Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How my poetry inspired a still life painting of lilacs April 10, 2014

POETRY INSPIRING ART. It’s a fabulous concept and even better when you are part of such a pairing.

A poem I penned has inspired art for Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII, which opened March 31 and runs through May 15 at Crossings at Carnegie, 320 East Avenue, Zumbrota.

"Lilacs on the Table" by Jeanne Licari

“Lilacs on the Table” by Jeanne Licari. Photo courtesy of Crossings at Carnegie.

I recently connected with “my” artist, Jeanne Licari, to learn how my poem, “Lilacs,” inspired her to paint “Lilacs on the Table,” an 11 x 14-inch still life oil on linen.

Twenty-six poems were chosen from nearly 210 submissions with 26 artists then selected via a juried process. This is Jeanne’s ninth time participating in the collaboration and my second.

Artist Jeanne Licari

Artist Jeanne Licari in her studio. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Licari.

A mostly self-taught artist who drew and painted as a child, this Rochester resident also furthered her talent through painting classes and workshops. She terms herself a representational oil painter who prefers to paint from life, whether a landscape or a still life.

Jeanne is both plein air—painting outdoors on location—and studio painter.

“My art reflects the beauty I see in mankind and nature,” she says. “My paintings are a direct response to what I see.”

Or, in the case of “Lilacs,” to what she read.

Lilacs

Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May,
I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes,
heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch
and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.

He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs,
to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms,
to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table,
romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.

Such memories linger as my own love, decades later,
pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans,
balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes,
clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of lilacs.

Jeanne explains how she created “Lilacs on the Table”:

“…I wanted to tell the viewer how I felt about lilacs. The poem triggered memories of many bouquets of lilacs in my lifetime. I love the dense bouquet of purple flowers, the beauty of the different pinks and purples against the green leaves, and the abundant fragrance of lilacs. Since there were no lilacs blooming in March, I painted them using memories of lilacs and how they grew, an oil study of lilacs painted from life, and photos.

I painted the lilacs on a table in response to the line, ‘to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table.’ That line, plus the words about farming, made me remember many bouquets of lilacs on our Formica table in my childhood home on the farm.”

How fabulous to know that Jeanne comes, like me, from a rural background. Her words and oil painting show me that she understands and connects to my words in a deeply personal way.

And that is my hope as a poet—that those who read my poetry will connect to it.

A promotional for the collaboration features "Li Bai at the South Fork," art by Mike Schad inspired by a poem of the same name written by Justin Watkins for the 2013 Poet-Artist XII collaboration.

A promotional for the collaboration features “Li Bai at the South Fork,” art by Mike Schad inspired by a poem of the same name written by Justin Watkins for the 2013 Poet-Artist Collaboration XII.

FYI: A reception, poetry reading and slide show honoring the featured poets and artists is set for Saturday, May 10. Mingle and meet for an hour beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Crossings gallery. Then, at 7:30 p.m., move next door to the historic State Theatre where poets will read their works and artists will also briefly discuss their art, shown on a screen.

Another poet from my community of Faribault, Larry Gavin, who has published several poetry collections and teaches English at Faribault High School, will read two of his selected poems, “Ashes” and “Two Cranes.”

Collaboration participants come from Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

The featured artwork is available for sale, including “Lilacs on the Table,” priced at $395. Jeanne Licari’s art is also sold at the SEMVA (South Eastern Minnesota Visual Arts) Gallery in downtown Rochester.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. I love the rural atmosphere with the hardware story and grain elevator just down the street.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

If you can’t attend the May 10 reception, you can view the exhibit during gallery hours from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday; or from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday.

Click here for more details about Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII.

Click here to see how my poem, “Her Treasure,” inspired Connie Ludwig to paint “Pantry Jewels” for the Poet-Artist Collaboration XI in 2012.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No April Fool’s: Sixty degrees, then snow & tornadoes April 1, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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THEY THRONGED TO RIVER BEND Nature Center Sunday afternoon.

Walking the trails.

Walking the trails, this a rare one that wasn’t snow-covered and icy.

More warm weather outdoor enthusiasts than I’ve ever seen at this nearly 750-acres of woods, prairie and water on Faribault’s east side.

Handcrafted signs guide visitors along trails.

Handcrafted signs guide visitors along trails.

Bare-headed baby tucked in mother’s arms. Elementary-aged boy in helmet zipping his scooter down a tarred path. Elderly couple snugged on a bench.

Trees tapped to collect sap in bags.

Trees tapped to collect sap in bags.

Folks clustered around an evaporator that cooked freshly tapped maple syrup.

Kids played in the water with sticks similar to this scene.

Kids played in water with sticks similar to this scene.

A trio of kids crossing a stick bridged across a rush of water.

A family picnicking.

Guy in shorts; boy in snowpants.

Abdi studies by the swamp.

Abdi studies by the swamp.

Abdi, a native of Ethiopia, benched by the swamp/pond studying for his medical lab class in the quiet of nature, away from his noisy apartment building.

A 20-something teaching archery to kids just outside the interpretive center.

And us, threading our way along still icy trails, slushing through melting snow. Me, grabbing my husband’s hand to keep from slipping, his snow boots gripping the ice, mine not.

Patches of green grass mingle under water with dead leaves.

Patches of green grass mingle under water with dead leaves.

My eyes grasping for green and finding it in patches of emerging grass.

The brightest green discovered--moss on a log.

The brightest green discovered–moss on a log.

Green moss on dead logs.

The tiniest of green plants poking through the dormant prairie grass.

A snippet of green cedar upon snow.

A snippet of green cedar upon snow.

Searching for signs of spring.

Trees reflected in a "lake" of water from the snow melt.

Trees reflected in a “lake” of water from the snow melt.

Finding it in watercolor paintings.

I've never seen this much water roaring over the nature center waterfall.

I’ve never seen this much water roaring over the nature center waterfall.

Water roaring over limestone in a three-tied waterfall.

Water rushes down a trail.

Water rushes down a trail.

Slogging through water, with grass and dead leaves squishing beneath our boots.

Sunday and sixty degrees. Glorious. Spring.

And then came blizzards (northern Minnesota) and tornadoes (southwestern Minnesota) on Monday with temps plunging into the 20s and 30s overnight.  A wind advisory remains in effect until 10 a.m. today for a portion of Minnesota sweeping from southwest/central to southeast with sustained winds of 25 – 35 mph topping at 50 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

No April Fool’s.

FYI: According to an article in The Marshall Independent, a twister was sited near Taunton Monday afternoon with structural damage from the storm reported five miles north of Minneota. On Monday, a tornado warning and a blizzard warning were issued simultaneously for a portion of southwestern Minnesota.

In Yellow Medicine County, the West Central Tribune of Willmar reports structural damage from a tornado at three farm sites southeast of St. Leo.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Soup, salad & sandwiches at St. John’s March 12, 2014

SUNLIGHT FILTERS through the fellowship hall windows on an early Sunday afternoon in March. Outside the 40-degree temps feel balmy after a brutally cold and snowy Minnesota winter.

St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, Minnesota.

I’ve left my coat in the van, drawing my sweater tight around me as I pause to photograph St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, before hurrying inside. The strong wind has a bite to it.

Salad options.

Salad options.

Inside, I grab a shiny silver tray, select a salad from choices on ice, pinch lettuce into a bowl and add toppings before placing the tray on a table to photograph the salad selections. While I do so, a teen ladles a generous scoop of Ranch dressing atop my lettuce salad.

Lynn, right, tends the potato soup in this duo scene of kitchen and fellowship hall.

Lynn, right, tends the potato soup in this duo scene, divided by a wall, of kitchen and fellowship hall.

Next, I move toward the kitchen serving window to consider the soup offerings—chicken noodle, potato bacon and bean. All homemade. I start with potato. Lynn fills my bowl.

Kim and Keith serve diners.

Kim and Keith serve diners.

Juggling camera and tray, I move down the line to the sandwiches. Kim and Keith are ladling soup, too, and refilling the sandwich tray.

Sandwich choices from ham to sausage to open face.

Sandwich choices from ham to sausage to open face.

I choose an open face sandwich topped with a mix of meat and chopped pickles.

My husband and I settle onto folding chairs at a table nearest the kitchen. I want easy access to photograph the scene, the moments that define this first of three Sunday Lenten soup luncheons at St. John’s.

I’ve been here before, often enough that parishioners welcome me into this country church east of Faribault just off Minnesota State Highway 60 along Jacobs Avenue.

My first tray of food.

My first tray of food.

I know the routine, too. Gather my food and then transfer bowls and sandwich onto a paper placemat so the trays are ready for the next diners.

Key food preparer Craig, carrying a coffee pot, right, says 60 -70 diners were served at Sunday's luncheon.

Key food preparer, organizer, church organist and co-youth leader, Craig, carrying a coffee pot, right, says 60 -70 diners were served at Sunday’s luncheon.

There’s something about familiarity and dining in the company of the faithful, the din of conversation and the clack of kitchen noises, that comforts as much as a hearty homemade soup.

Mandarin orange dessert awaits diners.

Mandarin orange dessert plated for delivery to diners.

For two evenings and a day prior, Craig and his mother, 88-year-old Elsie, and their neighbor, Lynn, have labored, preparing the three soups, the nine salads and the mandarin orange dessert. Parents of Youth Fellowship members brought the sandwiches.

This is a labor of love and of service—the chopping of onions, the soaking of beans, the dicing of ham, the mixing of homemade dumplings (by the octogenarian)…

Brandon dries dishes. The Youth Fellowship sponsors the soup and salad luncheons.

Brandon dries dishes. The Youth Fellowship sponsors the soup and salad luncheons.

In the kitchen, 13-year-old Brandon dries dishes beside his mother and Elsie. Others tend the soup, sandwiches, salad and dessert. Youth hustle to bring and refill beverages, to clear tables, to deliver dessert. Craig rushes to refill coffee pots and cups.

Bibles, florals and candles  decorated tables.

Bibles, florals and candles decorate tables.

I observe it all, from tabletop bible centerpieces opened to Psalms to the dainty floral pattern on church china to the stool I’ve seen Elsie use in the kitchen every time I’ve been here. She’s always in the kitchen.

The hardworking team.

The hardworking team.

This congregation works together, feeding diners like me who appreciate their efforts and the taste of great homemade food as much as this rural setting and fellowship.

Inside the church kitchen, that's Elsie standing next to her stool.

Inside the church kitchen, 88-year-old Elsie works next to her stool.

Once I’ve finished my first bowl of potato soup, I get a new bowl and a scoop of bean soup, followed by a second helping of potato. I pass on the third soup; I’m not a fan of either chicken soup or of dumplings.

As I finish my dessert, Kim and Keith join my husband and me to rest for a bit and eat lunch. We talk about kids and the horrible long winter and vehicles in ditches and the couple’s continually snow blown driveway and such. It’s a comfortable conversation.

Elsie, 88, enjoys a bowl of bean soup.

Elsie, 88, sits in the kitchen and enjoys a bowl of bean soup at the end of the luncheon.

Before we leave, I pop into the kitchen again and catch Elsie finally sitting down with a bowl of bean soup.

#

FYI: If you’re interested in attending St. John’s next two soup luncheons, here are details:

The church is located at

The church is located at 19086 Jacobs Avenue, rural Faribault.

These will be your salad options.

These will be your salad options.

On the way out the door, study the Germanfest photos on the bulletin board:

St. John's UCC Germanfest is another must-attend annual event in September. Great food, entertainment, bingo, quilt show and more.

St. John’s UCC Germanfest is another must-attend annual event in September. Great food, entertainment, bingo, quilt show and more define this ethnic gathering.

And then purchase a jar of St. John’s famous homemade apple jelly or butter:

Beautiful and savory St. John's apple jelly.

Beautiful and savory St. John’s apple jelly.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Raising awareness of MS via snow art, plus an idea for Faribault March 11, 2014

IF KURT KLETT CAN CONVINCE city councilors, my community could host an annual snow carving competition in Central Park.

Faribault resident Kurt Klett and his latest snow sculpture, a leprechaun with a pot of gold.

Faribault resident Kurt Klett and his latest snow sculpture, a leprechaun with a pot of gold. Warm temps had partially melted the snow, fading the colors, when I photographed the art late Sunday morning.

That’s the plan, according to this 42-year-old Faribault resident who, for the past five winters, has created snow sculptures in his front yard and this year also entered the St. Paul Winter Carnival snow sculpting contest.

Photographed from Second Street.

Photographed from Second Street.

Given Klett’s enthusiasm and talent and the admiration of locals, his idea certainly could fly. I absolutely support his proposal as a way to bring visitors into Faribault, add a fun, diversionary aspect to an oftentimes long Minnesota winter and promote awareness of Multiple Sclerosis.

Entry fees for the proposed snow sculpting contest would go toward MS, says Klett, diagnosed with the disease of the central nervous system in 1999. The single father of three, ages 6 – 13, suffers from vision and other issues and is currently on disability. He once worked in construction and sales and now works at the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School hockey arena.

His body embraces cold temperatures, Klett says, so he needs to take care not to become overheated while sculpting.

Multiple rubber duckies not sit atop the giant duck graced with a heart and a colored bill.

Klett’s first sculpture of this winter, photographed in late February.

This winter he’s already crafted two snow sculptures in Faribault. The first, a duck, stood completed until two days of 40-degree temps caused the beak to partially fall off.

Klett showed me these photos he took of the two sculptures showing the especially vibrant colors before temps warmed.

Klett showed me these photos he took of the two sculptures with especially vibrant colors before temps warmed.

Undaunted, Klett and a neighbor then “sawed” the remainder of the beak off with a 10-foot chain so he could reshape the duck into a leprechaun holding a pot of gold.

As I’ve observed and as Klett notes, his sculptures are constantly changing, just like the effects of MS. His art, he says, is an ode to MS, a way to raise awareness of the disease.

FIGHT MS is barely visible now on the pot of gold after warm temps began melting the sculpture.

FIGHT MS is barely visible now on the pot of gold after warm temps began melting the sculpture.

FIGHT MS marks the front of the leprechaun’s pot of gold. Klett carved a bull for the St. Paul Winter Carnival snow sculpting contest, dubbing the bull as “Bully the MS Goalie.” Last year he created a stop sign with hockey sticks in his yard, honoring Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding who also has MS.

The leprechaun's pipe is crafted from a crowbar and a raisin container wrapped in hockey tape.

The leprechaun’s pipe is crafted from a crowbar and a raisin container wrapped in hockey tape. This sculpture reaches 12 feet to the top of the hat.

What he crafts from the snow gathered into a huge mound from his and sometimes a neighbor’s yards and even from the roof of his house at 417 Second St. N.W. “depends on what the pile looks like,” this sculptor says.

He’s previously also created a leprechaun on a shamrock, a komodo dragon surrounded by a skyscraper with two hearts, and a T-Rex. Sometimes his kids help choose the art.

This photo montage by Klett shows the process of creating the duck sculpture.

A photo montage by Klett of his 10-foot high duck sculpture.

The process of sculpting this year’s duck and leprechaun took him 14-16 hours each. Depending on the weather, the leprechaun may eventually evolve into a third sculpture. Already warm temps are eroding his leprechaun, fading the colors.

The artist shines a spotlight on his sculptures.

The artist shines a spotlight,left, on his sculptures.

His art draws admiring fans, so much that Klett shines a spotlight on his sculpture at night. As I photographed his leprechaun and chatted with the artist Sunday morning, an older couple stopped. The driver rolled down his car window. “That’s remarkable,” enthused the man. “It’s beautiful.”

I agree. Now imagine Central Park in Faribault graced next winter with such remarkable and beautiful snow art.

FYI: Kurt Klett has not yet approached the Faribault City Council with his request for a snow sculpture contest in Central Park. He is currently raising awareness and gathering support for this project.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shopping local: My beautiful vintage floral art find March 10, 2014

Crewel embroidery floral art, looking up

IT’S SIMPLY A STUNNING piece. Stitched flowers, artfully arranged, springing from a blue vase.

I was beyond tempted to keep the crewel embroidered floral art for myself.

But, instead, I would present it to my eldest who, for her 28th birthday, requested thrift art. She knows my knack for finding great original art at thrift shops, garage sales and elsewhere. I’d been searching for awhile for her gift, to no avail.

So I conceded that, until I found the perfect piece, she’d need to settle for a bouquet of real flowers. Fresh flowers are always welcome and would be a great way for my husband and I to thank our daughter and her husband for inviting us to lunch at their St. Paul apartment.

Remember to shop local as noted in this mat at the entrance to The Nook & Cranny. Edited photo.

Remember to shop small local stores as noted in this entry mat at The Nook & Cranny. Edited photo.

The day before the lunch date, Randy and I stopped downtown Faribault for St. Pete’s Select blue cheese from the Cheese Cave. Our son-in-law loves this locally-made cheese. And while we were on Central Avenue, I would pop into a floral shop for flowers.

Crewel embroidery floral art, front

But, before I even exited the car, I noticed that stunning floral art in the front window of  The Nook & Cranny, a gift shop which features vintage, collectible and handcrafted merchandise.

The Nook & Cranny, 412 Central Avenue, Faribault, Minnesota.

The Nook & Cranny, 412 Central Avenue, Faribault, Minnesota.

I beelined for the store, my husband trailing. When he read the price tag on the artwork, my excitement diminished. It was priced way higher than I expected or wanted to pay. Art, but not exactly thrift art. As is typical of me, I debated whether I should spend that kind of money. I circled the store, fingering other merchandise, my thoughts never far from that floral art in the window.

Crewel embroidery floral art, side view

To make the potential purchase even more enticing, the shopkeeper shared its history. The floral art was created as a wedding gift some 75 years ago by a mother-in-law. Now no one in the family wanted the long ago gift nor two other crewel embroidered pieces, also for sale in The Nook & Cranny.

That history, combined with a comment by my spouse that real flowers would last perhaps a week, made the decision final. Our daughter would have this art forever.

The Nook & Cranny is among numerous one-of-a-kind locally-owned specialty shops in historic downtown Faribault.

The Nook & Cranny is among numerous one-of-a-kind locally-owned specialty shops in historic downtown Faribault.

So I meandered to the back room and, in an atypical move, asked the shopkeeper whether she would consider dropping the price. She did, by 10 percent. That was just enough. I knew, too, if I didn’t buy this vintage art with its wonderful history, I would regret my decision.

This crewel embroidery art, crafted by the same woman who created the floral I purchased, now hangs in the front window of the Nook & Cranny.

This 1970s vintage crewel embroidery art, crafted by the same woman who created the floral I purchased, now hangs in the front window of The Nook & Cranny. I photographed this through the window when the shop was closed, thus the glare on the glass. If you buy this art, tell them I sent you.

Truly, this art was meant to be purchased by me and gifted to my eldest. I am convinced of that. I know she will treasure it. When she saw the art for the first time, her enthusiasm was genuine.

Table setting

Besides that, when we arrived at her and her husband’s apartment for Sunday lunch, a bouquet of fresh flowers already adorned the dining room table.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

We want spring March 3, 2014

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ON A MORNING when we are poised to possibly break a 141-year-old record low temperature of minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit for this day in Minnesota, I bring you these messages from the State Bank of Faribault:

Sign, Dear Mother Nature

Sign, We want spring afar

Sign, We want spring

And this is why we want spring:

Faribault, Fourth Avenue NW

Faribault, Fourth Avenue & Division St.

Faribault, Fourth Avenue sign

With the coldest winter in 35 years and endless snow, WE WANT SPRING!

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault’s connection to Sochi February 23, 2014

NO MATTER THE SEASON, no matter how many times I’ve viewed Shattuck-St. Mary’s School through its arched entry, I remain impressed by the incredible beauty and strength of this place.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota.

Tucked into Faribault’s east side, Shattuck’s campus seems more Ivy League college or an American version of Hogworts than an historic private boarding school in Minnesota.

But it is here from whence eight 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics hockey players graduated: Brianna Decker, Amanda Kessel and Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux playing for Team USA; Zach Parise and Derek Stepan on the men’s Team USA roster; and Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews competing for Team Canada.

Right here, in southeastern Minnesota, many a hockey great has skated…

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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