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Puzzle Book

Puzzle Book

GALLERY: Bringing everyone to a happier place, one sidewalk chalk drawing a day

By creating various chalk drawings on sidewalks outside her apartment building, local resident Abby Brown has used this art form as an outlet for both herself, and a happy surprise for those lucky enough to come upon one her masterpieces.

Abby Brown adds the word ‘peace’ to one of her drawings of a peace sign with a tie-dye background. (Michelle Vlasak/The Kenyon Leader)

Over the last several weeks, Brown has hit the sidewalks with her containers of sidewalk chalk, soft pastels, charcoal, sponges, chalkboard erasers and gardening gloves to create various characters, animals, landscapes and designs, in hopes of brightening another’s day.

As someone who’s always been around art, one can imagine that it was meant to be that Brown would express herself through art. Brown explains that her mom, who’s always created art and went to college for it, began creating chalk art as an outlet to destress from challenges related to COVID-19 and working in a nursing home.

“She wanted to make people smile,” added Brown.

Brown drew this image of a bear on Thursday afternoon outside her apartment. (Michelle Vlasak/The Kenyon Leader)

After giving birth to her daughter two months ago, Brown found herself stuck at home with nowhere to take the newborn. Soon after, Brown’s mom suggested she try chalk art. Now, two weeks in, Brown finds herself drawing for the same reason her mom does — to brighten someone’s day and help them feel as if they aren’t alone.

Abby Brown creates a piece of artwork on the sidewalk near her apartment building. She blends the remains of a previous piece into the sidewalk to create a beautiful background for her next creation. (Michelle Vlasak/The Kenyon Leader)

The content of Brown’s work ranges from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” drawn by City Hall to Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street, messages of encouragement, flowers and a mermaid to a loon and a monkey.

One of her favorite creations so far is a hummingbird next to two, delicate pink flowers. Some of those ideas stem from coloring book pages, suggestions from others or from Brown’s imagination. She finds that drawing from her imagination is what she prefers most, as opposed to drawing a picture of something already created, since it poses the challenge of making it perfectly resemble the original version.

“I really enjoy doing abstract art and painting, my mom draws and does portraits, but I draw whatever I want,” said Brown. “I really enjoy painting, but I’ve been doing [drawing with chalk] on the sidewalk so people can enjoy it during this weird time.”

Soft pastels are used to add vibrancy to Brown’s creations. (Michelle Vlasak/The Kenyon Leader)

Although the amount of time the creations last outside are heavily dependent on the weather, Brown doesn’t see that as a disadvantage, because each time it rains she is granted the gift of a new canvas to draw on.

Added Brown with a laugh, “Somedays I really want to draw but I realize can’t because I’ve already drawn on all of the sidewalks in front of my apartment.”

While the main medium she uses is regular sidewalk chalk, Brown says she also uses soft pastels to add vibrant color to the work, as well as skinny chalkboard chalk to outline, and charcoal when the color black is needed. Some blending tools Brown has found useful are a kitchen sponge, gardening glove (with a smooth edge) and a chalkboard eraser. While using chalk as medium, Brown has found it easier to blend in mistakes and use a sponge to blend it into the sidewalk, adding another element to the piece.

Abby Brown poses next to one of her favorite creations, a mermaid with long, blue hair and a purple-pink tail. (Michelle Vlasak/The Kenyon Leader)

Brown explains the canvas is also a vital part of the process, some types of the concrete pose challenges. So far she’s found that newer sidewalk doesn’t work as well. They’re quite rough, she says.

“A cracked sidewalk is fun to draw leaves coming out of it or things like that,” said Brown. “You have to pay attention to what the canvas is doing when you’re drawing, [in terms of cracks or holes in the sidewalk.]”

After creating her first drawing of the “Very Hungry Caterpillar” by City Hall, Brown said a lot of people stopped to comment on what she was doing.

Brown blends various tones of pinks/reds/purples to create this large, vibrant, pretty rose with a green stem. (Michelle Vlasak/The Kenyon Leader)

“A lot of people like it, and thanked [me and my mom] for our art,” said Brown. “They were like, ‘That’s so cool,’ and it was a confidence booster for me, as that was my first chalk art.”

Landscapes are just one of many different types of ideas Brown creates. (Michelle Vlasak/The Kenyon Leader)

Since Brown finds creating chalk art something “anybody” can do, she encourages everyone to pick up some chalk, take their kids outside and play with it, or just sit outside themselves and draw as a way to enjoy the fresh air. By drawing vibrant, colorful creations on the sidewalks around her home, Brown hopes that others who see her work add chalk art creations to their own sidewalks.

“It’s kind of a calming thing to sit outside and draw something,” said Brown. “A lot of people are stuck in their houses, fighting depression because they are sitting in their houses, and it could put a smile on their face, and then then may take it home and do something fun, kind of like paying it forward. It takes us all to a happier place.”

Book group is back together again (from a social distance)

With sunny skies, a cool breeze and low humidity as a backdrop, the Kenyon Public Library Book Group met for its monthly discussion in-person for the first time since February.

The group’s first gathering was scheduled for last month, but the 5 inches of rain the area of Kenyon received changed those plans rather quickly.

On Monday, June 29 the Kenyon Public Library moved to Phase 3.5 of the COVID-19 Re-Opening Plan, one of several guidelines which allow in-person programming to resume in outdoor areas.

In light of the group’s ability to meet each month, member Bev Emerson says it is important to try and get together to discuss the book of the month. She was happy to see the clear skies this round, as if it would have rained, she indicates she’s not sure what the group would have done.

Although she always has several books on hand, Rhana Olson was troubled when the library first closed.

However, once she saw the library was offering curbside pickup, those feelings began to subside, and fully disappeared once she was able to go back into the library and look at books in person.

Although gathering from a distance (of at least 6 feet of space away), the discussion about the timely book “Unnatural Exposure” by Patricia Cornwell flowed as swiftly as the gentle breeze.

Book group member Kathy Buck explained that the book is about a virus, speaking to several points relevant to what everyone is going through now in the pandemic.

Emerson, who chose this month’s book, says Cornwell’s books are mysteries from the standpoint of a medical examiner. Well-known as an American crime writer, Cornwell’s ‘best-selling’ novels feature medical examiner Kay Scarpetta.

“Her books are all very good, you either like mystery or you don’t,” added Emerson.

After assistant librarian Barb Bonde recommended Emerson choose Cornwell’s book due to its timeliness, Emerson said, “I thought well, it’d be a good read to at least back up your faith in the fact that this is really happening, and [a virus] can happen anytime. We’re not in the free country we thought we were in.”

“It’s affecting everyone in the world, we all have to take ownership in our safety, we’re all supposed to be brothers and sisters,” she added.

Buck agreed saying that instead of choosing sides and turning it into something political, everyone should work to eliminate the virus.

Although the book was from 1995, Olson enjoyed being able to compare the lack of technology available back then, especially compared to how advanced the world is now.

Several Minnesotans have received packages of seeds believed to be from China, the Department of Agriculture reports. Anyone receiving seeds should notify the department. (Image courtesy of Minnesota Department of Agriculture)

Local 4-H'ers to show animals, projects in a hybrid model

In a time where county fairs across the state are canceled, following the 4-H motto “to make the best better,” ensured youth are given the opportunity to showcase their projects, making the best out of an uncertain situation.

Goodhue County 4-H Extension Educator Alyson Kloeckner explained this year Goodhue County 4-H is doing a hybrid model for judging project areas, meaning both virtual and in-person judging options for all project areas and all youth are available.

While Goodhue County’s 4-H’ers may have a different project judging experience this year due to the cancellation of the county fair and safety guidelines from the state, the modification to traditional project judging hasn’t phased local 4H-er’s, like sisters Belle and Julia Patterson of the Cherry Grove Busy Gophers 4-H Club, one bit.

Belle, who’s a recent graduate of Kenyon-Wanamingo schools, was glad to learn that she would be able to physically show her pigs in the ring this year, especially since they’ve been sitting in the barn since June.

“I’m happy the fair has found an avenue so that we are still able to have a show,” said Belle. “It’s not the same, but really, nothing has been the same this year, I’m just excited to get my pigs shown.”

Although sad about the cancellation of the Goodhue County Fair, 15 year-old Julia, like her sister, is happy to have the opportunity to do something with her pigs this year.

A unique position

The social learning platform Flipgrid, which allows individuals to facilitate video discussions, was one of four options the county was presented with. Each platform came with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately, Flipgrid was what the county decided to use, due its ability to allow 4-H’ers to take a video of themselves explaining their project. Judges provide feedback to 4-H’ers through a different video. As opposed to an option like hosting a Zoom meeting with the judge, judges aren’t tied to a certain time with Flipgrid since they can view the videos whenever they like.

Kloeckner said everyone who’s been interested in the hybrid model judging this year has registered, as the traditional cut off date of July 8 has passed. 4-H’ers received the login for Flipgrid July 17, and will have until the week before judging to submit the videos. The same judge for each project area will judge both the virtual and in-person projects. As of last week, Kloeckner said there haven’t been any youth interested in showing livestock virtually, so all youth who want to do in-person showing will be able to do so, while following some guidelines. As for indoor projects, a handful of youth decided to go that route to show off their projects.

4-H, well-known as a hands-on learning program for youth, is in a unique position in terms of following guidelines.

The organization is instructed to follow both youth organization guidelines, as well as youth sports guidelines, merging both protocols to figure out what type of group sizes they are allowed to have and what areas will require different regulations. Due to these strict guidelines, 4-H’ers will show each animal species a different day of the week (with the exception of one day with two smaller shows, one in the morning and one in the afternoon), to allow social distancing.

Each 4-H’er can bring two people with them to the show, meaning younger siblings not in 4-H and/or grandparents, aunts/uncles or cousins cannot watch the show as in previous years, due to the strict cap of people the county is allowed to host in the fairgrounds.

At this point, Kloeckner says having to cap audience members to two per person is a good problem to have since it means there is a “very” good interest to participate in livestock shows.

Aspelund Ever-Readies 4-H Club member Owen Scheffler will either show one or two calves or one or two dairy cows (three total animals) this year. In terms of being able to show his cattle in person, Scheffler says he is happy that the show is happening, but it’s not as he would prefer.

Added Scheffler, “It’s kind of not the way I’d want it to go, but it’s better than nothing at all.”

He also preferred in-person judging over virtual, since it brings more of a competitive edge to the ring, and ensures a level playing field.

“In-person judging is a good idea, virtual shows you don’t get to see the animal as clearly as you would in person, but you can do stuff to pictures,” said Scheffler of the challenges with virtual judging. “When you’re walking her, she’ll look a lot different than when standing in one spot.”

This would be the first year Scheffler’s brother, Matthew, 13, would be able to go to the Minnesota State Fair upon earning a trip. Although Matthew agreed he was a little bummed the fair was canceled this year, he looks forward to possibly earning a trip to the state fair with one of the two dairy cows he is bringing to show.

An expression of gratitude

Kloeckner indicates initial project registrations are significantly lower than previous years, and she predicts the numbers to be down overall in terms of the projects that show up to judging, as there’s typically a drop in initial registration and registration of actual projects at the fair.

“I’m not surprised by that even a little bit,” added Kloeckner of the decrease.

For 17-year-old Cherry Grove Busy Gophers 4-H member Michael Pliscott, his typical show year has also looked quite different than other years. Pliscott, who normally shows goats, doesn’t plan on showing any this year, due to the uncertainty of whether or not the fair would be held in the beginning of the year, when he normally buys his animals. Since he invests money into purchasing goats to show at the fair, he would’ve lost quite a bit, and especially since the Blue Ribbon Auction was canceled.

As someone who still has two years left to show goats, it was nice to know that this wasn’t how his last year in 4-H would end. Over the years Pliscott, who’s shown since the summer after fourth grade, has enjoyed learning about the animals and their behaviors, especially as some are more difficult than others to train.

Added Pliscott, “Better than that, I like the relationships with people willing to help out all the time, even if they are rushing to prepare their animal, they are always there to help.”

Amid the challenges with adapting to the ever-changing guidelines, Kloecker said she’s had many families express “extreme” gratefulness for the effort the county is willing to provide for all youth, regardless of the circumstances.

“They recognize this hasn’t been an easy summer for us, but they are grateful we are trying our hardest to get something done for the kids,” said Kloeckner.