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.


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


17 Responses to “How my poetry inspired a still life painting of lilacs”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    It was glorious!!!! When I brought up my WP “Reader” that photo of the lilacs was the top of the list in all it’s Spring dreaminess!!!! Lilacs and Lilly of the Valley say ‘Springtime’ for me!!!! If I had the $$$$ that oil would find a home here!!!! I have that reception on the calendar…….we’ll see how it works out!!!! Hugs………………………….

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    What a beautiful complement to your lovely poem. It is simply perfect and she honed in on your experience with lilacs so well and with so much beauty. Congrats to both of you for this great achievement and for sharing your gifts and beauty with the rest of us. I love the lilac imagery and the memories that you associate with it. Lovely, Audrey. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Sue Ready Says:

    Now this is the ultimate of recognition!!! Congratulations! Such a beautiful piece af art that really compliments the poem.

  4. Deanna Auge Says:

    Your posting brought back fond memories of my “stay-at-home mother” – she loved caring for family and home, gardening as soon as the weather warmed and canning during late summer and fall. She delighted in seeing the first buds of Spring on our lilac bush just outside the living room window. As the blossoms appeared she would stand beside the bush and, as you say in your “Lilacs” poem, “breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May.”

  5. DeLores Johnson Says:

    Congratulations Audrey. What an honor for you to have 2 artists paint from
    reading your poetry. Your talent spilleth over!!

    When I was growing up on the farm we did not have lilacs, but fortunately my
    uncle and aunt on the adjoining farm did and we could cut all we wanted. I think
    back how much fun it was to go with my mother down to their place and cut them, take them home and arrange them in blue Ball canning jars. The scent was almost like a “French perfume” (if you shut your eyes and dreamed).


  6. westerner54 Says:

    How lovely. Your sweet poem and the painting are perfect complements for each other. Thanks.

  7. Mary Brooks Says:

    Beautiful Artistry – Jeanne’s stunning painting and your perfect poem! The heady scent of lilacs is something I so look forward to every year…bouquets in every room of the house! Thank you both for sharing!!

  8. Jackie Says:

    I just love this poem Audrey, the painting is a perfect pairing to visually enhance what your words are saying. Congrats…a well deserved honor!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.