Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An afternoon at the Sogn Valley Craft Fair October 4, 2014

NEARLY THREE DOZEN ARTISTS ring the farmyard, a grove of trees sheltering their tents on an autumn day that bites with a brisk wind.

Artists shelter in tents.

Artists shelter in tents.

Leaves litter the grass. Clouds break away into sunshine. Caps clamp heads. Hands shove deep into warm pockets.

Hand blown glass by Steve Claypatch of Ascension Art, Minneapolis.

Hand blown glass by Steve Claypatch of Ascension Art, Minneapolis.

And folks meander, pausing to admire the art that has drawn a crowd into the Sogn Valley southwest of Cannon Falls for the annual Sogn Valley Craft Fair.

Julie Crabtree creates fabulous mixed media modern embroidery fiber art.

Julie Crabtree creates fabulous mixed media modern embroidery fiber art.

The work of Renee Nation, fiber artist and felt maker.

The work of Renee Nation, fiber artist and felt maker.

Colleen Riley of Eureka Pots was selling this garden art among other soda fired ceramics.

Colleen Riley of Eureka Pots sells this garden art among other soda fired ceramics.

Here jurored artists vend their creations—photos, pottery, fiber art, jewelry, woodcarvings, prints and much more.

Homestead apiaries sells honey, beeswax candles and more.

Homestead apiaries vends honey, beeswax candles and more.

Here beekeepers sell honey and beeswax candles.

A welcoming vendor sold baked goods, preserves and more at Ruthie's Kitchen while the baker returned home, just down the road, to bake buns for Sunday's fair.

A welcoming vendor sold baked goods, preserves and more at Ruthie’s Kitchen while the baker returned home, just down the road, to bake buns for Sunday’s fair.

A blueberry tart from Ruthie's Kitchen.

A blueberry tart from Ruthie’s Kitchen.

Tenders of the earth peddle pumpkins and apples. Baked and preserved goods draw those hungry for a taste of Grandma’s kitchen.

Local band, Muchos Machos, entertains.

Local band, Muchos Machos, entertains.

Musicians strum and croon.

Dogs are welcome.

Dogs are welcome.

Dogs, accompanying their owners, are a reminder of farm dogs that once roamed this rural place in the shadows of looming silos.

An overview of the craft fair.

An overview of the craft fair.

There is something comforting and peaceful about being here among artists in a land where hardworking Norwegian immigrants once settled. In this place, this Sogn Valley.

Parked in the parking area along the farm drive.

Parked along the farm drive.

FYI: The Sogn Valley Craft Fair continues from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday, October 5. Parking and admission are free. Click here for more information.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Kerry Brooks Pottery from Dock 6 Pottery, Minneapolis.

Kerry Brooks Pottery from Dock 6 Pottery, Minneapolis.

The art of Renee Nation, fiber artist/felt maker.

The art of Renee Nation, fiber artist/felt maker.

This Sogn Valley farm site presents a beautiful rural setting for the craft fair.

This Sogn Valley farm site presents a beautiful rural setting for the craft fair.

Mariella TerBeest-Schladweiler of Preston has been crafting handbags at Helen's Daughters Handbags since 1989.

Mariella TerBeest-Schladweiler of Preston has been crafting handbags at Helen’s Daughters Handbags since 1989.

Richard Stephens of Super Session Press shows a block and print he crated.

Richard Stephens of Super Session Press shows a block and print he crated.

Vibrant zinnias at the Homestead apiaries stand.

Vibrant zinnias at the Homestead apiaries stand.

A carving by Bob Oates of Sogn Valley Woodcarving.

A carving by Bob Oates of Sogn Valley Woodcarving.

The pottery shed of Dawn Makarios who hosts the Sogn Valley Craft Fair.

The pottery shed of Dawn Makarios (left) who hosts the Sogn Valley Craft Fair.

A door inside the pottery shed.

A door inside the pottery shed.

An example of the pottery Dawn Makarios creates.

An example of the pottery Dawn Makarios creates.

Bring your appetite. There are food vendors on-site.

Bring your appetite. There are food vendors on-site.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Troll tales November 23, 2012

Norway native Steinar Karlsen carved this troll at the 25th annual 2002 Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival in Moorhead.

EVER SINCE I WAS a little girl, trolls have held a special fascination for me.

That curiosity and, yes, even a tinge of fear, relate to the storybook, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In that Norwegian folk tale, three different-sized goats attempt to cross a bridge under which lurks a hungry troll. The smallest goat tricks the troll into waiting for the middle-sized goat which tricks the troll into waiting for the biggest goat which then bucks the troll into the river.

Can you understand how this might both frighten and empower?

This bridge, near Hammond in southeastern Minnesota, is similar in style to the Minnesota River “troll bridge” of my youth. The “troll bridge” along Minnesota Highway 19 near Morton was replaced by a more modern bridge. But the old one, last I traveled that section of roadway, still stands nearby. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, 2010.)

I always thought of this goat-trolling troll whenever my father steered the family car across the Minnesota River bridge near Morton on our annual trip to “the Cities” to visit relatives. My anxiety level rose ever so slightly as the car curved down Minnesota Highway 19 toward the bridge.

In the back seat, my four siblings and I (the youngest sat up front) and grandpa, packed shoulder to shoulder, curled our fingers into clenched fists, prepared to take on that troll—by pounding with determined ferocity on the interior roof of the car.

My other childhood troll encounter occurred when I turned nine and celebrated my one and only birthday party ever with classmates. One friend gifted me with a wild, pink-haired troll which stood a mere inch or so tall. She, the troll, not the friend, was also a piece of jewelry with a pin attached.

I treasured that troll, still do, because trolls were popular then and I had none. Suddenly, I was just like my classmates; I owned a troll, albeit a teeny one.

A side shot of the two trolls carved by Steinar Karlsen and displayed at the Hjemkomst Center. Since 1990, this artist has created 400-plus life-sized human sculptures and hundreds of animals, birds and sea life.

Imagine how thrilled I was decades later when my girls were preschool and early elementary ages and trolls were back in vogue. I bought them doll-sized trolls to cuddle and families of mini trolls. The bright-haired ogres lined the window in their toy room, their mops of hair bleaching in the morning sun.

Trolls evoke such a mix of memories for me. How about you?

BONUS PHOTOS, just because I have no other category into which to slot these two Hjemkomst Center images, but wanted to share them:

A beautiful and historic mosaic graces a wall in the entry to the Hjemkomst Center.

Next to that troll bench carved by Steinar Karlsen are these flags hung from the balcony railing overlooking an atrium. I couldn’t find any info as to the reason these specific flags are there.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At the Hjemkomst Center: A cultural melting pot of gifts November 19, 2012

The interior of the Hjemkomst, a replica Viking ship.

IMAGINE PACKING YOUR ENTIRE LIFE into a steamer trunk and sailing across a vast ocean into the unknown and a future that holds both fear and promise.

I cannot fathom this as I am neither an adventurer nor lover of water transportation. Nor would I desire to leave the familiarity of the only home I’d ever known, or loved ones behind.

To be an early immigrant to this country had to be difficult.

My ancestry is 100 percent German.

My own forefathers, both maternal and paternal, arrived here from Germany, making their way west to eventually settle in Minnesota.

A Swedish ( I think) gift shop doll.

Minnesota. Home to Swedes and Germans, Norwegians and Finns and Irish and Poles and Italians and…a whole melting pot of people in those early days of settlement. Today we might add Sudanese, Somali and Hispanic to the mix.

A gift shop doll labeled Solveig. Norwegian, I think.

So where am I going with this pondering?

In the center of the Hjemkomst Center, the mast area of the Hjemkomst ship dominates the roofline.

A visit to the Hjemkomst Center on the western border of Minnesota in the city of Moorhead, snugged against the Red River of the North, prompted all this thought about immigration. The center is, among other things, home to the Hjemkomst, a replica Viking ship constructed in northwestern Minnesota and then sailed from Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota, across the Atlantic Ocean to Norway in 1982. (Click here to read my post about the Hjemkomst.)

A Scandinavian painting on a plate in the gift shop.

It was the Hjemkomst Center Heritage Gift Shop which truly directed my thoughts toward immigration and celebrating the cultural diversity of our country. Here, in this store, you can purchase merchandise which connects to ethnicity.

A Viking helmet on display.

And because I have never traveled across the ocean, not any farther west than the eastern border of Wyoming, but as far east as New York with the Statue of Liberty within my view, shops like this allow me to experience snippets of other countries and cultures.

Hands down, I found this to be the most stunning piece of handcrafted art for sale in the Heritage Center Gift Shop. Bosnian immigrant Dzenan Becic carved this incredible cedar chest and other pieces sold in the gift shop. I tried to find more info online about this artist, but could not. His father, Izudin, is also a carver. These artists live either in Fargo or Moorhead.

I know. This museum gift shop does not hold the same meaning to those of you who are seasoned world travelers. But for me, a child of the land-locked prairie, such places hold a certain allure. I suppose it’s like reading a book. I can travel afar without actually ever boarding the ship.

More Becic carving in a wall shelf.

Just a cute little Viking I spotted for sale in the gift shop. May I call a Viking “cute?”

BONUS BUY:

Even though, geographically, you’re in Moorhead, Minnesota, and not Fargo, North Dakota, when you’re at the Hjemkomst Center, you may still be interested in purchasing this Fargo native t-shirt.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Carv-Fest brings together novices to pros in Faribault August 13, 2012

I WONDER WHAT THE ODDS ARE, that a community of some 22,000 would be home to two internationally-known, award-winning woodcarvers.

That would be Faribault. And they would be Marvin Kaisersatt and Ivan Whillock.

Woodcarvers, from novice to pros, participated in Carv-Fest 2012. Here are students and instructors in a Saturday morning session.

The carvings of these two gifted Minnesota artists, and gifted doesn’t even seem to begin to fit their talent, were among art displayed at the August 9 – 11 Carv-Fest 2012 which drew woodcarvers, from beginners to seasoned carvers, to Faribault.

The intricate chip carving of Marty Leenhouts of Garden City, Minnesota.

It may be summer, but Santa showed up in a woodcarving and classes at the festival.

Imagine if this had been a hand instead of a glove…

I roamed the fest on Saturday, seriously impressed by the intent concentration of the attending woodcarvers, the intricacies of the carvings, the variety of art created and the fearlessness in putting sharp tools to wood. No wonder they wear gloves.

Marv Kaisersatt sketched out the character he was teaching his students to carve on Saturday.

I didn’t know any of the carvers, except Marv, whom I interviewed in 2009 for a short magazine article which certainly should have been much longer had space allowed. He impressed me then for the simple life he lives in an upstairs apartment in downtown Faribault, carving caricatures. I can’t even describe talent of his level. But I can describe a man who is humble and funny, engaging and content with the creative process of sketching, shaping clay models and carving.

This retired math teacher also impressed me in that interview with the fact that he doesn’t sell his woodcarvings, choosing instead to occasionally donate his caricatures, carved from blocks of basswood, to nonprofit fundraisers.

Marv Kaisersatt assists a student in his class.

On Saturday, Marv circulated among his students, advising them on carving a Minnesotan (I presume) dressed for winter in stocking cap and chopper mittens, oversized boots weighing down his feet.

Marv gave me a polite nod and then it was all business teaching the students lucky enough to learn under his guidance.

A snippet of Ivan Whillock’s incredible, detailed and realistic carving.

Whillock, whose woodcarvings are the polar opposite of Marv’s work, wasn’t teaching. But given his woodcarving family organizes Carv-Fest, I expect he had more than enough to keep him busy. He carves religious and secular sculptures and reliefs, works of art that grace places like churches (including mine, Trinity Lutheran) and libraries (including Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault).

Whillock and his family are the key organizers of Carv-Fest which draws woodcarvers from all over.

A stunning, three-dimensional carving by Ivan Whillock.

Both men teach at Ivan Whillock Studio. They’ve written books and created patterns and developed an appreciative following of admirers across the world.

And if you saw their work, you would understand why they are so beloved among woodcarvers and those of us who wouldn’t dare pick up a knife for fear of slicing away a fingertip.

A carver brought his handcarved toolbox to a class on Saturday morning.

Just another example of the woodcarvings on display during the festival.

These students were hammering and chiseling away during a class, making quite a racket in the ice arena/fest site.

The step-by-step process to woodburn a wolf as taught by Nancy Dardis of  Dardis Designs, Bloomington.

A pheasant in wood, foreground, and students in class, background.

Learning the art of chip carving.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling