Northfield got back in the saddle last weekend for another year of the Defeat of Jesse James Days town festival. 

The event was well attended Saturday, with bank raid re-enactments and the riverfront arts festival drawing particular interest. 

Although attendees in the handicapped section of seating for the re-enactments wore face coverings, masks were few and far between elsewhere at the packed festival. A surge of COVID-19 cases spurred by the Delta variant may have deterred people from going to the Minnesota State Fair, but not DJJD. Hundreds lined the sidewalks of Division Street to watch re-enactors create a vision from September 1876, the James-Younger Gang’s foiled bank raid in Northfield.

The two “dead” outlaws had the most dangerous role, as the fleeing horses thundered past their heads where they lay in the street. Real blackpowder smoke filled the air and realistically loud reports from townspeoples’ rifles and the gang’s six-shooters likely made many wish they had taken event staff up on the free earplugs they had offered earlier. 

Although this year’s festival brought risks, it also brought benefits. Each year about 50 different artists travel to Northfield’s downtown parks by the Cannon River for the Riverfront Fine Arts Festival, operated by the Northfield Arts Guild.  Madi Hughes, visual arts manager for the guild, said the influx of tourists from out of town helps raise the profiles of art creators from the Northfield area. 

“Our local artists, it’s really good for them to get wider recognition,” she said. 

The opportunity was meaningful given the fact the guild was coming off a dry year with no festivals, Hughes said. 

“Different artists handled it in different ways, and we’re glad to have some stuff back up and running now,” she said. 

Both local artists and more far-flung participants gather to display and sell their creations. 

Geralyn Thelen has been coming to the festival for the past 13 years, this year with a display full of resplendent glass-ceramics. Thelen makes them via three (soon to be four) kilns at her home near Northfield, the same kilns that birthed “Spreading the Love,” a heart-themed sculpture installed last year near the intersection of Division and 6th streets. 

Asked what makes her work so popular, Thelen ascribed it to the bright colors common throughout her pieces. 

“My work is very colorful, and during the pandemic, people need color,” she said. “They need to be excited.”

Thelan has been making glass art professionally for ten years, and was attracted to it initially because of the challenge, she said. 

“Just to program a kiln is a 32-step process,” she said. “Just like when you’re baking a cake, sometimes things go right, and sometimes, things go wrong.”

Thelan teaches aspiring glassmakers out of FiftyNorth as well as her home. But before the next generation of glassmakers can assume the mantle, the current generation must survive to teach them. It was only the efforts of the Northfield community as a whole and the Arts Guild specifically that kept Thelan in business during the early part of the pandemic, she said. When she couldn’t do any art shows, the Guild stepped in and sold her art for her. 

Reach reporter Zach Kayser at 507-645-1115. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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