Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From the heart of Northfield: A sculpture reflects community love April 12, 2022

Fused glass hearts on the sculpture “Spreading the Love.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

IN SOME WAYS, the “Spreading the Love” sculpture reminds me of a box of crayons. It’s a boldly colorful work of art sidling next to a sidewalk near the corner of Division and Sixth Streets in downtown Northfield.

The sculpture is located along Division Street, near Armory Square and Imminent Brewing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The crayon comparison comes in the mix of colors that combine in fused glass hearts created by Geralyn Thelen. The Northfield glass artist crafted the sculpture in collaboration with Hastings metal artist Dale Lewis as part of the 2020 Artists on Main Street Program.

Against a blue sky, a bold and beautiful multi-hued heart. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Signage explains the meaning of the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The heart-filled tree represents community. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The result is this metal community tree adorned with vibrant heart “leaves.” The heart shape represents love. And the mixed hues of those hearts represent inclusiveness, that all are welcome here.

Many hearts in many colors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

That brings me back to crayons. Remember the thrill of a new box of Crayola crayons? The scent. The sharp points. The rows of neatly packed colors in, oh, so many hues and shades? What kid didn’t want a box of 64 crayons versus the standard 24?

A full view of “Spreading the Love.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Yet, even though we had all those choices in colors, there were expectations. Grade school worksheets directed us to color the sun yellow, the grass green, the horse brown, the heart red, for example. To earn an S+ on a paper, we needed to follow directions. It was a way to teach reading and colors. But that left zero options for creativity, for an opening of the mind.

This shows how metal artist Dale Lewis attached the hearts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

To the child who yearned to use all the colors in the crayon box, following directions stifled creativity in the necessity of conformity. I’d like to think as adults that we consider all the colors in the crayon box. If only that were true.

Geralyn Thelen’s fused glass hearts represent love. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

That’s why projects like “Spreading the Love” hold such value. Art encourages us to see, to think, to open our minds and reflect. To color the sun purple, the grass orange, the horse pink, the heart in a mix of hues. Ours is a multi-colored world of skin tones, beliefs, lifestyles and more. Yet, we all share the commonality of love. Giving love. Receiving love. Feeling loved. And, it is my hope, spreading love.

TELL ME: How do you spread love?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Newest student sculpture graces library corner in downtown Northfield March 7, 2022

Historic buildings provide a backdrop for the Young Sculptors’ Project latest installation along Division Street in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

THE WELDED STEEL RODS arc and curve, bending toward Division Street alongside the Northfield Public Library. Dinner plate-sized poured aluminum sculptures attach to the rods, adding detailed interest to this public work of art.

The sculpture sits on a corner by the Northfield Library and changes out every two years. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

This sculpture, installed in 2021, is the latest in the Young Sculptors’ Project, a collaboration of the Northfield Public Schools and the Northfield Arts and Culture Commission “to increase visibility and value for the arts through public sculpture in the community.” It’s funded via a Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage grant through the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council.

Against the blue sky, the rods arc art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As someone who values the arts, especially accessible public art, I truly appreciate this joint effort. Professional artists guide the Northfield students who meet in the school’s art and industrial tech departments once a week during the school year to craft the sculptures.

A space theme defines this sculpture plate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Art and architecture create a pleasing visual along Northfield’s Division Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Butterfly, bug, florals fill this sculpture plate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Northeast Minneapolis professional artist Sara Hanson, along with sculptor apprentice William Lanzillo, led the 18 young creatives in their most recent endeavor. According to info about Lanzillo and the project on the Carleton College Studio Art website, the newest sculpture reflects aspects of Northfield which the students value and celebrate.

This corner by the library is the site for the Young Sculptors’ Project ongoing sculptures. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Through the years, I’ve delighted in discovering this public art at the base of the library hill on the corner of Division and Third Streets in the heart of downtown Northfield. The sculptures remain there for two years before being moved to a courtyard sculpture garden at Northfield High School.

Another poured aluminum sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The over-sized sculptures give me reason to pause, consider, reflect.

Such talent in these young artists. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As I reflect, I think how wonderful that these young people, these young artists, are guided, supported and encouraged. They are learning, growing, building their confidence. What a gift that is from this community and from those professional artists who guide them, who show them their work, their creativity, is valued.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The leaping deer of Deerwood August 24, 2021

Leaping whitetail deer art in Deerwood, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I APPRECIATE OUTDOOR public art. That includes kitschy roadside sculptures that define communities. The walleye in Garrison. The prairie chicken in Rothsay. The otter in Fergus Falls. Babe the Blue Ox in countless Up North Minnesota towns.

And in Deerwood, a Crow Wing County community of around 550, a leaping whitetail deer. The jumping deer, located in Elmer Park, is visible from Highway 6. I snapped a shot of it from the road last trip through this town in mid-July.

A little poking around online revealed that Deerwood was originally known as Withington. But, after being too often confused with Worthington in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, it was officially named Deerwood. That makes sense given its location among the lakes and hardwoods of central Minnesota where deer abound.

I learned a bit more history. Cuyler Adams of Deerwood discovered the iron ore which led to mining in this region. Thus the name Cuyuna Range—a combination of Adams’ first name and the name of his dog, Una.

Oh, the things you learn upon seeing, and photographing, a memorable deer sculpture next to a roadway.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite roadside sculpture? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Janesville: The death of Frankenstein June 18, 2021

Frankenstein in Janesville, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

FOR THE GOOD FOLKS of Janesville, the fiery “death” of Frankenstein last Saturday morning equates the loss of a community icon.

The 20-foot tall fiberglass and steel interpretation of Mary Shelley’s monster loomed on a downtown street corner in this southern Minnesota town of some 2,500. Until the early morning hours of June 12, when a 35-year-old man who lives nearby allegedly torched Frankenstein. He’s been charged with felony arson and damage to property. Only the skeleton remains of the sculpture valued at an estimated $14,000.

A side view of Frankenstein photographed in 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

Janesville’s Frankenstein, originally a Vulcan displayed at the 1988 St. Paul Winter Carnival, was reinvented as a Halloween attraction in the metro before a local businessman purchased him from an auction in 2012. I photographed Frankenstein in 2016, finding him an oddity in this small Waseca County town.

But “odd” isn’t new to Janesville. For decades, “The Doll in the Window” was Janesville’s noted attraction. The mannequin, positioned inside an attic window and visible from well-traveled U.S. Highway 14 (which now bypasses the town), was the stuff of creepy legends. The man who displayed the doll died long ago and, from what I found online, a lot of unknowns remain.

Whether Frankenstein is resurrected remains to be seen. For now, folks are honoring him with flowers and other mementos placed at the base of his skeleton, drawing attention once again to this rural Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Neighbor helping neighbor in Zumbrota October 27, 2020

The grain elevator complex in Zumbrota, a busy place especially during the fall harvest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 18, 2020.

TOO OFTEN THESE DAYS, I feel discouraged by all the discord in our country, by the selfishness and lack of care for others.

But then I discover something that lifts my spirits and reaffirms my belief in our goodness, our ability to help one another, to think beyond ourselves and our needs to those of the people around us.

This is the story of such a discovery. Of goodness and kindness and care for those we call our family, neighbors, friends. Or strangers. And this I found in Zumbrota, a small town about a 45-minute drive east of Faribault.

On a recent Sunday afternoon drive through the Zumbro River Valley of southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I stopped in Zumbrota for a picnic lunch, or what was supposed to be a picnic lunch. The weather, only in the 30s and blustery, proved too cold for outdoor dining. We opted to eat in the van while parked outside the public library.

“Heritage of Promise” by Jeff Barber. A third sculpture of a child is not included in this photo.

Directly in our line of vision stood a sculpture of children near a structure, which I soon determined to be an artistic interpretation of an historic covered bridge on the other side of the library. I planned, upon finishing my sandwich, grapes and protein bar, to photograph the art and then we would be on our way.

Some of the words inscribed on the sculpture. In the background, you can see the historic covered bridge.

On any other day, Randy and I would walk across that aged bridge to the park, explore a bit while stretching our legs. But the weather was just too darned cold. I hurried to photograph the sculpture as my fingers numbed.

The Community Cupboard and the Zumbrota Public Library designs both mimic the historic covered bridge nearby.

Once done, I walked back toward the van, only to notice a Little Free Library next to the public library. I found that odd.

As I drew closer, I found I was mistaken. This was not a LFL but rather a Community Cupboard—a source of food and hygiene products. Free for the taking.

The message thereon invites those opening the door of this small structure, designed like the nearby covered bridge, to TAKE WHAT YOU NEED, LEAVE WHAT YOU CAN. Baby formula. Snacks. Dried legumes. I didn’t poke around to see all of the contents.

Rather, as I photographed the Community Cupboard, I felt a sense of gratitude for this “Sharing Our Saviour” food outreach of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. I thought of the many times Jesus fed the hungry of body and of soul. And how thankful I am that churches and nonprofits and so many others help people in more ways than we will ever know. This lifts my spirits.

TELL ME: How do you or your community or church (or whatever) help individuals and families in need? I’d like to hear more uplifting stories.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memory in flight January 23, 2020

The fighter jet sculpture located at The Owatonna Degner Regional Airport. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

 

SOME MEMORIES REMAIN, decades after the event, forever seared into our minds. But often they stay in the subconscious, surfacing only when triggered by something heard, seen, smelled, tasted, thought.

I hadn’t thought in a long time about the plane. Until I researched the story behind an airplane sculpture at The Owatonna Degner Regional Airport. I photographed the trio of T-38 Talon Thunderbirds while passing by on Interstate 35 as day broke on a recent Sunday morning.

My mind didn’t shift then to the afternoon decades ago when a fighter jet roared over my childhood farm outside Vesta in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota. Rather, my thoughts focused on my mom. We were en route to visit her at a care center in Belview.

But now, weeks later, I sorted through photos taken on that 2.5-hour drive and remembered a summer afternoon in the 1960s. I was outside when the fighter jet flew low and fast over the farmyard, causing me to dive under the B Farmall tractor and the cattle to escape their fence. The sight and sound of that plane terrified me. We seldom saw planes, mostly just the trails of invisible or barely visible slivers of silver jets.

To this day, I don’t know from whence that mystery plane came or why the pilot chose to fly at such a low altitude. I can only speculate that he was on a training mission. And why not conduct that in a sparsely-populated area? Never mind the people or livestock.

That experience resurfaced as I sought out info about the three fighter jets artfully positioned at the Owatonna airport. Initially, they stood outside nearby Heritage Halls Museum, now closed. Museum founder and local businessman and pilot, R.W. “Buzz” Kaplan, led efforts to bring the retired U.S. Air Force jets to the area. Eventually the planes would land permanently at the airport, highly-visible to those traveling along the interstate.

Kaplan, on June 26, 2002, died at this very airport after the plane he was piloting, a replica WW I JN-4D “Jenny” biplane, crashed shortly after take-off. This airport has been the site of several fatal crashes, including one in 2008 which claimed eight lives. I hadn’t thought about that crash either, one of the worst in Minnesota, in a long time.

It’s interesting how the split-second decision to photograph a sculpture of three fighter jets along an interstate can trigger-roll into more than simply an image.

Life is that way. Memories, rising in unexpected moments, connecting to today.

TELL ME: Do you have a long ago memory that sometimes surfaces? I’d like to hear your stories and why that memory remains and others don’t.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A powerful Northfield sculpture focuses on mental health July 30, 2019

 

PAUSE ON THE CORNER of Division Street by the Northfield Public Library in the heart of this historic southern Minnesota river town, and you will find yourself next to a massive rusting sculpture.

 

 

 

The public piece calls for more than a cursory glance at an abstract person reaching skyward. The art calls for passersby to stop, read the inscription at the base of the sculpture and then contemplate the deeper meaning of “Waist Deep.”

This temporary downtown art installation, created by 15 Northfield High School students and three professional artists through the Young Sculptors Project and funded with a $10,000 grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, creates a community-wide public focus on mental health issues. After two years, the sculpture will be permanently placed in the high school courtyard sculpture garden.

 

 

Like any art, “Waist Deep” is open to personal interpretation. The signage notes, though, that the sculpture is meant to support those struggling with mental health in the community, of needing and receiving help from caring others.

 

 

As I looked at the layered and fractured pieces comprising the sculpted person, I saw beyond the arm reaching for help and the lowered arm with curved hand clawing the earth. Both represent, in my eyes, darkness and light, hopelessness and hope. Mental illness leaves a person feeling incomplete and broken. Fractured. Trying to hang on. Reaching.

 

 

I photographed the sculpture on a recent weekend morning under rainy, then partially cloudy and sunny skies, not unlike the ever-changing skies of mental illness. Sometimes pouring. Sometimes parting. Sometimes shining with hope.

As the sculpture name “Waist Deep” and art itself suggest, those dealing with mental health issues can feel waist deep in the water of the disease—flailing, perhaps unable to swim, battling the overpowering waves.

We have a responsibility to throw a life-line. How? First, start seeing mental illness like any other illness. Call it what it is—a brain disease. End the stigma. Someone suffering from depression, for example, can no more wish away or snap out of depression than a diabetic can cure his/her disease by thinking positive thoughts. Educate yourself.

 

 

Support those who are waist deep. Show compassion. They need care, love, encouragement, support just as much, for example, as cancer patients.

Be there, too, for the caregivers, who feel alone, who work behind the scenes to secure often elusive professional care for their loved ones. In Minnesota the shortage of mental health care professionals and treatment centers, especially outside the Twin Cities metro area, is documented in media report after media report. It’s a crisis situation. Telling someone in a mental health crisis they need to wait six weeks plus for an appointment with a psychiatrist or a psychologist is absurd and unacceptable. We wouldn’t say that to someone experiencing a heart attack. They would die without immediate care. Those waist deep do sometimes. Every day. And it shouldn’t be that way.

I applaud the 15 NHS students and the three artists who created the public art piece in Northfield. Projects like “Waist Deep” shine the spotlight on a disease which has too long been hidden, shoved in the dark corner of silence.

THOUGHTS?

FYI: I’d encourage you to read the book Regular & Decaf by Minnesotan Andrew D. Gadtke and published by Risen Man Publishing, LLC. It features conversations between Gadtke and his friend, both of whom have brain diseases. It’s a powerful, insightful and unforgettable read.

 

The art of Decorah, Part II November 27, 2018

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A close-up of stacked stones at Phelps Park in Decorah, Iowa, where the Civilian Conservation Corps crafted walls, a fountain and more.

 

WHEN YOU THINK public art, what pops into your mind? Sculptures? Murals? Sidewalk poetry? All fit the definition.

 

An example of the stone art at Phelps Park.

 

But public art stretches beyond the obvious. If you look for it, you will see art everywhere, as I did on a September visit to Decorah. This northeastern Iowa river town is rich in art, natural and otherwise.

 

In a downtown Decorah plaza, “Doe and Fawn” by Victoria Reed.

 

Art enriches a place by adding texture, interest, depth.

 

Look up to see this sculpture on the Nelson & Co building in downtown Decorah.

 

Art personalizes a place with character.

 

The colorful mural by The Cardboard Robot.

 

Art colors a town with vibrancy.

 

On display at Donlon Toy Jungle (inside Donlon Pharmacy), this 6-foot KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Details posted with that Ferris Wheel build.

 

Just another angle of the KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Art brings a community together, creating a cohesiveness that unites in working toward a common goal.

 

An artful door leading to apartments in downtown Decorah.

 

Art comforts.

 

Stacked stone art in Dunning’s Spring.

 

Art empowers, strengthens.

 

Inside The Cardboard Robot, shoppers are encouraged to be hands-on creative.

 

Art expands our imaginations to create.

 

This new bridge at Dunning’s Spring Park replicates a stone bridge of 140 years ago. Master stone mason Ted Wilson crafted the bridge along with Sean Smyth. The bridge features dry stonewalling, meaning there’s no mortar between joints.

 

We need art. Today more than ever. To bridge our differences.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A mother’s sorrow March 30, 2018

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Mary holds Jesus. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

THROUGH THE YEARS, I’ve photographed many churches. And many works of art within those sanctuaries. Today it seems fitting that I share this image taken nearly a year ago inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota.

I see in this sculpture the profound grief of Jesus’ mother, Mary. I see it in her eyes, in every essence of her sorrowful face. I doubt there is any pain deeper than that of a parent losing a child.

In the darkness of Good Friday, I anticipate the light of Easter morning.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The story of Babe the Blue Ox in Nisswa November 13, 2017

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WHAT DEFINES NISSWA?

 

 

Ten years ago, Nisswa Elementary School students created a work of art which partially answers that question in an unlikely place—on a Babe the Blue Ox statue.

 

 

Situated on a corner of Main Street, the artwork showcases most anything a visitor, like me, would want to know about this northwoods Minnesota community.

 

 

From the story behind the town’s name to the availability of pizza and ice cream treats to the turtle races, these kids highlight the best of Nisswa on Paul Bunyan’s sidekick.

 

 

They appreciate their parks and bookstore, Pioneer Village, the Halloween parade and, yes, the local library, too.

 

 

Well done, former kids of Nisswa.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling