Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Sunday glimpse of the Amish August 1, 2016

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ON A RECENT RETURN TRIP from eastern Wisconsin, I spotted more Amish than I’d ever seen in the past. It was a Sunday. They travel on Sundays from farm to farm for church services and visiting.

In the Wautoma/Coloma area along Wisconsin State Highway 21, buggy wheel tracks and horse droppings along the shoulder of this busy highway clued me in that the Amish had been out and about.

Amish, 190 horse & buggy close-up

It took some editing to salvage this single photo of a lone Amish man guiding his horse and buggy along Wisconsin Highway 21.

On this late Sunday afternoon, my husband and I saw a group of Amish young people packed into a wagon stopped at a side road. Their sudden appearance caught me by surprise, thus I missed photographing them. But a short distance farther, a lone buggy traveled along the opposite lane and I fired off a few frames through the dirty, sun-drenched windshield of our van. Certainly not optimal conditions for photography.

All motion, our van traveling at 70 mph and the Amish buggy much slower.

All motion, our van traveling at 70 mph and the Amish buggy moving slowly along the interstate frontage road.

My next Amish sighting came more than two hours later across the border in Minnesota. Along Interstate 90 in the St. Charles area, a sizable group of Amish gathered in a field. They were too distant for photos or even determining their activity. But I did manage to photograph a buggy moving along a gravel road parallel to the interstate.

What a contrast in this scene: modern and Amish.

What a contrast in this scene: modern and Amish.

And then I noticed shocks positioned in a field by Amish farmers.

Nearing the field full of shocks...

Nearing the field full of shocks…

Why am I so fascinated by the Amish? I think perhaps because they give me a glimpse in to the past, in to simple times when hard work, faith and family were valued by almost everyone. Although I know their worlds are not perfect, I admire how they can resist worldliness and hold true to their way of life.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III: Feelin’ groovy in St. Charles November 20, 2015

Vintage Treasures and Decor along Whitewater Avenue in downtown St. Charles, Minnesota.

Vintage Treasures and Decor along Whitewater Avenue in downtown St. Charles, Minnesota.

VINTAGE TREASURES AND HOME DECOR read the vivid yellow sign propped against a building in downtown St. Charles. That was enough to draw my husband and me into this newly-opened shop, relocated here from Byron.

Posted, but not for sale.

Posted, but not for sale.

But before I show you some of the merchandise, let’s discuss that word vintage. What defines vintage? I turned to online dictionaries to find synonyms like outdated, old-fashioned and retro. I choose retro. That seems most applicable to the merchandise from my era that captivated me at Vintage Treasures. Groovy.

This merchandise display screams 60s and 70s.

This merchandise display screams 60s and 70s.

You can say all you want about the 60s and 70s, about hippies and Woodstock and peace marches and tie-dyed and psychedelic fashion. But it really was a memorable period in our nation’s history, a time when young people began to question the establishment and the choices made. Not that previous generations didn’t speak up. But the volume seemed louder, the voices more distinct, the opinions shouted in music and fashion and protests.

These berets (or tams) were popular

I remember crocheted berets (or tams) similar to this from the 60s and 70s.

Personally, I was a shy teen coming of age in a rural area, far removed geographically from the unrest of the 60s and 70s. But I still cared. I kept up on current events, listened to rock-and-roll on KDWB, wore too-short skirts and flashed the peace sign.

One of two retro trays I purchased.

One of two retro trays I purchased.

So when I discovered a section of retro merchandise inside Vintage Treasures, I flashbacked some 40 years. This was of my generation. I didn’t need the retro tin Peace and Love trays I purchased for $2 each. But I bought them anyway and would have liked a third, except shop owner Laurie Rucker had already sold the others.

Elvis was a little before my time.

Elvis was a little before my time.

I’m thinking it would be fun sometime to host a 60s and 70s party. Wear tie-dye. Burn incense. Dip cubed bread into a cheese-filled fondue pot. Or maybe fruit into chocolate. Play some Beatles or Chicago. Serve beverages on those trays. Rock it out.

Thoughts? On the definition of vintage? The 60s and 70s?

BONUS PHOTOS: Yes, Vintage Treasures and Home Decor includes more than hippie era merchandise and here’s a sampling.

I remember one of my siblings having a papoose doll. Although not politically-correct today, these dolls are part of our past.

I remember one of my siblings having a papoose doll. Although not politically-correct today, these dolls are part of our past.

I always appreciate handcrafted, like these embroidered pieces.

I always appreciate handcrafted, like these embroidered pieces.

The toy section.

The toy section.

Humpty Dumpty, one of the toys in the toy area.

Humpty Dumpty, one of the toys in the toy area.

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose collectibles.

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose collectibles.

FYI: Click here and here to read two previous posts I published in this three-part series from an early September stop in St. Charles.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II from St. Charles: Shopping for antiques at Sarah & Jim’s place November 19, 2015

Sarah's Uniques and Jim's "Man"tiques recently moved into this aged building in downtown St. Charles, MN.

Sarah’s Uniques and Jim’s “Man”tiques recently moved into this aged building in downtown St. Charles, MN.

MY HUSBAND AND I DELIGHT in perusing antique shops. We’re never seeking anything specific and seldom do we purchase anything. But occasionally we do. For us, antiquing is more about the experience, the memories connected to an object we discover on a shelf.

A security mirror reflects inventory in a section of the shop.

A security mirror reflects inventory in a section of the shop.

We found an especially lovely antique shop, Sarah’s Uniques and Jim’s “Man”tiques, during an early September stop in the southeastern Minnesota farming community of St. Charles. I love this couple’s shop. I love it for the variety of merchandise showcased in a way that’s artful, sectioned by themes (not disordered clutter), surprising and inviting.

This pottery is displayed as if in a gallery.

This pottery is displayed as if in a gallery.

Oftentimes I become visually overwhelmed by antique shops crammed with too much merchandise. Sarah’s and Jim’s offers a lot, but in an organized, creative sort of way.

There's plenty to interest both men and women.

There’s plenty to interest both men and women.

Perfect, a pedal car by the gas pumps.

A kid’s toy car pulled up to the gas pumps.

Steer around the bear rug to get to the pumps.

Steer around the bear rug to get to the pumps.

If you’re into gas station memorabilia, you can detour into the section of old gas pumps. Just veer around the bear rug.

This was not with all of the other horse stuff, but would certainly have fit there.

This was not with all of the other horse stuff, but would certainly have fit there.

In a small room, horse-themed items—including stirrups—entice equine appreciators. Or you might find a book like Singing Wheels, which I remember from my youth and which a customer snapped off a shelf.

Remember Red Owl and Gold Bond stamps?

Remember Red Owl and Gold Bond stamps?

Or fixate on grocery store memorabilia. What fun it would be to own the Red Owl sign, reminding me of that now-defunct grocery store chain with the cute check-out boys who carried grocery bags to my parents’ Chevy.

An antique shop can even offered unexpected humor.

An antique shop can even offer unexpected humor.

Randy and I chuckled at the signage about rubbers. We remember when rubbers were merely a protective covering slipped over shoes.

This beautiful cupboard was acquired from a local and had been in the family for generations. It's not for sale.

This beautiful cupboard was acquired from a local and had been in the family for generations. It’s not for sale.

No matter how many antique shops I’ve shopped, I find they are all different—some musty holes in the wall while others gleam. Organized or chaotic. If I was rating antique shops, I’d give Sarah’s and Jim’s five stars (out of five). It’s that outstanding. One sweet surprise in the small town of St. Charles.

On the side of the cupboard, family members recorded their travels abroad, during the early years to serve in the military. Sarah treasures that detailed history, the reason the cupboard is not for sale.

On the side of the cupboard, family members recorded their travels abroad, during the early years to serve in the military. Sarah treasures that detailed history, the reason the cupboard is not for sale.

And, bonus, co-owner Sarah Kieffer is the type of shopkeeper who welcomes customers (and browsers) with genuine warmth. Her friendliness showcases the passion she holds for merchandising antiques, primitives and collectibles. That attitude brings folks in the door, to browse and to buy.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Dainty cups and saucers for the collector.

Dainty cups and saucers for the collector.

A unique table that punches color combined with orange chairs.

A unique table paired with orange chairs punches color.

Canning jars, especially blue ones, hold timeless universal appeal.

Mason jars, especially blue ones, hold timeless universal appeal.

I grew up on a dairy farms, so this sign caught my eye and my heart.

I grew up on a dairy farm, so this sign caught my eye and my heart.

Likewise these farm notebooks reminded me of my farmer dad.

Likewise these farm notebooks reminded me of my farmer dad. I loved when he would give me a notebook like the Funk’s one.

Outside the shop I saw this cute Dutch couple.

Outside the shop I saw this cute Dutch couple.

Minnesotans

Not something I would collect. But I definitely like the Paul Bunyan art. Fitting for Minnesota.

A perfect canvas for art.

A clean canvas for art.

More treasures...

More treasures…

A close-up look at the exterior signage.

A close-up look at the exterior signage.

FYI: Sarah’s Uniques and Jim’s “Man”tiques is located at 912 Whitewater Avenue in the heart of downtown St. Charles.

Check back tomorrow when I’ll show you another antique shop across the street. And click here to read my first post in this series from St. Charles.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome to St. Charles, Minnesota, Part I November 18, 2015

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Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

ST. CHARLES LIES in southeastern Minnesota farming country just off Interstate 90.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

It’s home to a pocket of Amish.

We just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus "hair."

During my September visit, I just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus “hair.”

And site of an annual Gladiolus Days celebration. That event honors the late Carl Fischer, once the world’s leading hybridizer of new and distinctive gladiolus.

These friendly locals at the Whitewater Cafe gave us directions to the glad field and Amish farms.

Coffee time at the Whitewater Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I’d been to St. Charles several years ago, even dined at the Whitewater Cafe.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica along Winona County Road 33.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica (near St. Charles) along Winona County Road 33. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I saw the glad fields, the Amish and the historic buildings downtown. But on a return trip in early September, my husband and I took even more time to explore.

Here’s an overall look as we drove into St. Charles from the east, swung through a residential neighborhood and then parked downtown:

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14.

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14. There’s a John Deere dealer in town.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. I don't know why.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. This is a rural community with a John Deere dealer in town, remember.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown. They also show community pride and care.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were "modernized" and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were “modernized” and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

More interesting signs.

More interesting signs. Every small town needs a hardware store.

Now, if I’ve piqued your interest, return tomorrow when I’ll take you inside an impressive St. Charles antique shop.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering a Monet painting near St. Charles August 25, 2011

A section of downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, on a recent summer afternoon.

A quilt made by local southeastern Minnesota Amish and sold at the Amish Market Square.

MID-AFTERNOON ON A TUESDAY and we are dining at the Whitewater Café in downtown St. Charles.

We’ve driven to this southeastern Minnesota community of 3,300, sandwiched between Interstate 90 and U.S. Highway 14, because we’re meandering home from a family vacation to Wisconsin.

I’ve specifically placed St. Charles on our route back to Faribault for two reasons: the Amish and the gladiolus.

Before dining at the fishing-themed Whitewater Café in downtown, we stopped at Amish Market Square just off I-90 where you can gas up, eat, buy products handmade by the Amish and pose for a photo in an Amish buggy. While I admired the stunning hand-stitched quilts—priced around $1,500—and the wood cutting boards and more, I didn’t climb into that buggy for a photo. I wanted authentic Amish, not tourist Amish.

That would come later, after lunch downtown, next to “The Table of Knowledge,” aka a group of local guys who gather each morning and afternoon to shoot the breeze, drink coffee and, when asked, give directions to the gladiolus fields and Amish farms.

I didn’t get any of their names, but one of those friendly club members—and I use that term loosely here—found a Winona County map in the restaurant and highlighted a route that would take us southeast of St. Charles past Amish farms and then back north to the glad field just south of Utica. He praised the hardworking Amish, two of whom were working on a fence on his farm at that very moment. He picks them up in the morning, then drives them home at the end of the work day.

These friendly locals at the Whitewater Cafe gave us directions to the glad field and Amish farms.

We left the restaurant, opting to view the flower field first by following Highway 14 east of St. Charles, turning south onto Winona County Road 33 into Utica until we found the rows of gladiolus just outside of town. It should be noted that the flower-growing location changes annually to keep the plants disease-free. Last year the glads were grown next to St. Charles, so the knowledgeable locals told us.

Up until that moment, I’d thought mostly of gladiolus as “funeral flowers,” a moniker that has stuck for decades based on my memories of glads at every funeral I ever attended as a child. Interesting how you associate something with an impressionable event, isn’t it?

As we slowed the car to get an overview of the gladiolus in the field below, I felt as if I was viewing a painting by Claude Monet. Soft pinks and purples and blues—punctuated by splashes of brilliant red, and broken by lines of green, tight-clasped buds and foliage—created a surreal scene against the backdrop of corn, farm places, sky and a distant tree line.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica along Winona County Road 33.

This is as close as I got to the glads, standing along the shoulder of the road photographing them.

I hoped for a close-up look, but found no signage indicating we could stop at a next-door building site to view or purchase flowers.

And so we drove on, further south and then west past several Amish farms—past the horses and wagons, the laundry on clotheslines, the shocks in fields and the Amish men throwing bundles high atop a wagon, their arm muscles bulging from seasons of labor.

An Amish farm site southeast of St. Charles.

We came upon this pastoral scene south of St. Charles, where the Amish were pitching bundles onto wagons.

Heading back into St. Charles, I wished I could spend more time here, in this town promoted on its website as “The Gateway to the Whitewater Valley,” and made world-famous by Carl Fischer, now deceased. He was the world’s leading hybridizer of new and distinctive gladiolus and established Noweta Gardens in 1945.

Each August this Minnesota town celebrates Gladiolus Days, which is happening right now and continues through Sunday, August 28. For a schedule of events, click here.

I fully intend to return some day to experience this festival, to this place where, if you look, you will see southeastern Minnesota’s version of a Monet painting.

The gladiolus field before me could have been a Claude Monet painting.

MORE PHOTOS OF ST. CHARLES:

The main road through downtown St. Charles, the "Gateway to the Whitewater Valley."

I discovered these weathered doors, found them charming, so photographed them in downtown St. Charles.

More downtown St. Charles businesses.

The post office and a pizza place along St. Charles' main drag.

I refused my husband's offer to photograph me in this Amish buggy at the Amish Market Square just off I-90.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling