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Drawn to the River: A unique experience for Hastings residents

By Bruce Karnick

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Last Tuesday night, local residents were presented with an opportunity to experience a live presentation filled with history and art. Glenda Schnirring came up with the idea for “Drawn to the River,” and the Hastings and Prescott Area Arts Council (HPAAC), along with local donors helped bring the idea to life. Artist Paul Oman came back to Hastings to paint area landmarks and tell the story of the history of Hastings and the minorities that helped shape the community.

Al Todnem was the event emcee, “Two objectives that became the reasons for tonight's program are first, lifting up visual art in public places as something that not only beautifies, but inspires a community to a higher plane

See DRAWN, Page 5

Drawn to the River was created to teach residents about the diversity of the history of Hastings through art. Left to right, Al Todnem, Estrella Carter, Steven Read, Heidi Langenfeld, Glenda Schnirring, Paul Oman and James Curry pose with Oman’s creation at the event. Photo by Bruce Karnick of representing itself. The second objective is intended to remind ourselves that historically, our community of Hastings, enjoyed a multicultural existence, just as it does today. Some years back, Paul taught science with me as a student teacher here at Hastings High School. Since that time, Paul's career took a turn to the artistic expression of painting.”

Oman gave a brief introduction of himself and what he was about to paint without giving away too much about the painting that was about to materialize before people’s eyes.

The presentation was filled with theme appropriate music handpicked for each guest speaker based on what they were talking about. The guest speakers were, Estrella Carter a local artist. James Curry, a descendant from community members who were part of Brown’s Chapel here in Hastings, the first African American Chapel in Hastings. Heidi Langenfeld, a local historian and volunteer at the Pioneer Room, and Steven Read, board member of HPAAC.

Carter was the first guest speaker, and her topic was that of art and how it lifts up the community. “One of the most powerful things I've discovered as a resident art space is that what it means to be an artist is as beautifully diverse as the people themselves in this community. I fostered new friendships, and we have been able to empower each other through collaborations and networking, striving to embody the idea that when one rises, we all rise. When my neighbor moved to a nursing home, I was able to throw a birthday party for her twin daughters enlisting the support of another neighbor named Tony Gavin, who created a TikTok selfie backdrop that was the highlight for the 14yearold girls. When my husband struggled with his arthritis, I called on my neighbor Simone Rendon, an indigenous artisan who produces cottage foods and medicinals and she provided her bear grease, which has become a staple in our lives.”

Langenfeld spoke next, her topic, the Dakota Sioux and their history before 1851. The villages of the area, the skills used to survive off the land that provided them everything they needed. Langenfeld presented information on the family of Marie Luisa Angelique Skya and her tribe that lived along the Mississippi River in and near Hastings.

After Langenfeld spoke, Todnem introduced Curry. Curry spoke of his family’s history in Hastings and that of Browns Chapel.

“I'll freestyle a little bit here. But there were basically two big families, black families in the 1890s. I would say. The Wallace family and the Curry family. The Wallace family had a son named James. And the Curry’s had about 10 children, five boys and five girls. Some, one of them were Valedictorians of Hastings High School, five of them graduated with honors and were active members of the community. The Curry’s themselves came from Virginia and the Wallace’s came from Kentucky. Two of their houses are still standing on Fourth and River if you want to check them out. Both built by Wallace men and James Curry. They worshipped at the Methodist church until about 1890 when they decided to build a church of their own. They solicited subscriptions from the community from Prescott, Point Douglas, and the city responded. There was a German Baptist Church that had been abandoned on the corner of Fifth and Sibley and I think it was $500 they needed. A $200 down payment was required before they could enter. So, the town responded. They got enough money to have a church of their own in 1892. I want to say in July, they had a grand opening. Folks from Minneapolis and the Twin Cities came down. Part of the choir, other pastors did their thing, and read from the Scripture. Evidently it was a grand day. A redletter day they called it in the Hastings Gazette, and the church prospered. It was a place for weddings, funerals, gatherings, lawn picnics, and socials. Not a whole lot of records in the paper about the events but a few here and there about weddings and funerals,” explained Curry.

“15 years later, right after, probably their 15th anniversary the last week in October, around Halloween, it was noted that a sash was lifted in the back window. Arsonists had entered it and poured kerosene on the pews, the floor, the ceiling and the walls and lit it on fire. And the Gazette and the Hastings Democrat responded, they said that the fire was put out, but the building was damaged beyond repair, and they had no insurance. So, I imagine that last week in October, some heartbreak in the black community that was here,” added Curry.

“There was an emptiness, I'm sure to say the least,” he continued. “There was some silence from the community that was once welcoming, and the silence continued. There was no further investigation. Both papers concluded with the fire with the help of the fire department that it was the work of incendiaries. So, I imagine the next few weeks was about slinking back to churches that maybe weren't so welcoming, and I say slinking back because ultimately one of the pastors of the Methodist Church became a Klan Chaplain, if you could imagine that. So, there was some heartbreak, I'm sure. And silence from the community that they probably thought might help, fundraise and maybe even start another one. It's an unfortunate sign of those times. The Klan was rising.”

Curry’s great grandfather worked in the school district as a janitor, and he was wellloved by students and staff. In 1933, when he passed, the town shut down, closed their businesses and he laid in state in the high school.

The final guest speaker was Steven Read. Read spoke on HPAAC. “HPAAC was founded in 2008 as a grassroots campaign started by our own citizens who love and recognized the power of the arts in our community. The goal of HPAAC is to organize and promote the arts and to work collaboratively with all the different community organizations, whether they be private, public or governmental. Our belief that the arts are essential to strive to build the arts in Prescott, Hastings and the surrounding area. We are fortunate that we have access to a diverse and rich arts community, and each pack is here to help and maintain and nurture that.”

Todnem closed the evening thanking the speakers, Oman and the crowd for being there and then he handed things over to Oman. Oman spoke a few moments on how he studied the history of Hastings to make sure he included the key elements from our town’s history. He did not want to over explain the painting because art is meant to be somewhat personal and subjective.

The crowd in attendance was extremely attentive and absorbed a ton of information on the local history of Hastings and when presented with Oman’s painting, they were in awe of his talent. The painting is currently hanging in Hastings Family Service downtown for all to see.

A full replay of the event will be available on HCTV’s YouTube channel and we will make sure to update the online version of this story to include a link to that video.

July 27, 2022