Life is a Puzzle

Puzzle Mask by Loren Kellen 300A poem by Loren Kellen, from Bruce Blacher

Much has been said about Loren… and all is true and so much more…

This summer I had a birthday and Loren gave me one of his cement faces that are strewn around his yard. This face was broken into many pieces and came to me as a puzzle to put together.

The following is what Loren wrote to accompany the gift:

Life Is A Puzzle by Loren KellenLife is a Puzzle
Sometimes life is hard
w/ rough edges.
Sometimes the pieces
are all in a jumble.
This way, that.
No direction known
Lay them in your
Let them be over
Plant some seeds.
They’ll meet your
I love you

The Knight of Cups

Video by Doug Cain

This is one of my earlier projects. A collaboration with Loren which kept us linked over four seasons. It premiered at his birthday party along Jamaca Rd. near Withrow. (more…)

Last Ride of the Pink Flamingo

Meek Flamingoby Xena Huff

St. Paul Bike Classic 9/13/09

This was a really nostalgic moment for me. This Flamingo was always the meeker less vibrant flamingo of the bunch. Like an old bird she never seemed strong enough to make it through the event let alone to ride again.Loren kind of scoffed at her at meeker qualities.

He pointed out to me that I could barely see what I was passing and and was always taking out the passerby with my wings. I was stubborn and continued to ride her as she was. I brought her out in September as it seemed like she might make it through the St Paul Bike classic for one last ride. At the end of the day I took this photo, I had just left Loren and Lisa cheering for bikers in the classic as they flew down Pelham in the home stretch. I was headed to the Castigar memorial in Theo Wirth park. I talked briefly with Loren about death and memorials. It was a beautiful afternoon ride home. I caught my flamingo on film smelling the flowers out by the garage and thought that I should take her photo before I took her apart.

I felt confident that I would forever be building puppets and losing wrestling matches to the strong young vibrant Loren… forever like a teenage boy rumbling with energy. How did he slip away so fast? I keep thinking it is some magnificent trick and he’s about to pop up from under the bridge having held his breath for a few weeks.

Loren, that Rascal

There is no one like him in this world and probably no one like him in the next. I just wonder who else could come up with names for us like : Jerry Werle and wary girly? He would always refer to us that way…”well, there’s Jerry Werle and wary girly.”

And it is true, I was a wary girly around Loren! It was perfect! His energy and fun loving nature will be greatly missed.


A Story from Randy Hanson

I’ve been living in faraway places for a decade, finding my way to Duluth this past year. Prior to these journeys I spent 16 years in Mpls. I was lucky enough to know Loren, to get to know and spend time with him in work, art, Mayday, and many other things. Loren provided the mascot for our softball team ‘the Squirrelskins’, and his house as everyone knows was filled with the curios of Borges’. I worked for Loren as his assistant for a while, watching how he could figure out ways to fix most anything. Loren and I grew up in the same county of Lac qui Parle and so knew that part of each other well.

One of the many stories I remember of times with Loren is this: in the early 90s, we were having a party out at Pete’s. I was in charge of roasting the goat, which we procured from some farm nearby. We brought the goat home, assembled a crew, and David’s flute music began slowly. We drew straws, though of course it was merely a formality: Loren drew the short straw, the straw of the man who would slit the goat’s throat in preparation for our roasting.

The flute music grew stronger, more staccato, and the goat was agitated, and Loren drew the knife across his neck. We held the goat as his blood and life drained. We processed the goat, and I rubbed it with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, mint leaves and lemon zest, storing it overnight in Pete’s ancient basement in the cabin. Loren took the lead the next day in preparing the firepit, and I stayed by the roasting goat all day.

That late afternoon, the goat was delicious and we fed scores of people. This was one of many things Loren had done for generations. Loren, I never imagined you passing, you seemed so ancient already. You are a leader, a pied piper for children and adults. You are missed, but your stories are emblazoned in us like pathways across the land. Pipe on my man.

-Randy Hanson

Loren the Trickster.

by Yiscah Bracha.

Loren loved to disrupt the composure of others.  One year during the rehearsal for the MayDay ceremony, he surreptitiously placed a black and white skull-and-crossbones flag on the same pole that carried the sun, anticipating (correctly) that Sandy would get quietly apoplectic when she saw it (she did, and looked at me plaintively, as if I could somehow do something about it).    Another year, he costumed himself as a frothing mad dog for the parade, and declared his intention to lunge at the  toughest looking adolescent boys in the crowd, the macho ones strutting and preening for their friends.  One night as I was climbing the stairs he had made, to the loft he had made in his converted potato cellar (the cave), the human-sized crow that always stood next to the stairs suddenly lifted its wings and squawked at me.

His trickster antics started when he was very young.  He attended a Catholic school in Madison, Minnesota, he and one of his sisters living with their grandmother in town during the school week, returning home to the farm on the weekends.  One day, he and another schoolboy were exploring their environment, and they came across a nest of baby garter snakes.  They placed the entire writhing squirming mass of them in a bakery bag, and the next day placed the bag inside the locker of the most high strung girl in the school (remember, this is small town Minnesota in the 1950s, when school lockers didn’t have locks on them).  Of course the snakes escaped from the bag, and of course they ended up all over her books and clothes and the sides and ceiling of the locker.  “I didn’t see the result,” he narrated with some disappointment, “but I heard the screams”.  He would have gotten away with it, but his accomplice confessed.  He never would divulge their punishment.

He would disrupt but never in meanness.  Always gentle, always going just to the edge of what the target could handle, and then laughing and backing away, leaving the target a little shaken, but only because the target was holding too tightly to something in the first place.  Just another way that Loren’s spirit infected the world.

Man on the Moon

by Peter Henry

Seven hundred moons in Loren’s eyes,
Ten thousand years, one hundred ways wise.

Yellow Medicine County and the Kellen farm bore this bearded child,
A maker of masks, master of dances–archetypical man-wild.

A farmer’s son, who rose to work and learned his lessons in the yard,
Blades were sharp, days too long and truly labor hard.

To his grandma’s place for a Sunday dinner came Loren hat in hand,
Folded linens, the scent of home and always vegetables canned.

But not for farming was Loren’s life, just fields and pigs and grain,
It was to city folk he awoke his genius for living again. (more…)

Sail On, Loren

-by Mark Safford

Loren was Prometheus as inventor, Sisyphus as performer, Apollo as the bringer of the sun, Lover in the truest sense of the word and a vital energy that this world needs to stay in balance. Loren shared and his swing was a testament to his confidence and ability in life’s pleasures. He was a ready hand at whatever he put his energies to, and those energies were significant. An active force of reuse and reanimation Loren was a collector collaborator and creator of quality moments in life. Dancing with Otis Ouray on fiery blacktop. Brilliant rough hewn flamingos speak to both his artistry and his capacity for love of life. Always an adventurer, navigating rivers, or Lake street on the equinox. He was and is a beautiful incarnation and my head burns with a welling sadness for Lisa and all of those who will miss him. There are few who live life so well.

Paddling with Loren

Loren-Canoe-Groupby Yiscah Bracha

Loren had a date to paddle on Lake Hiawatha, Sunday at sunset. His companions decided to keep the date, and word spread through the community. The ingathering of people and boats was like the early morning gathering at the park building on Powderhorn Lake to set up the Sun Flotilla at the culmination of MayDay. It was like the gathering of people and boats on the last Thursday of March each year, to paddle the Cannon and Mississippi Rivers, from Cannon Falls to Red Wing. And numerous other canoe gatherings.

We greeted with sobs and hugs. Lisa had brought boxes of hats from his enormous collection, and Loren headgear spread into the world. Some had brought canoe mounts he had made. Most everyone wore red, so that every time you saw movement in the corner of your eye, you thought that Loren was there. We laughed, we cried, we launched the boats. A long spread out stream circled the lake, with plaintive tunes from the trombones and trumpets rippling over the water. The boats got closer together the second time we rounded the lake. A blast from a conch shell rang out and the drums responded – the built drums, so like the ones he built, with the skins he got from the tanner in Cosmos, MN. But also using the rims and the sides of the canoes as drums, the way he would use anything that he could beat.

Clusters of boats gathered as the occupants held hands and talked. Then the clusters dispersed and reformed. It had been cloudy and drizzly all day, but just like the miracles that so often happened on MayDay, the sun broke through just as we were about to launch the boats. It was low in the sky by then, streaming through the slim gap between the marbled clouds above and the horizon of newly tinted trees below. By the time the clusters of boats on the lake gathered and dispersed, and gathered and dispersed, a full rainbowed sunset was underway.

Finally, a cluster of all the boats formed in the middle of the lake. Silence. Someone started to sing, others joined in. That song ended, another began. Silence again. Someone tapped a low rumble of a drumbeat, others joined in. Silence again. Many colors of gray and slate, on the water and in the sky. Someone passed a burning cigar of sage, and the pungent aroma enveloped us. Tears. Finally, someone shouted: “Hallelujah Loren!”, and we all shouted, and banged the canoes and drums, and yelled to the sky.

It is exactly the way he wanted it. We will miss him dearly, but he has left so much behind, that elements of his spirit will always remain in the world.

-Yiscah Bracha

See photos from the event here
See a video of this event