Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Touring Franconia Sculpture Park, Part II October 23, 2014

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IF YOU’RE LIKE ME and grew up in a rural area with minimal access to the arts, you appreciate every affordable opportunity to experience art as an adult. For that reason, I often showcase the arts here.

I want you to be aware of the wonderful arts opportunities right in your own Minnesota backyard. To you readers who live elsewhere, I expect you will find local or regional artistic venues unknown to you or unexplored by your for whatever reason.

A snippet overview of Franconia shows "The Harris Project" by Ohio artist Araan Schmidt in the foreground.

A snippet overview of Franconia shows “The Harris Project” by Ohio artist Araan Schmidt in the foreground.

That brings us back to the Franconia Sculpture Park which, since its founding in 1996, has supported 735 national and international artists. Impressive. It offers an artist residency program. And to think I’ve never explored this 25-acre park with 100-plus oversized sculptures southwest of Taylors Falls until a few weeks ago.

But then again I’ve never been to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden either and that’s been around since 1988 and its even closer to my home than Franconia. I really must tour the Minneapolis park sometime. It’s my lack of fondness for urban traffic and urban areas that’s kept me away.

Minnesota artist Mary Johnson's "Lizard Lounge."

Minnesota artist Mary Johnson’s “Lizard Lounge.”

Give me rural any day, one of the reasons I appreciate Franconia so much. It’s located in Franconia Township, which nestles the St. Croix River. The park runs flat and open and stands next to farm fields.

With these hours, there's ample opportunity to tour Franconia.

With these hours, there’s ample opportunity to tour Franconia.

Yesterday I offered you a photo tour glimpse of Franconia, which is open dawn to dusk every day. Here’s one more peek at the art you’ll find there.

Donations are encouraged to support the park.

Donations are encouraged to support the park.

Admission is free, although donations are encouraged.

ONWARD, INTO THE TOUR:

It's interesting to study the light reflecting on these triangles. New York City artist Ryan W. Turley created this sculpture which he calls "Spectacle."

It’s interesting to study the light reflecting on these triangles. New York City artist Ryan W. Turley created this sculpture which he calls “Spectacle.”

There's something about the bend of this sculpture and its positioning that drew my eye.

There’s something about the bend of this sculpture and its positioning that drew my eye. And, yes, that’s a cornfield in the background.

There are a few, what one would consider, more traditional sculptures like this one.

There are a few, what one would consider, more traditional sculptures like this haunting one.

Art in progress.

Art in progress.

I couldn't figure out if this was art or the home of a resident artist or both.

I couldn’t figure out if this was art or the home of a resident artist or both.

Maryland artist James R. Long calls his sculpture "Vessel with Orbs." To me it looks like BINGO balls minus the numbers and letters.

Maryland artist James R. Long calls his sculpture “Vessel with Orbs.” To me it looks like BINGO balls minus the numbers and letters.

I really liked this sculpture

My impression of this sculpture: escape.

CLICK HERE TO READ my first post about Franconia Sculpture Park.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Franconia, up close: A visit to a rural Minnesota sculpture park October 22, 2014

Welcome to Fraconia Sculpture Park.

Welcome to Franconia Sculpture Park.

EXPLAINING THE 25-ACRE Franconia Sculpture Park in rural Shafer, Minnesota, eludes a succinct definition.

Some of the pieces invite interaction and play.

Some of the pieces invite interaction and play.

This place, just west of Taylors Falls off U.S. Highway 8 where State Highway 95 turns south in Franconia Township, seems a playground for the imagination. For here you will find 105 oversized sculptures and others in progress that are mostly abstract and open to interpretation.

An overview of a section of the park shows its size and scale.

An overview of a section of the park shows its size and scale.

And isn’t that part of what defines art, the perspective the viewer brings to the piece?

How we view art is rooted deep in our experiences.

How we view art is rooted deep in our experiences.

I won’t pretend to bring any studied art knowledge to this mini photo tour of Franconia. I bring only my background, my life experiences, my interpretation and a deep appreciation for the creative process. For whether we create with words or paint, metal or wood, or any other material, the reason for creating remains rooted in passion and the need to express one’s self.

This suspended sculpture by Minnesota artist Melanie VanHouten is titled "Reclamation." All I could think were Dorothy and "you're not in Kansas anymore" and tornadoes and "The Wizard of Oz."

This suspended sculpture by Minnesota artist Melanie VanHouten is titled “Reclamation.” All I could think were Dorothy and “you’re not in Kansas anymore” and tornadoes and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Franconia is worth a visit, whether to immerse yourself or for a quick study of art worked from mostly found/repurposed objects. I especially appreciate that aspect of this sculpture park.

I noticed how the trailside flowers mimicked a sculpture behind them.

I noticed how the trailside flowers mimic a sculpture behind them.

It’s a vast, wide open rural space that anchors these sculptures and hosts resident artists. Allow plenty of time to meander the many trails that wind among the sculptures. And, if it’s a cold and windy day, clamp a cap upon your head. You’ll need it.

SELECTED PHOTOS from my tour of Franconia, with more to come in a second post:

Bayete Ross Smith of New York City created "God the Power: Minnesota," a towering stack of boomboxes. Remember these?

Bayete Ross Smith of New York City created “Got the Power: Minnesota,” a towering stack of boomboxes.

These remind me of broken surfboards. They certainly inject a jolt of color into the park.

These remind me of broken surfboards. They certainly inject a jolt of color into the park. The circle is part of another sculpture in the background.

A somewhat more traditional sculpture.

A somewhat more traditional sculpture.

It is the setting of this geometric art that especially pleases me. Right next to a cornfield.

It is the setting of this geometric art, right next to a cornfield, that especially pleases me.

I happened upon this sign, a reminder that artists are actively at work here.

I happened upon this sign, a reminder that artists work here.

game

Minnesota artist Kari Anne Reardon’s “The Big Game”drew my attention for the subject matter and scale. Yes that is a “gun” aiming at a deer.

This sculpture was among my favorites and reminds me of milkweeds.

This sculpture was among my favorites and reminds me of milkweed pods.

Milkweed pods, along the Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway near Morton, autumn 2006

See the resemblance to milkweed? You’ll find real milkweed growing at Franconia. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

"Black Book," the work of Minnesota artist Peyton features multiple paintings on "pages."

“Black Book,” the work of Minnesota artist Peyton, features multiple paintings on “pages.”

Donations to this nonprofit arts organization are welcome.

Donations to this nonprofit arts organization are welcome.

Note: Please visit the Franconia website (click here) for titles of artwork and the artists and for more info about the art shown here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Part II: Inside the artsy Rancho Deluxe Z Garden in Mason City September 25, 2014

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A PRECISE WORD EDLUDES me to describe the Rancho Deluxe Z Garden in Mason City, Iowa.

A sign welcomes visitors to this unofficial, privately-owned Mason City sculpture garden.

A sign welcomes visitors to this unofficial, privately-owned Mason City sculpture garden.

Rather, I must choose a list of words for this half-acre garden created by local Max Weaver: quirky, odd, unique, creative, unbelievable. And, yes, even a bit weird.

See for yourself in these images snapped during a recent visit to 500 Second Street Northeast:

While touring here, you certainly will ask yourself about the meaning of many objects and displays.

While touring here, you certainly will ask yourself about the meaning of many objects and displays.

An outside the fence view.

An outside the fence view.

I really liked this circular garden art placed next to ornamental grass.

I really liked this circular garden art placed next to ornamental grass.

An eclectic mix.

An eclectic mix.

boat

An “air boat.”

I simply love this repurposing of 4,000 pound cement blocks as canvas for art.

I simply love this repurposing of 4,000 pound cement blocks as canvas for art.

Love this message in a maze of blocks.

Love this message in the maze of blocks.

Even old signage proves artful.

Even old signage proves artful.

One of my favorite sculptures features wheel covers.

One of my favorite sculptures features wheel covers.

The garden even includes a veterans' memorial.

The garden even includes a veterans’ memorial.

More projects and/or space for future expansion spotted through bars on the property.

More projects and/or space for future expansion spotted through a barred barrier on the property.

FYI: Click here to read my first post about Rancho Deluxe Z Garden.

Please check back next week for more stories from my visit to Mason City.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One quirky sculpture garden in Mason City, Iowa September 24, 2014

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YOU LIKELY WILL NOT FIND this Mason City attraction listed on any official tourism website.

The official sign marking this unofficial sculpture park in Mason City.

The official sign marking this unofficial sculpture park in Mason City.

But Rancho Deluxe Z Garden, a quirky sculpture garden created on a half-acre of land in this northeastern Iowa community, is precisely the type of homespun arts spot that draws my interest.

An overview upon arriving at Rancho Deluxe Z Garden.

An overview upon arriving at Rancho Deluxe Z Garden.

If not for Mason City resident, blogger and friend, Beth Ann Chiles, though, I likely never would have visited this community, thus missing out on Max Weaver’s creative oddity located at 500 Second Street Northeast. Beth Ann knows me well enough to know I would want to visit the Rancho while visiting her.

The freaky portrait I captured.

The freaky portrait I captured.

So off we drove, aiming for this sculpture garden at the end of a dead end street on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon in late August. We weren’t the only ones there. A photographer was doing a senior photo shoot in a spot apparently popular for such portraits.

The garden features an abundance of bikes.

The garden features an abundance of bikes.

Another suspended bike...

The other side of the suspended bike.

Signatures of Ragbrai 2014 participants who stopped here.

Signatures of Ragbrai 2014 participants who stopped here.

And this summer, participants in Iowa’s Ragbrai, an annual bike ride across the state, toured the Rancho, a stop documented in signatures upon a cement block. The garden features bikes suspended from trees, fences and elsewhere, incorporated as works of art, making this Ragbrai visit especially appropriate.

Randy found his way inside the castle.

Randy found his way inside the castle.

Beth Ann and I, cameras in hand, meandered through the garden while my husband, Randy, clipped along. The Rancho calls for a slow study and multiple times walking through the garden to take in every detail. I expect I missed much, even at my snail’s pace. And, noted, Beth Ann, the garden is ever evolving.

Do loiter here. Especially take time to look at the many 3 x 3-feet painted cement blocks weighing 4,000 pounds.

Do loiter here. Especially take time to look at the many 3-foot square painted cement blocks weighing 4,000 pounds.

From signs to hub caps, bikes, dolls, license plates, rocks, statues, wheels, painted cement blocks and more, this garden presents an eclectic mix of stuff artfully placed on this plot of land.

I'm always a little creeped by misplaced dolls.

I’m always a little creeped by misplaced dolls.

You just have to see Rancho Deluxe Z Garden to believe this almost indescribable place. If you appreciate odd and quirky and art outside the box, then head for Mason City and Max Weaver’s unique sculpture garden.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Love this flower arcing above the garden.

Love this flower arcing above the garden.

More stuff suspended from trees.

More stuff suspended from trees.

Love the vibrant colors and the art painted on a cement block.

Love the vibrant colors and the art painted on a cement block. As I understand, the painted art has been created by many local artists.

Will you always understand what you see? Nope. Bowling balls in a bathtub...

Will you always understand what you see? Nope. Bowling balls in a bathtub…

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more photos from this sculpture garden.

If you like quirky places, consider also touring the “antique theme park” at Hot Sam’s Antiques, rural Lakeville, Minnesota. Click here to read about my visit there two years ago.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Artwerk, Steve style September 11, 2014

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MY FRIEND STEVE, married to my friend Jackie, is an artist. Oh, he may not term himself as such and he prefers you call his creations artwerk rather than artwork. Seems more masculine, this bulk of a guy claims.

Conduit and pipes transformed into art for placement on Steve's wooded acreage.

Conduit, pipes and metal transformed into art for placement on Steve’s wooded acreage.

But I am 100 percent certain that the art Steve crafts from what many would term junk qualifies him as a bonafide artist. He’s even dumpster dived for art materials and salvaged items from scrap piles.

Circles and spirals appear often in Steve's art.

Circles and spirals appear often in Steve’s art.

For now this one-time welder pursues his art passion as a hobby. I’m convinced he could sell his pieces or create works on commission and have suggested such to him. He’s already selected a business name—Big “N” Ugly’s Iron Werks. Catchy. But Steve is certainly not ugly. If I remember correctly, the name relates to some crazy story from his past.

Discarded plumbing provides materials for art in a flower garden.

Discarded plumbing provides materials for art in a flower garden.

Jackie wishes this flowerbed faucet was functional.

Jackie wishes this flowerbed faucet art was functional.

Oversized chimes crafted from discarded clothing racks (etc.) and strung high in a tree.

Oversized chimes crafted from discarded clothing racks (etc.) and strung high in a tree.

He’s transformed clothing racks, tape measures, a springform pan, old faucets, a grater, conduit and more into visual, and sometimes functional, art. The pieces are strategically placed on the couple’s wooded creekside property just off a quiet county road northeast of Medford. I love their land and many times have wished aloud that I desire to retreat here until all stress has exited my life.

Conduit turned art.

Conduit turned art.

A portable outdoor functioning sink created with old faucets, springform pan, plastic pipes and more.

A portable outdoor functioning sink created with old faucets, springform pan, plastic pipes and more.

Fence art.

Fence art.

On a recent steamy summer Sunday afternoon, Steve and Jackie invited my husband and me to tour their outdoor sculpture garden featuring Steve’s vast collection of original art.

The close-up spirals on one of Steve's pieces.

The close-up spirals on one of Steve’s pieces.

A full view of the same piece above and one of the bridges Steve built.

A full view of the same piece above and one of the bridges Steve built.

Even old tape measures are worked into his art.

Even old tape measures are worked into his art.

To view his pieces is to wonder how he can possibly come up with ideas to twist and shape and bend and sculpt cast-offs into abstract art that grabs your attention for its uniqueness, cleverness and artsy appeal.

A practical use for an otherwise useless washer agitator, repurposed as a beverage holder.

A practical use for an otherwise useless washer agitator, repurposed as a beverage holder.

Boat seats repurposed as a seating area on a retaining wall.

Boat seats repurposed as a seating area on a retaining wall.

Who thinks of using a vintage meat grinder for art, then suspending it in a tree? Steve.

Who thinks of using a vintage grinder for art, then suspending it in a tree? Steve.

Talk to Steve about his artwerk and you hear his unbridled enthusiasm. This is what he’s meant to do. To create. Artwerk.

Steve has built several of these sheds, this one graced with some of the art he's crafted.

Steve has built several of these sheds, this one graced with some of the art he’s crafted.

Seriously, how does one shape barbed wire into a ball?

Seriously, how does one shape barbed wire into a ball?

A snippet of an art piece dangling high in the trees.

A snippet of an art piece dangling high in the trees.

FYI: If you are interested in purchasing Steve’s art or having him create a piece on commission, let me know via a comment here or in an email (see my “about” page). I’m tapping Steve’s creative brain about a metal headboard from my childhood. Believe me, he can turn anything into art. Anything.

Steve did not want a photo of himself published, which is why you’re not seeing one here. I have one, but…I will honor his request.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sunday afternoon drive snapshot: Sculpture garden in Jarrett November 10, 2013

Sculpture, lens flare on arch

SUN FILTERED THROUGH THE STAND of cedars. Bright enough to cause lens flare when I shot toward the scraggly close-knit cluster of trees shadowing the banks of the clear, fast-flowing Zumbro River.

The setting appeared almost surreal and haunting in the sense that viewing the unexplained can impress upon the mind.

Sculpture, castle

I’d heard of this place, missed it on a previous pass through Jarrett, and nearly missed it again. But on this Sunday afternoon drive, I glimpsed the stone configurations among the cedars and asked my husband to swing the van around.

So here we were, pulled off Wabasha County Road 11, parked in a drive about the length of our van. I wasn’t even sure we should be here, uncertain whether this was public or private land. But I figured “No trespassing” signs would mark the property if visitors weren’t welcome into this sculpture garden.

Sculpture, wreath

In the quiet of this Sunday afternoon, and I cannot imagine any day being anything but quiet here in this secluded wide spot in the road, we meandered among the sculptures, shoes sinking into squishy earth tunneled by varmints.

Sculpture, cone top sculpture

Arches and points.

Sculpture, stones close-up 1

Sculpture, stone close up 3

Sculpture, stone close-up 2

Stones joined somehow into these interesting pieces of art. By whom? And why?

As Randy and I wandered and examined and wondered aloud, my appreciation grew for this artist. I expect he worked alone here, drawn to the solitude of this rugged place in the valley. He was, perhaps, viewed as a bit of an odd fellow. Was he a poet? A farmer? A musician?

Do you know the story of this artist and the rock garden in Jarrett, the unincorporated community which made headlines when the Zumbro roared from its banks during the flash floods of September 2010? I’d like to hear.

Someone tends this sculpture garden as flowers grew (during the warmer months) here among the artwork. Someone cares…

BONUS PHOTO:

As I walked away from the sculpture garden toward the Zumbro River, I spotted this charming old water pump. I moved closer, until my husband stopped me in my tracks. We saw boards lying across the ground around the pump, an indication that this might not be a safe place to walk.

As I walked away from the sculpture garden toward the Zumbro River, I spotted this charming old water pump. I moved closer, until my husband stopped me. We saw boards, mostly buried under leaves, lying across the ground around the pump, an indication that this might not be a safe place to walk.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling