Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Inside a pet portrait studio November 2, 2010

GROWING UP IN HOUSTON—that would be Minnesota, not Texas—Julie M Fakler always envied the farm kids with their farm animals.

Today, though, Julie has no reason to feel jealous. She’s surrounded by a menagerie of animals, some real (her cats), most not.

She’s an artist, specializing in pet portraits. A quick peek inside her Faribault studio and gallery during the recent South Central Minnesota October Studio arTour and Sale reveals that Julie especially loves cats and dogs. They comprise the bulk of her acrylics.



Examples of Julie M Fakler's animal portraits.


Occasionally, though, you’ll see a farm animal like a goat, chicken or calf. Some of those she’s painted at the nearby Rice County Fairgrounds, setting up her easel during the fair to recreate those critters.



Rice County Fair animal portraits painted during the fair.


As I sorted through the photos I took of Julie’s artwork, I finally figured out what was niggling at my brain about her paintings of animals against simple backgrounds of primarily primary colors. Her paintings, in my opinion, would fit perfectly into children’s picture books.

I haven’t asked Julie whether she’s ever considered illustrating a children’s book. But she will paint a portrait of your pet, on commission, or hand-stitch a quilt for you (another one of her artistic endeavors).



Julie painted this neighborhood dog.



Items tacked onto a bulletin board, left, provide Julie with inspiration for her paintings.



A jumble of paint tubes in the studio, which is housed in a former upholstery shop behind her Faribault home.



Paintings propped on the studio floor.



More animal art.



Julie and her sister make books, using them to record their world-wide travels via words and art.



One final nod to Julie's artistic side is represented in this old sink, acquired from a neighbor, and decorated for fall. It's outside her studio/gallery door. She intends to use the sink as a potting station in the spring.


For additional information and to view more of Julie’s art, click here to visit her Web site.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A cool door and some cool art in Northfield October 29, 2010

NOW, HONESTLY, tell me. If you were walking down the sidewalk, saw this sign, these stairs clinging to this brick building and this wide-open welcoming door, wouldn’t you race up the steps?



This stairway leads to Nancy Carlson's art studio in downtown Northfield.


I didn’t race, but I hurried, after I’d snapped a few photos of this appealing scene in downtown Northfield. Never mind that my husband and second daughter thought me somewhat crazy. But, unlike them, I typically carry a camera on my hip and see photo ops in places most people wouldn’t.

Besides, the cloth on this door reminded me of the 70s, my era, and all the years I stitched clothing from psychedelic fabrics.



This fabric on the studio door takes me back to the 70s.


Inside, more bright colors awaited me. Just look at this bold chair and equally bold artwork. Freelance painter and mixed media artist Carla Thompson of Barefoot Studio created the vivid horse painting.



A perfect pairing of bold art and a bold chair inside the studio.


She’s in to bright colors and whimsy and I took a fancy to her wood block paintings. Visual art paired with words—humor and simple thoughts on life, according to information from her Web site.



Whimsical designs painted on wood blocks by Carla Thompson and photographed, by me, at a weird, artsy angle.



Wood block art by Carla Thompson



Mirror art by Carla Thompson frames visitors perusing her art during last weekend's Studio arTour.


Artists Meg Jensen Witt and Nancy Carlson joined Thompson in displaying their art in Carlson’s studio during last weekend’s South Central Minnesota October Studio arTour and Sale. Carlson, in my opinion, has a pretty cool place, in the McClaughry Building, 101 E. Fifth Street, to hang out and create her watercolor and India ink pieces.



An overview of Nancy Carlson's art studio in the McClaughry Building, 101 E. Fifth Street, Suite 211, Northfield, during the arTour last weekend.


Witt’s ceramic wall hangings and table top pottery, in mostly subdued, muted tones, contrasted sharply with the bolder art of her friends.



Examples of Meg Jensen Witt's nature-themed art.


But that’s the great thing about art. We all have different tastes. Exactly what we like depends on many factors—for me, my rural upbringing and that 70s influence.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An eye on nature in paradise October 27, 2010



Windows on Paradise Art Gallery, 904 Division Street South, Northfield.


IF NOT FOR THE EXTERIOR sign attached to a front yard tree, the pale yellow house set back from the Division Street sidewalk could pass for just another residence.

Instead, this old house is home, studio and gallery to nationally-known Northfield artist Mark Daehlin, one of 29 artists featured on this past weekend’s South Central Minnesota October Studio ArTour and Sale.

I entered the Windows on Paradise Art Gallery via an inviting front porch where some of Daehlin’s work was displayed. The artist, who does primarily oils, asked that I not single out pieces to photograph, so I’ll simply tell you that my husband and I lingered by Daehlin’s realistic depiction of an old John Deere tractor in a rural scene. It was a bit of a game for us to find the pheasant roosters incorporated into the work.

Even more interesting, I learned that Daehlin’s paintings have been made into puzzles. Now I am not a puzzle person—I actually get quite frustrated with puzzles—but even I can appreciate the beauty of a fine art puzzle. With outdoor scenes like “Majestic Moose” and “Opening Day” offered by White Mountain Puzzles and “Lakeside Cabin” and “Indian Summer” (among others) from Bits And Pieces Puzzles, these puzzles should hold a special appeal for outdoors-loving Minnesotans.



Puzzles featuring Mark Daehlin's art were propped on the floor in his gallery during the studio tour.


All of Daehlin’s art, really, showcases nature. From waterfalls to fall scenes, sunflowers, peonies, winterscapes and lots more, these paintings reflect the artist’s ability to truly see, in detail, the world around him.



Northfield artist Mark Daehlin and some of his art, in his gallery.


I was particularly impressed with his 12 x 48-inch “Stillwater Nights” painting that features a riverside view of Stillwater. Here’s Daehlin’s description from his Web site: “After the sun sets over Stillwater, streetlights come on, bathing the town in a romantic glow. A cruising riverboat is reflected in flowing waters. It’s the height of autumn and trees are ablaze in all their finery.” It’s a splendid piece of art that makes you want to hop in the car and cross the Stillwater lift bridge to view the city as Daehlin has through his artist’s eyes.



Daehlin's art is displayed in his house, in a room-turned-gallery. At the top of this photo, you'll see a portion of his "Stillwater Nights" painting.



Warm wood floors, a strategically-placed area rug and a plump chair create an inviting gallery space.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Northfield artist celebrates life and light in his art October 25, 2010

SEVERAL TIMES we pulled off the highway, onto a gravel road or into a driveway, searching for the elusive studio of pastel and oil artist Frederick D. Somers of rural Northfield.

My husband, second daughter and I were on the South Central Minnesota October Studio arTour and we had selected a handful of studios to visit on Sunday afternoon. I knew we would all like Somers’ work, which features nature scenes.

And we did, once we got there. Our mistake came in thinking that a roadside arTour sign meant his studio was right there, near the signage. It wasn’t and I finally ended up phoning for directions after we had all but given up.

When we finally pulled into Somers’ quaint farm site and I saw the red-plank granary turned gallery/studio and the old red barn flanked by a silo, the former farm girl in me was already endeared to this place.

Visitors pulled into the farmyard, defined by an old red barn and silo.

Fred Somers' gallery is housed on the main floor of this former granary. His studio is on the lower level.

But then, to step inside his gallery, ah, I felt like I hadn’t even walked indoors. Somers paints with his eyes on nature—the trees, the water, birds, flowers…

An arTour visitor peruses Somers' art in his gallery.

“I paint what I love,” Somers tells me as he stands next to his easel and an in-process pastel painting of a flower in muted shades of plum and moss green balanced by white. Light bathes his airy lower level artist’s retreat that is complemented by wood and stone. Paintings are stacked and hung, cameras at the ready to photograph subjects for his art.

Somers is working on a floral pastel in his studio.

In Somers' studio, I noticed this maple leaf stuck above a painting.

I find while viewing Somers’ paintings that I can easily mistake them for photographs, until I move in close to see the details he’s stroked into his distinct creations.

A brochure that I’m handed describes his art as “explosions of light, water and leaves in wonderful pastel and oil paintings.”

Somers says he prefers to paint with pastels because “you’re closer to your work.” He demonstrates that closeness by picking up a pastel. Then he selects a brush, which tipped in green paint, smears paint across his hand. No matter his choice, Somers’ work is outstanding and he has a lengthy list of artistic credits to prove that.

As I am about to head upstairs to the gallery, Somers says he’s painting some portraits now, including one of Rice County’s most-decorated soldier. He shows me a small copy of the portrait, of the veteran who was awarded three bronze stars and a Purple Heart and who fought at the Battle of the Bulge during WW II. The two became friends after Somers set up his easel and painted in the old soldier’s yard.

Even though portraits veer from Somers’ typical subject, you can see the light in his eyes, hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he speaks of this venture. Here, clearly, is a man passionate about his life’s work of celebrating life and light through his art.

A gallery window, flanked by Somers' paintings, frames the silo and a portion of the old red barn.

FYI: Somers Studio and Gallery lies southeast of Northfield on State Highway 246. If you are traveling from the west and reach the turn-off to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, you’ve gone too far. His gallery is marked by a sign and is located on the south side of the road at 9775 Highway 246/Dennison Boulevard South.

Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An artist unafraid of color October 24, 2010

THIS WEEKEND, BETWEEN shopping (twice) for a door and windows, choosing a baby gift for my expected great nephew, running to the library, sorting through paintings crammed in a storage unit, attending church and celebrating an acquaintance’s 80th birthday, I squeezed in a Sunday afternoon tour of six Rice County art studios. They were among 14 on the South Central Minnesota October Studio arTour and Sale.

As always, I carried my camera. But unlike always, I was unable to photograph whatever interested me. Artists can be a bit touchy about having their work photographed. So I asked before I shot and respected their requests to either photograph or not photograph their creations.

In the next several days, I’ll take you inside five studios and show you some diverse art. No matter your tastes, you certainly have to appreciate the creativity of these talented individuals.

I’ll start this mini tour with the most unusual art I viewed. I knew immediately from the name, Right Brain Ventures Art, that I would discover something totally different by Barb Matz, a mixed media artist.  And I did.

A sign on a Division Street sidewalk directs visitors to Right Brain Ventures Art in downtown Northfield.

Along with colorful mannequins, artfully posed in her studio windows, this Northfield artist creates art with strips of painted paper. She cuts the paper to fit outlines she’s drawn. Her pieces focus on different cultures and she interplays shadows and light in her work.

Now if I could have, I would have photographed these fine, patterned faces of the world. But Barb requested that I not. She did, however, graciously allow me to photograph one of her can’t-miss, bold mannequins. (Thank you, Barb.)

Walking down the sidewalk to Barb's studio, I photographed this mannequin, one of three, peering out of a studio window.

The same mannequin, backside, from inside Right Brain Ventures Art.

A close-up shows the details of pattern and the bold colors.

Two other things you should know about Barb:

I snapped this image of Barb Matz through her studio window.

FYI: You can visit Barb’s studio at 220 Division St. South in historic downtown Northfield to see everything I can’t show you here.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Meet 29 artists during the South Central MN. Studio ArTour October 21, 2010

GIVE ME A COMPUTER and I can write.

Give me a paintbrush and I’d just sit there and dabble.

I’m a language artist, not a painter or potter or weaver or anyone who could designate herself as an authentic visual artist, although I do fine in photography.

But this weekend, if you travel to Rice County, where I live, you can meet 29 artists at 14 studios during the South Central Minnesota October Studio ArTour 2010.



Artist Julie Fakler will display domestic animal paintings like this at JMF Studio in Faribault.


From bling, beads and books to pottery, portraits and pastels, and lots more, you’ll discover a variety of art. For a sneak peek, visit southcentralartour.com. If you’re tight for time or interested in particular art forms, this Web site will help you choose which studios to visit.

If you’ve never ventured off Interstate 35 into the Faribault, Dundas or Northfield areas, the ArTour offers the ideal opportunity to drive back country roads and city streets and meet some of the artistic talent in our section of out-state Minnesota. Artwork will also be available for purchase.

If you’re from Rice County, find time to see what exists right here in your backyard. You don’t need to drive to the Cities to view, or buy, some great art.

The South Central Minnesota October Studio ArTour 2010 runs from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday, October 23, and Sunday, October 24.



One of 10 hand-quilted quilts that will be shown at JMF Studio.


© Copyright Audrey Kletscher Helbling 2010

Images courtesy of Julie Fakler, JMF Studio