Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Faribault: There are no limitations with art March 15, 2017


AS A CHILD, I hooked nylon loops onto a pegged plastic square then wove more loops the other direction to shape a potholder.

My potholders were rather useless given their minimal size and synthetic material. But still, I gifted many aunts with potholders on their birthdays and they graciously thanked me.



I never pursued weaving beyond that childhood obsession, although I was convinced that some day I would weave rag rugs like my Uncle Bob. A long retired Minneapolis police officer, he learned the craft from his mother and has given me many sturdy rugs for my home.



As a child, I admired Helen Keller. I still do. I often wondered what it would be like to be deaf and blind as she was and to overcome those disabilities with such determination. After suffering a sudden sensory hearing loss in my right ear six years ago, I understand partial deafness. But to be blind, that stretches my imagination.



With that background, I was especially drawn to a section of the Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. It features SAORI weaving, free-style hand-weaving that originated in Japan. Minnesota State Academy for the Blind students created the woven art under the guidance of artist-in-residence Chiaki O’Brien.



I expect the texture of the materials makes this craft especially appealing to those with limited or no vision. Their other senses, including the sense of touch, are heightened.

I think then back to Helen Keller and how her devoted teacher, Anne Sullivan, spelled w-a-t-e-r into Helen’s hand as water rushed over it.



I wonder then how the hands-on teaching of Chiaki O’Brien affected visually-impaired students at the Minnesota Academy as they saw with their hands that they could create art. What a gift.

FYI: The Student Art Exhibit, featuring artwork from nine Faribault schools, runs through April 1 on the second floor of the Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

This concludes my recent series of stories on current exhibits at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork photographed with permission from the PCA.


Encouraging our youth in the arts March 11, 2012

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Third grader Henry Johnson of Nerstrand Elementary School created this vivid art for the Student Art Exhibit which opened Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO while attending a church meeting about demographics, I noticed a young girl two pews ahead of me sketching. After the drawn-out session ended, I approached her and asked to see her art. I can’t recall the subject of her drawing. But I do remember our conversation. We talked about her interest in art.

And then I asked if she also writes. Her grandpa, who’d been listening, piped up, “She’s always writing stories.”

That’s all I needed. “I’m a writer, too,” I said.

“What books did you write?” the elementary-aged girl asked, her eyes widening.

I could hear the awe in her voice before sharing that I hadn’t actually published a book, but have had my essays and poetry published in collections. I also mentioned that I write for a magazine and that I blog.

But I didn’t want this to be about me. I wanted this to be about her, the budding writer.

My writing summarized, I shifted the conversation back to her, suggesting she continue writing and drawing and doing what she loves.

Whenever I can encourage a young person in the arts, I will. Sometimes that’s all it takes—the attention of an adult—to set a child on a path to a future career or engagement in a past-time that fulfills a creative need.

Just a snippet of the art created by artists from five Faribault area schools and currently displayed at the Paradise Center for the Arts through April 7.

Last week I had a similar opportunity to encourage a home-schooled tenth grader, Claire Ellendson, whose art is currently exhibited in the Corey Lyn Creger Memorial Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. I could hear Claire’s excitement as we talked about her Washington, D.C., street-scape that sold days before her gallery show opening. Any artist would be elated to have a piece of art sell before opening day. Imagine how that uplifts a young person still evolving into her identity as an artist.

That brings us to today, to March, Youth Art Month, an effort “to emphasize the value of art education for all children and to encourage support for quality school art programs,” according to the National Art Education Association.

In celebration of that, an annual Student Art Exhibit featuring the art of school-age children from Faribault area schools opened Friday on the second floor of the Paradise. Five of the invited schools opted to participate.

While I got there too late to interact with the artists and with only enough time to shoot photos before closing, I still wanted to encourage these youth. Thus I’m writing this blog post.

Jeremiah Kuball, a student at Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Schools, used colored pencils to draw this John Deere 4450. Among his shading techniques is crosshatching.

Artists from Jefferson, Lincoln, Nerstrand, Roosevelt and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Schools, I’m impressed with your art. I’m impressed by the level of talent at such a young age. This is not the crayon art of my youth. This collection of some 200 pieces (guessing on that number, but each school could submit up to 40 works) includes art I’d love to hang in my home.

First grader Kyle Ernste of Nerstrand Elementary School painted this vivid butterfly which reminds me of children's picture book artist Eric Carle's art.

And, yes, I photographed more than I can showcase here, on this page. So I’d urge you to see for yourself what these young artists have created by touring the Student Art Exhibit, which runs through April 7.

For those of you who don’t live anywhere near Faribault, or even in Minnesota or the U.S.A., I ask you to find one young person who loves the arts. Foster that child’s love for the arts via praise or perhaps the gift of art supplies or an art class. Such words and actions, offered in sincerity, can be powerful.

Additionally, I invite you to share your comments here on youth art and/or how someone encouraged you in the arts.

Families peruse the student art hung in the hallways of the Paradise's second floor.

A snippet of Lincoln Elementary School fifth grader Evelyn Nigon's Statue of Liberty painting.

Fifth graders from Jefferson Elementary School infused humor into their interpretations of the Mona Lisa.

CLICK HERE for more information about the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling