Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Jack Frost, southern Minnesota artist-in-residence March 8, 2023

“Branches” (or perhaps “Tendrils”) by Jack Frost. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

DURING ONE OF SOUTHERN MINNESOTA’S recent cold snaps, I pulled out my camera to photograph some particularly intricate art. Not artwork in a public gallery exhibit, but rather art displayed in a private space—my upstairs bedrooms.

I live in a 90+-year-old house, built sometime in the 1930s. Locally, it’s the Swanson house, although Randy and I have owned this 1 ½-story structure since 1984. But it will forever be the home of its former owners.

The canvas for Jack Frost’s art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Although we’ve made many improvements through the decades, including installing a new furnace and central air conditioning that included additional duct work, the upstairs remains notably cold in the winter and hot in the summer. A single heat vent opens to both bedrooms. Updated replacement windows installed some 30 years ago also did little to improve cold weather heat retention on the second floor.

And so Jack Frost finds our second floor vacant bedrooms a welcoming short-term studio in the deep cold of a Minnesota winter. With the three kids long-grown into adulthood and us empty nesters for 11 years now, he can settle in as an artist-in-residence without notice.

When temperatures drop into that frigid category of frostbite warnings, tires crunching on snow and extra blankets layered on the bed, Jack Frost arrives. It’s OK hosting him as a short-term guest, but anything beyond a few days and I’m ready to boot him out.

“Feathers” by Jack Frost. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

He does some creative work on the canvas of cold window panes. Whether he etches or paints or draws or exactly how he crafts his art remains an unknown to unscientific me. But I’m impressed by the primarily nature-themed work he designs.

“Feathered intricacies” by Jack Frost. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

In his last exhibit, Jack Frost incorporated mostly branches, grass stems, water and feathers. They were beautiful in their detailed intricacy, a Frost signature style.

“Prairie Grasses in the Morning Light” by Jack Frost. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

When sunlight shown on the eastern window in the morning, the contrast of light and dark in the artist’s art sharpened. Dazzled, almost.

“Drips” or “Tears,” depending on your mood and perspective. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Yet, even in diminished light, the graininess of some pieces produced more introspective and moody scenes.

Jack Frost has a sense of humor, creating this “I Bet You Wish You Were Here” beach art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Jack Frost’s art installations in my second story home gallery are typically short showings of several days. Just enough time for me to pause and appreciate his work before outdoor temperatures rise, the sun melts his art and he vanishes. Poof. I can’t say I welcome him with open arms because I really don’t like sub-zero temps. But I can appreciate Jack Frost’s art as more than just frost accumulating on energy inefficient windows.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Poster art showcases Faribault’s historic architecture December 9, 2016

TRAVEL WEST ACROSS the Highway 60 viaduct toward downtown Faribault and you likely will notice the steeples and towers poking above the landscape. Just like on the eastern side of my Minnesota community, these punctuating structures mark numerous historic buildings.


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Now Jeff Jarvis, a local historian and artist who works as the City of Faribault’s community enrichment coordinator, has created Steeples & Towers, a photo montage. For a donation to the Concerts in the Park fund, you can purchase this 12 x 18-inch poster featuring 18 spires on educational, religious and residential structures. Places like the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, the Hutchinson House, Buckham Memorial Library.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve long valued the detailed architecture that defines so many aged buildings in Faribault. Jeff’s targeted and documented Steeples & Towers poster art heightens that appreciation and focuses awareness. “How dreary buildings would be if they were all square boxes,” he notes.

I agree.


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Likewise, Jeff’s artistic eye and historic awareness drew him to photograph 27 windows in historic downtown Faribault. Places like the Alexander Faribault House, the Fleckenstein Building, the post office. He’s created a Historic Downtown Faribault Windows poster, also available for purchase via a donation.

He writes:

The inspiration to do the windows downtown came initially from reading signs placed in the empty downtown buildings—“This building is not empty; it’s full of opportunity.” Reading these struck me as funny. From my point of view as an artist, I see the beauty of the intact architecture and the variety of exterior colors. It seems backward, but to me a full store is almost secondary.

The prize is being able to stroll about in respect and appreciation of the historic district. I see and imagine the stories hidden behind the facades—the limestone backsides, the alleyways with faded vintage lettering, and the add-ons that can be viewed if you look closely.

Of course, there are lots of metaphors or idioms about windows that are fun that could apply to the downtown situation like “God closes a door, then opens a window,” etc. The project itself was like seizing a window of opportunity to teach others to quit quibbling about downtown—to turn their focus instead to one of the lovelier features in town.

Historic buildings in downtown Faribault are decorated for the holiday season.

Restored historic buildings in downtown Faribault decorated during a past holiday season. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Jeff has it right. As a community, we need to seriously appreciate the aesthetic and historical value of the many old buildings that stand in and near the heart of the downtown and elsewhere throughout Faribault. I’m not saying that appreciation hasn’t existed. It has as evidenced in the restoration of many historic buildings, the existence of the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission, the current interest in possible Artspace development and more. But sometimes we get sidetracked, too often complaining about perceived problems or what we don’t have rather than valuing what we do have.

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault's Central Park.

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And one of those assets—Concerts in the Park—is the benefactor of the historic posters sales. Those summer concerts are a 130-year tradition in Faribault. I’ve been attending these outdoor performances for more than 30 years, since relocating here. I’ve grown to love this Minnesota community. The traditions. The people. And, yes, the steeples, towers and windows, too.

FYI: If you are interested in purchasing these historic posters for a donation to the Concerts in the Park, stop at Faribault Park and Rec, 15 West Division Street, or email jjarvis@ci.faribault.mn.us. Donations will help underwrite concert costs.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Art posters copyright of Jeff Jarvis


The Andersen Window Guy earns five stars March 2, 2011

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This is one of two window latches that needed repair.

FOR MORE THAN A WEEK, I’d dreaded the arrival of The Andersen Window Guy.

I had resigned myself to the fact that he would likely gouge/wreck/scrape/ruin the wood on two newly-installed Andersen windows while repairing two broken latches. That would be wood that I had laboriously stained and varnished. I had no desire to stain and varnish more window trim.

So…, when The Andersen Window Guy pulled up with his pick-up truck and trailer Tuesday morning, I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the inevitable.

I should preface this by saying he scored brownie points by arriving several minutes before our 8 a.m. appointment, by removing his shoes upon entering my kitchen and by shaking my hand in a professional greeting. We were off to a good start. I always appreciate respectful workmen who show up when they say they’ll be here.

Then I led him to the windows, hesitated and asked, “Can you fix the windows without wrecking the wood?”

“I’m going to try,” he said.

That gave me hope. But just to emphasize my point, I told him that I had worked long and hard staining and varnishing. Then I walked away.

I feared the wood trim that I stained and then varnished three times would be damaged during the repair.

I, oh, so wanted to see how his work was progressing. But I let him be and settled into my writing projects for the day.

In less time than I could write a blog post, he had finished his work—without damaging or removing a single piece of wood trim.

I told him exactly how happy he had made me. Very, very happy.

He then offered to install the window hardware on all five windows. I accepted since that would be one less task for my husband.

And when I asked for advice on how to remove silicone from my new picture window (inadvertently smudged on by a carpenter), he offered to stop by the next time he’s in town and complete that task too.

Honestly, I could not have asked for a more courteous, helpful, respectful window rep.

He even took the new, but slashed, Andersen window screen leaning against my kitchen counter. My husband discovered the torn screen on Sunday when he was putting the new screens in place.

Unfortunately, I failed to ask The Andersen Window Guy about quality issues with the company’s window treatments. OK, you caught me. As far as I know, Andersen does not manufacture shades, blinds or drapes. But for the past several weeks, while we’ve shopped for window treatments, we’ve placed Andersen window cardboard over our windows. On several occasions, however, we’ve experienced product failure—cardboard thudding onto the living room floor in the middle of the night and cardboard nearly hitting my head as I slept.

A temporary Andersen cardboard treatment on our bedroom window.

I guess I can’t expect The Andersen Window Guy to fix everything. But he did a superb job of fixing what he could fix, and the newly-installed window latch covers now hold our bedroom window treatments in place.

I give him ***** for great customer service.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Stressing over a home improvement project February 2, 2011


I dislike chaos and disorder.

I delay making decisions when I’m not confident about the topic that needs deciding.

So you might rightfully guess that a home improvement project would throw me for a loop. It has. It is.

For some time now, we’ve been dealing with a project that put five new windows and a new door into our aging home. Of course, in an old house like ours, issues arise. New windows didn’t fit quite like the old ones, necessitating lumber and sheetrock patching. That means I’ll need to repaint. More decisions. More work.

There are issues with the new door, which are in the process of being resolved.

I am stressed and I really shouldn’t be. I mean, it’s not like we’re building a house.

But all of the decisions, the upheaval, the time away from writing, are wearing on me.

Every day for nearly two weeks I’ve pulled on my old faded blue jeans, one of my husband’s discarded t-shirts and headed upstairs to a spare bedroom to stain and varnish wood trim. Foot upon foot upon foot of wood. Sand and stain and varnish. Sand between coats and varnish each piece of wood three times.

Here's just a sampling of the wood trim I've stained and varnished during the past two weeks.

After about the third day of breathing stain and varnish fumes, and, honestly, “tasting” the toxins, I began wearing a dusk mask. I also left an upstairs window open. Yes, even on 20-degree days.

Yesterday I finished varnishing the last eight pieces of wood, until the carpenter brings me more wood for the door threshold. Oh, joy, more trim to prepare for installation.

I'm into my second quart of varnish. Every piece of wood gets three coats of polyurethane varnish.

But I keep telling myself I am saving us hundreds of dollars by staining the 75 pieces of wood and varnishing each three times. Hundreds. Of dollars.

That’s good because the money goes fast when you’re house-improving. For a frugal person like me, such spending doesn’t come easily.

I’m struggling, too, with choosing a color for the living room walls, which need to be painted before the carpenters nail the window and door trim in place. This is causing me great angst as evidenced in the endless paint swatches I’ve plucked from displays in three stores. I think now that I’ve narrowed the color down to two choices. I need to decide because once the sheetrock mudding is done, we’re ready to paint.

I've picked up way too many paint cards, further confusing me. I'm leaning toward "Whole Wheat," a warm color from Sherwin Williams with a golden tint. Anybody have that color on their walls?

My living room is a mess with wood piled in front of the TV, our bed headboard in the corner next to a bucket of sheetrock mud. A canvas covers the carpet in front of the new picture window and cardboard leans against the wall. Two white showers curtains serve as temporary window drapes…

I don’t even bother to put away the vacuum cleaners any more.

A corner of my living room. I'm not showing you any other rooms, some of which are also in disarray due to this "project."

P.S. To those of you who drive by our house daily, yes, we are getting new siding on the front. It’s tough living on a fish bowl busy street where “everyone” sees what you’re doing.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling