Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating poetry and art in Zumbrota on a Saturday evening April 22, 2012

Artist Connie Ludwig's "Pantry Jewels," inspired by my poem, "Her Treasure." (Please excuse the glare on the glass; there was no way to avoid it while photographing the painting.)

Her Treasure

In the dark, dank depths of the dirt-floored cellar
she stocks a treasure-trove of jewels
in jars upon slivered planks—
golden corn nuggets,
amber chunks of ample beef,
ruby red tomatoes,
peas like unstrung pearls,
jade shards of dill pickles,
amethyst beets,
clusters of topaz apples
and an abundance of sauerkraut,
diamond of this hard-working German farm wife,
dweller of the Minnesota prairie,
tender of the earth,
keeper of the pantry
and guardian of the garden gems
that will adorn her dinner table
during the long winter months ahead.


I MET “MY ARTIST” Saturday evening and saw the art she created, inspired by my poem (above).

And I use those words, “my artist,” because I feel connected to Connie Ludwig of Goodhue. She, like 25 other artists participating in Poet Artist Collaboration XI at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota, took words of poetry and shaped them into art.

“Her Treasure,” under Connie’s paintbrush, became “Pantry Jewels.” The earthy watercolor painting of canned beets, pickles and peaches glows with the perfect balance of light and darkness, with sunlight filtering through glass and glinting off the golden rings that lock in garden goodness.

Connie understands my poem—the memories of my mother canning fruits and vegetables in her southwestern Minnesota farmhouse kitchen. She understands the dark dirt-floored cellar in which these preserves were stored upon rough boards. She understands the importance of honoring the women who honored the land by feeding their families with the fruits of their labors.

In the chapbook published for Crossings’ Poet Artist Collaboration XI, Connie writes:

My mother and aunts loved gardening and canning. They considered those “squirreling skills an essential part of themselves. I have wonderful memories of the ladies showing off, trading and sharing their canned jewels. And, of course, feeding them to us. The models for this painting came from the pantry of my husband’s cousin.

Connie, right, and I pose for a photo after a 90-minute presentation in which 26 poets read their poems and 26 artists talked about how the poems inspired their art. Note Connie's "Pantry Jewels" painting just above my head to the left. If I could buy this $490 watercolor on aqua board, I would in a snap. I love it that much and how it honors my rural roots. But I can't... If you're interested, contact Crossings.

Connie, thank you for transforming my poem into such down-to-earth, beautiful art that touches my soul. Your painting was all I hoped for in this process of poetry inspiring art.

A snippet shot of the crowd at Crossings at Carnegie, including Marie Marvin, center in blue. This place was elbow-to-elbow people during the hour-long gala reception before and after the poetry readings and artist talks held at the next door historic State Theatre. There were 26 poems selected from around 180 submissions for this juried Poet Artist Collaboration, now in its 11th year.

Thank you also to the artists and poets and guests who took the time to thank me for writing “Her Treasure.”

Thank you to my husband, Randy, for always supporting me in my writing.

To Crossings at Carnegie, and specifically Marie Marvin who opened the art center in 2001, thank you for acting as the driving force behind this collaboration. The phenomenal (or as I would say, overwhelming) turn-out is a tribute to the hard work of your team. I’d like to see more events like this through-out Minnesota that pair words and art.

To be one of the 26 poets selected for inclusion truly brought me joy. To mingle with so many poets and artists for an evening inspired and validated for me the importance of the arts in our lives.

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 store and grain elevator just down the street. I need to return to Crossings as I was overwhelmed (crowd-wise and visually) on this busy evening.

I’d encourage you, if you have not seen this exhibit at Crossings, 320 East Avenue, to take it in before the April 26 closing date. Click here for more information.

Also check back here for an additional post from Poet Artist Collaboration XI.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling