Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wanted in Faribault June 1, 2017

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ANGLED ONTO A CORNER LOT at the intersection of busy Second Avenue Northwest and Sixth Street Northwest near historic downtown Faribault rests this reward sign.

In the vale of darkness bulbs flash, drawing attention to the message from an upset homeowner whose front door faces Central Park and whose yard is now minus an impressive wind spinning sculpture.

Just across Second Avenue, the aged The Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior rises. Thou shalt not steal.

And on the opposite corner, a stone’s throw from the DEAD OR ALIVE reward sign, sits the Parker Kohl Funeral Home.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo by Randy Helbling


How Faribault is honoring Barb Larson with an outdoor art installation February 17, 2017

NEARLY TWO MONTHS have passed since Barb Larson was shot to death by her ex-husband at her work place, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. Dick Larson, a retired Faribault police officer, then killed himself.

Today my community continues to heal, to create an awareness of domestic violence and to celebrate the life of this vivacious and vibrant woman. I feel a real sense of unity, a deepening compassion and a connectedness that I’ve not experienced before in Faribault.

And now that care is extending to a public art project that honors Barb’s life. The Chamber is seeking proposals from area artists for an outdoor sculptural installation on the very building where Barb was killed.


The words in this word cloud describe Barb Larson.

The words in this word cloud describe Barb Larson and are meant to inspire artists in proposing a public sculpture in her honor.

The concept the Chamber hopes to convey is depicted in descriptive words submitted by those who knew Barb. Words like friendly, welcoming, vivacious, energetic, caring, kind… I never knew Barb. But based on the words filling a word cloud on the request for proposals, I understand why she was much beloved. I think all of us would like to be remembered with such positive adjectives.

Artists’ proposals are being accepted through March 24. Click here for more information. What a great opportunity to propose artwork that represents all the positive qualities Barb embodied.

We are a community that continues to heal. And we are a community determined to focus on the spirit of goodness and light in the darkness of tragedy.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Appleton: A ring dance on a wedding day August 25, 2016

The Ring Dance fountain in City Park, Appleton, Wisconsin

The Ring Dance fountain in City Park, Appleton, Wisconsin

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT KIDS and water on a hot summer day that brings joy and, for me, a longing for the carefree days of youth.


Ring Dance fountain, #51 from a distance


Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to a piece of art centering City Park in Appleton, Wisconsin. “Ring Dance,” created by internationally-acclaimed sculptor Dallas Anderson, a native of nearby Neenah, is a must-see for me nearly every time I visit Appleton.


Ring Dance fountain, #56 cavorting


On my most recent stop at the park on a hot and humid late July afternoon, I envied the cavorting carved kids cooling off in the fountain. And I envied the young women also cooling their heels in the water as they posed for bridal party photos.


Ring Dance fountain, #54 hands up


Not wanting to interfere with the professional wedding photo shoot, I snapped a few quick shots and called it good. Typically I would take more care in composing images, but I wanted to be respectful.


Ring Dance fountain, #58 bride watching


I’m always curious about public art that draws me back repeatedly. This $483,000 sculpture, according to info I found online, was funded with private donations and was installed 20 years ago.


"Ring Dance" seems fitting for a wedding photo shoot. Here the couple poses near a massive round flowerbed in City Park.

“Ring Dance” seems fitting for a wedding photo shoot. Here the couple poses near a massive round flowerbed in City Park.

I also learned of a Minnesota connection. Sculptor Dallas Anderson, who died in 2009, received his Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, 20 minutes from my home and 300 miles from Appleton. Interesting how life circles and connects…

TELL ME, do you have a favorite water fountain sculpture? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


With gratitude & loving remembrance on Good Friday April 3, 2015

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St. Michael's Cemetery, Buckman, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, August 2012.

Christ crucified sculpture, St. Michael’s Cemetery, Buckman, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, August 2012.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.–     Hebrews 12:2

Photo copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Ring, not rain, dance in a Wisconsin park June 20, 2014

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CITY PARK IN APPLETON, WISCONSIN, is one of those parks that causes you to linger and appreciate.

"Ring Dance" by sculptor Dallas Anderson serves as City Park's focal point. Private donations paid for the $483,000 fountain sculpture which was dedicated in August 1996.

“Ring Dance” by sculptor Dallas Anderson serves as City Park’s focal point. Private donations paid for the $483,000 fountain sculpture which was dedicated in August 1996.

It’s the setting as much as the fountain sculpture focal point that pull me into this neighborhood park next to Lawrence University on the eastern edge of downtown.

Spectacular one-of-a-kind historic homes define the neighborhood.

Spectacular one-of-a-kind historic homes define the neighborhood.

Historic, sprawling homes draw my eyes to inviting front porches and turrets and other architectural details. Homes so lovely I would move into any of them if I had the money.

A beautiful bush flowers during my May visit to City Park.

A beautiful bush flowers during my May visit to City Park.

Rather, I covet that which I cannot own, imagine gleaming wood floors creaking with age, thick plaster walls, shining banisters, banks of windows streaming sunlight into rooms pasted with cabbage rose wallpaper.

Hubert House Film House

The Hubert House Film House, right across from City Park, is part of Lawrence University.

The writer in me is writing the stories of these homes as my eyes scan exteriors while strolling the park perimeter.

Impressive First English Lutheran Church.

Impressive First English Lutheran Church.

And then, I pause to study First English Lutheran Church, a strong stone structure that dominates a street corner. Stunning.


Moving in as close as I can without water spraying onto my camera.

Back in City Park, the lure of water leads me to the fountain, where sculpted children dance, ankles intertwined.

Fountain information imprinted upon a plaque.

Fountain information imprinted upon a plaque.

If I could, I would join the circle, the “Ring Dance,” washing away worries.

A rainbow...

A rainbow…

But on this evening, sunlight on water beaming a rainbow, I simply appreciate the moment.

Rush of bubbling water. Sunlight fading in the golden hour. Time here, with the man and daughter I love.

BONUS PHOTOS from an earlier visit in August 2011:

Impatiens fill planters in the park.

Impatiens fill planters in the park.

Time with grandma in the park.

Circling “Ring Dance.”

A food truck stops at City Park.

A food truck stops at City Park.

FYI: For more information about “Ring Dance” sculptor Dallas Anderson, click here.

This coming Sunday, June 22, City Park, 500 E. Franklin Street, hosts the annual Juneteenth Festival sponsored by African Heritage, Inc., and the City of Appleton. The noon to 5 p.m. free admission event celebrates freedom, unity and community. The fest  includes performances by Chicago-based Ayodele Drum & Dance, a Michael Jackson impersonator and other musicians; showing of “Stone of Hope: Black Experiences in Appleton,” a pop-up museum exhibit; games; and children’s activities. Food vendors will also be on site. For more information about Juneteenth Festival, click here.  

Click here to read a previous post from City Park. And watch for a future post on an unusual tree discovered here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Memories of a boy who loved fireflies June 30, 2012

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A plaque marks the entry to Justin’s Memory Garden.

I NEVER IMAGINED, when I published a post here on June 16 about the Memory Garden which honors my nephew Justin, that you, dear readers, would so fervently embrace a sculpture from that garden.

But I suppose my enthusiasm for the little boy holding a jar of fireflies ignited in the words I wrote.

Now, because of that story and accompanying photos, five more gardens—four in southeastern Minnesota and one at a Colorado hospital—will become homes for the little boy.

My husband, Randy, and Little Justin on the back steps before I moved Justin to a spot on the patio by the brilliant pink wave petunias.

He’s already in my backyard, my Little Justin, as Justin’s uncle, my husband, calls the garden sculpture.

Every evening as darkness settles in, the fireflies in the jar begin to glow, reminding me of my nephew who died too soon of Hodgkin’s disease 11 years ago at the age of 19.

Fireflies glow in the sculpture I recently purchased in memory of my nephew Justin.

Says his mother, Vivian:

Justin liked watching fireflies, especially when sitting at a bonfire. He loved looking at the stars and he loved Christmas tree lights, especially blue ones. He would often holler, “Mom/Dad, come and look at the sunset,” or the rainbow, or “there’s a shooting star.”

He didn’t want us to plant a tree in a particular spot because it would ruin the sightline for the sunsets—we never have planted one there.

Though we never talked about it specifically, he enjoyed light, from the heavens, in various forms.

And so, when the mother of the boy who loved light and fireflies and the heavens, saw the “Lightning Bugs with Boy” sculpture in a brochure the day before Mother’s Day, she felt moved to purchase it for Justin’s Memory Garden.

“As I’ve gotten older, I follow those instincts more readily,” Vivian says.

It is the first sculpture she’s purchased for the garden that honors her son. The other garden art—a plaque, dove, angel and birth bath—have come from friends as have most of the plants.

That, she says, makes it a true Memory Garden.

If you’re one of the gardeners who has purchased/is purchasing a Little Justin, hold close this story and imagine the little boy who loved light and is now living in the light.

A close-up of my Little Justin’s endearing face.

FYI: Vivian and I both ordered our “Lightning Bugs with Boy” sculptures from our local True Value hardware stores, hers in Morris, mine in Faribault. My sculpture had to be shipped in from Oregon. The product cannot be ordered online from True Value, but if you would like to view it, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Embracing everyday & public art, plus a new sculpture in Northfield June 28, 2012

GROWING UP, I DIDN’T have all that much formal exposure to the arts. Not at home. Not in school. Not outside of either.

Life was different back then, in the 1960s and early 1970s, with families in my southwestern Minnesota farming community simply working long, hard hours to survive. We didn’t, for the most part, have art galleries and live theatre, concerts or art shows or any of those cultural centers and events that today are an assumed aspect of life, even in the most rural of areas.

Despite that absence of organized art opportunities, I was not deprived of art. Rather, its presence was subtle—found in the flower gardens of Great Aunt Dora, in the dance of corn tassels on a breezy summer afternoon, in the patchwork symphony of quilts my Grandma Ida stitched, in the blazing orange of a prairie sunset painted across the wide sky, in the distinguishable cadence of a John Deere tractor, in the stones my great uncle rockhounds collected, sculpted and polished to shiny perfection.

Those exposures to art were so much a natural part of my life that I never realized their significance as artful influences.

Today I can find organized art anywhere, including right here in my community of Faribault. I embrace (most of) it with exuberance.

And to the north, in neighboring Northfield, the arts scene is even more vibrant.

The recently-installed “Tree of Knowledge and Delight” at the Northfield Public Library.

At 4:30 p.m. this Friday, June 29, Northfield celebrates its latest addition to downtown art at the official unveiling of the “Tree of Knowledge and Delight,” a sculpture created by 10 Northfield High School students and installed in the Northfield Public Library plaza.

A St. Olaf College emeritus professor of art and a St. Olaf art apprentice guided the students in their non-credit, extra-curricular public art course which resulted in the sculpture. Funding for the Northfield Young Sculptors Project came via a $4,150 Legacy grant approved by the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council.

I viewed the sculpture for the first time Sunday evening. I’ll admit that I didn’t study the sculpture like I should have. But oftentimes it takes me awhile to warm up to abstract art.

Eight branches comprise the tree sculpture.

But if you take the time to examine the tree, you will see the visual themes related to learning and individual artistic expressions—the book, the faces, the snake, the harmony of colors and more.

That students would have this opportunity to create such a sizable piece of public art seems exceptional. What an encouragement to them as young artists.

The “Tree of Knowledge and Delight” will remain at the library plaza for a year before relocating to a permanent home at Northfield High School. Plans call for a public sculpture to become an annual project for NHS students and their professional mentors. And that is good.

Yet, aside from this organized project, I hope students will not overlook the art in their everyday lives. For that is the art which, as I see it, defines the artistic world in its simplest, purest, most grassroots form.

FYI: This project was also supported by the Northfield Arts and Culture Commission, the Northfield Public Library, Northfield High School and the City of Northfield.

Right next to the Northfield Young Sculptors Project you’ll see this knit art wrapped around a “Do not enter” sign post. An attached tag, which includes a photo of a young woman, reads: “It’s immortality, my darlings.– Alison.” This is apparently a memorable line by character Alison DiLaurentis from the teen drama television series, “Pretty Little Liars.” Never heard of it. Any idea who placed this quote and knit art on the Northfield street sign? And what does that message mean anyway?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling