Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Incredible quilt art in Owatonna April 9, 2014

The entry to the Owatonna Art Center

The entry to the Owatonna Arts Center, inside the former Minnesota State Public School for Dependent  and Neglected Children, later renamed the Owatonna State School. The City of Owatonna now owns the site, today called West Hills with the OAC located at 435 Garden View Lane.

HE EXPRESSED IT so well, the quilter’s husband waiting outside the Owatonna Arts Center Sunday afternoon for invited guests to arrive from Rochester.

A quilted work of art bursts with color.

A quilted work of art bursts with color.

Quilting, he surmised, has evolved from a homemaker’s craft to a recognized form of art.

The quilter's husband and the quilter view the extensive collection of quilts.

The quilter’s husband and the quilter view the extensive collection of quilts.

He’s so right.

If you appreciate art and quilts, you will want to see "Quilts in Bloom"

If you appreciate art and quilts, you will want to see “Quilts in Bloom”

“Quilts in Bloom,” featuring around 80 quilts stitched by members of the local Piecemakers Quilt Guild, blossoms in the nooks and crannies of gallery space in an exhibit that runs from now until April 27.

Baskets of blossoms and more.

Baskets of blossoms and more.

This show simply blooms with creativity:

A close-up of the traditional Dresden Plate pattern in the foreground with a second quilt in the background.

A close-up of the traditional Dresden Plate pattern in the foreground with a second quilt in the background.

A contrast of modern geometrical to the traditional Sunbonnet Girls.

A contrast of modern geometrical to the traditional Sunbonnet Girls.

This block from the 1930s Sunbonnet Sue pattern features quilting and embroidery.

This block from the 1930s Sunbonnet Sue pattern features quilting and embroidery.

I really liked this pairing of wood sculpture with quilt art. The wood tone compliments the earthy colors of the quilt.

I really like this pairing of wood sculpture with quilt art. The earthy tones in each complement one another.

For $1, you can buy a chance to win "Stars in My Garden."

For $1, you can buy a chance to win “Stars in My Garden.”

A block in a teapot themed quilt.

A block in a teapot themed quilt.

During the open reception, musicians performed in the venue space, where several quilts are displayed.

During the opening reception, musicians performed in the venue space, where several quilts are displayed.

Whimsical art.

Whimsical art.

Touring the exhibit on opening day.

A Faribault quilter and his wife tour the exhibit on opening day.

Floral design at its quilting best.

Floral design at its quilting best.

Quilt art lines a hallway.

Quilt art lines a hallway.

From the playful to geometric, abstract, traditional, whimsical and more, you’ll discover an array of eye-pleasing colors and patterns here.

Artist Lois Doyle created "Mountain Laurel," a quilt she started 25 years ago. She has several quilts in the show. Laurie Spindler machine quilted this quilt.

Artist Lois Doyle created “Mountain Laurel,” a quilt she started 25 years ago. She has several quilts in the show. Laurie Spindler machine quilted this quilt. Even with arthritic hands, Lois still quilts. Remarkable.

The talent of these quilters impresses me. Truly, they deserve the title of artists.

This sign posted at the quilt show says it all.

This sign posted at the quilt show says it all.

FYI: This marks the 10th annual Piecemakers Quilt Guild show, which is held every three years. You can tour “Quilts in Bloom” during gallery hours, from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday. A $3 donation is suggested. Click here for more information.

BONUS PHOTO: 

While at the show, be sure to stop and appreciate this beautiful space connecting the Owatonna Arts Center to the

While at the show, stop to appreciate this beautiful space connecting the Owatonna Arts Center to the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum. I’d suggest allowing time to tour the museum and nearby cottage. Check hours before coming as they may differ from gallery hours.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Quilt art celebrates rural Faribault woman’s passion for quilting July 3, 2013

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The sun sets as I approach Barb and Bob's farm east of Faribault.

The sun sets as I approach Barb and Bob’s farm east of Faribault.

ON A RECENT RURAL OUTING to forage rhubarb from my friend Barb’s abundant patch, I noticed a work of art I hadn’t previously seen displayed on her farm east of Faribault.

A a display of Americana art.

A display of Americana art.

Attached to weathered tin on the end of a pole shed hangs a red, white and blue “Star Shadow” quilt block painted on an eight-foot square of plywood.

The barn quilt is tied to Barb’s passion for quilting, something she’d do all day if only she didn’t have to cook or clean or…

"Star Shadow."

“Star Shadow.”

She’d seen similar painted quilts on barns, always wanted one and a few years ago, along with husband Bob, chose the Star Shadow design for their quilt art. No particular reason for the design—just one they both liked, although they knew the paint hues would be in the trio of patriotic colors.

Barb’s a long-time seamstress who once sewed her own clothes, embroidered and then began making simple block quilts before attempting a tulip quilt. She struggled with the tulip quilt, finishing it in the early 1990s, some 40 years after beginning the project.

Since that quilting success, Barb’s emerged as an avid quilter, stitching countless bed-sized quilts, wall hangings, placemats, table runners and more. She keeps her work or gives it away, including to charities. As a member of the Blue Chicks, a local quilting group that meets monthly, Barb has sewn quilts for the Ronald McDonald House. She also quilts with her sisters once a month and recently joined the quilting circle at her church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. That church group donates most of its quilts to charity.

“I’m infected with the pox,” Barb says of her quilting passion. She collects fabric, goes on fabric-shopping road trips with fellow quilters…

Although my friend doesn’t design her own quilt patterns, she enjoys the creative aspect that comes in selecting designs and colors, pulling it all together in a work of art—whether stitched or painted.

BONUS FARM PHOTOS:

The beautiful barn on Barb and Bob's 100-year-old plus family farm.

The beautiful barn on Barb and Bob’s 100-year-old plus family farm.

Rhubarb grows by the old smokehouse, which now houses garden tools.

Rhubarb nudges the old smokehouse, which now houses garden tools.

This farm is typical old style farmplace with lots of outbuildings, including the granery on the left, one of the oldest buildings on the farm.

This farm is typical old style farm place with lots of outbuildings, including the updated granery on the left, one of the oldest structures on the farm.

The message on the granery door reflects Barb's attitude: "The sheds are full of stuff and it's all good."

The message on the granery door reflects Barb’s attitude: “The sheds are full of stuff and it’s all good.”

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Once upon a time I was a seamstress February 1, 2012

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spools of thread

Spools of thread in the sewing box I haven't opened in years.

I ALWAYS THOUGHT I’d sew clothes for my family. That was before children, in the days when I was young and had no realistic concept of the time demands of parenting.

I grew up sewing—clothes for myself, dresses for my Grandma who quilted like a mad woman but couldn’t follow a pattern. She quilted while I stitched shapeless dresses for her from polyester and cotton.

Nearly all of the clothing I wore as a teen in the 1970s, I made. Hot pants. Smocks. Dresses. Elephant leg pants, which never fit right around the waist because I was way too skinny. Pajamas. Even underwear, a rather challenging task presented by a home economics teacher who thought we should sew underwear from some slinky, slippery impractical fabric. The project was a failure.

But I digress. I loved to sew—to choose crisp, cotton fabric, and, yes, sometimes even stretchy polyester, from bolts packed onto shelves in the fabric store or in the basement of J.C. Penney in Redwood Falls or in the grocery store/general store in Lucan. The prints were psychedelic pieces of art—bold and crazy and colorful.

I can't state with certainty that this is cotton fabric from the 1970s. I picked it up several years ago at a thrift store because it reminds me of psychedelic 70s prints.

I loved paging through thick catalogs of patterns, choosing just the right trendy design to match manufactured clothes.

While I didn’t particularly enjoy the pinning of tissue paper patterns to fabric or the measuring and cutting process, I loved sliding the fabric across the sewing machine, stitching straight, even lines or easy curves until I’d created something I could wear.

There's a certain satisfaction in guiding fabric under a pressure foot, the needle pumping through fabric.

The ability to sew truly rated as a necessity more than an indulgence in a creative outlet. Our poor farm family couldn’t afford closets full of store-bought clothes. If I wanted clothing, I would need to sew them.

So, with that background, I expected to continue sewing as an adult. When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a Sears Kenmore sewing machine as my graduation gift. My oldest brother got a car. Yeah, well…

My 1974 sewing machine, a graduation gift from my parents.

Fast forward through college—definitely no time for sewing then, except during breaks back home on the farm. Launched into the working world 3 ½ years later as a newspaper reporter, I had precious little time for sewing.

And so the years passed, until I became a mother in 1986 with grandiose plans of stitching cute little dresses for my first-born daughter. That never happened and I had even less time when my second daughter arrived 21 months later. On a tight time and money budget, I mostly relied on rummage sale clothes to dress my daughters and later, my son.

It’s been years now since I used my sewing machine. Somewhere in the busyness of raising three children and in the economic reality that I could purchase store-bought or recycled for less than the cost of fabric and a pattern, I lost interest in sewing.

I haven’t lost, though, the thrill of walking into the fabric section of a store, perusing the bolts of cloth and running my hands across the woven threads.

And it seems to me that the prints today are bold and crazy and colorful, quite like the psychedelic prints of the 70s.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Did you, like me, sew at one time? Or are you a creative seamstress,  stitching away today?

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stitches of love April 6, 2011

Handmade quilts drape across pews at St. John's United Church of Christ.

INSIDE THE LIMESTONE CHURCH, patchwork quilts drape across the backs of pews, spilling onto cushy red seat cushions.

Only hours earlier during the Sunday morning church service, worshippers settled onto the quilts handmade by St. John’s United Church of Christ members.

On a Saturday in February, members of the Women’s Guild, and a few husbands, gathered at this country church in Wheeling Township in southeastern Rice County to stuff the quilts with batting, add backings and tie together the layers with snippets of yarn.

 

St. John's old stone church has been in continuous use for more than 150 years. German settlers founded the congregation in 1856.

This year, according to church member and quilter Kim Keller, the quilters made 13 baby quilts and 13 big quilts.

The handmade blankets will go to graduating high school seniors—two at St. John’s this spring—and to missions, mostly local.

 

One of the many handmade quilts that will be given away.

As I perused the quilts, I considered the devotion of those who piece together the swatches of fabric, tie together the layers and knot the strands of yarn. These quilts represent gifts that touch the recipients physically, but, more importantly, emotionally and perhaps spiritually.

Stroke the fabric and you can almost feel the love stitched into each quilt.

That these blankets are then displayed for worshippers to see, and sit upon, adds another dimension to the project. As I photographed the quilts, as the sun streamed through the church’s restored stained glass windows, I thought of the blessings received by both the givers and the receivers. Joy that comes in selfless giving. Joy that comes in knowing someone cares enough about you and your needs to stitch a quilt.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

The stained glass windows at St. John's were restored between 2004 - 2006 at a cost of more than $30,000.

 

A view from the St. John's balcony of the church interior and the quilts.

TEN MILES AWAY in Faribault, about a dozen women at my church, Trinity Lutheran, meet every Wednesday morning from September through May to finish quilts that are donated to those in need. Seamstresses sew the quilt tops at home and then bring them, along with the backings, to church where the Trinity Quilters add the batting and then tie together the layers with yarn.

For 60-plus years now, the women of Trinity have been stitching quilts. “It’s a mission project,”  says long-time quilter Betty Gudknecht. “I want to help other people. You want to do things for the Lord because you want to do it (not because you’re paid).”

With that spirit of giving and serving, the Trinity quilters make about 200 quilts annually. They donate them to places like Minnesota Teen Challenge, the Orphan Grain Train, the Red Cross, Burdens to Blessings, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots, and to others in need. Trinity’s graduating high school seniors also receive quilts.

This week the Trinity Quilters are auctioning off three quilts in a silent auction that ends mid-morning on Sunday, April 10. They need the auction money to purchase batting for their 60 x 80-inch quilts. A single roll of recently-purchased cotton batting, which will make 16 quilts, cost $90, and that was at 50 percent off.

In the past, the quilters have gotten creative, using old blankets, mattress pads and even the outsides of electric blankets, as “batting.” They still plan to use those resources, but would also like to use the softer, purchased cotton batting.

While the quilt-makers sometimes buy fabric, most often it is donated.

If you’re interested in bidding on one of the quilts at Trinity Lutheran Church—and I’m sorry, I don’t have photos of the quilts—get your bids in this week.

Cash donations are also being accepted to help the quilters purchase batting.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

 

The steeple of St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, Rice County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating quilt art at the cathedral October 4, 2010

A banner in front of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour along Second Avenue N.W. in Faribault draws visitors to the Rice County Piecemakers Quilt Show.

AS MUCH AS I ENJOYED the Rice County Piecemakers Fall Splendor Quilt Show at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault this past weekend, I was nagged by guilt.

First, my paternal grandma was a quilter. Therefore, it seems I should be genetically predisposed to quilting. But I am not.

Second, I won a door prize—a stash of fabric pieces—that I was delighted to win because I like to win. The patches were even in my favorite color, green. But, because I don’t quilt, I almost felt like I should return the prize to be awarded to some deserving quilter. I didn’t. Instead, I gave the pieces to my friend Marilynn and her daughter Kellie, who are beginning quilters.

Third, several of the quilters asked if I was a quilter. I replied that I made several baby quilts more than 20 years ago and that I sewed nearly all of my clothes when I was a teenager. I don’t think they were impressed. But it was the best I could offer.

Really, these quilters were very nice and they do some mighty fine work. Their quilts are works of art, masterpieces, examples of detailed stitchery and creativity that leaves me wishing I possessed even an ounce of their talent.

Pam Schuenke received the Viewer's First Choice Award in the Challenge Division for her 28-inch square pineapple block pattern creation. She pieced together 150 fabric swatches into nine blocks and added some autumn pizazz by blanket-stitching the seams with gold metallic thread. Entrants in the Challenge Division had to visibly incorporate five specific fabrics into their quilt pieces. Pam also won the top award in the miscellaneous category with an oriental table runner. She's been a Piecemakers member since the late 1980s.


Rows of quilts hung in the cathedral's Guild House.

Quilts and stained glass complemented each other.

Brenda Langworthy created this whimsical "Dog Show" quilt.

Some of the challenge quilts, which included five selected fabrics.

Twyla Sporre quilted "Pop Goes the Weasel" in the challenge competition of the Piecemakers exhibit.

The Piecemakers laid quilts across the 50 some pews in the sanctuary. A total of 200 quilts were shown through-out the church complex. Visitors were asked to vote for their favorites in the following categories: bed quilts, throws/lap quilts, baby items, wall hangings, miscellaneous and challenge quilts.

These adorable quilted bear potholders were on sale in the dining room.

Mary Peterson created "My Fine Sweet Girls," and here's one of those sweet girls.

THE RICE COUNTY PIECEMAKERS meet from 7 – 9 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, 219 N.W. Fourth Avenue, Faribault. Meetings feature speakers, demonstrations, and “show and tell.” There are no dues and the club’s motto is “Sewing friendships one stitch at a time.”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling