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Manda Hart Baldwin: Stormy weather draws her out

Manda Hart Baldwin can be found outdoors with her camera in all kinds of weather — especially if skies are stormy or colorful. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
When word spread on Facebook that she had created a 2017 calendar using her images of Lake Pepin, Manda Baldwin had a tough time keeping up with demand.2 / 2

Editor's note: This story is part of Faces A to Z, a series highlighting familiar — and not so familiar — faces around Goodhue County. Learn more about the series and how to get involed here, and check back to the A to Z page for stories, history lessons and Q&As.

LAKE CITY — Manda Hart Baldwin's growing cadre of fans on social media must be surprised to learn she is just an amateur when it comes to photography.

"It's all still kind of new to me," she insists, though her photographs of Lake Pepin, the Aurora Borealis, weather conditions and trains are vivid evidence of her talents.

Amtrak has used her photos on its social media, and awarded her second place in a photo contest.

Midwest Living and Explore Minnesota have picked up her images, too, including a picture of her kids on top of Barn Bluff that is featured in the 2017 Explore Minnesota Travel Guide. "I'm kind of proud of that one," she said — especially since it focuses on Red Wing.

Born here, the former Manda Hart graduated from Red Wing High School in 1984. After traveling for a couple of years, exploring and working in a variety of restaurants, she came back. "Red Wing will always be home," she admitted.

Local jobs included working as a server and bartender at the St. James Hotel, supervising a restaurant at Treasure Island, and managing the former Blue Plate downtown.

"I love to cook — and eat," she said.

In 1998 she married Russ Baldwin; they moved to Lake City in 2003, and she concentrated on raising their three children: Michael, 26, who is on his own; and Mary and Margaret, 17 and 16, who are still at home.

She chose to home-school them. "I like the life," Manda said. She especially enjoys preparing unusual foods for them. "It's good for the kids. It gives them an ethnic/cultural experience," she said.

Photography has always been a part of her life, but her level of interest grew when her father gave her a digital camera about 10 years ago.

"As a Mom, I liked to capture the moment with my children, to make and keep memories," she said.

Later she turned her lens to capture Lake Pepin in all its moods, the skies at dawn or dusk, stormy weather, and the Northern Lights.

"People pictures are not my thing," Manda said. "My kids are so good at that. Both (girls) are amazing portrait photographers.

"But we're not professionals. We're just playing."

Trains became another favorite subject after the family took a friend's advice and traveled via Amtrak to Glacier National Park in 2008.

"I loved it," Manda said. "We're fortunate to have a station close to us." Their favorite outing is from Red Wing to Portland or Seattle on the west coast.

"You just get on and stay for two days," she said. You spend time with your children "and watch the world go by. It's an adventure on the way to an adventure."

This winter, they took Amtrak to Florida, by way of Washington, D.C.

Most people who enjoy Manda's photos find them on Social Media ‑ Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

People frequently suggest she do more with the pictures, she acknowledged. "Especially my husband."

So last December she decided to make calendars for a few friends. She was going to feature trains, but realized their logos are probably copyrighted. So she got out some of her favorite Lake Pepin images instead and had a calendar printed.

To her surprise, "Everybody wanted one." The news spread on Facebook, and she was forced to reorder twice.

"It just kind of went crazy," she said. "I could have done more," but ran out of time before Christmas. "Maybe next year."

Photography is not her only passion. Manda has been attending concerts at Oak Center General Store for about 25 years. One night, she said, "They were short of help, so I jumped in and started helping. I've been doing that ever since." She and her daughters cook and work concessions.

Not surprisingly, she has also been a Girl Scout leader, and she continues to volunteer at an animal shelter, fostering mostly cats. And she reads — memoirs, biographies, history.

Her husband, who works for a marketing company, plays guitar and often is busy on weekends. Currently he's playing with Pet Fish Erik, a trio that describes itself as "an eclectic group of middle-aged men doing their best to entertain the masses."

Her own daily schedule is very much weather dependent.

Is the sunrise or sunset particularly colorful? Are dark storm clouds gathering over Lake Pepin? Is lightning splitting the sky? Did the weatherman predict Aurora Borealis?

That's where you'll find her, camera in hand.