Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Smithsonian & companion exhibits in St. Peter focus on water August 24, 2016

"Water/Ways" prompts me to think about all the uses of water.

“Water/Ways” prompts me to think about all the uses for water and much more.

I FLUSH THE TOILET. Wash my hands. Drink a glass of water. Throw laundry in the washing machine. Shower. Water plants.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something. In this interactive exhibit, I learned that 240 gallons of water are needed to make a single smartphone.

And I never think about it. Water. It’s just always there, flowing from the faucet.

This "Water/Ways" art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

This “Water/Ways” art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

But “Water/Ways,” a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, and “We Are Water MN” are causing me to consider this vital natural resource that flows through every aspect of my days.

The Treaty Site History Center sits along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

The sidewalk curves like a river to the Treaty Site History Center along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon I visited the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter where the Nicollet County Historical Society is hosting joint national, state and local water-themed exhibits through September 25. After that, the Smithsonian show will move to these Minnesota communities: Red Wing, Sandstone, Lanesboro and Detroit Lakes.

Entering the "Water/Ways" exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

Entering the “Water/Ways” exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

What does water mean to you? That question posted on a display panel sets the tone for this exhibit packed with information about water. More than simply words, the panels feature interactive aspects that stretch this beyond a compilation of facts and accompanying visuals.

According to this graphic, 40 states are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. that includes Minnesota.

According to this graphic, 40 states (in red) are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. That includes Minnesota.

What would you lose if you did not have water?

A section of the exhibit shows the most common pollutants in Minnesota waters.

A section of the Minnesota exhibit asks, “What’s in the water? Minnesota’s common pollutants and where they come from.” Visitors can pull the cards from the rack (shown here) and learn about those common pollutants to Minnesota waterways.

What’s in the water?

Visitors share water memories.

Visitors share water memories.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

Visitors are encouraged to share their memories of water, to list ways they can protect water, to learn what’s in Minnesota’s water and more. In this state of 11,842 lakes, water covers more than 13 million acres (or six percent of Minnesota), more than any other state. That’s according to a 2010 “Minnesota Water Facts” report I found online from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

I appreciate the "We Are Water MN" aspect of the exhibit.

I appreciate the “We Are Water MN” aspect of the exhibit.

The Minnesota Humanities Center collaborated with the DNR and other agencies in creating the companion exhibit, “We Are Water MN.”

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Additionally, Nicollet County infused its water history. The Minnesota River runs through this county with 105 miles of river front land and was instrumental in bringing early settlers to the region. My own maternal ancestors settled in the Minnesota River Valley near Courtland.

In a side room, you'll find Kay Herbst Helms' photo exhibit, "Water Rights?" In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

In a side room, you’ll find Kay Herbst Helms’ photo exhibit, “Water Rights.” In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

A photo in Kay Herbst Helms' "Water Rights" exhibit.

A photo of a photo in Kay’s exhibit.

On droplets of water,

On paper droplets, visitors write about water.

Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms brings her photographic perspective to “Water/Ways” with 19 black-and-white water-themed photos in her “Water Rights” collection. Her exhibit, she says, “celebrates water and some of the people who are helping to protect our water rights now and for generations to come.”

Another idea expressed about water.

More ideas expressed about water.

This isn’t the first time Kay has focused on water in photography. She created “Water Vapors” and now “Water Vapors II,” showing through September 30 in the History Center Art Gallery at the Blue Earth County Historical Society in Mankato.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

This quote in the “Water/Ways” exhibit strikes me more than any other:

No water, no life.
No blue, no green.

These panels address the cultural

These panels address how water inspires humanity in our art, music, dance and literature.

What does water mean to you?

BONUS PHOTOS:

"We Are Water MN" pins in a jar at the exhibit.

“We Are Water MN” pins in a jar.

This section directs us to look to the future as it relates to water.

This section directs visitors to look to the future of water.

There's even a section for the little ones to put on a puppet show.

There’s even an area for little ones to put on a puppet show.

More panels, more information to digest.

More panels, more information to digest.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about a celebration I participated in as part of the “Water/Ways” exhibit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In St. Peter: Celebrating water through dance, poetry & photography August 23, 2016

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the History Site Treaty Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the Treaty Site History Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

ON THE OTHER SIDE of the log cabin, traffic thrummed in a steady rhythm, the noise sometimes detracting from the five young women dancing barefoot in the grass and from the poets reading in to the wind.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the St. Peter history center.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the history center.

Still, despite the traffic noise from busy U.S. Highway 169 in St. Peter, the focus remained primarily on “When Water Dreams: A Celebration,” hosted Sunday afternoon at the Treaty Site History Center.

This photo of Swan Lake near Nicollet is one of 19 black-and-white images included in an exhibit by Kay Herbst Helms.

This photo shows a side view of Kay Herbst Helms’ photo of Swan Lake, one of the largest prairie potholes in the contiguous United States. Located in Nicollet County,  the lake covers 14 square miles. I’ll tell you more about Kay’s exhibit of 19 black-and-white photos in a follow-up post.

I was part of that event thanks to Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms. Kay’s latest photo project, “Water Rights,” sidebars “Water/Ways,” a Museum on Main Street exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution showing through September 25 at the Nicollet County Historical Society host site in St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon, along with other invited southern Minnesota poets, I read “In which Autumn searches for Water,” a poem published four years ago as part of an “It’s All One Water” collaboration in Zumbrota. I clarified before reading my poem that I wrote this when our region was suffering a drought, unlike now when Minnesota has been deluged with rain. Here’s the third verse in my five-verse poem:

But she finds at the pond site, the absence of Water,
only thin reeds of cattails and defiant weeds in cracked soil,
deep varicose veins crisscrossing Earth.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. John Hurd and Susan Stevens Chambers also read their poetry.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. Christina’s mother, Susan Stevens Chambers, also read, both her poetry and that of Henry Panowitsch. Two others, Craig Nelson and Mira Frank, read the works of published poets, including that of local poet Jim Muyres who was unable to attend.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

I’ve come to enjoy poetry readings—listening to the rhythm of words penned by those who, like me, are moved to string words together in a lyrical way that touches emotions.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday's event.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday’s event venue site.

With water as the theme for Sunday’s celebration, poets read of lakes and rivers, of rain and of drought, of ships steaming immigrants across the ocean, and more.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Those clustered in lawn chairs, on blankets and standing—some folding paper cranes for the Minnesota State University, Mankato, 1000 Peace Crane Project—focused on the scene unfolding before them.

Water celebration, #47 dancer close-up arms up

 

Water celebration, #49 dancer close-up arms behind

 

Water celebration, #57 dancer with hands together

 

Water celebration, #67 dancers with hands up

 

Dressed in blue, members of Rural Route Dance Ensemble moved with such grace, like water lapping at the shore, waves rolling in the ocean, rain falling from the heavens. I won’t pretend to be an expert in dance; I have viewed few dance performances. But dance, like poetry, is open to interpretation.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

Life experiences, emotions and more shape poetry—how it is written, read and interpreted.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book, Good Thunder, Blue Earth.

The poetry readings of Good Thunder writer Susan Stevens Chambers mesmerized me. Susan has a melodic voice that soothes and comforts like the sound of rushing water. Except her words don’t rush. They flow. I especially savored Susan’s selected readings from her recently published compilation of rural-themed poems, Good Thunder, Blue Earth, published by River Place Press.

 

Water celebration, #94 Susan's dress blowing in breeze

 

As this poet read, her long blue dress swayed in the wind and I thought of gentle waves. Of water.

FYI: Check back for a post on the Smithsonian “Water/Way” exhibit, including more information on Kay Herbst Helms’ photography exhibit, “Water Rights.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Smithsonian in Hanley Falls & Hanley Falls in the Smithsonian (exhibit) September 20, 2012

The Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street exhibit, “The Way We Worked,” features snippets from Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Minnesota’s Machinery Museum, Hanley Falls, in rural southwestern Minnesota.

I DOUBT MANY of the 304 residents of Hanley Falls, rural Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota, have ever visited the Smithsonian or even traveled to Washington D.C.

But now this internationally-acclaimed museum has come to Hanley Falls via “The Way We Worked,” a Museum on Main Street project developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and adapted from an original exhibition from the National Archives.

Bottom line, if you can’t bring the people to the museum, bring the museum to the people.

Specifically, from now through October 20,  Minnesota’s Machinery Museum in Hanley Falls is hosting the exhibit on where, how, who and why Americans work.

But that’s not all. Hanley Falls is part of “The Way We Worked,” as are several other Minnesota places and people.

Says Museum Director Laurie Johnson: “It is an honor in itself to be hosting a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit. To be an actual part of the exhibit traveling all over the U.S. is a very big honor.”

Hanley Falls’ place in the exhibit falls in the “Communities at Work” section and features a 1987 aerial view photo of Hanley Falls by Vincent H. Mart sourced from the Minnesota Historical Society. The MHS photographic collection includes 5,697 aerial views from around Minnesota photographed by Mart between 1962-1988.

The 1987 Vincent H. Mart photo showing a portion of Hanley Falls and now part of the Smithsonian traveling exhibit. Photo courtesy of Minnesota’s Machinery Museum.

Mart’s black-and-white shot #5,655 in the MHS archives, and now in the Smithsonian exhibit as image 196, shows the then Hanley Falls Farmers Elevator (now the Farmer’s Co-op Elevator) on the west side of town, plus Bennett Transportation (bus company) and the fourth-generation Oftedahl family farm. As a side note, the elevator celebrated its 100th anniversary this past July on Minnesota’s Machinery Museum grounds with more than 2,000 in attendance.

According to Johnson, the scene in the photograph no longer looks the same. Several of the grain bins were damaged in a wind storm and the main office was  moved and an elevator built to the southwest of the Oftedahl farm. The old elevator remains and is still used by the Farmer’s Co-op.

The exhibit copy which accompanies the Hanley Falls photo reads, in part:

The reminders of a town’s main industry imprint its landscape and identity. Silos dominate the skyline in Hanley Falls, Minnesota as they do in most small, agricultural communities.

And here’s how Johnson summarizes what the Hanley Falls photo tells us about “The Way We Worked:”

Farming is a way of life here and has been for many generations. The exhibit talks about “community” and we are definitely a community that works, worships, (has) neighborhood get-togethers and plays together.

Johnson, who lives on a farm about 10 miles north of Hanley Falls, further explains that the local elevator, banks and gas station provide jobs in town. Some residents work in neighboring towns. Many are retired.

You’ll find plenty of old tractors and farm machinery, along with vintage cars and trucks, in the museum’s outbuildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Already the Smithsonian show is attracting more visitors to Minnesota’s Machinery Museum, defined by Johnson as “an agricultural museum recalling farm life in stories and artifacts from how we farmed with horses to a farm kitchen, bedroom, parlor and general store…preserving our agricultural heritage for generations.”

The entrance to the portion of the museum housed in the former school, a WPA building. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The five-building Yellow Medicine County museum complex, which includes the former Hanley Falls School built in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration, rests on six acres. You’ll find antique tractors, automobiles, gas engines, threshing equipment and other machinery and artifacts in the outbuildings.

A bushel basket, one of the many ag items displayed at the museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Until October 20, you also can find five multi-sided kiosks featuring photos, videos, flip booklets and other interactive activities as part of the Smithsonian’s “The Way We Worked” exhibit.

Besides Hanley Falls, other Minnesota places/information in the show are a photo of women sorting sweet potatoes; quotes from Earl Bakken, founder of Minneapolis-based Medtronics, maker of the first self-contained pacemaker; a 1974 photo from Danheim Dairy in New Ulm; a SPAM Town banner; mention of the Moorhead Spuds (hometown pride for the town team); and a 1928 photo of St. Paul Gas and Light Company workers at a dance.

Johnson has no idea how the Hanley Falls photo became a part of this national touring exhibit. She discovered the town’s inclusion while vacationing in Tennessee, where she stopped to view the exhibit.

An old Hanley Falls fire truck is among vehicles housed in the outbuildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

After leaving Hanley Falls, the exhibit will travel to five other Minnesota locations, including the Wright County Historical Society in Buffalo (Oct. 27 – Dec. 8); the Winona County Historical Society in Winona (Dec. 15 – Jan. 26); the Steele County Historical Society in Owatonna (Feb. 2 – March 16); the Virginia Area Historical Society in Virginia (March 23 – May 4); and the Depot Preservation Alliance in Baudette (May 11 – June 22).

In Hanley Falls, “The Way We Were” can be viewed between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Saturday or from 1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. The museum season was extended to accommodate the show.

Admission to Minnesota’s Machinery Museum is free, but monetary contributions are accepted via a free will donation box.

Located in southwestern Minnesota, Hanley Falls sits nine miles south of Granite Falls or 20 miles north of Marshall along Highway 23. Go one block west of Highway 23 and then a block north to find the museum.

An old-style farm kitchen on the second floor of the museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“The Way We Worked” is presented in Hanley Falls in collaboration with the Minnesota Humanities Center. Funding, says Johnson, is via the Center; The Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment (Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund); the Smithsonian Institute; the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the United States Congress.

Minnesota’s Machinery Museum previously hosted the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street projects “Barn Again” and “Between Fences.”

FYI: To learn more about Minnesota’s Machinery Museum, click here to link to the museum website.

For more info about “The Way We Worked,” click here.

To view additional photos by Vincent H. Mart in the Minnesota Historical Society archives, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling