Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Another view of Pelican Rapids, Minnesota October 18, 2019

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A mural on the back of a downtown Pelican Rapids building.

 

VIEW A COMMUNITY ONLY from its public front face and you miss seeing the entire portrait of a place.

 

Pete the Pelican

 

On a recent visit to Pelican Rapids in northwestern Minnesota, a side pathway between buildings led me to the Pete the Pelican sculpture.

 

 

 

 

And more—a unique suspension footbridge

 

 

and art on the backs of businesses.

 

 

Pelican Rapids, as you might rightly guess, identifies itself with pelicans. An early history of the town states that enormous pelicans circled overhead as they moved towards their nesting area at the upper rapids.

 

 

And so the pelican became this town’s symbol…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Pelican Rapids: The symbolic art of the pelican October 17, 2019

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Pete the Pelican in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota

 

OVER-SIZED SCULPTURES, roadside kitsch—whatever term you tag to mammoth outdoor art, I’m a fan. Many Minnesota communities, from Fergus Falls’ otter to Rothsay’s prairie chicken to Garrison’s walleye, identify themselves with public art symbols.

 

The scenic early October drive to Pelican Rapids from Detroit Lakes.

 

Most recently I discovered Pete the Pelican in Pelican Rapids, a northwestern Minnesota town some 50 miles from Fargo, North Dakota. We made a day trip there from Detroit Lakes, where we stayed for a few days recently. Our eventual destination: Maplewood State Park to the east of Pelican Rapids.

 

The horses seem to be galloping off this painting by Marcella Rose, such is the movement she brushed into the scene.

 

Marcella Rose’s pelican art.

 

The varied art of Marcella Rose.

 

We parked downtown, walked around, popped into artist Marcella Rose’s studio and shop,

 

Pete the Pelican

 

Signage about Pete the Pelican.

 

and then looked for Pete the Pelican. The iconic symbol stands 15 ½ feet high and was built from steel, concrete and plaster in 1957. He sits on a concrete base at Mill Pond Dam along the Pelican River.

 

Walking toward the suspension bridge. More info coming in a second post.

 

A nearby park features a unique suspension bridge which also drew our interest.

 

 

 

 

Other, smaller, “friends of Pete” pelican sculptures are scattered throughout the downtown adding to the town’s artsy appeal.

 

Pete the Pelican from another perspective.

 

Pete the Pelican has become a tourist attraction in Pelican Rapids, providing lots of photo ops. This is a town I’ll long remember precisely because of the public pelican art.

TELL ME: Are you drawn to over-sized sculptures? Give me examples of such public art you’ve seen and like. What value do they add to a place?

Please check back for another post from Pelican Rapids.

© Copyright 2019 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.

#

 

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

 

An, oh, so Minnesotan celebration at Faribault Flannel Formal February 5, 2019

 

Me in flannel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MINNESOTA STATE LEGISLATORS recently considered the Labrador retriever as our state dog. The loon is our state bird, the Lady Slipper our state flower. And so on.

Now, if our elected officials decided we also need a state winter dress code, I’d push for flannel shirt and jeans. That’s my outfit of choice from late autumn into spring, or whenever winter ends. Because I work out of my home office, Friday casual fits daily. And because I’ve never been pegged as a fashionista (ask my sister who got my childhood hand-me-down clothes and still reminds me to this day of my horrible fashion sense), I embrace comfortable attire. Like blue jeans and flannel.

 

Source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

So does my community. From 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. this Saturday, February 9, Faribault Main Street celebrates its annual Faribault Flannel Formal. It’s a fitting event for Minnesota, home of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan, typically dressed in red and black buffalo plaid flannel and sturdy jeans.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

To promote the event, locals have been wearing flannel to work and about town on Flannel Fridays.

 

Legendary Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo.

 

The lumberjack theme is very much a part of the Faribault event at 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and adjoining Corks and Pints in the heart of our historic downtown, just a block off Central Avenue. The dress code obviously calls for flannel with honors awarded to the best-dressed lumberjack and lumberjane.

 

A ticket to the Formal will get you a free commemorative jar. I love these. Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

Attendees can also get into the Paul Bunyan spirit by competing in lumberjack themed games—the giant beaver toss, hammerschlagen and duck the branch.

 

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another Minnesota staple—hotdish (not casserole)—also is an integral part of the Faribault Flannel Formal. Folks are invited to cook up their favorite hotdishes for sampling and a $100 Chamber Check top prize. Who doesn’t love hotdish, the ultimate Minnesota winter comfort food? I’ll take Minnesotan Amy Thielen’s Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish, thank you. She hosts Heartland Table on Food Network, among other accomplishments.

No Formal is complete without music. The Rochester Caledonian Bagpipers kick off the evening with the classic rock tribute band Horizontal Hero following.

 

Past Faribault Flannel Formal attendees. Photo compliments of Faribault Main Street.

 

While I’ve not attended a Formal yet, I’m pretty certain I’d enjoy it. I mean, I wouldn’t need to dress up. The challenge would come in choosing which flannel shirt to wear. Blue/gray/black? Red/black/gold? Green and black? Teal/black/subtle orange? Green and brownish? Yup lots of choices in my closet.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

FYI: For more info on the Faribault Flannel Formal, including tickets, click here.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The holiday spirit comes to Faribault during Winterfest this week (end) November 28, 2018

This classic vintage pick-up truck decorated by Brushworks Signs rated as one of my favorite entries in last year’s Winterfest parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

MORE AND MORE, COMMUNITIES in greater Minnesota are discovering the value in creating holiday events that attract locals and visitors. That includes Faribault, which this week hosts Winterfest, an expansion of the long-running Hometown Holidays.

It’s a smart move on the part of host, Faribault Main Street. Anything that brings people into Faribault benefits tourism and businesses through exposure and sales. This marks the second year of Winterfest, highlighted last December by a Parade of Lights. This year fireworks precede the 5:30 p.m. Saturday parade along Central Avenue in our historic downtown.

 

Faribault’s version of the Polar Express. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

But before I expound on Saturday, there’s Thursday’s Hometown Holidays evening of family-oriented attractions and activities from 5 – 7:30 p.m. at Buckham Center. From greeting Santa and his reindeer to crafts, music, snacks, a holiday movie and more, families will find plenty to do. I wish my granddaughter lived closer. I’d take her.

 

Local merchants showcase the holiday spirit in window displays. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

A few blocks away in the heart of the business district, the holiday spirit prevails Thursday evening in a window decorating contest, horse-drawn wagon rides, ice carving, and caroling by Due North, a Minneapolis-based a cappella group. From 6 – 8 p.m. our local art center hosts the Paradise Center for the Arts Acoustic Gallery featuring music by Cannon River Currents and artisan gifts crafted by 20 regional artists at the Holly Days Sale. Downtown shops will be open, too.

That’s Thursday. Friday focuses on teens with open gym and swim, board games and other activities at the Faribault Community Center from 6 – 8 p.m.

 

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside Walmart. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Then comes Saturday, a day so jam-packed with events that I wonder how I can possibly get to everything. I’m also ringing bells for the Salvation Army for two hours.

 

The table set for Christmas guests at the Alexander Faribault house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

Saturday at 10 a.m., the Rice County Historical Society opens the doors to the home of our town founder for a French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. That runs until 3 p.m. But if Saturday doesn’t work for you, the historic home will also be open on Friday from 4 – 7 p.m. It’s a fun way to learn about Faribault history in a festive setting.

 

The back of the parade as it heads north along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

History will also be on display along Central Avenue at the Faribault Sno-Go Club Vintage Snowmobile Show from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday. Then, as darkness settles, units start arriving for the 5:30 p.m. parade with the fireworks kick-off. A street dance follows from 6:30 – 10 p.m.

In between, you can take in Mick Sterling Presents “At Christmas,” a blended show of music and comedy opening at 7:30 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Sunday brings another holiday show with the Paradise Children’s Theatre performing “The Nutcracker Prince” at 2 p.m. and again at 4 p.m.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

That’s a lot happening in my community. And I’m sure there’s more, like the annual craft and bake sale and luncheon at Peace Lutheran Church on Saturday.

 

Crowds gather along historic Central Avenue as the sun sets before the 2017 Parade of Lights. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

I’m grateful to all who are working so hard to bring the holiday spirit to Faribault through Winterfest and other events. Thank you.

TELL ME: Does your community host any big holiday events?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I love Decorah, Part I November 26, 2018

Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in downtown Decorah draws many visitors interested in learning about their heritage.

 

TWICE I’VE VISITED DECORAH in northeastern Iowa. It’s one of those towns that feels comfortable, inviting, an ideal destination for someone who prefers rural to urban.

 

Decorah is named after Ho-Chunk Chief Waukon Decorah. I spotted this portrait by noted artist Charles Philip Hexom on a stairway wall at the public library.

 

What makes Decorah so appealing to me?

 

 

 

 

The architecture.

 

“Doe and Fawn” sculptures by Victoria Reed stand in a public plaza near a downtown co-op.

 

Love this mural of “Irene” painted by Valerie Miller of Steel Cow.

 

A stone sculpture on the Nelson & Co. building.

 

The art.

One of my favorite spots in Decorah, the waterfall at Dunning’s Spring Park, site of a former grist mill and gifted to the city in 1946.

 

The natural beauty.

 

Valdres House, one of many authentic Norwegian rooted buildings at Vesterheim. This is a typical Norwegian landowner’s house, dismantled and shipped from Norway to Decorad in the mid 1970s.

 

The downtown shops and eateries. The city’s appreciation of its strong Norwegian heritage, even if I’m of German heritage.

And the people. While at Pulpit Rock Brewing, Randy and I shared a picnic table with a young couple and their daughter (and her grandpa). They were quick to answer our questions about places to eat, sleep and explore.

Upon their recommendation, we stayed at a new hotel on the edge of town and met a trio of college friends together for their annual girlfriends’ reunion. They welcomed us into their circle at a gas-fired campfire on a perfect early autumn evening. When did hotels start adding this amenity? I loved it. There’s something about fire…

 

The Upper Iowa River runs through the 34-acre Decorah Community Prairie and Butterfly Garden. This view is from a scenic overlook in Phelps Park.

 

And water. Water is part of the draw for me to this river town.

 

Magnificent stone work at Phelps Park, which also includes a fountain (not on at the time of my visit) crafted from stone.

 

Upon the recommendation of the family at the brewery, we sought out Phelps Park. There we found extensive stonework done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I often wonder when I see such work, “How did they build this without modern equipment?”

Outside an historic downtown building with a corner tower, I chatted it up with an elderly man on a bench. He drives in from the farm every morning to meet friends for coffee and to sit and people-watch. He lives out by the supper club, he said, which meant nothing to me. But I pretended like it did. He’ll never see me again.

That’s the thing about travel. If you engage with the locals, you’ll learn a thing or ten about the place you’re visiting. Stuff you won’t find on a website, stuff best learned in conversation.

TELL ME: Do you chat it up with locals when you’re traveling? I’d like to hear your stories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Decorah. Have you ever visited Decorah and, if so, what appeals to you there?

NOTE: I took these photos during a mid-September visit to Decorah. The landscape obviously looks much different today. So if you’re not inclined to visit this Iowa city now, think ahead to next spring or summer.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feeling right at home at Seed Savers Exchange in rural Iowa, Part I October 18, 2018

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HAVE YOU EVER VISITED a place where you were so comfortably at home that you felt as if you’d been there before, but you hadn’t?

 

 

Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah, Iowa, feels that way to me. A nonprofit that preserves heirloom plants through planting and nurturing and seed saving, Seed Savers appeals to the farm girl in me. The peaceful setting. The red barn. The ruralness of it all. Iowa. So like my native southwestern Minnesota.

 

 

A tangle of plants, some towering, some not, drew me into a garden near the massive red barn where young women scooped seeds from ripe tomatoes during a mid-September visit. This is their work, this preservation of seeds. I thought of hippies and pioneers and how this tedious labor matters.

And I thought of biting into a sun-warm tomato plucked from the garden, juice trickling from the corners of my mouth. Memories from the farm.

 

 

 

 

I watch Monarchs and bees wend among towering stems of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate blossoms, their flight like words of poetry in Diane’s Garden.

 

 

 

 

There’s so much to love about this place. Berries in the back of a pick-up truck. Chicks clustered, safe behind chicken wire. A path that leads away from the farm site to narrow streams. Quiet as only quiet can be in the countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

And then a second garden on the other side of the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center. Here my favorite flower—the simple zinnia and corn drying to harvest and sunflowers heavy with seed. And more, oh, so much more.

 

 

Inside the visitors center, the results of it all—rows and rows and rows of stocked seed packets. Bull’s Blood Beet. Rat-Tailed Radish. Hungarian Heart Tomato. What to choose from among all the alliterations, all the words that write of bounty and beauty. I choose Sea Shells Cosmos Mix for myself, Gold Medal Tomato for a niece with a passion for gardening.

 

 

I wish I could stay here, far from the stresses of life. I feel a peace in being here, sequestered from reality, from noise, from the world. There’s something about Seed Savers Exchange that feels comfortably familiar to me. Like I lived on this land once, walked below this blue sky, wandered among the waving blossoms of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate. Yet I’d not been here prior to this visit. Except perhaps in the poetry of words and of memories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Seed Savers Exchange.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling