Emmanuel Albrecht

One of several carvings of pioneer woman La Folda Roja, created by Emmanuel Albrecht and on display at the McLeod County Historical Museum.

La Falda Roja was an immigrant. Not just any immigrant, but every immigrant. More specifically, she was a pioneer woman coming to America for a better life. The journey wasn’t made alone, but with her husband, two children and even a little family dog. She was born from the mind of Emmanuel Albrecht, a Hutchinson man, who by all standards was an artist of immense ability.

Albrecht was born Christmas Eve 1915. A veteran of World War II, an athlete, businessman, artist and championship golfer, he was a man truly gifted in many ways. Aside from his artistry, Albrecht was perhaps best known as the owner of Albrecht Oil Company, an oil delivery service and gas station. A place right out of history, the kind of “filling station” where the owner himself pumped gas and always kept a roll of bills in his pocket.

Above the station, in his workshop, is where Albrecht gave life to his artwork — specifically, La Falda Roja, the woman in the red skirt that is depicted in a set of carvings that tell the tale of a pioneer woman. Albrecht would say that he never took a piece of wood intending to make a sculpture of it, but instead let the piece of wood tell him what to carve. It’s curious to think of what the wood may have looked like when he began to tell the story of La Falda Roja.

La Falda’s story in the New World begins on Wharf Street. The large mast of a ship reaches outward toward the sky, obscuring the sightline of a port city that smells of fish and saltwater. Its soiled streets and gloomy atmosphere are a veritable oasis to the young immigrant family that stands on the docks and looks onward to the west. It’s here on the shores of America that they dream of a new life, one full of hope and possibility.

On the next leg of her journey, La Falda’s husband is missing from the carving. He is presumed to be dead, leaving the woman in the red skirt to care for her family and their future on her own. Her two children ride across the countryside under a covered wagon that La Falda walks alongside. In one hand is a bundle of meager belongings, in the other is a revolver. Let no thief or highwayman stand in the way of her or her children.

In the next carving of the set, the little family approaches a “shanty” where a dog anxiously sits on the porch with its tail wagging. The mat says welcome, and the violin next to it indicates that La Falda and her two children have arrived in Hutchinson. The children look out from the wagon with questioning eyes.

The family is now settled. A small cabin is their home. In the distance stands the covered wagon and oxen that brought them here. The long journey is behind her, and a sense of peace and tranquility rests in the air.

Not all is harmony in her new life. In the next station, La Falda stands a distance away from the public library as her two children check out books. Though she is happy to be in this life, she finds some things in America to be foreboding. The unknown is frightening for a pioneer woman. While the children wait for their books, the dog again waits anxiously on the library steps for their exit.

The times have changed, yet solace can be found in things familiar and when providing for her family. The river runs through Hutchinson, and from it La Falda and her children, who are now older, take fish. In the distance are others, children at play and onlookers who rest on a bench. With one of the children sits the dog, watching intently as fish are caught from the water.

The next carving is painted white, one of two in the set. A young woman sits alone. She is the daughter of La Falda Roja, and now dons the red skirt of her mother as she, too, is a pioneer woman. She sits on a trunk that is filled with her few possessions, waiting tensely as her own story is now to begin. It is implied that she is with child. She looks pensively at the little cabin where her mother raised children and built a life and wonders if she has the strength to do the same.

In a small home, a mother and young child sit at a kitchen table. They are alone, and on the wall hangs a portrait of a woman in a red skirt: La Falda Roja, the grandmother and pioneer. Carved into the bottom of the station are the words “Komm Herr Jesu” — a German phrase meaning "Lord Jesus be our guest and bless what you have bestowed."

In the final carving of the set, and the second painted white, a group of women sit at a table and make a large quilt. Looking on is a woman in a red skirt. The quilters signify the many generations of women pioneers, and the quilt represents their story being retold from sorrow to joy.

Brian Haines is executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum, 380 School Road N.W., Hutchinson. Do you have a historical anecdote to share? Haines can be reached at 320-587-2109 or by email at director@mcleodhistory.org.

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