Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The mystery of the brewery and bank paintings January 17, 2011

I DIDN’T GROW UP in Faribault. But I’ve lived here longer than any place in my life—28 ½ years—so I suppose that makes me somewhat of a local.

As such, I’ve developed an appreciation for the history that surrounds me, especially in the downtown. Faribault boasts a historic commercial district graced by many beautiful brick buildings.

So when two paintings of old Faribault buildings mysteriously showed up at my friend Rhody Yule’s art exhibit, I was intrigued. I knew the pieces in the exhibit inside and out, backward and forward, upside down and right side up because I submitted the application for Rhody’s show and then helped select the art.

Then, suddenly, these two additional paintings—of the Fleckenstein Brewery and the Security Bank—appear. How did they get there?

 

Faribault artist Rhody Yule created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck's beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents toured the brewery.

In 1964, Rhody Yule painted this picture of the Security Bank in downtown Faribault. The original 1870 stone structure was covered with a brick facade. The building is no longer a bank.

I asked around, but no one could solve the mystery.

Thanks to my sleuthing husband, who thought to look at the backs of the paintings, the mystery was quickly solved and I had a name and number.

Local history buff Brian Schmidt owns the oil paintings. When he learned of Rhody’s art show, he hustled the two pieces down to the Paradise Center for the Arts because he figured others would be interested.

Brian was right and I had lots of questions for him, starting with, “Where did you get these paintings?”

Turns out he purchased them at Woody Schrader auctions, which are held on Sundays and Wednesdays at Schrader’s Faribault auction house.

As long as we were talking, I didn’t shy from asking Brian how much he paid for the paintings. He purchased the 1964 bank painting for $30 seven years ago. He got the 1976 painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery about 10 years ago for $90.

I told Brian he got a deal. He knew it.

But here’s the best part about this whole story. Brian grew up on the north side of Faribault and often dug for bottles in the “bottle pit” at the Fleckenstein Brewery. He’s also considered the local expert on the brewery, he says, and has some 300 collectible brewery items.

Who better to own these paintings than Brian?

“I love Faribault history,” says this Rice County Historical Society member who is always seeking treasures from the city’s past.

He can tell you that the Fleckenstein Brewery had a 108-year history in Faribault, opening in 1856 and closing in 1964. The Fleckensteins made Fleck’s beer and pop. He’s eager to share more and has invited me and my husband to see his collection.

For now, though, we focused primarily on those paintings.

“I was so glad to put to rest the mystery of the paintings that I own from Rhody Yule,” Brian wrote in an e-mail follow-up to our phone conversation. “I have often wondered where his studio was and who was the man behind the wonderful art work that I found. It was a pleasure to finally see the man who actually painted these wonderful paintings. I will cherish these paintings FOREVER now!”

 

The former Security Bank, today, along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault.

The clock that graces the corner of the Security Bank building has fallen apart. A number of years ago there was discussion about refurbishing the clock, but that didn't happen, I believe, because of the high costs to undertake such a project.

The lovely stone entrance to the Security Bank.

FYI: Rhody Yule, who was a Faribault sign painter for 33 years, never had a studio. He painted quietly at home for enjoyment.

IF ANYONE OWNS paintings by Rhody, please submit a comment here and tell me about the art pieces you have.

If you would like to see the Security Bank and Fleckenstein Brewery paintings, which Brian Schmidt terms “so spectacular and detailed,” check out “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and noon – 5 p.m. Saturday. This first-ever gallery show for 92-year-old Rhody runs through February 26.

Other exhibit paintings of Faribault buildings include one of the old Trinity Lutheran Church and School and the Faribault Woolen Mill.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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