Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The art of St. Nicholas brought to you on St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2017

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Elko New Market, Minnesota.

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Elko New Market, Minnesota.

 

IT’S SELDOM THESE DAYS that I find a church door unlocked while on a leisurely, non-destination drive.

 

The stained glass window of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of this congregation, is situated in the balcony. I didn't go into the balcony as a sign banned unapproved visitors per insurance requirements.

The stained glass window of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of this congregation, is situated in the balcony. I didn’t go into the balcony as a sign banned unapproved visitors per insurance rules.

 

A statue of Mary outside the front of the church.

A statue of Mary outside the front of the church.

 

Looking up at the tall tall steeple.

Looking up at the tall tall steeple.

 

So when Randy and I stopped in Elko New Market and found the front doors of St. Nicholas Catholic Church open late on a recent Saturday morning, we were surprised. During our brief visit, not a soul appeared, except images of the saints patronized therein.

 

Statues like this one of Mary fill the church.

Statues like this one of Mary fill the church.

 

How lovely the stained glass.

How lovely the stained glass.

 

Just look at that altar.

Just look at that altar.

 

As a life-long Lutheran, I’ve always been fascinated by the ornateness of Catholic churches. Statues, flickering candles, detailed stained glass windows, grand arches and more contrast sharply with the plainness of most Lutheran churches. I often direct questions to Randy, Catholic raised and educated, but a Lutheran now for 35 years. Rituals and tradition are such integral parts of Catholic worship.

 

The stained glass at St. Nicholas is exceptional in its detail, design and workmanship.

The stained glass at St. Nicholas is exceptional in its detail, design and workmanship.

 

Looking toward the balcony and back of the sanctuary.

Looking toward the balcony and back of the sanctuary.

 

More stunning stained glass.

More stunning stained glass.

 

Impressive woodworking on a confessional, one of two.

Impressive woodworking on a confessional, one of two. The other is now a storage space.

 

I found art even on these cards on a rack inside the entry.

I found art even on these cards on a rack inside the entry.

 

My appreciation for aged sanctuaries runs strong. I find in the art of stained glass and sculptures, in the architecture of a church, a certain reverence and peace that comforts and uplifts me. And that, I suppose, is why I am so drawn to churches like St. Nicholas, anchored atop a hill along Church Street in Elko New Market.

 

Art outside St. Nicholas.

Art outside St. Nicholas.

 

TELL ME: Are you drawn to aged churches? Why?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inside Sleepy Eye Stained Glass, Mike’s passion May 17, 2016

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A customer leaves Sleepy Eye Stained Glass with a refurbished window.

A customer leaves Sleepy Eye Stained Glass with a refurbished window.

FROM THE EXTERIOR, the brick building along Sleepy Eye’s main drag, US Highway 14, doesn’t make much of an impression. Weathered windows need replacing. Facade needs updating. Vines creep tendrils into a corner of the structure. And over the front door, a simple sign marks this as the home of Sleepy Eye Stained Glass.

My initial view once inside the retail portion of the business.

My initial view once inside the retail portion of the business.

Many times my husband and I have passed this business on our way to visit family in southwestern Minnesota. Last Saturday, we finally had time to stop. And we met proprietor Mike Mason and his sole employee, Linda.

Mike cuts salvaged stained glass to sell.

Mike cuts salvaged stained glass to sell.

As I roamed the store packed with stained glass supplies, sheets of glass, how-to books, finished stained glass art, lamps and more, Mike salvaged pieces of stained glass. He measured and cut with the precision of 35 years of experience. He’s a self-taught artist. Stained glass art began as a hobby for him “that got out of control,” he says.

Row upon row of stained glass fill the business.

Row upon row of stained glass fills the business in a stained glass lover’s paradise.

Sleepy Eye Stained Glass is known for repair and restoration work, for custom stained glass art and as one of the largest suppliers of stained glass and related products in the Upper Midwest.

A corner in the workshop section of the business.

A corner in the workshop section of the business.

Mike’s love for stained glass is obvious. Although he didn’t tell me how often he’s here working, I expect a lot. He lives only a few doors down, above an antique shop. It’s clear his life’s work (at least for the past 30-plus years) is his passion.

A commissioned work in progress.

A custom work in progress.

When I ask what he’s most proud of, Mike leads me to a television and starts a video showing an interview with Jason Davis of KSTP-TV and his “On the Road” segment. Much to my delight, the story includes images of refurbished stained glass windows at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland. It is my mother’s home church. Now I have a personal connection to Mike and his restoration work.

In his workshop, Mike talks to customers who've stopped by to pick up their restored light shade.

In his workshop, Mike talks to customers who’ve stopped by to pick up their restored light shade.

Giddy with excitement, I rush over to tell Mike. He is back cutting glass, drawing blood this time, an occupational hazard.

Daisy the shop cat.

Daisy the shop cat sits below glass sheets sorted by color.

We talk a bit more and I ask about the shop cat, Daisy. She was a stray, well-loved now by this artist who brings her to work daily, feline riding on his shoulder as he walks from his apartment to the shop. Mike instructs me to watch as he throws a tin foil ball for Daisy to chase.

Tools of the trade in the workshop.

Tools of the trade in the workshop.

This place is so unpretentious. Nothing fancy. It’s a working studio with a jumble of tools and glass bits on the floor. Projects in the works. Projects finished. Yet, there’s a certain orderliness to everything, to the sheets and sheets and sheets of glass slid into compartments and the organized displays of how-to books.

Finished stained glass art hangs in a front window.

Finished stained glass art hangs in a front window.

I met a man who holds a piece of stained glass to the light and is struck by its beauty. It’s that simple for Mike. A pane of salvaged stained glass makes him happy. If we could all only experience such simple joy in a day’s work.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Mike also collects and sells lamps like these showcased next to his photo.

Mike also collects and sells lamps like these showcased next to his photo.

I loved this stained glass art on display.

I loved this stained glass art on display.

Salvaged glass.

Salvaged glass.

A sign in a window offers a creative option in stained glass.

A sign in a window offers a creative option in stained glass.

More beautiful stained glass, spotted on a table in the workshop.

More beautiful stained glass, spotted on a table in the workshop.

I also spotted some gorgeous tabletop clocks.

I also saw some gorgeous tabletop clocks.

Hanging in the front window, sunlight really showcases the stained glass art.

Hanging in the front window, this stained glass art shines in natural light.

More beautiful art...

More beautiful art…

 

Stained glass, 75 signs on door

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Touring Minnesota’s “other” basilica, St. Stan’s in Winona September 24, 2015

The Basilica of Saint

The Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka, named after a popular saint from Poland, is so massive I could not get the entire basilica in a photo. It’s located at 625 East Fourth Street in Winona, Minnesota.

UNOFFICIALLY, PARISHIONERS CALL the basilica St. Stan’s. I like that. It seems fitting in an age when the current pope, Pope Francis, has connected in an everyday sort of way with the faithful, Catholic or not.

I am Lutheran. But denominational affiliation matters not when touring a beautiful house of worship. Or appreciating a man who oversees with a blessed sense of ordinariness. Several weeks ago my husband, a Catholic turned Lutheran, and I visited the Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka, aka St. Stan’s, in Winona. Touring churches interests us from multiple perspectives.

Students from the basilica's school file in for morning Mass.

Students file in for morning Mass.

An altar boy prepares for Mass.

An altar boy prepares for Mass.

The stained glass windows are incredible in their sacred symbolism and beauty.

The stained glass windows are incredible in their sacred symbolism and beauty.

We arrived at St. Stan’s shortly before a children’s Mass, leaving us to observe from the balcony the reverent holiness of an altar boy lighting a candle, the filing of elementary students into pews, the light of a sultry summer morning filtering through stained glass windows.

Beautiful morning light filters through stained glass onto the curving balcony railing.

Lovely morning light filters through stained glass onto the curved balcony railing.

A statue is tucked into a corner below stations of the cross.

A statue is tucked into a corner below stations of the cross.

The paintings inside the dome are exquisite in their detailed beauty.

The paintings inside the dome are exquisite in their detail.

The bread and the wine before it is carried to the front of the sanctuary.

The bread and the wine before they are carried to the front of the sanctuary.

Polish words on a stained glass window translate to

Polish words on a stained glass window translate, according to Google translate, to “”Association of the Children of Mary.”

I stood there in awe, swinging my camera lens toward marble pillars and stained glass, statues and crucifixes, curving wood and paintings, Communion wafers and words in Polish.

The upper portion of the basilica at its main entry.

The upper portion of the basilica at its main entry.

This is a church of Polish immigrants. Built in 1894 – 1895 of brick and stone in Romansque style (in the form of a Greek cross) by the Winona architectural firm of Charles G. Maybury & Son, the basilica is on the National Register of Historic Places.

With its designation as a basilica, St. Stan's also received a crest symbolic of important events in its history. Click here to learn about the crest.

With its designation as a basilica, St. Stan’s also received a crest symbolic of important events in its history. Click here to learn about the crest.

Not knowing the difference between a regular Catholic church and a basilica, I learned from online research that a basilica has received special privileges from the pope. St. Stan’s rates as a minor basilica , the 70th in the U.S. and only one of two in Minnesota. (The other is the Basilica of Saint Mary in downtown Minneapolis.) The title ties to the extraordinary architectural quality of the building and to the congregation’s significant Polish heritage, according to a 2011 press release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona announcing the designation by the Vatican.

I'm certain the scenes in each stained glass window hold religious significance.

The stained glass windows truly are religious works of art.

The stairway to the balcony features incredible craftsmanship.

The stairway to the balcony features incredible craftsmanship.

Massive marble pillars impress.

Massive marble pillars impress.

Terminology and privileges aside, this is one impressive house of worship. It’s artful and splendid. Reverent and meaningful. Personal, yet powerful in its sheer size.

I expect many a worshiper has found comfort in these stained glass windows.

I expect many a worshiper has found comfort in these stained glass windows.

This massive place holds generations of family history. Imagine the sins confessed and forgiven here, the blessings bestowed, the holy water sprinkled, the families who’ve grieved and celebrated within the walls of St. Stan’s.

The priest is about to proceed up the aisle to begin Mass.

The priest is about to proceed up the aisle to begin Mass.

To witness the next generation in worship on a Friday morning in God’s house reaffirms for me that the faith of our fathers remains strong. Just like this aged basilica in the Mississippi River town of Winona.

BONUS PHOTOS of the exterior:

A back view of St. Stan's.

A back view of St. Stan’s.

Angel art atop a tower.

Angel art atop a tower.

Roof details.

Roof details.

The main entrance.

The main entrance.

And the landmark dome.

And the landmark dome.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A peek at the South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour October 15, 2011

This building at 101 E Fifth Street in downtown Northfield includes a studio that showcased the art of Nancy Carlson, Lucky Rimpila and Meg Jensen Witt.

OK, PEOPLE, YOU have one more day to tour 23 art studios featuring 46 artists during the South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour.

The free tour, which opened today, continues Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. in the Northfield, Cannon Falls and Faribault area.

Now I’m going to be honest with you here. My husband and I went on the tour last year. We loved it. But we really didn’t weave the event into this weekend’s plans what with painting a bedroom this morning and then sampling chilis at the Faribault Fall Festival today and other stuff that involved work.

But then we drove up to Northfield to look at a van for sale and, as long as we were in the vicinity of most of those open studios, we toured about a half-dozen. And let me tell you, we were in for some sweet surprises.

Here’s a sampling from those studios, which should inspire you to abandon any other plans you have for Sunday and make a day of it visiting with artists and perusing (maybe even purchasing) their work.

Meet metalsmith Tim Lloyd, surrounded by the tools of his trade. He’s a congenial guy, retired from 40 years of teaching metalsmithing at Carleton College in Northfield. He’ll explain things to you, answer your questions about what he keeps in narrow drawers in his workshop. You’ll see leaves in one drawer. He’ll tell you about the prairie dock (a native prairie plant that looks like rhubarb) and the ginkgo leaves he imprints into silver.

And then he might mention that he has a work of art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A teapot. At the Smithsonian.

And so here are some of Tim’s teapots, not exactly like the one at the Smithsonian, but beautiful, just beautiful. He’ll even listen to you tell a story about a railroad teapot reclaimed from a junk pile on a North Dakota farm, if you have a story like that to share.

So when I saw this vessel, I thought of a Communion chalice, which it is not. But Tim has made those, too.

Because Tim didn’t seem to mind, I moved in close to his work desk and photographed these tools.

Moving along, artist Kirsten Johnson wouldn’t allow me to photograph any of her art (not all that uncommon) except this visual journal of watercolor paintings. In January, she began painting an hour a day and continued for five months. About mid-March she took lessons in watercolor. She learned this: “Water is boss.”

Down-home, earthy simplicity is how I would describe this bowl by Meg Jensen Witt, who once worked at a food co-op with someone I met several days ago. Small world. And, yes, I’ll tell you about this interesting mutual acquaintance in a few days in another post.

I still don’t know if he was telling me the truth or spinning a tall tale. But the creator of this stained glass window introduced himself as Lucky Rimpila. I mean, who has a name like Lucky? Lucky, apparently.

And then there’s Nancy Carlson (for sure her real name) who was in the same studio as Lucky and Meg. Nancy used a dropper to create mini works of art with India ink. She grouped and framed them together and here you’re seeing one snippet.

 Meet Louise. She is not an artist. But she is an original poodle (or something like that) before poodles shrunk. Louise was hanging out in potter Tom Willis’ Sunset Studio near Dundas. Tom says Louise is shy and that she needs a haircut. He is right.

Since Louise was sort of blocking the view of Tom’s pottery, above, I moved in close to photograph it for you. Then I went outside his studio and found more…

I could show you many, many more close-up photos of Tom’s pottery. Lovely, lovely art. But here’s an overview. You can go to his studio and examine it more closely on your own. Tomorrow. Remember, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Oh, and if you time it just right, you may get to see Tom and ceramic sculptor DeAnn Engvall take a dragon out of the 1800-plus degree raku kiln. Yes, that is hot. And, yes, DeAnn has gotten burned, singed her eyebrows once.  And, yes, I took this photo at a weird angle so just tip your head.

Next, the red hot dragon (see it?) is placed inside a garbage can, where it ignites newspaper. About then you can make a smart comment about a fire-breathing dragon before the lid is slapped onto the garbage can. A half hour later, a colorful dragon emerges. DeAnn will explain to you that the fire “pulls the oxygen molecules in the glaze to the surface.” And if you’re like me, you’ll think, “OK, if you say so.”

That concludes my mini-tour of several art studios. Now, have I convinced you to take in the South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour tomorrow?

For more information, click here at www.studioartour.com.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling