Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Embracing winter in Minnesota January 6, 2021

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My two-year-old grandson with his new snow shovel.

WHEN YOU LIVE IN A NORTHERN state like Minnesota, where winter defines at least half the year, preparation for cold and snowy weather is a necessity, not an option.

It’s a lesson taught from early on. Snowsuit, waterproof mittens and snow boots for the kids. Check. Check. Check. Sled. Check. Snow shovel. Check.

No matter your age, dressing properly to protect from the elements and then having the right tools to deal with the snow are essentials. So we’ve equipped our grandchildren, Isabelle and Isaac, with snow shovels and sleds. Izzy got her mama’s childhood snow shovel and Lion King sled. Isaac got a new shovel purchased at the local hardware store. And we bought bright new sleds for both at a regional retailer.

Then it’s up to the parents, or the grandparents, to bundle the kids and get them outdoors. It’s a process. But important in teaching the little people that winter can be fun.

Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts.

I loved winter as a child growing up on the wind-swept southwestern Minnesota prairie. There snow drifted into rock-hard mountains around the house and farm outbuildings. There Dad shoved snow with the John Deere tractor and loader into more mountains, where my siblings and I played for endless hours. We carved out snow caves and raced on a vintage runner sled. Such is the stuff of memories. And of winter in Minnesota.

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo, rural Vesta, Minnesota. My uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck could reach the milkhouse.

While my grandchildren’s memories will be different—they live in a new housing development in the south metro—I hope they continue to embrace winter with joy and enthusiasm. Just as their mom (Dad grew up in warm and sunny California) and maternal grandparents did before them.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An architecturally historic bridge in Waterford Township November 9, 2020

NOTE: This post features photos from a mid-August stop at the historic Waterford bridge near Northfield, Minnesota.

The historic Waterford Bridge, located in Waterford Township in Dakota County, Minnesota.

 

TO THE MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT of Transportation, the historic Waterford Bridge some two miles northeast of Northfield is tagged as bridge number L3275. I suppose bridges, like roads, require such numerical identifiers.

 

This is truly an artful and unique bridge in southern Minnesota.

 

Much more than a name or number, this “140-foot, steel, riveted and bolted, Camelback through truss on concrete abutments” bridge, according to MnDOT, stands as an historic bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

The new plain-looking bridge.

 

Rare in design here in Minnesota, the 1909 bridge closed to vehicle traffic in 2009 and was rehabilitated in 2014. A new, non-descript modern bridge replaced it.

 

Weeds, wildflowers and other plant growth surround the bridge.

 

I’ve long wanted to see the old bridge in Waterford Township as it reminds me of a similar truss bridge from my childhood. That bridge took US Highway 71/Minnesota State Highway 19 traffic across the Minnesota River near Morton. When my dad drove our family Chevy across the bridge en route to Minneapolis once a year to visit relatives, my siblings and I pounded on the interior roof to scare any trolls lurking underneath at water’s edge. That all seems silly now, reflecting as an adult. But, back then, it was great fun.

 

The narrow path to the bridge.

 

I stopped along the path to photograph a butterfly atop a thistle. I saw multiple butterflies.

 

Fast forward to today and my desire to see a similar-in-design bridge. Randy had actually driven across the Waterford Bridge at one time while doing some automotive repair work for a farmer in the area. So he easily found it. After parking, we set out to reach the bridge, weaving through a narrow pathway bordered by trees, thistles, goldenrod, wildflowers and other plants. Boulders blocked the deteriorating paved trail to motor vehicle traffic.

 

I hesitated, but only for a moment.

 

Upon reaching the bridge, I wondered if we should even venture onto it given the BRIDGE CLOSED—BRIDGE NOT SAFE NO TRESPASSING signage. But the deck looked safe…and many others had obviously been here before us.

 

In need of paint, or perhaps replacement.

 

The Waterford Bridge spans the Cannon River.

 

There’s lots of graffiti on the bridge.

 

Once on the bridge, I was surprised at its condition. Rusting metal. Flaking paint. Weathered boards. Graffiti. Vandalized signage. Cracked pavement.

 

Historical details on a sign posted high above the bridge deck.

 

As I walked, dodging dog poop, I considered the condition of the bridge built by the Hennepin Bridge Company with Dakota County Surveyor Charles A. Forbes leading the project design. His name and that of other government officials are listed on a plaque atop one end of the bridge which now appears abandoned to the elements. The bridge is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Tubers exit the Cannon River near the new Waterford Bridge.

 

The new Waterford Bridge photographed from the old bridge with tubers in the distance at river’s edge.

 

A couple carries their kayaks along the narrow path leading to the historic Waterford Bridge.

 

Under that bridge, the Cannon River flows, muddy and brown, carrying tubers, canoeists and kayakers—we met two of them, saw others—to places eastward. We watched as one couple carried their kayaks along the narrow path to the bridge with plans to travel eight miles to Randolph, a journey they expected to take three hours.

 

The muddy Cannon River, a popular waterway for water sport enthusiasts.

 

It was a lovely summer day to be on the water. Or, like us, to walk across an historic bridge that, for me, bridges past to present via childhood memories.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Autumn in rural southern Minnesota, before the snow October 29, 2020

Following a back road between Zumbrota and Mazeppa on October 18, before our recent snowfall here in southeastern Minnesota.

AS I VIEW THE LANDSCAPE layered in snow and consider the unseasonably cold temp of 12 degrees, I reflect that only 11 days ago, southern Minnesota looked and felt much different. Like the season of autumn rather than winter.

Grain trucks parked in Kenyon.

Today I take you back to October 18, to photos from a Sunday drive that started in Faribault and continued east through Kenyon, Zumbrota, Mazeppa, Oronoco and Pine Island, then back home.

An aged silo between Zumbrota and Mazeppa.
Cattle graze in pastureland between Kenyon and Wanamingo.
On October 18, the day of our drive, farmers were busy harvesting, here in a cornfield between Zumbrota and Mazeppa.

As farm-raised kids, Randy and I enjoy these rural drives that transport us back in time and also give us a much-needed break from the realities of COVID-19, of politics, of life stressors. I never tire of seeing cornfields and farm sites, especially during the harvest.

Farmers on the road were a common site, here on Minnesota State Highway 60 west of Zumbrota.

There’s something about immersing myself in the countryside, about simply being in a rural landscape, that comforts me. That soothes and calms. I need that now more than ever.

The Zumbro River Valley stretches before us between Zumbrota and Mazeppa.

We all have, I think, those places which offer us such a respite. Perhaps yours is a room in your house, a place in nature, maybe even within the pages of a book. I’ve been reading a lot lately and highly-recommend Susan Meissner’s A Fall of Marigolds.

Following another farmer, just outside Zumbrota.

Fall. It’s my favorite season, cut too short this year by an early significant snowfall. I’m not happy about it and I doubt many Minnesotans are. We often boast about our hardiness. Yet, we grow weary, too, of our long, cold winters. Most of us, anyway.

A farm site atop a hill between Zumbrota and Mazeppa.

Yet, we choose to live here. This is home. And always will be for me. No matter the season.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Destination: Monkey Valley October 22, 2020

On Sunday afternoon, the landscape near Kenyon looked very much like autumn.

JUST DAYS AGO, the southern Minnesota landscape looked like autumn. But, after a record-breaking early snowstorm of up to nine inches of snow on Tuesday, this place I call home looks like winter.

Prairieville United Methodist Church, located along Minnesota State Highway 60 east of Faribault, is no longer an active congregation and opens only for special occasions.

Still, I need to share with you the last remnants of autumn, photographed during a Sunday afternoon drive east of Faribault and eventually into the Zumbro River Valley between Zumbrota and Oronoco. Randy and I felt the urge, the need, to take this final drive of the season, although we were really about two weeks late to see the fall colors. Yet, we found much to appreciate.

These grain bins are located along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Kenyon.

As usual, I collected photo stories. Drives into the countryside and into small towns yield many such stories that often go untold. Had the day been warmer than about 35 degrees, we would have stopped more than twice to walk in these small communities. Our plans to eat a picnic lunch at a park ended with us parked outside the Zumbrota Public Library eating our ham sandwiches, grapes and protein bars in the van.

Harvesting corn Sunday afternoon east of Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60.

I filled my camera with images as we began out eastward drive along Minnesota State Highway 60. I found myself focused on documenting the harvest. Farmers were out in full force on Sunday, sweeping across acres of cornfields to bring in the crop.

A common site, and reason to slow down, during the harvest season.

Countless times, we encountered farm machinery on the highway, which led to Randy reciting this sound bite: Farmer on the road! That became a familiar refrain each time we slowed behind or met a tractor or combine and attempted to safely pass.

We’ve traveled highway 60 so many times that I struggle to find something new and interesting to photograph. So I suggested exiting onto a gravel road southwest of Kenyon into Monkey Valley.

Beautiful Monkey Valley.

The name itself intrigues me. As legend goes, the area was named such after a monkey escaped a traveling circus many many years ago. True? I don’t know. But I like the story.

The gravel road winding through Monkey Valley.
Grain wagons parked next to a grain bin in Monkey Valley.
A semi truck awaits the harvesting of corn in a Monkey Valley field.

And I also like this rural route, Monkey Valley Hollow, a gravel road which twists and turns through the woods past farm sites and fields and the Old Stone Church (which I didn’t photograph this time).

A lone grain wagon, my final photo before leaving Monkey Valley.

After completing this leg of our day trip, we aimed north for Kenyon. I always find something interesting in this small town, even though I’ve been here many times. Check back for those photo stories tomorrow as I show you my discoveries.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts during this season of autumn in Minnesota October 20, 2020

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A cornfield fronts a farm site between Faribault and Dundas in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

LIVING IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, as I have for my entire life, I feel a strong connection to the land rooted in my rural upbringing.

A barn roof is barely visible over a cornfield, rural Rice County.

Each autumn, I reflect on this time of bringing in the crops. Of gathering the last of the garden produce. Of harvesting corn and soybeans from the acres of fields that define rural areas. I miss the sights and sounds and scents of farming this time of year. Once-green fields muting to shades of brown, Combines roaring down field rows. The air smelling of drying leaves and of earth.

A back country road north of Faribault, heading to Dundas.

For those reasons, I always appreciate a drive through the countryside, especially along gravel roads. The pace is decidedly slower than traveling on a paved surface.

A grain truck awaits the harvesting of corn in rural Dundas.

Although farming has changed considerably with bigger machinery and bigger farms and bigger yields, the basic connection to the land remains. At least for me. It’s part of my creative spirit, of my being.

Grain bins define a farm site along a back gravel road in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

Yes, it’s easy to get nostalgic about rural life. I offer no apologies for that because I shall always feel grateful for the 17 years I lived on a farm. I learned the value of hard work, of living with minimal material possessions, of working together, of recognizing that inner strength and fortitude and resilience are important as are honesty and good character.

Country roads intersect near Cannon City.

I am thankful I used an outhouse during my childhood, pitched manure, picked rocks, walked beans, fed cows and calves, pulled weeds, didn’t get birthday gifts… There’s something to be said for having grown up in such a setting, in a way of life that by necessity requires significant physical labor and living within your means.

Harvest finished in rural Rice County.
A grain truck parked in Northfield.
Corn stalk bales line a Rice County field.

In the winter, my hands cracked and bled from exposure to water and the elements. In the spring, when I picked rocks from fields, dirt sifted into holes in my canvas tennis shoes. In the summer, the hot sun blistered my skin as I pulled cockleburrs. (We didn’t have sunscreen.)

Pumpkins and squash for sale from a wagon parked at a farm site along Rice County Road 1 west of Dundas.
A house in Dundas decorated for Halloween.
A seasonal display anchors a corner of a downtown Northfield floral shop.

And so these are my thoughts as I immerse myself in the season of harvest via a country drive. A drive that takes me from the countryside into town, to seasonal displays and thoughts of Halloween and Thanksgiving and the winter ahead.

The road ahead may not be easy…

I fully recognize that the forthcoming winter will challenge all of us. I am determined to stay the course during this ongoing global pandemic. To mask up, to social distance, to wash my hands, to connect only with my small family circle, to try and stay as healthy as possible, to care about others…to tap into my can-do farm girl attitude of strength, common sense and resilience. For this is but a season of life, one which requires each of us to think beyond ourselves, understanding that our choices matter now, more than ever to the health and safety of all.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Following the backroads of Rice County into autumn October 2, 2020

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Fall colors as photographed in rural Rice County, Minnesota, on September 26.

 

THIS AUTUMN FEELS especially fleeting, as if the days are slipping too quickly into the cold and dark of winter’s grip. The sun now rises shortly after 7 a.m. and sets just before 7 p.m. The darkness is closing in and I feel it.

 

Ripening corn and soybean fields surround this farm site in Rice County.

 

This year, more than ever, I feel an urgency to get outdoors, to delight in every single moment of autumnal beauty, of semi warm temps, of days without snow.

 

Heading uphill on the backroads of Rice County last Saturday.

 

And I feel this way due to COVID-19. The reality is that the winter ahead will prove challenging as we hunker down indoors, limiting our contact with others as we attempt to stay healthy and protect others. At least that’s my plan, Randy’s plan.

 

Cornfields ripen, awaiting the harvest. I feel like we’re all waiting. Just waiting in this season of COVID.

 

We’ve already managed seven months of this cautiousness, this recognition that we hold a responsibility to do our part. For ourselves. And for our friends, family and neighbors. I’m particularly worried these days about the upsurge in cases in Wisconsin, where our daughter and her husband and our son live. But I worry, too, about Randy facing potential COVID exposure daily at work because of a failure among others to mask, mask properly or to follow other safety/health regulations. I am beyond frustrated, as I’ve stated here in previous posts.

 

Another Rice County farm site. COVID knows no differences between rural and urban. We’re seeing that now in Minnesota, where cases of the virus in rural counties are spiking.

 

We’re weary of it all. Truly weary. Who isn’t experiencing COVID fatigue? But, as our health officials have advised, this is no time to let down our guard, to give up, to live our lives like there’s no pandemic. Because Randy and I are trying to be careful, we gravitate outdoors, whether on countryside drives or hiking. Nature and time outdoors provide a peaceful and uplifting escape.

 

Driving down Rice County’s backroads to view the ripening crops and fall colors.

 

Last Saturday took us onto backroads in our county of Rice, where we’ve found fall colors to be especially lovely. And mostly undiscovered. We had no particular destination and I can’t even tell you where we drove. But we drive and turn and turn and drive and follow whatever roads seem interesting.

 

Farm sites prove interesting to me on these rural drives.

 

The overcast day wasn’t especially beautiful for leaf-viewing. But, this time of year, you take what you get and enjoy whatever appears before you.

 

Color tints treelines in rural Rice County.

 

I encourage each of you, especially if you live in the Rice County area or other parts of Minnesota, to take a fall color drive this weekend. These days are fleeting as leaves change colors and fall, moving us closer and closer to the long winter ahead.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a recommendation for a great place to view fall colors?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Anything but prune & much more in Montgomery August 17, 2020

Popular Franke’s Bakery anchors a corner in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

 

SMALL TOWN MINNESOTA. What is it about our rural communities that holds my heart? Surely, my upbringing on a crop and dairy farm in the southwestern region of our state influences how I feel about rural places.

 

Farms and fields surround Montgomery.

 

But it’s more than that. I see in these communities, like Montgomery in Le Sueur County, a distinct character, a connection of people, an appreciation for the quieter life afforded to those who live in this ag-based area.

 

Art in downtown business windows showcases the town’s annual Kolacky Days celebration.

 

Fresh-baked kolacky are always available at Franke’s Bakery.

 

One of my favorite signs in Montgomery banners the 106-year-old bakery.

 

I’ve written about and photographed Montgomery many times. Each visit I notice the details that define this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World with its strong Czech heritage. Kolacky are a fruit-filled (sometimes poppyseed, too) Czech pastry, available at the century-plus-old Franke’s Bakery and elsewhere.

 

A quilt adorns an historic downtown building.

 

When I walk along First Street, the main street through the downtown business district, I always notice the historic buildings.

 

 

And the home-grown businesses, including multiple meat markets.

 

The Monty Bar is missing its corner signage, which I loved.

 

And, like many small towns, multiple bars. Montgomery also has a craft brewery, Montgomery Brewing.

 

Signs plaster the front of the Monty Bar, including this one.

 

But I also notice the signage that is distinctly Montgomery. Like the best place to buy Jell-O shots (the Monty Bar).

 

An historic building houses the Happy Hour Bar & Grill.

 

The Happy Hour lunch special on the day of my visit.

 

Or the lunch-time Sloppy Joe special at the Happy Hour Bar & Grill.

 

Signage marks the Rustic Farmer.

 

The inviting dining space in front of the Rustic Farmer along Montgomery’s main street.

 

It is this type of signage that reveals much about a town and its people. When I spot the event space, Rustic Farmer on Main, and later sit there at a patio table to enjoy a custard-filled sweet treat from Franke’s, I think on that name. Rustic Farmer. It fits this rural community.

 

Hilltop Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The same goes for Hilltop Hall, an historic building perched atop a hill on the north end of downtown. It’s home to Posy Floral & Gifts and the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center.

 

I photographed this puzzle at Herrmann Drug, where it’s available for purchase.

 

That center houses a small gift shop and heritage displays, including Kolacky Days celebration buttons. Photographer Sarah Dolejs designed a 513-piece jigsaw puzzle featuring a photo of a button collection. The puzzle is available in local businesses and online. Recently, organizers of this year’s virtual Kolacky Days held a “Jigsaw Puzzle Competition from Your Kitchen Table” to see who could assemble the puzzle the fastest. The winning time was 67 minutes by Team Sherman. They beat out Anything but Prune (a reference to prune kolacky) by a mere minute. The Poppyseed Posse (another reference to kolacky) and the Laughing Polka Ladies didn’t even come close to winning.

 

The town’s water tower is located near the Montgomery National Golf Club.

 

I love those creative names. They reveal a sense of humor, a sense of pride, a sense of appreciation for heritage and all that defines this town. This Montgomery, Minnesota.

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A section of downtown Montgomery, including the popular eatery, Pizzeria 201, on the left. It’s located in the historic Westermann Lumber Office & House.

 

Please check back as I continue my series of posts from Montgomery. Upcoming posts will feature the community’s redone mural and a downtown coffee shop.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Picnicking at historic Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church August 16, 2020

On the backroads in Rice County, heading northwest of Faribault.

 

IN MINNESOTA, WE LOVE our summers. And that has a lot to do with our long winter season of too much cold, too much darkness and too much being cooped up inside. Factor in COVID-19, and summer days are even more beloved.

This summer, especially, Randy and I often pack sandwiches, fruit and whatever else for a weekend picnic lunch. It gets us out of the house/town and into nature, exactly what we need when so few options exist for escaping anywhere these days.

On a recent Sunday we contemplated our choices and decided to head to Cannon Falls, a lovely river town about a 40-minute drive northeast of Faribault. But, as we backed out of the driveway and looked to the east, we saw storm clouds building. Change of plans.

 

One of my favorite rural sightings: aged barns. This one is near Circle Lake.

 

Instead, we drove northwest, with the intention of picnicking at Circle Lake near Millersburg. A much shorter drive on a day of unsettled weather and possible afternoon storms. As farm-raised kids, Randy and I always delight in traveling rural roads—paved and gravel—to reach our destination. On our way to the lake, I observed acres and acres of cornfields, far exceeding soybeans. Not uncommon.

 

The sign marking Circle Lake’s public pier.

 

No comfortable place to sit here…

 

A view across the lake of the surrounding countryside.

 

Randy missed the lake turn, backed up on the county road and then proceeded down a gravel road toward the public access point on Circle Lake. To our dismay, we saw no picnic tables either at the boat launch site or the adjoining patch of green space. A bit farther, though, we spotted a public fishing pier and decided to eat our lunch there.

 

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, rural Millersburg. This congregation is no longer active with the church open only for special services and events.

 

Except, upon exiting the van, the stench and sight of stagnant green lake water, a floating dead fish and an obviously neglected dock caused us to, once again, change plans. I suggested we drive to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, a nearby historic church set atop a hill overlooking the countryside. We could, I suggested, sit and eat on the front steps.

 

A long flight of steps lead up to Christdala.

 

And that’s exactly what we did, after we climbed a flight of steep steps and passed under an arch leading into the fenced church property. We turned our backs to the sun, settled onto the cement steps and pulled our sandwiches and other food from the cooler. It’s the first time I’ve picnicked next to a graveyard.

 

Near Minnie’s gravestone, I photographed this interesting fungi on a stump.

 

As we ate, we talked. About Minnie’s gravestone, in our direct line of vision. She died at age 23. Like too many who lost their lives prematurely so long ago, pre-modern medicine.

 

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church painted in 1969 by Faribault artist Rhody Yule. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We talked about our friend Rhody Yule, who showed select original religious-themed paintings here in September 2010. He gifted his 1969 painting of Christdala to the church on that Sunday afternoon. I organized the outdoor exhibit and a more extensive gallery show months later at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Randy and I shared how much we liked Rhody, an artist we met while on a Sunday afternoon drive two years prior. He quickly became a good friend, someone we delighted in for his gentle spirit of kindness and deep faith. A true joy.

 

Posted next to the front door.

 

The steeple rises high above the treetops.

 

A summary of church history is posted next to the parking area at the bottom of the hill.

 

We noticed paint scrapings on the ground, indicating the 1877 church was recently repainted. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, significant because the first Swedish settlers in Rice County founded this congregation, built this church.

 

Another marker nearby honors Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson.

 

One of those immigrants, Nicolaus Gustafson, was fatally shot by Cole Younger in the attempted raid of the first National Bank in nearby Northfield in 1876.

 

Just a sampling of the Swedish names on gravestones at Christdala.

 

There’s so much history and heritage here in names like Johnson, Anderson, Paulson, Gustafson, Nelson…the “son” of Swedish ancestry.

 

I spotted this probably glow-in-the-dark cross near a gravesite.

 

The graveyard surrounds Christdala church.

 

A wrought iron fence encloses the entire property.

 

We meandered through the graveyard separately. I didn’t recall the wrought iron fencing or the graveyard expansion with plenty of open space for future burials. It’s a lovely and peaceful spot behind the church, away from busy enough Rice County Road 1.

 

Randy saw this snake before me, but didn’t tell me. He knows I intensely dislike snakes. He suggested I move in for a closer photo. Nope, won’t get any nearer.

 

Randy directed me to a small stone marking the additional graveyard space as a 2008 donation from Arnold and Phyllis Horejsi. Arnold, 91, died on March 23 with services delayed until August 18 and burial at Christdala at a later date. I walked over to the marker, commenting on the many small holes that pock the land. And then, as I focused my camera lens on the stone, I noticed the garter snake. Striped. Too long. Head up. Tongue flicking.

That was it. I was done touring this cemetery, especially after I saw a second snake nearby. My mind fixated on snakes slithering over my feet and I couldn’t help but think of the biblical reference in Genesis to Satan as a snake. I wanted out, away, gone.

 

A heavenward view of Christdala.

 

And so I waited near the front steps for Randy to finish his graveyard tour. I aimed my camera lens skyward, away from the ground and slithering snakes. High toward the steeple. To the cross.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Montgomery celebrates agriculture with art August 13, 2020

“Stop to Remember,” a pen and watercolor by Cami Vargo, was awarded third place in the show by judges Dale and Gale Looft. The art depicts her Great Grandpa Orville Richter’s 1965 Ford tractor.

 

THEIR ARTIST STATEMENTS are as compelling as their art.

 

Cami Vargo’s artist statement about her tractor art.

 

In a new exhibit, “Celebrating Farmers and Agriculture,” coordinated by the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, 15 artists share their deep love and appreciation for all things rural. Recently I viewed the 22 pieces of art displayed in the front windows of the arts center and businesses in the heart of this small Minnesota town.

 

One of two photos by Liz Krocak, this one titled “Apple Harvest Visitors.”

 

Through the screen window, you can read this artist statement by Liz Krocak.

 

Bold and beautiful stained glass art by Annette Stavos hangs in a window of Hermann Thrifty White Pharmacy. If the drugstore is open, go inside and view the art to see the sun shining through it. Another stained glass creation by Mona Grimm hangs in a window of Montgomery Chiropractic and was awarded second place in the show.

 

From cows to a rooster to a farm dog, from tractors to windmills, from barns to country scenes, the art showcases important aspects of rural life.

 

Constructed from cardboard by Brian Prchal, this is a replica of a modified 4020 John Deere.

 

Brian Prchal shares the stories behind his two art pieces.

 

And the stories that accompany that art are often deeply personal. Rooted in the land.

 

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center (right side of building), 206 First Street North on the north end of downtown.

 

In the ag display, 4-H buttons.

 

County fairs are an important part of rural life.

 

Before beginning my tour, I stopped first at the arts and heritage center to pick up a map and to view an exhibit of local ag-related memorabilia showing the importance of agriculture in this community.

 

The grain elevator complex in Montgomery.

 

Just down the hill from the arts center, grain elevators loom, a strong visual of ag’s local economic value. On the opposite end of town, the canning company processes sweetcorn. And on every border of town, homes or businesses adjoin farm fields.

 

Future Farmers of America, based at the local high school.

 

Recognizing 4-H in Le Sueur County.

 

Lots of signs downtown celebrate kolacky, a Czech pastry sold at Franke’s Bakery and Mackenthune’s Fine Foods.

 

Montgomery centers on agriculture and its Czech heritage as the self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. So it seems particularly fitting that the arts center would focus its new exhibit on farmers and agriculture. The project was funded with a Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council grant and donations from the Bob and Mary Jo Loftus Foundation and Compeer Financial.

 

“The Nuts & Bolts of Farming” fits this tractor art crafted by Tyler Fromm.

 

Area artists clearly enjoyed the challenge of creating ag-themed art. I saw that in tractor art drawn, formed from string and nails, cut and crafted from cardboard, welded from nuts and bolts.

 

Pat Preble won first place for “Old Barn” and “Cows in the Field.” She incorporated a “Star of Heaven” quilt block into her barn art in honor of her mom, a quilter.

 

Stained glass. Batik. Wood. Photos. Quilts. So many different tools and styles and ways of creating art add to the interest.

 

This artist statement made me laugh out loud. Because of glare, I was unable to photograph Anna’s cow art.

 

The art honors pioneer women who pieced quilts, an uncle, farm wives… Liz Krocak writes in her artist’s statement, “Behind every good farmer is his wife, rolling her eyes.” Yes, humor even infuses some of the artist statements.

 

Glare made it really challenging to photograph Carol Ehrhardt’s entire cattle and windmill art. But I decided I like this image showing only the top of the windmill and the reflection of an aged building. Ehrhardt was awarded third place in the show.

