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


21 Responses to “Celebrating poetry and art in Zumbrota on a Saturday evening”

  1. ceciliag Says:

    How fantastic to have an artist GET your work and come up with such a vibrant rich piece, that complements perfectly your poem of the struggle for and love of the winter stores.. wonderful.. c

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I just knew you would appreciate this art and the poem, C. The artist actually chose my poem from among the ones selected for inclusion in the collaboration.

  2. lanae Says:

    You bring the taste to life with your words. I’m happy that mom passed on the skill of canning to some of us kids. (Kids who are in their 50’s) and we in turn are teaching the next generation!! Your artist did such a great job that I wanted to reach in to grab a jar, open the lid and taste the summer harvest. Proud of you.
    You are the best

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, dear sister. I feel absolutely the same as you about Connie’s artwork. It’s exactly as you described. I always thought I would be one of those who would can food. But, alas, I never carried on the tradition of our dear mother like you and our brother, Brian. So glad you’re continuing with that and passing it along to your daughter.

  3. I love this poem, and you are right- she totally captured the spirit of your poetry. What a wonderful project, and post. -kate

  4. Brenda N Says:

    I really enjoy your glimpses into rural Minnesota life. It reminds me of home! 🙂 I grew up in Zumbrota (we live in nw Kansas now) and spent many pleasant hours at the Carnegie Library and many weekend evenings at the Theatre. So many great memories! Keep up the good work!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Brenda. I definitely need to return to Zumbrota and explore your hometown more in depth. Several blocks from Crossings and across from a park, I spotted a beautiful, well-kept craftsman style house. I told my husband, “I have always wanted to live in a craftsman style house. I love that house.” He suggested I knock on the door. Well, we aren’t about to move. But at least I can dream.

      I’ll get back to Zumbrota eventually and will share more images and stories. Any tips on places to check out there?

      • Brenda N Says:

        Zumbrota is a great big/small town. It has changed a bit since I was there. We are hoping to get back in June Covered Bridge Festival weekend. That is a great place to catch up with old friends or just people watch. My parents have landmark birthdays this year and we are trying to get us all together for that. Either way it will be fun to go back and check things out. Maybe even Crossings at the old library! 🙂

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Returning to one’s hometown for a celebration rates high with me. Try really hard to get your entire extended family together for your parents’ landmark birthdays. We just celebrated my mom’s 80th with an open house in the Vesta Community Hall. Turn-out was unbelievable and this was the best birthday gift we could have given her.

  5. Bernie Says:

    I really enjoyed your poem. I never thought that canning could be so pretty. I surely will look at it with a different eye in the future. Your artist did a wonderful job! The picture is lovely and compliments the poem perfectly. What an amazing thing for you to be a part of!! I’m so proud.

  6. I love it, Audrey. Well done! I have a definite affinity with poems about canning! And the picture is lovely, too – why is it that artists can charge so much…but poets can’t? Hmmm. Something not right there. I hope it went great and you didn’t feel too nervous!

    • By the way, I’m not sure if you ever saw the only poem I wrote that I actually like…and that my poetry teacher in college liked! It’s on a post dated October 22nd of last year…if you’re interested! It’s titled, “Green Beans” and has to do with canning!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I believe I have read it. But I’ll go back and reread it. I think if you put your mind to it, you could write some pretty good poetry. I know you could.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Interesting that you should mention that money issue as I said the same thing to my husband. But I expect my artist, Connie, likely invested way more hours in creating her piece of art than I did in writing my poem. But, still… I thought maybe participating poets should get a percentage of the sale from the poetry-inspired art.

      I was nervous BEFORE my reading, but wasn’t when I actually got up to read. It helped that we weren’t on a stage and that the artist went up together with the poet.

  7. Ken Majerus Says:

    Hi Audrey. I’m Connie’s brother-in-law. She always looks forward to this collaboration, and I have to say that this year it was particularly satisfying. Your poem resonates with history and family and connected with Connie in a particularly compelling way. I love that she sought out canning from a cousin, whose jewels have nourished my mother. It is all very circular to me.

    By the way, I am helping Connie start a blog – we’ve got work to do, but I think she’s off to a fine start. The site is http://www.connieludwigartist.blogspot.com/.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ken, thank you so much for expressing to me how much Connie connected with my poem which inspired her “Pantry Jewels” watercolor. I love the piece and felt Connie understood exactly what I was conveying in my poetry.

      I just checked out Connie’s website and I agree. She’s off to a fine start, especially with “Sill Ripened.” Beautiful.

  8. I thought maybe I’d read it before and was so glad to again! I esp. love the last few lines – beginning with “keeper of the pantry” and on to the end. That sums up so much…

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