It is the first weekend in October, a blizzard, only five months from the last blizzard, came over the high plains….I-90 …closed, winds ….howling…one could sit at home, pout, maybe hole up….? Or… it is time to go on the 10th annual Minnesota Valley Art Meander. What does this pottery have to do with anything?
Is this about art? ….about culture? What else could one learn from going on a ‘boring ‘ art meander. No….when Olaf goes on tour….he finds the strange, the unusual, and sometimes, he sees corners of the world other don’t know about.
This is my third trip on this meander which has stops of over forty art studios from Ortonville to Granite Falls Minnesota and every place in between. There is a lot of art and culture in the part of rural Midwest and sometimes one would be surprised at the depth of culture and what is being created out here. There is a group in Dawson-Boyd which promotes ballet and dancing events, there is a an art institute in Milan Minnesota, the small Norwegian immigrant village which prides itself in being green and sustainable, and of course all the weaving, painting, welding, throwing, carving, and other creative activities we found.
We started at a coffee shop in Ortonville, got our bearings, and progressed to our first studio and then meandered to a restored barn filled with crafts. We’d been here before and then after gas we headed off to Milan and the Norwegian arts. It was then that I looked at the map and made a detour from our usual route, and it was then that things took a turn for the surreal. It was like some sort of low budget movie. One place six miles east of Milan caught my attention, it featured a painter and live music.
We ended up on a small farm…that well, looked a little odd. It reminded me of a hippie commune but that was not what really stood out. We went into the studio, a violin played and I looked at the paintings. Although she had the most talent of any of the painters on the whole tour, something just looked different about everything. The five of us got into the car and we discussed things as we drove to the next stop. Having written many novels using pagan symbolism I recognized some of what I saw, was this just a group of Lesbians or was it something more? Then my wife’s friend Lisa concluded that we had to have been at what looks like a Wiccan commune. We laughed a bit…Witches in Minnesota? and we drove on. Whatever works for them, I thought, even though I wasn’t sure. Their religion is not my business but the artist’s unhappiness in her life was evident on her canvas, one painting, a naked self-portrait of a woman in the snow next to an animal skull clearly showed how she felt.
I’m pretty open minded now about about religious things, that wasn’t always the case. Although I’m also a realist and after writing about many pagan topics, I am familiar with much, but I don’t know everything, that is for sure. It is not what you learn at Conservative churches but the history of Christianity in northern European culture is not what you think it is, things are more blended and mixed. I write about the “Volva” in Swedish mythology which were traveling witches or women who practiced herbal medicine and went from village to village. Our Scandinavian tradition is mixed with paganism even in what we do today…decorating trees, yule logs, Midsummer, etc. This is another topic…and I digress.
Well we went off to the next stop, this was a farm east of Watson, Minnesota. It was a nice location, mature trees, warblers flying about, and they had a nice gift shop and also a summer kitchen that offered refreshments. A conspicuous hand-made broom sat by the front doors of both buildings. Signs advertising, ‘polyculture’ agriculture–using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture. It includes multi-cropping, intercropping, companion planting, beneficial weeds, and alley cropping. New age to a degree but not anything religious. We were offered ‘seagrass’ tea, which was nice and honey, all products from ‘mother earth’ I guess and then I started piecing it all together. This was definitely another pagan household, I looked around and saw cats and rat terriers, were these their ‘familiars’ or was that not something practiced in this group?
Not every Pagan or Wiccan group practices the same things, but generally a worship of the earth, its cycles, and the world around us. Tools Wiccans typically need to practice are a pentacle, a broom stick, a straight and curved knife, a chalice, herbs, a wand, candles, and a cauldron. Mysteriously this place had hand crafted knives for sale. We bought some tea for home, I bought some cool cheese, I am always a sucker for good cheese, and hand crafted pagan cheese seemed better somehow. We drove on after nobody had any courage to greet one of the many hanging around, “blessed be…” the Wiccan greeting.
Next spot was a pottery studio some seven miles away, and a fine one at that. A broom guarded the door as we opened the door made to look like a hundred year old Norwegian construction. I smiled at my wife. She noticed the broom too. I looked around and the nice pottery had various themes, some subtly pagan, other obviously pagan, and then I looked at an entire shelf of chalices. How many people want communion chalices? I thought before thinking of the Wiccan connection for fertility ceremonies, was this the supplier for Wiccan chalices. I decided to buy a set, I am not sure if the girl checking us out assumed we were practitioners or what. It just seemed I needed to buy them.
We stopped at a winery, which had some art for sale, figuring not all of these Meander sites were part of the same New Age group. We walked in the studio and the first thing hanging was a traditional broom, again, no way this was coincidence. Silja openly laughed as I looked at the wall sculpture. I saw reverence to the moon goddess, as well as to the horned god, or the sun god and other symbolism. We were at yet another pagan farm and artisan family in western Minnesota. We looked at the grapes and then drove home.
In the end, we bought a little art, and saw much…much more. I had a new chalice for what purpose, I wasn’t sure yet. We learned that there are interesting people out in the wilds of conservative rural America. Whether they would call themselves, Pagan, Wiccan, or just New Age, I didn’t know. We had a learning experience doing the Meander and in the end we wondered if all the places we stopped at had New Age ties? I guess we had something to look for next year, since we had cracked the code of the secrets of these people.
Pagans in western Minnesota, who’d have thought…
Blessed be….my friends
The memorial to the founding of Uruguay located in Montevideo Minnesota
The art school in Milan MN, located in old schoolhouse, note Norwegian design
The Pagan Vineyard