Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault history takes center stage in a must-see play by two high school students September 20, 2018

 

An original play about historic Faribault opens Friday evening, September 18, at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault.

 

REVEALING. THOUGHT-PROVOKING. POWERFUL. Authentic. Relevant.

All describe a debut play, A Celebration of Faribault: The 1855 Live Show, written and directed by high school seniors Logan Ledman and Samuel Temple. I attended a recent press screening of the Paradise Community Theatre production, set to open Friday evening at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

 

The cast of A Celebration of Faribault: The 1855 Live Show. Writers and directors are Samuel Temple of Faribault, left center row, and Logan Ledman of Northfield, right center row.

 

Featuring town founder Alexander Faribault, Bishop Henry Whipple, long-time Judge Thomas Buckham and his wife, Anna, as the lead characters, this play personalizes my southeastern Minnesota community’s early history. By the end of this lengthy show, I felt like I really knew the people I’ve read about in historical accounts. The directors/writers tackle real-life issues of the era head-on in a sensitive and relate-able way. They do that in intimate dialogue, in reading of letters exchanged between the Buckhams, in newspaper editorials, in a dramatic battlefield setting, in one especially powerful scene that closes the first act… I won’t share that closing. It needs to be seen and heard. Experienced really.

 

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers who were killed in the area during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Located along the eastern edge of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Milford had the highest war death rate of any single township. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The Loyal Indian Monument at Birch Coulee Monument near Morton honors Native Americans and features strong words like humanity, patriotism, fidelity and courage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The content of this play takes me beyond Faribault and back to my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, at the epicenter of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, a focal point in this production. I know well the history of that war, which I studied decades ago and once researched. Ledman and Temple clearly did their research, too, in writing this play.

 

The youth orchestra plays original music by Sam Dwyer, back in the headset.

 

The crew weaves in audio details that, with a surround sound system, amplify the impact of the script. Mood-setting music written by area high school student Sam Dwyer and performed by an all-youth orchestra enhances the production. Likewise lighting and varied ways of presenting content keep the play interesting and entertaining.

 

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault meeting 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.

 

As I listened and watched, I considered how, 150-plus years later, my city still struggles with issues similar to those in frontier Faribault. Back then, town founder and fur trader Alexander Faribault, whose mother was the daughter of a Dakota chief and who married a part Dakota woman, welcomed the Dakota into his home, onto his land. Likewise, Bishop Whipple welcomed those native peoples into his church as friends. After the U.S.-Dakota War, locals were no longer so accepting of the Dakota presence here or in other parts of Minnesota.

 

A flag ceremony during a past international festival features national anthems and information about the countries from which Faribault residents have originated. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today Faribault faces some of those same challenges with immigrants in our community. They have not always been welcomed. But I see that changing as time passes, as cultures adjust, as acceptance grows. So this play, though historically-themed, remains relevant. I would like to believe that Alexander Faribault (as scripted in the play) was right in his assessment: “We are neighbors in the human race. That is the community of Faribault.”

The deeply personal aspects of A Celebration of Faribault come in letters written between Thomas Buckham and his wife, Anna. The teen writers/directors spent hours at the Minnesota Historical Society reading those exchanges. With reluctance, Anna left her family on the East Coast to resettle in Faribault, only to return and care for her ailing sister. The Buckhams would be separated for 17 years with Anna returning to Minnesota upon her husband’s death. At times I felt uncomfortable witnessing the conflicts within this marriage and the choices made. But that says a lot for the script, for the acting, that I experienced those emotions. These were real people torn between family and place. Anna truly never felt at home in Faribault.

 

Anna Buckham gifted the city of Faribault with the Art Nouveau/Greek Revival style Kasota stone Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library. It was constructed in 1929-1930 for $240,000. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Still, she left a legacy honoring the husband she loved even through physical separation. That legacy stands just blocks from my home, at the site of a former livery stable. It is the Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library, complete with Greek murals celebrating Thomas’ adoration of the Greeks, the Greek language and culture, and Greek classics.

 

This bronze sculpture of Thomas Scott Buckham hangs above a fireplace in the library’s second floor Great Hall meeting space. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As someone who grew up in a rural community without a library, I deeply appreciate this gift to the city I’ve called home for 36 years. I value Buckham library and the content therein from magazines to books to the art gracing walls to a stained glass window crafted by Charles Connick of Boston. Today my son lives and works in greater Boston. Growing up, he visited the library often, checking out books to teach himself computer programming. He would not be where he is today professionally without the resources of Buckham library. Likewise, my daughters worked as pages there, experiences that would later land them library jobs as college students. The library holds personal significance in my family’s history. Thus I appreciate its prominence in A Celebration of Faribault and its continued importance in my community as a welcoming place for all peoples.

 

High school students Logan Ledman, left, and Samuel Temple produce “1855: A Faribault History Series on FCTV” in Faribault. File photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

Exiting the Paradise Center for the Arts theater following the performance, I felt a sense of gratitude to the young men who care enough about Faribault to research and embrace its history and then share their discoveries with others. Ledman and Logan are also creators of 1855, an acclaimed history documentary series aired on local public television. It’s hard to believe these two are still in high school. There’s no doubt these 17-year-olds possess a clear and deep love of history, of heritage and of this place we call Faribault.

FYI: Performances of A Celebration of Faribault: The 1855 Live Show are set for 7:30 p.m. on two Fridays, September 21 and 28, and at 2 p.m. on two Sundays, September 23 and September 30. Click here to purchase tickets.

A $3,000 grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council helped fund this production.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A watercolor photo of an historic Minnesota library August 12, 2013

HE’S PULLED INTO the 15-minute parking spot in front of the library on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I wait in the front passenger seat as my husband dashes inside to return a DVD and pick up a book for me.

I am grateful for his consideration, that I am not the one racing up the sidewalk in the rain.

As I watch the rain glide in sheets across the windshield, I notice how the old stone library, with its signature stained glass windows, appears distorted. The colored windows, in soft shades of rose and wheat, seem undefined, as if brushed in watercolor.

In that moment I stretch downward, reaching for the camera bag at my feet, considering that the dreamy scene unfolding before me might just make for an interesting image. Leaning slightly back, I aim my camera lens upward and snap several photos.

I don’t know what to expect. But later, when I upload the images into my computer, I am pleased to see the surreal first frame exactly as I had hoped. Dreamy. Like a painting.

This marks an epiphany for me as a photographer. When I am willing to think beyond the confines of a neat, orderly, precise photo, the unexpected happens. And it’s  magic.

An unedited image of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault as taken through the front windshield of our family car while rain was falling. The unusual hue of the sky is from the tint in the windshield.

FYI: The 1929 Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library, built of Kasota stone, was designed in the Art Deco style by Charles Buckham of Vermont and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anna Buckham gifted the library to the city of Faribault in memory of her husband, Thomas Buckham, a prominent local judge and avid Greek scholar with a special interest in the arts.

Anna Buckham chose a Greek theme for the library which includes a Greek window designed by world-renowned stained glass artist Charles Connick of Boston.

In the library’s Great Room, Alfred J. Hyslop, a former art professor at Carleton College in Northfield, painted four Greek murals depicting scenes from Olympia, Athens, Sparta and Delphi.

And, yes, I really should photograph the Connick window and murals to show you. I see this library, use this library, all the time. I’ve simply grown complacent to its artful beauty.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling