emotions painted into the faces of the disciples, of Christ, of a woman in reverent prayer. Rhody paints with a heart of faith reflected in his art.

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church painted in 1969 by Rhody Yule.

A snippet of Rhody Yule's painting, one of nine he will show at Christdala.

Christdala visitors can also pick up a copy of God’s Angry Man—The Incredible Journey of Private Joe Haan by B.Wayne Quist. The newly-released book tells the true, powerful life story of Haan (Quist’s uncle), who grew up in an Owatonna orphanage and who served in Patton’s Third Army during WW II. Quist, a member of the Christdala Preservation Association, will donate profits from Sunday’s book sales to Christdala.

Copies of the fall issue of Minnesota Moments magazine, featuring my photo essay on country churches, will also be on sale with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the church.

B. Wayne Quist will sell copies of his latest book, God's Angry Man.

Before and after the worship service, visitors can tour the 1881 Millersburg School, which the Christdala preservation group has refurbished and is transitioning into a community museum. Exhibits include church and school records, photos, military medals and records, Indian artifacts, an old doctor’s buggy and more. Faribault genealogist and preservation member John Dalby will be at the schoolhouse to answer questions.

The Millersburg School has been refurbished and will feature exhibits tied to local history.

Sunday promises to be an interesting day for those who gather at Christdala. It will be a day of history and of art, of worship, of thoughtful remembrances at gravesites, of families reuniting and of others simply coming together on this spot, this Christdala, this “Christ’s Valley,” here where the outlaws once escaped on their galloping horses.

A side view of the 1878 Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover image courtesy of B. Wayne Quist and schoolhouse image courtesy of John Dalby.