 

Annette Stavos, who grew up on a hobby farm, honors her uncle. “My uncle was the real farmer and we helped him pick rocks and bale hay.”

 

A close-up of Susan Hayes batik art titled “Summer Fields.”

 

Susan Hayes, a city girl who married a farmer, writes. “…I’ve had first hand experience with agriculture and life on a small farm. It’s not easy getting up before 5 am to milk the cows or baling hay in 100 degree weather. She created a beautiful batik piece, “Summer Fields.”

 

A farm in the Montgomery area.

 

Anna Prchal expresses her love of rural life in these words: “The fresh air, hard work ethic and never having a dull moment there are the things I love most about the farm.”

 

The countryside near Montgomery.

 

For Kimmie Loranger, who once traveled with the carnival, worked as a nanny and waitress, and who was at one time homeless, living in rural Montgomery and now creating art “is the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life.”

 

Tyler Fromm drew this picture of his “beloved farm dog, Buddy.” Oak siding from the corn crib on his family’s century old farm frames the art.

 

These are the stories that make this exhibit especially meaningful, especially touching, especially impressionable. This isn’t just another art show, but rather an expression of emotions with a rural perspective. Written. And showcased in art.

 

FYI: You can view this exhibit any time during the day as the art is visible from outdoors in front windows. Note that glare and reflections sometimes make seeing the art a challenge. The Arts & Heritage Center, however, is open limited hours from 2-5 pm Thursday and Friday and from 9 am to noon Saturdays. The exhibit runs until the end of November. Maps to the art locations are available from several downtown Montgomery businesses in addition to the arts center. Be sure to vote for your favorite for the People’s Choice Award. This blog post represents only a sampling of art in the exhibit.

Please check back next week for additional posts from my visit to Montgomery.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Building on history in Montgomery August 12, 2020

Fire destroyed an historic building at 104 South First Street in downtown Montgomery during the early morning hours of July 29.

 

ANY TIME AN HISTORIC BUILDING falls, I feel a certain sadness. You can’t replace a structure built half a century, maybe even 100 years, ago. Stories and memories remain. But there’s something lost when a building crumbles, collapses, comes down, for whatever reason.

 

The long-time barbershop, a local gem, did not catch fire.

 

Recently, the small town of Montgomery—self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World—lost one (possibly two) historic buildings in an early morning July 29 fire. The fire started on the second floor of a vacant building previously declared hazardous and slated for demolition in mid-August. The blaze then spread to an adjoining building which houses a plumbing and air conditioning business and an apartment. Main Street Barber, located in a diminutive building next door, was spared.

 

The fire site.

 

Just days after the fire, the smell of smoke still lingered. Barricades and a fence blocked access to the pile of rubble. As I photographed the scene, I considered the depth of loss to this Le Sueur County community. Locals with the Montgomery Historical Society have been inventorying and documenting the downtown in an effort to get historic district designation, helpful in attracting visitors. This was a snag in that process.

 

One of many historic buildings in Montgomery. Several are already on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

I recognize the importance of that historic district designation. According to the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, a historic district is “a geographically defined area with a concentration of historic buildings, structures, site, spaces and objects unified by past events, physical development or design.”

 

A snapshot section of Montgomery’s downtown.

 

No one needs to sell me on the historic beauty and connections in downtown Montgomery. The aged buildings are one of the reasons I love this small town. Every time I visit, I walk through the main business area downtown, photographing buildings and signs and whatever else draws my eye.

 

In the window of a downtown business, art promoting Montgomery’s Kolacky Days, held virtually this year. Kolacky is a Czech pastry.

 

But buildings do not define a place. People do. And I have always found the people of Montgomery to be incredibly welcoming. I appreciate their friendliness, their community spirit, their cohesive respect for their Czech heritage, their efforts to build Montgomery, even when buildings fall.

Please check back for more posts from Montgomery.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling