Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From pets to farm animals, Faribault artist creates vibrant portraits February 20, 2018

“LaFonda” from Squash Blossom Farm

 

I’D RECOGNIZE Faribault artist Julie Fakler’s art anywhere. She paints animal portraits that pop with personality and color, that leave me smiling and happy.

 

“Peters Farm Horse”

 

Her signature acrylic paintings feature domestic animals against a backdrop of bold color. No distractions of setting. Just the animal, full focus.

 

“Grandview Farm Cat”

 

I’m always drawn to the eyes. Julie has the ability to paint eyes that connect me to the cat or dog or horse or cow or goat or whatever creature she paints. I look into those eyes and I see an animal cared for, loved, important to someone somewhere.

 

A promo for Julie’s Faribault show.

 

The latest somewhere took Julie onto five area farms to wander among and photograph animals, talk with the farmers and then paint for her latest show, “Southeastern Minnesota Farm Animal Portraits Exhibition.” She received a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant for the project.

 

Julie’s farm animal portraits, including “Squash Blossom Farm Chicken,” adorn walls in Buckham Commons.

 

Several days ago I photographed, with Julie’s permission, her art now displayed through February 28 at Buckham Commons, the hallway linking Faribault’s public library to the community center. Her farm animal paintings are also displayed through February 24 at the Austin (MN) Artworks Gallery. Julie’s new show deviates from her usual pet portraits. I always appreciate an artist who takes on creative challenges.

 

“Grandview Farm Goat”

 

Whenever I view Julie’s animal art, I envision her vibrant work beyond acrylic on hardboard. I see her animal portraits on the pages of a children’s picture book, on t-shirts, on pillows, on tote bags…the possibilities seem endless for this animal-loving artist.

 

Even Julie’s guestbook is handcrafted.

 

Portrait propped next to the guestbook.

 

Some of the comments penned in the guestbook.

 

TELL ME: What do you think of Julie’s art and/or other possibilities for her paintings?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork copyright of Julie Fakler and photographed with her permission. Julie paints animal portraits on commission and also teaches “Paint your Pet” classes. Check her website by clicking here for more info.

Advertisements
 

Artistry along Minnesota State Highway 68 January 9, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 

STATE HIGHWAY 68 slices diagonally across rich Minnesota farmland southeast of Morgan.

 

 

I often travel this section of roadway until it intersects with Brown County Road 29 when I return to my roots in Redwood County. The angle of the highway in a place where roads typically run in a straight gridded pattern confuses my sense of direction. I must use the sun as my compass. Or remind my mind that highway 68 does not run true north or south, east or west.

Other than the directional issue, I delight in this roadway for the visuals. My photographer’s eye appreciates the power poles that stretch along the highway. Wires loop between poles reinforcing the horizontal lay of this land. There’s just something about the repeating line of poles and wire that artistically pleases me.

 

 

And then there are the sunsets which, in this exposed plain, prove spectacular, even in layers of clouds. Everything—trees, barns, fields—seems insignificant beneath a fiery sun suspended above the land, my native land.

NOTE: These photos were taken several weeks ago.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road to southwestern Minnesota, a photo essay December 19, 2017

A former country school near Essig along U.S. Highway 14.

 

TWICE A YEAR, my husband and I head west from our Faribault home to my native southwestern Minnesota for gatherings with my extended family. We travel solely with destination in mind, not deviating to meander through small towns and explore. We get on Interstate 35 in Faribault, exit onto U.S. Highway 14 in Owatonna and then follow the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway all the way to our destination 2.25 hours away in Lamberton. That would be in Redwood County, just 10 miles east of Walnut Grove.

Near Janesville, this billboard sparkles in the morning light.

Everything along this route is familiar to me from the curves in the highway to the billboards to the farm sites and my favorite barns west of Springfield. While sometimes the drive can seem like forever, especially when wind whips snow to create iffy driving conditions, mostly I enjoy the rural route.

At the beginning of our trip, I photographed this farm site west of Owatonna. The farther west we drove, the greyer the skies became.

Enjoy this photo essay along U.S. Highway 14, aiming west toward the prairie into some of our state’s richest farmland as we headed back for the holidays last Saturday.

Red barns splash color into the rural landscape, here near Janesville.

 

An ethanol plant near Janesville breaks the monotony of farm fields.

 

Highway 14 takes us through New Ulm. I spotted this catchy and festive billboard on the west end of town.

 

You know you’re in the heart of farmland when you see a cash corn price posted on a sign, this one at Christensen Farms near Sleepy Eye.

 

This reindeer statue stands along the east edge of Sleepy Eye. It’s there year-round.

 

Weathered by wind and weather, this barn sits west of Sleepy Eye.

 

A row of vintage trucks are parked atop a hill on the east edge of Springfield.

 

One of my favorite barns on a farm site west of Springfield.

 

We reach our destination in Lamberton where grain elevators mark this rural community.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A drive in the Minnesota countryside takes me to St. Jarlath November 7, 2017

 

“SAINT JARLATH. Who’s that?” I asked my Catholic-raised and educated husband as we pulled up to a rural Minnesota cemetery during a recent Sunday afternoon drive.

 

 

He offered no information, as puzzled as me by the saint behind the name of St. Jarlath’s Catholic Cemetery located just off Waseca County Road 22 in Iosco Township. My later online research revealed Bishop Jarlath as the founder and principle patron of the Archdiocese of Tuam in Galway, Ireland. Irish names in the cemetery should have tipped us off.

 

 

I delight in discovering such well-kept rural cemeteries edged next to equally well-maintained churches. Clearly, people care deeply about this place. That pleases me although the closure of rural parishes like this one does not.

 

 

As we wandered the grounds, I spotted autumn décor adorning some gravesites. Seeing scarecrows on a tombstone marked a first for me.

 

 

I noticed, too, the trees,

 

 

the aged, and not so aged, stones,

 

 

the loving words

 

 

 

 

 

 

and clear markers of faith in crosses high and low.

 

 

I tugged at the church door, hoping to get inside. I never expect access. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. Gone are the days of unattended, open churches. I can only imagine the beauty, the history within this country church.

 

 

The ability to freely wander this cemetery on a stunning autumn afternoon tempered my disappointment. To see folks honor their ancestors and Saint Jarlath through a well-kept church and grounds encourages me. This place remains important—at least for now to those still living.

#

AS I SCHEDULED this post, written days before the deadly mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I feel compelled to add this postscript expressing my sorrow and thoughts. I cannot fathom the loss to these families, to this community, about the same size as my Minnesota hometown. My heart breaks. A church, of all places, should be a sanctuary from violence. No place seems safe any more.

Initial media reports reveal the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence and that he sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law shortly before killing 26 people and wounding another 20 at the church. This troubles me. Domestic violence continues to root deep into our society. I read or hear media reports daily about murder-suicides, violations of restraining orders, calls to domestic disturbances, stalking, assaults…and more. For every case reported to law enforcement, many many more are not reported. Because of fear. Because of intimidation. Because of control and manipulation.

The invasive crime of domestic abuse and violence is affecting too many of our families, our neighborhoods, our communities and, yes, even our churches, directly and indirectly.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The mysterious (at least to me) Swede’s Bay November 6, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Lindstrom, Minnesota, “America’s Little Sweden.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2015.

 

IN A STATE WITH A STRONG Scandinavian base, nuances of ethnicity show up in lutefisk dinners, lefse-making parties, Lutheran churches named Vasa and Vang, a Swedish coffee pot water tower, the Minneapolis-based American Swedish Institute and more.

 

 

That more includes a fading sign attached to a utility pole in rural Le Sueur County. On a recent Sunday afternoon drive, I noted a posting for SWEDE’S BAY and wondered. But the arrow to the bay pointed in the same direction as a sign warning PRIVATE ROAD DEAD END NO TURN AROUND.

 

 

The message was clear. Stay away.

 

 

So Randy and I didn’t venture toward Swede’s Bay in the vicinity of 480th Street/Orchard Road/Outback Lane. Sometimes I wish we weren’t such rule followers. But the warning sign was enough to deter me from searching farther along this remote rural gravel road.

 

 

Back home I googled the mysterious bay to discover Swede’s Bay is a lake in a cluster that includes the better known Lake Jefferson and German Lake northeast of Madison Lake. That raises another question: In the naming of the lakes, did the Germans and Swedes convene and decide fair is fair. Name that lake German, this one Swede’s?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In the dark of the night along a rural Minnesota roadway… November 2, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

A semi awaits the harvest. Photo used for illustration purposes only and not at the same location where this story takes place. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2014.

 

AHEAD OF US along the side of a county road between Faribault and Medford, hazard lights from a tractor trailer pulsated amber into the blackness of a late autumn evening.

A few miles away, combines spotlighted cornfields as farmers worked the night shift in an already late harvest season.

In the rural blackness, our 2003 Chevy Impala beamed headlights through the deep dark, our eyes scanning ditches for deer evicted from fields.

The setting was prime for drama, for threatening possibilities, for imaginations to race rampant.

And then it happened. As we edged even with the parked semi near the county line and our turn-off intersection, the driver stepped from the cab, hailing us. Randy stopped the car. I rolled down the window and the stranger approached. I never considered in that moment the possibility of danger. It was only afterward when friends questioned our decision that I evaluated our choice. But in this moment, this man needed assistance.

Randy pulled the car ahead to a safer spot. Then the stranger leaned toward me, handed me a slip of paper, cigarette breath hanging in the air. I pulled down the visor, flipped up the mirror cover to unleash light. He spoke in jerks of thickly-accented words. “No English. Ukraine, Poland…”

He pointed to the paper again. And we understood that this Ukrainian needed to find his delivery destination. Here, in this countryside where the wind whipped across fields in bone-chilling cold. Here, where dark prevailed. We pulled our smartphones out and Randy punched in the address. We were there, at the driver’s destination. But in the blackness, we perceived nothing except the faint outlines of grouped buildings.

I tried to explain that we would turn around, check out the location and return. But the driver didn’t understand and started walking, swallowed by the darkness. Randy followed. Except I didn’t know that he planned, too, to disappear into that roadway ribbon of blackness. As the minutes ticked by and I waited, my angst rose. Where was my husband? Had this stranger robbed him, assaulted him, pushed him into the road ditch…?

I picked up my phone, punched the green icon connecting to Randy’s phone. He answered. My fear lessened. “Where are you?” I asked.

“Walking back,” he assured. “There in a minute.” And he was, along with the truck driver.

Still, we hadn’t solved the problem. Randy thought the destination business had a second access. There was none, only a single gated road in and no room for a tractor trailer to park until the next morning. Our efforts to communicate in English with the driver failed. So I resorted to mimicking sleep, the rising sun and turn around and go back to town with my arms. Finally he understood and thanked us profusely.

We left the trucker there on the side of the county road, in the blackness of night. Hours later we retraced our route home to find the semi gone, presumably parked miles away at a truck stop for the night. And we wondered about the Ukrainian, how he had come to be a commercial truck driver lost on a rural southeastern Minnesota roadway in the season of harvest.

 

TELL ME: Would you have stopped if this trucker flagged you down along a remote rural roadway in the dark of night?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The season of autumn in rural Minnesota, a photo essay October 24, 2017

 

IN THE SEASON of autumn, farm memories draw me back to the land.

 

 

To follow country gravel roads

 

 

and county highways

 

 

past sweeping fields of corn

 

 

harvested,

 

A vintage Gleaner combine harvests a cornfield along LeSueur County Road 13 near Lake Jefferson.

under harvest

 

Partially harvested…

 

and unharvested.

 

 

Roads lead me by farm sites,

 

 

aged stately barns

 

Near historic Marysburg in LeSueur County.

 

and mammoth bins awaiting the yield.

 

Following a tractor pulling a 1970s era gravity box along LeSueur County Road 13.

 

I observe, too, farmers creeping tractors trailing wagons,

 

 

zipping along rural roadways

 

Visiting at the intersection of LeSueur County roads 13 and 16.

 

and stalled in conversation at a rural intersection.

 

Cattle graze along 241st Avenue, just off LeSueur County Road 13.

 

I scan the landscape with the eyes of someone who misses the farm,

 

A harvested field glistens with puddled rainwater and mud. Too much rain has slowed the harvest for farmers in southern Minnesota. They will be working long days and nights to catch up and get the crop in before the snow flies.

 

who remembers the hurry of her farmer father,

 

Enjoying a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon along Waseca County Road 22.

 

who follows country roads in the season of autumn.

 

FYI: I shot these images in Rice, LeSueur and Waseca counties during a Sunday afternoon, October 22, drive with my husband.

Check back for more photos from that drive.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling