MONTEVIDEO, Minn. — Artist and writer Edie Barrett could tell us about places stunning and beautiful, thanks to her adventures in places ranging from Costa Rica and Polynesia to Ireland, and 26 years of living in Santa Barbara, California.
She writes instead about western Minnesota, “flat and expansive, painfully authentic, and heartbreakingly beautiful.” That is how she describes this landscape in “The Journey Home,” a short story she penned in 2018 about her move back to her home state.
“A long time ago, it wrapped itself deep into my soul and refused to let go,” the fifth-generation Norwegian Minnesotan writes.
“The Sacred Prairie: Reflections of Nature & Self” is Barrett’s newly published and first printed collection of her poetry. Her collection offers an understanding as well as a visual image of why it is that this landscape is so rooted in her soul, and those of so many others.
The understanding is found in her poems, which celebrate the landscape, its people and her own experiences.
The visual image comes courtesy of two other western Minnesota artists: Malena Handeen of rural Milan and Andy Kahmann of Montevideo. Along with operating the Easy Bean Farm with her husband, Michael Jacobs, Handeen is a regional artist well known for her paintings, drawings and block prints depicting this landscape.
Kahmann operates A to Z Letterpress Printing in downtown Montevideo, where he continues the art of antique letterpress printing. He reproduces many works for artists on a nearly 50-year-old hand press.
“That’s it, right there,” said Barrett when she discovered the image that is now the cover for her collection of poetry. She saw the image amidst many others on the wall of Kahmann’s shop in downtown Montevideo. She had come calling for his help in finding an image for her work, and knew immediately that she had found it.
Barrett learned that the work on the shop wall was created by Handeen in 2002. The two-color work Handeen calls “Peace” was produced on blocks for hand-pressed printing at Kahmann’s shop. It depicts a blue sky full of drama: Migrating geese and streaming clouds announce the season’s change above a western Minnesota landscape.
It looks so familiar that Handeen said people sometimes tell her they know just where she captured this scene. “They think they’ve been there,” she laughed, confiding that the depiction is entirely of her own creation.
Kahmann long appreciated the image, but he also knew the instant that Barrett chose it that he faced a challenge. The blocks that had been created for pressing the image had been lost in a fire that destroyed Handeen’s art studio in 2012.
With help from artist Brad Hall of Granite Falls, Handeen and Kahmann created new blocks from the original. It wasn’t long before Kahmann was cranking the hand press to make copies for Barrett’s new book.
Barrett brought her poetry to a printer in Fergus Falls to produce the inside pages of the book. This was a new challenge for the printer, as it’s not often that a book is bound inside a cover produced by a hand press.
For the artists, this collaboration is an example of the sum being greater than its parts.
“It’s a lot more interesting when we work together,” said Barrett of the work that has resulted. “I couldn’t have gotten here if I hadn’t brought it to Andy. It showcases two other areas, Montevideo and Milan, and two other forms of art,” she said, in reference to Handeen’s visual image and Kahmann’s antique printing.
“I think it’s poetic,” said Barrett of Handeen’s image. “I could not have dreamed of a better image than this one.”
Barrett makes her home in Ortonville. She is completing graduate studies at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs with a focus on how the arts can foster community engagement.