Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Newest student sculpture graces library corner in downtown Northfield March 7, 2022

Historic buildings provide a backdrop for the Young Sculptors’ Project latest installation along Division Street in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

THE WELDED STEEL RODS arc and curve, bending toward Division Street alongside the Northfield Public Library. Dinner plate-sized poured aluminum sculptures attach to the rods, adding detailed interest to this public work of art.

The sculpture sits on a corner by the Northfield Library and changes out every two years. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

This sculpture, installed in 2021, is the latest in the Young Sculptors’ Project, a collaboration of the Northfield Public Schools and the Northfield Arts and Culture Commission “to increase visibility and value for the arts through public sculpture in the community.” It’s funded via a Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage grant through the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council.

Against the blue sky, the rods arc art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As someone who values the arts, especially accessible public art, I truly appreciate this joint effort. Professional artists guide the Northfield students who meet in the school’s art and industrial tech departments once a week during the school year to craft the sculptures.

A space theme defines this sculpture plate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Art and architecture create a pleasing visual along Northfield’s Division Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Butterfly, bug, florals fill this sculpture plate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Northeast Minneapolis professional artist Sara Hanson, along with sculptor apprentice William Lanzillo, led the 18 young creatives in their most recent endeavor. According to info about Lanzillo and the project on the Carleton College Studio Art website, the newest sculpture reflects aspects of Northfield which the students value and celebrate.

This corner by the library is the site for the Young Sculptors’ Project ongoing sculptures. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Through the years, I’ve delighted in discovering this public art at the base of the library hill on the corner of Division and Third Streets in the heart of downtown Northfield. The sculptures remain there for two years before being moved to a courtyard sculpture garden at Northfield High School.

Another poured aluminum sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The over-sized sculptures give me reason to pause, consider, reflect.

Such talent in these young artists. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As I reflect, I think how wonderful that these young people, these young artists, are guided, supported and encouraged. They are learning, growing, building their confidence. What a gift that is from this community and from those professional artists who guide them, who show them their work, their creativity, is valued.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Cannon Falls’ new mural November 2, 2021

Cannon Falls’ newest mural, completed earlier this year. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

WHEN ART INTEGRATES into a community in a publicly accessible way, I celebrate. There’s a reason I feel such gratitude. I grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal art exposure. Yet, today, I work as a creative. Expressing myself via writing and photography is my passion. My path to creativity began with the Little House books read aloud to me and my classmates by a grade school teacher. As I listened, words painted images of the scenes Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her writing.

That’s the backstory behind my deep appreciation for the arts—from visual to literary to performing.

A section of the mural also celebrates Minnesota with iconic images like Paul Bunyan, pine trees, a loon and notable buildings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021

I believe art should be accessible to everyone no matter their location, their income, their anything.

The mural is in a highly-visible location. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

So when I happened upon a new mural in the heart of downtown Cannon Falls recently, I felt grateful. Here, on the side of the Cannon Falls Area Chamber of Commerce building at a busy intersection along Minnesota State Highways 19/20 (4th and Main Streets), a colorful mural depicts the culture, heritage and history of Cannon Falls and the surrounding area.

History in words and art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The art reveals much about this small town along the Cannon River, about the early influence of Native Americans and French fur traders. Today, outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to canoe that same river. Others bike, walk and run on recreational trails.

A farmer hauls his grain through downtown Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The mural shows, too, the importance of art and agriculture here. On the day I visited Cannon Falls, a farmer steered his John Deere tractor, pulling a wagon heaped with corn, through downtown. Past the mural. I love moments like this when art and reality intersect. This mural truly reflects its community.

The importance of sports and a local park are depicted in the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

A close up look reveals the words Burch Park on a scoreboard behind a ball player. That references nearby John Burch Park, home to the Cannon Falls Bombers, Cannon Falls Bears and other teams. Sports, in most small towns, are a source of community pride, of togetherness.

Artist info… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

This new public mural also brought people together. Under the artistic leadership of Cannon Falls native and New York artist Kelli Bickman, some 30 community members and students joined to make this mural happen. Bickman is the founder and director of Youth Mural Arts, which taps into student talent to create public art. A $3,000 grant from Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to the Cannon Arts Board along with a Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation Paint the Town Grant (for 15 gallons of paint) made the project possible.

A close-up of the mural reveals a map, a list of parks, the importance of agriculture and more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As I stood viewing and photographing Cannon Falls’ newest mural, I wondered about the middle and high school students who painted the scenes before me. I hope they feel valued, appreciated and, most of all, inspired. Art opens doors. Doors to the future. Doors to seeing the world in a new way. And that is powerful.

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NOTE: Please check back as I take you inside the Cannon Falls Library to view more art.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A powerful Northfield sculpture focuses on mental health July 30, 2019

 

PAUSE ON THE CORNER of Division Street by the Northfield Public Library in the heart of this historic southern Minnesota river town, and you will find yourself next to a massive rusting sculpture.

 

 

 

The public piece calls for more than a cursory glance at an abstract person reaching skyward. The art calls for passersby to stop, read the inscription at the base of the sculpture and then contemplate the deeper meaning of “Waist Deep.”

This temporary downtown art installation, created by 15 Northfield High School students and three professional artists through the Young Sculptors Project and funded with a $10,000 grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, creates a community-wide public focus on mental health issues. After two years, the sculpture will be permanently placed in the high school courtyard sculpture garden.

 

 

Like any art, “Waist Deep” is open to personal interpretation. The signage notes, though, that the sculpture is meant to support those struggling with mental health in the community, of needing and receiving help from caring others.

 

 

As I looked at the layered and fractured pieces comprising the sculpted person, I saw beyond the arm reaching for help and the lowered arm with curved hand clawing the earth. Both represent, in my eyes, darkness and light, hopelessness and hope. Mental illness leaves a person feeling incomplete and broken. Fractured. Trying to hang on. Reaching.

 

 

I photographed the sculpture on a recent weekend morning under rainy, then partially cloudy and sunny skies, not unlike the ever-changing skies of mental illness. Sometimes pouring. Sometimes parting. Sometimes shining with hope.

As the sculpture name “Waist Deep” and art itself suggest, those dealing with mental health issues can feel waist deep in the water of the disease—flailing, perhaps unable to swim, battling the overpowering waves.

We have a responsibility to throw a life-line. How? First, start seeing mental illness like any other illness. Call it what it is—a brain disease. End the stigma. Someone suffering from depression, for example, can no more wish away or snap out of depression than a diabetic can cure his/her disease by thinking positive thoughts. Educate yourself.

 

 

Support those who are waist deep. Show compassion. They need care, love, encouragement, support just as much, for example, as cancer patients.

Be there, too, for the caregivers, who feel alone, who work behind the scenes to secure often elusive professional care for their loved ones. In Minnesota the shortage of mental health care professionals and treatment centers, especially outside the Twin Cities metro area, is documented in media report after media report. It’s a crisis situation. Telling someone in a mental health crisis they need to wait six weeks plus for an appointment with a psychiatrist or a psychologist is absurd and unacceptable. We wouldn’t say that to someone experiencing a heart attack. They would die without immediate care. Those waist deep do sometimes. Every day. And it shouldn’t be that way.

I applaud the 15 NHS students and the three artists who created the public art piece in Northfield. Projects like “Waist Deep” shine the spotlight on a disease which has too long been hidden, shoved in the dark corner of silence.

THOUGHTS?

FYI: I’d encourage you to read the book Regular & Decaf by Minnesotan Andrew D. Gadtke and published by Risen Man Publishing, LLC. It features conversations between Gadtke and his friend, both of whom have brain diseases. It’s a powerful, insightful and unforgettable read.

 

The music of poetry comes to Rochester February 15, 2017

Stoney End Music Barn, 920 State Highway 19, Red Wing, Minnesota

Poetry on Stoney End Music Barn, 920 State Highway 19, Red Wing, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

POETRY. Do you throw a mental roadblock the instant you encounter that word? Or do you embrace poetry? And, yes, you can be honest. I realize poetry isn’t for everyone. Just like science fiction or fantasy. I don’t read either. But I do read and write poetry.

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls.

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls in 2011. This is the fourth billboard with the posting of my poem: Cold earth warmed/by the budding sun/sprouts the seeds/of vernal equinox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

My poems have been published in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, in poet/artist collaborations, on signs along recreational trails and on billboards. I’ve also read my poetry at events and for radio. But now my poetry will be showcased in another way—in a song to be performed at two concerts.

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers' Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

Rochester, Minnesota, composer David Kassler selected my poem, The Farmer’s Song, for inclusion in a project that pairs his original music with poetry by seven regionally and nationally-recognized poets. In other words, my poem became the lyrics for his song. It’s part of a set, Minnesota Rondos.

I nearly flipped when I saw this toy accordion, just like one I had as a child. I loved my accordion and it is the only musical instrument I've ever played.

The only instrument I ever learned to play was a toy accordion exactly like this one, photographed several years ago in a Mankato antique shop. I received the accordion one childhood Christmas.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The irony in all of this is my inability to read a single note. I never had the opportunity growing up to take piano lessons, to participate in band or anything musical. I ad libbed my way through required school music classes. So to now have my rural-themed poem set to music is, well, remarkable for me personally. I am honored.

Connie, right, and I posed for a photo after a 90-minute presentation in which poets read their poems and artists talked about how their art was inspired by the poem. Note Connie's "Pantry Jewels" painting just above my head to the left. If I could buy this $490 watercolor on aqua board, I would in a snap.

Connie Ludwig, right, created a painting, Pantry Jewels, based on my poem, Her Treasure, as part of a 2012 Poet-Artist Collaboration at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I am especially honored to be in the company of poets with incredible resumes of teaching, leadership, advanced degrees, publication of their own poetry collections and more. Featured poets include Jana Bouma of Madison Lake, Meredith Cook of Blue Earth, the late Janelle Hawkridge of Winnebago, Robert Hedin of Red Wing, John Reinhard of Owatonna and Michael Waters of New Jersey.

Randy has enough musical knowledge to play a short tune.

In downtown Mason City, Iowa, home of The Music Man, pianos sit outdoors for anyone to use. Here my husband plays a simple tune during a visit several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Kassler, who teaches music at Rochester Community and Technical College and is the music director at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester, received a $5,000 established artist grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to help fund the project that includes two concerts. A 30-member chamber choir of collegiate and professional musicians conducted by Kassler with piano and cello accompaniment will perform the choral works.

I attended and read my poem, "Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion," at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening.

Two years ago I read my poem, Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion, at a Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater. Two of my poems published that year in an anthology compiled by my regional library system. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am excited to hear the music my poem inspired. Concerts are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at Rochester Community and Technical College. Tickets are $7.50 and will be sold at the door; Kassler needs to recoup an additional $2,000 of his own monies invested in the project. He’s that dedicated to this.

The second concert, and the one I plan to attend, is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester. A free-will offering will be taken.

A lone musician performs.

A Shattuck-St. Mary’s student plays the cello at the Faribault school’s annual Christmas Walk. Stephen Pelkey will play the cello at the Kassler concerts in Rochester. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2016.

If you’re so inclined, attend either concert. Please seek me out if you come on Sunday. But, most of all, enjoy this opportunity to hear poetry set to music. Because really, when I consider it, all music is poetry.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling