11 September 2012

An Ode to a Small Town - St. Peter, Minnesota

Sights in and around St. Peter.
Click on any image to enlarge it.

St. Peter, population about 10,000, is home to Lutheran-affiliated Gustavus Adolphus College, now celebrating its sesquicentennial. The town, founded in 1853, narrowly missed out on displacing St. Paul as the capital of Minnesota. The story, detailed in the St. Peter wikipedia page, involved a Henry II-like governor who asked who would rid him of this troubling legislation, a hard-drinking legislator happy to oblige, and another entry in the annals of Lost Opportunities.

Arts Center of St. Peter.

Like many college towns, St. Peter has cultural resources out of proportion to its size, including a wonderful neighborhood Arts Center. The town was ripped apart by a  F4 tornado in 1998; the cultural center was levelled. The new Arts Center is a storefront operation on the broad main street, Minnesota Avenue.  The storefront location creates some odd adjacencies - the next door neighbor is a gun shop - but there is something compelling about a walk-in arts facility cheek-by-jowl with insurance agencies, restaurants and other main street businesses. 

Van Gogh's pick-up truck, parked behind the Arts Center.

Minnesota Avenue.

I flew to St. Peter for a week-end class at the Arts  Center given by Patricia Freiert, textile artist, entitled Shibori in Circles.  (Shibori is a traditional Japanese resist-dye technique.)  On the one-hour drive from Minneapolis, Pat's husband Will, who kindly retrieved me from the airport, made an excellent tour guide and St. Peter booster.  He chatted up the local fare, about which I remained skeptical until lunch and dinner made me a convert.

I'm not smart enough to work at my art and talk at the same time, so the workshop lunch break was a welcome opportunity to chat over delicious salads, soups and sandwiches at the River Rock Cafe, and learn more about my five talented classmates, Robin, Cheryl, Linda, Barry and Edi.  Sadly, my appetite just couldn't manage a famed River Rock ice cream sandwich.

Gourmet satisfaction achieved.

Later on my own I explored the St. Peter Food Co-Op, a better version of a Whole Foods store. Native American culture was in evidence in the offerings on the shelves - Sumac jelly, for example, made by Native Harvest. Though it meant checking my bag, purchases were inevitable.

Colors of St. Peter. Bottom left is wall of warm Minnesota stone.

On the last day of my stay my hosts Pat and Will and their red Prius took me to two more St. Peter sights. Stop one was the First Lutheran church, where I particularly admired Pat's contribution to the worship space.  Her shibori banners celebrate the liturgical year and ameliorate what might otherwise be a rather severe brick-faced interior. 

Shibori banners by Patricia Freiert.
First Lutheran altar, with banner by Pat Freiert.
 The colors of the banners tie the clerestory stained glass to the kneeling pads at the altar.  I'm not sure of the imagery behind the altar, but Pat's banner to the right clearly evokes the Minnesota river, as well as regular rows of crops, and monarch butterflies, emblematic of the days of summer which arrive following the Christian holiday of Pentecost, a "moveable feast" celebrated in late May or early June.

Back into the red Prius for a country drive to the Kasota Prairie, a ninety-or-so acre parcel of virgin prairie land in the Minnesota River valley.

Left, soybeans. Right, prairie.

Flying geese and moonrise over the prairie.

After watching the sun set over the prairie, we returned to St. Peter, the Prius dusty from the dirt roads.  I flew back to Boston with a renewed appreciation for the joy of unexpected discoveries, whether prairie or small town. Thank you, Pat and Will.

Sunset at Kasota Prairie reserve.