Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A historic bank and White Buffalo Calf Woman June 23, 2011

SET ME IN FRONT of an architecturally-stunning historic building and I’m in history heaven.

Just look at the lines, the colors, the window leading, the carvings…of the Old First National Bank of Mankato building, now a Verizon Wireless Center reception hall.

I didn’t step inside the former bank, didn’t even try a door. I was content last Saturday afternoon to view the exterior with its Prairie School style architecture.

“It’s like that bank in Owatonna,” my husband said as we gawked at the building built of brick, Mankato limestone and terra cotta along Civic Center Plaza in downtown Mankato.

He was, of course, referring to Chicago architect Louis Sullivan’s “jewel box,” National Farmer’s Bank in Owatonna, a brick building with terra cotta accents, splendid for its stained glass windows, arches and other architectural details.

The Mankato building features Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stained glass and detailed ornamentation along the roof line.

And now it also showcases a bronze sculpture of White Buffalo Calf Woman by South Dakota artists Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby as part of Mankato’s City Art Walking Sculpture Tour.


If you peer at the woman’s face, examine her beaded moccasins and the trim on her buckskin dress and pouch, you’ll notice how the colors mimic those of the historic bank building. Whether this Native American sculpture’s placement was planned or accidental, I don’t know, but it fits seamlessly with the historical vibe of the locale, enhancing the whole art viewing experience.

The city of Mankato, apparently named after a varied translation of the Dakota word Mahkato, meaning “blue earth,” owns a place in Minnesota and national history for the mass hanging of 38 Dakota here on December 26, 1862. Three hundred warriors were accused of killing civilians and soldiers and of other crimes during the U.S.-Dakota Conflict. After a public outcry, President Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38. Certainly, Mankato is not proud of this moment in history. But efforts have been made to honor the Dakota at monuments in the city.

And now sculptures like White Buffalo Calf Woman also help heal and educate the public about the Native American culture. According to information on the sculpture placard, this prophetess is the only religious icon accepted by all Native American tribes. She “brings a message of healing, hope and peace among the races to all the people.”

More than just art, I also got a history lesson along a Mankato city street on a Saturday afternoon in June.

PLEASE VIEW MY JUNE 20 post for more photos and information about the Walking Sculpture Tour. Additional images will be forthcoming.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Mankato brings art to the sidewalks with walking sculpture tour June 21, 2011

Martin Eichinger of Portland, Oregon, created this graceful "Bird in the Hand" bronze sculpture valued at $14,500 and posed near the City Center.

You'll find "Play Thing" by Ryszard, Denver, Colorado, and sculpted from Colorado marble, in North Mankato.

MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE I grew up without much art—no paintings, no piano, no library—that I so appreciate the visual, performing and literary arts.

I still can’t paint a painting or read a musical note. But I value those two art forms and words, which have always been a part of me, who I am.

Several years ago I walked the Bemidji Sculpture Walk and I quickly became enamored with the idea of placing sculptures in a community and then swapping them out a year later for new sculptures. The touring sculptures scattered primarily through-out Bemidji’s downtown impressed me as an ingenious way to get art before the general public.

Now I needn’t drive hours and hours and hours to view such public art. In 45 minutes I can reach downtown Mankato and view the 25 sculptures positioned there and in North Mankato as part of the City Art Walking Sculpture Tour. For free.

On Saturday, while in Mankato for a graduation reception, my husband and I made it a point of afterward checking out those sculptures. We missed seeing only a few of the art pieces, including one along Belgrade Avenue that was vandalized and, ironically, titled “Look and You Will Find.” We found only an empty block of Minnesota limestone, donated by Vetter Stone, where the sculpture once stood.

Mahtomedi artist Kate Christopher's $6,900 bronze sculpture, "Look and You Will Find It," was vandalized. The art piece symbolized HOPE.

I expected to find a bustling downtown Mankato. Obviously I have not been downtown for many years. Nearly all of the shopping has moved to the fringes of the city, into the malls and big box stores, and the downtown houses primarily office buildings, restaurants, bars, a hotel and the Verizon Wireless Center. Honestly, except for the sporadic motor traffic on Second Street and a few pedestrians, the place was basically deserted around mid-afternoon. Granted, the weather was less than ideal with on-again-off-again rain. We could park almost anywhere we wanted and walk to the sculptures within a several-block area.

We spotted only two other individuals walking around viewing the sculptures. Dana Parlier of Brooklyn, New York, created this resin sculpture, "Cubist Woman." The man-made concrete canyons of New York City inspired this contemporary art, which seems to match the modern look of the building.

The art pieces certainly present a reason to visit downtown Mankato and then cross the Minnesota River to North Mankato to view several more sculptures. I’m not going to tell you I liked every sculpture, because I didn’t. But that’s OK; no one expects that. Sometimes first impressions change though. When I spotted “Twenty Seven (China)” from across the street, I honestly thought it looked like a mess of twisted junk. But up close, the steel sculpture of recycled bicycle parts—mostly handle bars—grew on me. Joe Forrest Sacke’s $3,500 conglomeration seemed modernish and hippyish and vintageish jumbled into one. Art will surprise you that way.

Joe Forrest Sacke's "Twenty Seven (China)."

You can vote for your favorite, for The People’s Choice Award. We didn’t, although I narrowed my favorites down to three. Voting booths are strategically located through-out the Walk area.

One of my three favorite sculptures, "White Buffalo Calf Woman," a bronze piece created by Aberdeen, South Dakota, artists Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby. Notice how the dominant color in the sculpture blends with the building's color. Wait until you see the building on the other side of this Native American woman. You will be wowed. I'll share those images with you in another post.

This bronze piece, "The Farmer's Wife," by Dee Clements of Loveland, Colorado, is also among my three favorite sculptures. A photo Clements took in a Korean village inspired this art creation.

The detail in this bronze, "Reading Magic," by Julie Jones of Fort Collins, Colorado, appeals to me and makes it one of my top favorites among the 25 sculptures in the exhibit.

Banners draw visitors to the sculptures and to voting spots in downtown Mankato.

I also noticed, and I don’t know whether this was on purpose, but the sculptures often seemed to jive, architecturally and environmentally, with the buildings they were situated near.

Mankato is committed for the next five years to bringing these rotating sculptures into the community via a partnership with the Sioux Falls-based SculptureWalk program. Of course, this all costs money and with the help of a grant, business sponsorships, donations and more, Mankato has managed to bring this art directly to the people.

It’s a grand idea. I expect to return to Mankato to see next year’s art and perhaps other area attractions. Even though I attended college here for four years, I really didn’t appreciate the city. And so much has changed since 1978.

For someone like me, who doesn’t venture into Minneapolis to engage in the art scene there, mostly because I don’t like the congestion and busyness of the metro, outstate art opportunities like City Art in Mankato offer me culture at a quieter, more enjoyable (at least for me) pace.


SINCE I CAN’T POSSIBLY show you all of my photos in one post, I’ll bring you more images in future stories.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling