Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Just another reason to appreciate Northfield, Minnesota August 6, 2019

On a corner along Division Street in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

WE ARRIVED IN NORTHFIELD to find the city abuzz. Or rather abuzz and resounding with the sound of music.

Randy swung the van into the first open parking spot, surprisingly just off Division Street and a short walk from Bridge Square, headquarters for the Vintage Band Festival. On this lovely August early evening, we headed toward the sound of music, rounded the corner by the post office and observed an audience packing the square and spilling onto the closed street. At that moment I wished for lawn chairs. These obvious seasoned fest attendees brought theirs. Without chairs, we settled onto the curb just a door down from the former First National Bank (now the Northfield Historical Society), site of the famous Jesse James-Cole Younger Gang bank raid. We listened to a few songs before deciding we couldn’t sit like this any longer. Maybe if we were younger…

 

Territorial Brass performs in Armory Square’s green space.

 

From there we aimed toward our destination, Reunion, a new restaurant in town. But first, we decided to check out another concert, this one in the Armory Square green space. Here, Arizona’s official historical brass band performed territorial period music. Territorial Brass band members, dressed in period attire, replicate the music of vintage brass bands in Arizona and New Mexico. And bonus, a vocal soloist, “Violet,” sang along with the instrumentalists. What a delight to hear the band, among some 40 performing during 100 concerts over the four-day Vintage Band Festival.

 

Soloist and band spokesperson, “Violet,” walked through the crowd while singing.

 

After listening for awhile, we left to dine at the new eatery. But, once inside Reunion, we learned the wait would be 45 minutes. I was disappointed, too hungry to wait. Had we known this, we would have reserved a dining spot earlier and awaited the text that our table was ready. Live and learn.

 

Among those listening to Territorial Brass.

 

Anyway, no matter, we appreciated the vintage music that added another reason to stop in Northfield on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.

TELL ME: Have you ever attended Northfield’s Vintage Band Festival or a similar vintage band festival?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At a rural Minnesota flea market, a photo essay June 3, 2019

Flea markets often theme to location. At the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Swap Meet & Flea Market, you’ll find a lot of agricultural merchandise.

 

LONG BEFORE RECYCLING, upcycling and repurposing emerged in popularity, hand-me-downs existed. Clothing, furniture and more passed down from person to person. Especially among farm families. Ask my sister and she will tell you about my horrible fashion sense and how she had to wear the bad choices I made in clothing. She followed me in birth order.

 

 

Fast forward to today and I still appreciate previously-used items. I don’t need the latest fashion off the rack because I still don’t much care about fashion. Give me jeans and a t-shirt.

 

 

 

 

I prefer sturdy, well-crafted furniture to new. I like vintage drinking glasses, bowls, tablecloths, art… I prefer vintage stuff to new. I appreciate the craftsmanship, the novelty, the memories, the uniqueness.

 

 

For those reasons, I delight in flea markets, garage and yard sales, and thrift stores. I don’t shop them as often as I once did because I really don’t need more stuff. Even so, it’s fun to poke around.

 

 

 

 

To filter through the odd and practical merchandise. The memories.

 

Crafted by J & J Glass Art (Jeff & Jane Peterson) of Austin.

 

 

 

To appreciate the work of artisans.

 

 

 

 

 

To chat with the vendors.

 

 

Here in Minnesota, pop-up second-hand shops—the term seems fitting for all those garage and yard sales and flea markets—have launched for the season.

 

 

If you’ve never embraced second-hand, I’d suggest you reconsider. Maybe you’ll develop an affinity for this alternative shopping option. Or maybe you’ll decide you want nothing to do with the current trend.

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever your perspective, enjoy my photo essay of the spring Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Flea Market held in rural Dundas on Memorial Day weekend. Let this inspire you to think beyond new, to consider the value in previously-owned.

 

 

TELL ME: Do you shop second-hand? If yes, why and what treasures have you discovered?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Father’s Day love in memories & greeting cards June 15, 2018

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A greeting card from my sister and me to our dad, circa early 1960s.

 

AFTER MY DAD DIED 15 years ago, Father’s Day lost significant meaning to me personally. I had no dad to give a card to or to call.

 

The message inside the duck card, signed by our mom for her daughters.

 

I love giving and receiving greeting cards. But I’ve observed that fewer people send cards these days, choosing instead to text, email, call or simply ignore important personal days of loved ones. I noticed that with my birthday last fall. Birthday cards, especially from family, once stuffed my mailbox. No more.

 

The verse inside this card reads: “For being all that a Father could be/ Loving, gentle and good;/ For your patience and generosity/ In caring for your brood;/ For the happy glow of family love/ That other folks can see–/ Darling, for all of these and more/…A million thanks from me!” My mom signed the card, “Love, Arlene.”

 

Greeting cards, past and present, still hold a place of importance for me. I especially treasure the cards my mom saved through the decades. I have some of those, among them a handful of Father’s Day cards given to my dad.

 

Three of the four of us were old enough to sign this Father’s Day card to our dad. Two more siblings would be born after this.

 

I selected a few to share here because they hold a certain sweetness in messages, graphics and signatures. They are all vintage early 1960s.

 

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern Kletscher, taken in 1980.

 

While I don’t have my dad anymore, I still have those greeting cards. And I hold memories of my farmer father who loved me and my five siblings deeply and taught us the value of faith, family and hard work. He wasn’t perfect—no one is. But he was a good man, an honest man, a man of the earth. And if I could, I’d send him a card today telling him how much I appreciated him and loved him.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

‘Tis prime secondhand shopping season in Minnesota May 25, 2018

Necklaces for sale at the May 19 Rice County Historical Society Flea Market, Faribault, Minnesota. I took all of the images in this post at the RCHS market.

 

MANY WOMEN LOVE to shop. I’m not one of them. Filtering through racks of clothing and then trying clothes on is far from my idea of fun. I shop out of necessity. Not for therapy or just because I want something new or for whatever other reason. I suppose if I had unlimited cash flow, I might feel differently. But probably not.

 

 

That said, I enjoy shopping at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage and yard sales. I appreciate vintage and unique and keeping rather than tossing.

 

 

 

 

Most of my original and print art—and I have a lot—comes from these second-hand sources. I’ve also sourced vintage glassware, dishes, tablecloths and more from other people’s junk. I use the word junk in a positive, not trashy, way.

 

 

 

May marks the beginning of secondhand sale season in Minnesota. I took in my first flea market last weekend at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault. While I didn’t buy anything, I poked around and chatted it up with vendors, including one from Minneapolis. I invited him to visit our historic downtown, suggesting specific places to check out. “You should work for the tourism office,” he said. I told him I do through occasional freelance writing and photography.

 

 

 

 

I am often amazed at how little people still know about Faribault despite strong tourism promotion efforts. With downtown Minneapolis only an hour away to the north along Interstate 35, my community is ideally situated for a day trip into rural Minnesota. Any time I can encourage others to visit Faribault, I will.

 

 

 

 

This weekend presents another opportunity to check out this section of southeastern Minnesota at the 19th annual Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Swap Meet & Flea Market. That event runs from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the showgrounds along Minnesota State Highway 3 south of Dundas (which is south of Northfield, north of Faribault). There’s also a consignment auction at 9 a.m. Saturday and a tractor pull at 9 a.m. Sunday. I always find the flea market interesting, photo-worthy and simply a nice way to spend a few hours in a rural setting. Sometimes I find a treasure, sometimes not.

TELL ME: Do you shop flea markets, thrift stores and/or garage/yard sales? If yes, are you looking for something specific? Tell me about a treasure you bought at one of these secondhand sources.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An unexpected package from Santa December 6, 2017

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WHEN A SMALL PACKAGE arrived in my mailbox on Tuesday with a Merry Christmas! From: Santa Faribault, MN 55021 return address, I had no clue what I would find therein.

But, oh, the sweetness of this surprise moved me to tears at the thoughtfulness of the mysterious Santa who clearly read my recent post, “Passing a love of books onto the next generation.” In that post I reference a favorite childhood storybook, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and my regret at not purchasing a copy spotted at a Pequot Lakes antique shop.

 

 

That reader took my post to heart and sent me a vintage copy of Three Billy Goats Gruff. See why I’m thrilled with this unexpected gift. This individual gifted me with a book that I hold dear.

 

 

Now, rereading this story as an adult, I like it even more:

I’m not afraid,” said Little Billy. And up onto the bridge he ran—trip-trippety-trip!

 

 

This fairy tale of three billy goats attempting to cross a bridge under which a mean troll lives inspires bravery. The trio outwits the troll and gets safely to the other side and a hillside of lush grass. The empowering message of strength and courage proves as applicable for children as for adults.

 

 

As to the identity of Santa, I have only a few clues—the name NANCY ANN OLSON stamped inside and that Faribault postmark and return address. I don’t know any Nancy Olsons. The giver could be someone other than an Olson. Or it could be Nancy. I have no idea.

But to you, dear anonymous Santa reader, please know that your gift of Three Billy Goats Gruff touched me deeply. I am grateful for your kindness, which truly exemplifies the spirit of giving. Thank you. And Merry Christmas!

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The things you learn about Minnesota prisons while on the road October 25, 2017

 

ONCE UPON A TIME, beginning in the late 1870s, inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Stillwater, built agricultural equipment. Through the years they crafted threshing machines, hay rakes, barge wagons, manure spreaders and more.

 

 

This proved news to me. But Randy noted that as we followed a tractor pulling a gravity box along LeSueur County Road 13 on Sunday afternoon. He pegged the wagon as 1970s vintage prisoner made.

 

 

Online research confirmed Randy’s claim in articles published in Farm Collector magazine. According to those stories, prisoners built ag equipment until 2006.

 

 

Today inmates within Minnesota’s correctional system—including right here in my community of Faribault—produce products through the prison system’s MINNCOR Industries. Those range from residential and office furniture to clothing to printed materials to cabinetry and more.

 

Prisoner made furniture at Buckham Memorial Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2017.

 

When I visit my local library, I can sit on inmate built easy chairs or loveseats, some upholstered in knock-knock joke fabric with this favorite prisoner joke:

How do prisoners make phone calls?

With cell phones.

 

 

Much has changed since the days of building manure spreaders…and gravity boxes

 

 

as time passes in the rearview mirror of prison life.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet as Strawberry Shortcake October 23, 2017

I love this image of my granddaughter looking out the front door of my home. I love the light, the mood, the sweetness, the perspective.

 

FOR PROBABLY A DOZEN YEARS or more, the homemade child’s dress hung in an upstairs bedroom closet. I’d purchased it at a garage sale with intentions of some day giving the Strawberry Shortcake print dress to my eldest niece. The dress would be the perfect nostalgic gift for Tara, born a year after the popular doll line debuted. She loved all things Strawberry Shortcake. I imagined how she would delight in receiving the dress for her newborn daughter.

 

Grandma needed a portrait of Isabelle in her vintage Strawberry Shortcake dress.

 

But as life goes, Tara birthed a boy just over a year ago. So, by default, the long-held dress went to my granddaughter, Isabelle. On an early September visit, Izzy showed up in her Strawberry Shortcake dress, much to my joy.

 

 

 

That dress, stitched so lovingly with rick rack trim and accented with mini heart buttons nearly 40 years ago by an unknown seamstress, fit the then 17-month-old perfectly.

 

 

She looked adorable.

 

 

I’m not sure her mom shared the same enthusiasm for the garment as I did. But my eldest made me a happy grandma by slipping this sweet dress onto her daughter for an afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

I captured the exact moment Izzy discovered that the recliner rocked. She threw her head and arms back in exuberance.

 

Izzy paged through books, played with blocks, blew bubbles, splashed in water, rocked in the recliner and more, moving at the speed only toddlers can move. And she managed all in that vintage dress, the unintended dress now perfectly hers.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Janesville: Discovering Ms. Mac’s Antiques October 13, 2016

antique-shop-85-exterior

 

ACROSS FROM THE OLD GRAIN ELEVATOR, in the solid brick building that once housed a bank, Ms. Mac’s Antiques anchors a corner of downtown Janesville.

 

antique-shop-88-open-flag-on-shop

 

I was delighted when, last Friday afternoon, the OPEN flag fluttered from a post outside this southeastern Minnesota business.

 

antique-shop-26-inside-door-displays-overview

 

My expectations were not particularly high. But, surprise. I stepped into a shop so skillfully and artfully designed that it could be featured in the pages of a national magazine like CountryLiving.

 

antique-shop-28-shabby-chic-owl

 

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My favorite piece in the entire shop because this statue reminds me of me as a young girl.

My favorite piece in the entire shop because this statue reminds me of me as a young girl.

 

For a few moments I just stood there, taking in the vignettes displaying a plethora of collectible, vintage, antique, architectural salvage and other merchandise.

 

Ms. Mac's signature crow sales tag.

Ms. Mac’s signature crow sales tag.

 

And then, after a quick perusal of the front ground level section of Ms. Mac’s, I introduced myself as a blogger to the man behind the counter. He’s Ron Hardeman, known as Mr. Mac in this family-owned business. Susie McConville is Ms. Mac, the talented designer. And the couple’s daughter, Jessica Oberpriller, is Ms. Mac, too. She runs a second shop, Ms. Mac’s, too, in Carver.

 

The picket fence mimics the shape of the old grain elevator across the street.

A section of picket fence inside the shop mimics the shape of the old grain elevator across the street.

 

While Susie still works full-time as a clinic manager in nearby Mankato, Ron runs the shop solo weekdays. He quickly obliged my request to photograph Ms. Mac’s Antiques. As we chatted, I learned that the couple, who live in Mankato, fell in love with the old bank building. I can see why. It has character with worn wooden floors, high ceilings, nooks and generous light pouring in through an abundance of windows.

 

There's lots of merchandise in the basement.

There’s lots of merchandise in the basement.

 

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antique-shop-71-shoe-sale-red-corner

 

The basement also provides space for additional treasures.

 

antique-shop-43-duck-architectural-salvage

 

Still, even a good bones appealing historic building does not make the shop. An eye and hand for displaying merchandise do. And Susie possesses both. Plus, a good strong business sense, connections and networking also make this business work. Ms. Mac’s customer base stretches across the U.S. with antique dealers coming to this small Minnesota farming community to find merchandise they can’t find in their locales.

 

antique-shop-78-hamms-beer-bear

 

As I poked around, I assessed that Ms. Mac’s offers an eclectic mix of unique merchandise not typically found in Minnesota antique shops I’ve visited. And, no, the Hamm’s beer bear is not for sale.

BONUS PHOTOS:

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antique-shop-58-coffee-cup

 

Mother Hubbard items come from a Mankato flour mill.

Mother Hubbard items come from a Mankato flour mill.

 

antique-shop-27-fruit-tray

 

 

antique-shop-81-giraffe-cut-out

 

Sitting on the front counter, this Scripto service station is being used and is not for sale.

Sitting on the front counter, this Scripto service station is being used and is not for sale.

 

Even the OPEN sign on the front door is creatively appealing.

Even the OPEN sign on the front door is creatively appealing.

 

FYI: Ms. Mac’s Antiques is open from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Focusing on festive Faribault December 11, 2015

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK a lot like Christmas in historic downtown Faribault, despite the lack of snow.

Peanuts characters adorn the former Kay's Floral building on the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

A Peanuts theme plays on the windows of the former Kay’s Floral building at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

Evergreen boughs adorn wrought iron fences. Snowflake lights and holiday banners hang from vintage style street lamps. White lights drape trees, creating a festive mood. And, throughout the downtown, merchants showcase Christmas displays in storefront windows. There’s something magical about a business district transformed for the holidays.

Lights adorn trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault's version of "Cheers." Here you'll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

Lights wrap trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault’s version of “Cheers.” Here you’ll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors, which celebrates 70 years in business in 2016. Harry Vohs started the business in his living room. The second-generation flooring store is owned by his son, Karl, and Karl’s wife, Ann.

Even the clothing on the mannequins in The Crafty Maven display is vintage.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage theme division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were open in Faribault when sisters and Maven owners, Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork, were growing up here. Many of those businesses are no longer open. The Crafty Maven also will close in January.

Wednesday evening, in balmy weather that is more September-like than December, I grabbed my camera in an attempt to capture some of the magic that is Faribault. Mine is a city of some 23,000 that takes pride in its downtown, a place of aged, well-kept buildings. There’s a sense of history here, a sense of community connection. Small town appeal.

Santa at Vohs Floors.

Santa inside Vohs Floors.

From sleigh rides to visits with Santa to a holiday window decorating contest and more, there’s much to see and do. Faribault Main Street and downtown merchants are working hard to welcome locals and visitors alike with “Hometown Holidays” events.

The Paradise Center for the Arts presents "Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Paradise Community Theatre presents “Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” this weekend at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This Saturday, for example, you can participate in the following activities:

Keepers Antiques

Keepers Antiques shows some holiday glitz in its window display.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Festively dressed dolls snug at sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

Festively dressed dolls snug a sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

If you’ve never been to Faribault, come, spend an afternoon and/or evening here in a city that’s all decked out for the holidays. Meander through our one-of-a-kind shops. Enjoy the hospitality of friendly merchants. Celebrate the magic of the season in southeastern Minnesota.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest.

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour’s Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest. Thousands of cotton balls were used to create the snow in the scene.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts themed division of the window decorating competition.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts theme division of the window decorating competition.

Here's the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Here’s the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The PCA won for best vintage theme.

Nearby is this holiday display at Paul Swenson Portraits.

Nearby is this holiday window at Paul Swenson Portraits.

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors,

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage themed division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were in Faribault when Maven sisters and owners Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork were growing up here.

An overview of the vintage themed window display at The Crafty Maven.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III: Feelin’ groovy in St. Charles November 20, 2015

Vintage Treasures and Decor along Whitewater Avenue in downtown St. Charles, Minnesota.

Vintage Treasures and Decor along Whitewater Avenue in downtown St. Charles, Minnesota.

VINTAGE TREASURES AND HOME DECOR read the vivid yellow sign propped against a building in downtown St. Charles. That was enough to draw my husband and me into this newly-opened shop, relocated here from Byron.

Posted, but not for sale.

Posted, but not for sale.

But before I show you some of the merchandise, let’s discuss that word vintage. What defines vintage? I turned to online dictionaries to find synonyms like outdated, old-fashioned and retro. I choose retro. That seems most applicable to the merchandise from my era that captivated me at Vintage Treasures. Groovy.

This merchandise display screams 60s and 70s.

This merchandise display screams 60s and 70s.

You can say all you want about the 60s and 70s, about hippies and Woodstock and peace marches and tie-dyed and psychedelic fashion. But it really was a memorable period in our nation’s history, a time when young people began to question the establishment and the choices made. Not that previous generations didn’t speak up. But the volume seemed louder, the voices more distinct, the opinions shouted in music and fashion and protests.

These berets (or tams) were popular

I remember crocheted berets (or tams) similar to this from the 60s and 70s.

Personally, I was a shy teen coming of age in a rural area, far removed geographically from the unrest of the 60s and 70s. But I still cared. I kept up on current events, listened to rock-and-roll on KDWB, wore too-short skirts and flashed the peace sign.

One of two retro trays I purchased.

One of two retro trays I purchased.

So when I discovered a section of retro merchandise inside Vintage Treasures, I flashbacked some 40 years. This was of my generation. I didn’t need the retro tin Peace and Love trays I purchased for $2 each. But I bought them anyway and would have liked a third, except shop owner Laurie Rucker had already sold the others.

Elvis was a little before my time.

Elvis was a little before my time.

I’m thinking it would be fun sometime to host a 60s and 70s party. Wear tie-dye. Burn incense. Dip cubed bread into a cheese-filled fondue pot. Or maybe fruit into chocolate. Play some Beatles or Chicago. Serve beverages on those trays. Rock it out.

Thoughts? On the definition of vintage? The 60s and 70s?

BONUS PHOTOS: Yes, Vintage Treasures and Home Decor includes more than hippie era merchandise and here’s a sampling.

I remember one of my siblings having a papoose doll. Although not politically-correct today, these dolls are part of our past.

I remember one of my siblings having a papoose doll. Although not politically-correct today, these dolls are part of our past.

I always appreciate handcrafted, like these embroidered pieces.

I always appreciate handcrafted, like these embroidered pieces.

The toy section.

The toy section.

Humpty Dumpty, one of the toys in the toy area.

Humpty Dumpty, one of the toys in the toy area.

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose collectibles.

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose collectibles.

FYI: Click here and here to read two previous posts I published in this three-part series from an early September stop in St. Charles.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling