Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Touring a third-generation family print shop in Fergus Falls May 23, 2013

The Victor Lundeen Company, located in the 100 block of West Lincoln Avenue, downtown Fergus Falls.

The Victor Lundeen Company, located in the 100 block of West Lincoln Avenue, downtown Fergus Falls.

ON A RECENT IMPROMPTU TOUR of a third-generation family-owned print shop in Fergus Falls, I couldn’t contain my giddiness over drawers of aged logos/artwork, handcrafted stamps, stacks of paper, even the vintage cabinets and stools and carts.

I was just giddy over all this handcrafted vintage art tucked into drawers.

I was just giddy over all this handcrafted vintage art tucked into drawers.

The 99-year-old Victor Lundeen Company is the type of place that appeals to a writer like me, with ink flowing through my veins.

The 1960s Heidelberg offset presses, still used in the second floor print shop.

The 1960s Heidelberg offset presses, still used in the second floor print shop.

Ah, the ink. The smell of ink. I just stood there beside owner Paul Lundeen’s vintage 1960s Heidelberg offset presses, breathing in the distinct scent of ink imprinted upon my memory.

Cans of ink line shelves.

Cans of ink line shelves.

Decades ago, working at The Gaylord Hub as a young newspaper reporter and photographer fresh out of college, I first smelled that ink, heard the clack-clack-clack of ancient machines printing auction bills. I watched Frank “Chick” Deis set type on the old letterpress.

While digging through all that vintage art, we found this City of Fergus Falls Centennial Seal of an otter. The city is located  in Otter Tail County.

While digging through all that vintage art, we found this City of Fergus Falls Centennial Seal of an otter. The city is located in Otter Tail County. The Lundeens recently sold all but one letterpress.

Such memories endear me to places like Victor Lundeen Company, started in 1914 by Victor Lundeen, Sr., who bought out a Fargo print shop and moved the equipment to his hometown of Fergus Falls. Today the company is owned by Victor Lundeen, Jr., and his son, Paul Lundeen.

A portion of the print shop looking toward the bank of street-side windows.

A portion of the print shop looking toward the bank of street-side windows.

I find it especially impressive, in this advanced technological age, that printing businesses like the Lundeen Company can survive, even seemingly thrive. This Fergus Falls firm has apparently found its niche in focusing on agri-business needs primarily in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana, but also extending to grain elevator businesses nationwide.

That said, this family-owned print shop, which employs eight in production (30 total in all aspects of the company), also values the individual walk-in customer. Paul didn’t specifically tell me that during our tour. Rather, I surmised that when, for example, I noticed the corner area where employees engrave gold foil names onto bibles for Confirmation gifts. Just like my King James bible imprinted with my name and given to me by my parents on my Confirmation Day in 1970.

Tour guide Paul Lundeen inside his print shop.

Tour guide Paul Lundeen inside his print shop.

And then there’s Paul himself, who welcomed my husband and me on a Thursday evening like we were long-time friends rather than out-of-towners checking out his store and other downtown businesses during an overnight stay in Fergus Falls. I mean, what businessman shows you the original safe of the former First National Bank of Fergus Falls shortly after meeting you? Paul did just that.

The independent bookstore portion of Victor Lundeen Company on the first floor. Gifts and office supplies are also sold here.

The independent bookstore portion of Victor Lundeen Company on the first floor. Gifts and office supplies are also sold here. I even asked if the store carries Lake Region Review, a regional anthology in which I’ve been published. It does.

His office supply/bookstore/gift shop/printing business occupies two connected buildings, one of them the old bank, in the heart of this historic downtown.

History in the signage.

History in the signage.

Such hospitality reaffirms my belief that chain stores have nothing on businesses like Victor Lundeen Company, which clearly values the importance of outstanding customer service and friendliness.

You can bet, thanks to Paul Lundeen and to Pat Connelly, whom I met later that evening at Dairyland Drive In (that’s a forthcoming post), I left Fergus Falls the next morning with the warmest of feelings for this west central Minnesota community.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Paper packed near the presses.

Paper stacked near the presses.

A vintage stool caught my eye.

A vintage stool, between counters, caught my eye.

My husband noticed the wheels on a cart, made at the former Nutting Company in our community of Faribault.

My husband noticed the wheels on a cart made at the former Nutting Company in our community of Faribault.

I aimed my camera down to shoot this lovely old cabinet.

I aimed my camera down to shoot this lovely old cabinet.

The art of well-known Fergus Falls resident Charles Beck, noted for his woodcut prints, featured in two books printed by Victor Lundeen Company. The books are sold in the bookstore. Across the street, you can view Beck's art at the Kaddatz Galleries.

The art of well-known Fergus Falls resident Charles Beck, noted for his woodcut prints, featured in two books printed by Victor Lundeen Company. The books are sold in the bookstore. Across the street, you can view Beck’s art at the Kaddatz Galleries.

TO VIEW PREVIOUS posts from Fergus Falls, see yesterday’s post and check my mid-June 2011 archives. Watch for more stories from this delightful community.

© Copyright 2103 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How I became an artist March 30, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:44 AM
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MY SKILLS AS A PAINTER are limited. I can paint a wall. I can dip a brush into a kid’s watercolor paint set and swirl colors onto a piece of paper. But I won’t promise a masterpiece.

Oh, no, if you want to see my best paintings, you will need to step back in time to more than 40 years ago. Imagine me hunched over an oilcloth-draped kitchen table in a southwestern Minnesota farmhouse dipping a thin brush into miniscule pots of paint. With great care, I brush shades of blue and brown onto cardboard as a ballerina emerges.

I have never seen a real ballerina. Her dainty features and fancy dress and perfect posture seem so foreign to me as I slump at the table in my rag-tag clothing that smells of the barn.

I imagine this ballerina smells only of flowers, like the ones I paint into the bouquet she clutches and into the wreath encircling her hair. Her bangs sweep in a fashionable style across her forehead, unlike my slanted, too-short bangs.

The paint-by-number ballerinas I painted as a young girl during the 1960s.

This ballerina’s life in New York City is so much different than mine on the farm. For the hours I am painting the flower-bearing ballerina and her sister, the twirling ballerina, I escape into their world. I dance on my tiptoes and spin and bow with grace on the stage of an opulent theater.

If not for Dan Robbins, though, I never would have experienced ballet. The Michigan artist created the first paint-by-number patterns in 1951. That led to a nation-wide obsession that allowed non-artists like me to become painters. The magazine American Profile featured Robbins in its March 25 issue. You can read the feature story by clicking here.

That story prompted me to remember the paint-by-number ballerinas I created as a child. Because my mother saves everything, I have those paintings today and they are among my most treasured childhood possessions.

TELL ME, HAVE YOU created paint-by-number paintings? Or do you collect these paintings? I would like to hear about your experiences and/or interest in paint-by-number kits.

You can learn more about the paint-by-number craze that swept the country during the 1950s by clicking here onto the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling