Guest Column: Writing a love letter to A.L. as an ‘outsider’

Published 9:00 am Sunday, August 7, 2016

Guest Column by Kelly Gau

Kelly Gau owns Kelly Gau Studio in downtown Albert Lea.


My favorite song is playing in the background and I’m all comfy cozy, perched on four pillows in a hotel bed. I’m supposed to be writing about how much the community of Albert Lea means to me as an outsider. To write as a business owner who doesn’t even live in the town where her shop is located, I am commissioned to punch out my love letter to Albert Lea and I’m scared.

I have written a blog for eight years. I have written countless things for print. I sell my art worldwide with my handwriting on it. I have given speeches from my words on occasion, including two family members’ funerals, so what’s with the fear in my belly that says I can’t do this little thing I have been asked?

Kelly Gau

Kelly Gau

Albert Lea is a community full of stellar people. People give tirelessly of time and talent to those who ask or are in need. A body of humans who commit daily to pick up the good in their heart and share that with anyone who comes even close to their sphere of influence. Albert Lea’s residents hurt when you hurt, rejoice when you rejoice, and most aren’t afraid to surround you in prayer at the drop of a hat.

To be clear, I chose to open my studio in Albert Lea simply because I have attended a church here for almost 20 years. So I might be a little biased when I say things like I did in the paragraph above, but the question remains: Why am I so afraid to tell people how much I love the town of Albert Lea?

My heart overflows with thoughts of the people who have visited the studio for one reason or another. People come from as far as Des Moines, Rochester or the Cities to take part in creating on canvas. They share with me opinions and thoughts about a myriad of subjects, but one thing that always comes up is “What else can I do while I’m in town?”  Do you know how easy it is to direct people to amazing food and fun times here in this town? We have such a diverse amount of good that it becomes a bit ridiculous when I start explaining the difference between the options of what to do next after they visit the studio.

It hits me hard like a brick falling on my big toe as I sit here with my lap top propped up on that fifth pillow. I’m afraid to write about how I love the community of Albert Lea because to me, Albert Lea encompasses the many small towns around it as well, and that isn’t the assignment I have been given.  To have to put Albert Lea in a box that says I love it for this reason or that means, in my mind, I have to seclude all the area towns that either supply manpower for an Albert Lea business or for that shopper running to Albert Lea for groceries.

Albert Lea to me is way more than just a city filled with gracious people and businesses that offer amazing goods or top notch services.  Albert Lea is a morphing body of people who together create a wonderful area to live, work and play in. When I meet someone on the street, I have no idea where they live or work, but I do know they are in Albert Lea for a reason, and when they smile and chit chat for a bit about the weather, the nice shop on Main Street, that fun place to eat downtown or the nice bike trail they just went on, I’m just as proud about Albert Lea being a top-notch community for them to enjoy as someone who actually lives here.

If you were to visit Kelly Gau Studio on Newton Street you would pick up on a phrase we use ad-nauseum rather quickly: “There are no mistakes.” We believe you simply can’t make one while creating. Watching artists handle the messy supplies to create something wonderful is perhaps one of my favorite parts, because in the end the new artists leave with confidence and skills as they are holding a beautiful piece of art they made.

Albert Lea, you are that place for me. You are a community where I can mess up the canvas a bit, and still be encouraged with love. A community where I meet people who push and sometimes prod me to do scary things way out of my current comfort zone, like penning out my feelings for a town. Who does that? But, if I am ever to leave this area, I will take in my hands and heart something more beautiful than I could have ever imagined, all because of you. I’m way OK with ya’ll knowing: I love you, Albert Lea.

See, Kelly. That wasn’t so scary.