Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The art of Dana & Judy in the Paradise March 13, 2017

An overview of Judy Saye-Willis’ exhibit, “From Garden to Gallery: Natures Gentle Colors.”


EVERY ARTIST, whether a sculptor, painter, wordsmith, photographer or anything in between, brings values and background into his/her work.


A section of Dana Hanson’s portrait of Christ, titled “All For You.”


For Faribault artist Dana Hanson, faith clearly inspires her art.


Nature’s influence is seen both in the subject and in the weld (a plant) dye used in this art by Judy.


For Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis, the natural world seems the most influential.


Dana’s “You Are Loved” faith-based painting.


They are two diverse artists currently exhibiting at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Dana paints with a brush, oil on canvas. Judy works with fabric and dyes as a fiber artist in this particular From Garden to Gallery—Natures Gentle Colors collection.


In her One Color Series, Judy dyed each piece in a single color dye bath.


Both infuse passion and devotion into their work. Judy uses natural dyes to color fabric. Rhubarb root, black walnut, sumac, goldenrod, prairie wildflowers and more are dye sources for this artist who, like me, grew up on a southwestern Minnesota farm. Judy played in the fields and pastures of the prairie and I can see that in her art. She holds a closeness to the land.


This trio of paintings is titled MESSENGERS OF HOPE with the horses subtitled, from left to right, “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace.”


Dana’s art sometimes comes to her, she says, in visions—her faith-based horse paintings inspired during worship. There is symbolism in her work, threads of light and hope. Her art is her visual ministry, Dana writes on her website.


A close-up of Judy’s panel tagged as “When Life Gives you Lemons make Art.” She used lemon juice for a discharge and dyed in cochineal. The repetition in the art is in the style of Andy Warhol.


I appreciate the artistic talents of both artists. I appreciate also their dedication to the craft. I appreciate the strength of their work.


“His Light” by Dana.


How I interpret their artwork may or may not match their intentions. But that’s the thing about art. We each bring to art our values, our backgrounds, our experiences. When our eyes lock on a piece of art, we react as only we can, with introspection that is uniquely and individually ours.


The Paradise Center for the Arts is housed in an historic former theater in downtown Faribault.


FYI: Dana and Judy’s exhibits will continue through March 27 in the main floor galleries at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue, Faribault. These photos are only a sampling of the artwork in their exhibits.

© Text copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork copyrighted by the artists and photographed with permission.


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


A painting from my dear friend Rhody September 28, 2012

IN LIFE, RHODY YULE, impressed me with his humble spirit, deep faith and artistic talent. He thought the best of everyone. He appreciated life so much that, even up until days before his June 2011 death when he was but a shell of his former physical self, he desired to live beyond his 92 years.

Celebrity portraits Rhody Yule painted and hung on his garage, where I first discovered his work in the fall of 2009 while driving past his rural Rice County residence.

Losing my friend of only a few years—the man I met because I photographed the portraits he had painted and hung on the side of his garage in rural Rice County—was difficult for me. Yet, I knew Rhody’s legacy would live on in the hundreds of paintings he created through the decades.

Rhody, minutes before his gallery show opened in January 2011 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault.

It was my absolute honor, after discovering Rhody’s work, to bring his paintings to the public via a mini art show at Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church, rural Millersburg, and then during a much larger gallery exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

And now Rhody, in death, has blessed me with the gift of one of his paintings, the painting he knew I most favored.

A sampling of the religious paintings Rhody exhibited at a mini show at Christdala on September 26, 2010. The painting on the right is the one Rhody gifted to me.

On Tuesday evening, the day before my 56th birthday and just a day shy of the two-year anniversary of that mini exhibit at Christdala—yes, I spent my 54th birthday setting up that art show for Rhody—I picked up the painting Rhody wanted me to have.

I’d known for a few weeks that I was to receive the painting I’ve come to call “Woman in Reverent Prayer.” Tuesday I phoned Rhody’s stepson, Bob, asking if my husband, Randy, and I could come over and pick up the piece of art in a half hour. That would work, Bob said.

“Woman in Reverent Prayer” by Rhody Yule

Over at Bob and his wife Kathy’s condo, Rhody’s prayerful woman painting leaned against the living room wall as we reminisced about the man we had each loved.

And as I remembered Rhody, I felt myself slipping into sadness. I missed him and wished I had known him longer.

Then, when Bob told me how Rhody wanted me to have that particular painting and how Rhody’s gallery show at the Paradise was the highlight of the last year of his life, the tears seeped from my eyes. To be able to give someone like Rhody such a gift, to realize how much this meant to him, prompts the most humbling and joyful of emotions.

Shortly thereafter as I caressed the painting, Bob suggested that I might want to replace the dinged frame. No, I would keep the frame Rhody crafted, I said, running my fingers along the wood.

Bob lifted the four-foot by 2 1/2-foot painting onto the dining room table then so we could examine the date under Rhody’s signature. We could barely decipher the faint curve of double sixes, meaning Rhody painted “Woman in Reverent Prayer” in 1966 when I was just 10 years old.

I know nothing, really, about the oil painting except Rhody once sharing that it was based on another painting or photo, minus the rosary beads clasped in the kneeling woman’s prayerful hands.

Now, each time I view Rhody’s painting, which will soon grace a wall in my living room, I am reminded of my friend’s deep faith. And I am reminded of how very much his friendship meant to me and likewise my friendship to him.

To realize that Rhody wanted me to have this painting simply touches my heart with gratitude and love.

Rhody and me at his opening night gallery reception in January 2011 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault.

FYI: To read about Rhody’s mini art show at Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church, click here.

To read about Rhody’s January 2011 gallery exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, click here.

To read my tribute to Rhody upon his death, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling