Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Ten minutes in downtown Northfield January 19, 2021

I love walking along the Cannon River in the heart of downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

PHOTOGRAPHING MINNESOTA COMMUNITIES remains a focal point of my photography. I love to document people, places and events with my camera.

This image seems so iconic Americana, hearkening back in time to places like fictional Mayberry. This barbershop is across the street from Bridge Square in Northfield.
I don’t know the symbolism of this graphic art, photographed above a doorway.
Northfield always does a great job with window displays, including this holiday-themed one.

My photos present visual stories. I suppose you could say I am both the writer and the editor. I choose what to photograph and how. I decide, in the moment, whether to show you a detailed up-close subject or whether to cover a broader area. Both are important in storytelling. I also decide the perspective from which I will photograph. Down low. Eye level. Or some other angle.

I found this add-on structure to a kitchen ware retail shop and upper level deck charming. This is on the back of the building.

During a recent visit to Northfield, one of my favorite Minnesota communities about a 20-minute drive away, I had exactly 10 minutes to photograph before our food order was ready for pick up on the other side of town. I asked Randy to act as time-keeper. When I’m photographing, I lose all track of time, so engaged am I in the creative process.

Bundled up to walk the dog at Bridge Square on a cold winter afternoon in Northfield.

We parked near Bridge Square, the heart of downtown Northfield and a community gathering spot. On this late January afternoon with the temp not quite 20 degrees and with COVID-19 reducing the number of visitors to this typically busy downtown, I observed only a few people out and about. Often finding a place to park proves challenging. Not so on this Saturday.

The historic Ames Mill sits on the banks of the Cannon River across the river from Bridge Square.

We walked toward Bridge Square, adjacent to the Cannon River. Turning the corner off Division Street, the wind sliced cold across my face. I knew that exposing my fingers to snap the shutter button of my camera would be numbing. My mittens, which open to finger-less gloves, help. I’d highly recommend these if you work a camera in a cold weather environment like Minnesota.

The backs of buildings can prove as interesting as the fronts. My eyes were drawn to the sign and to the brick buildings.

For the next 10 minutes, while Randy walked ahead of me—I always lag when I’m photographing—I concentrated on the half-block square area around me. The signs. The buildings. A woman and her dog. The river.

Northfield residents, businesses and students at its two colleges often express their viewpoints in publicly-posted signs and art.

In this short segment of time, I composed a short story, or at least the beginning of one. With these minimal images, I show you history, nature, voices. A glimpse in to the heart and soul of Northfield. This brings me joy, this ability to follow my passion, to share with you these visual stories through my photography.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

It’s all about stories in Faribault’s new branding campaign April 4, 2019

Faribault tourism’s newest billboard along Interstate 35 focuses on Crafting American Stories. Photo edited. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

I CONSIDER MYSELF a storyteller, using images and words to share stories. Storytelling resonates with people, connects with them, builds a sense of community.

 

The home of town founder Alexander Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

Now my community of Faribault is embracing the same storytelling concept through a new branding campaign themed as American Stories. A collaboration of the Faribault Main Street Design Committee and the City of Faribault, including the park and rec department, this storytelling approach seems a good fit for my southern Minnesota city. We truly are a place of stories—from past to present.

 

The first in a series of banners to be placed throughout Faribault includes this one photographed outside the Paradise Center for the Arts. The historic Security National Bank building backdrops this image. See the end of this post for more details.

 

Already, this American Stories theme has launched on the Faribault tourism website, on a billboard along Interstate 35 near Faribault and in banners hung throughout the downtown historic district. We truly have a gem of a downtown with many well-preserved historic buildings. Now Preserving American Stories banners flag this historic area.

 

A photo I took inside the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store several years ago after the mill reopened. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

More banners are yet to come, according to Kelly Nygaard of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office and the Faribault Main Street Coordinator. Those markers will include Experiencing American Stories to be posted near River Bend Nature Center, Crafting American Stories near the Faribault Woolen Mill and Shaping American Stories near the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and for the Blind and by Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Additionally, Making American Stories banners will be placed throughout town.

 

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Says Nygaard: “America is often described as a melting pot, and Faribault has always had diversity with Alexander Faribault himself being part First Nations. We have a beautiful downtown, great industry, a wide array of educational options, and plenty of fun ways to experience the outdoors and fun events.”

 

One of my all-time favorite photos taken at the 2012 International Festival in Faribault shows the diversity of Faribault as children gather to break a pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

I agree. This stories theme not only portrays the many unique aspects of Faribault, but it creates a sense of identity. And, I hope it also instills in locals a sense of pride in this place we call home. Individually and together we are Faribault’s stories.

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A close-up of the banner posted outside Buckham Memorial Library.

 

ABOUT THAT Preserving American Stories banner. The banner photo features the then Plante Grocery on Third Street which “offered customers a wide variety of household products and foods in baskets, barrels and boxes,” according to info on the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission website. 

 

 

In my photo of the banner, you will see the top of the 1870 National Security Bank building. The HPC website provides this additional information about the historic structure:  “A Classical Revival-style brick facade covers a stone structure constructed originally by mercantile entrepreneur F.A. Theopold. The building was leased by Security Bank in 1899. The bank eventually purchased the building, and a fourth story was added in 1914, possibly the same year that brick was used to radically alter the structure’s appearance.”

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling