WASECA — Susan Chambers’ poetry is ripe with imagery.
Warm, blue mists rolling through the corn. Midnight pastures full of fireflies. A haggard, but proudly erect old farmer whose DeKalb hat is perched upon his head like a rusty cupola.
Putting those images to canvas, however, is a more challenging task that 13 area artists have endeavored to accomplish in an exhibit that remains on display at the Waseca Art Center through July 25.
“Her poems have all these visual images that represent southern Minnesota,” said Pat Beckmann, executive director of the Waseca Art Center, of Chambers’ poetry. “I figured, ‘Why not illustrate poetry?’ ... This is a totally different concept for a lot of artists.”
Beckmann said she chose Chambers as the featured poet because much of her poetry is grounded in themes and imagery that are native to this area.
Chambers began by submitting about a dozen of her poems for Beckmann’s review. Beckmann then chose three for illustration before artists selected a portion of one poem to paint. Each painting includes the text from their portion of the poem.
Grace Galvin chose to paint the image of the old farmer as represented in “Windshield Window Peeping,” Chambers’ elegiac ode to a farmer who is as unmoved by the winds of change as the old elm on the border of his property.
“He come to tread the rows/dressed in striped coveralls/long sleeves/his stained DeKalb hat perched like/a rusty cupola on his head.”
Galvin said she gathered inspiration for the painting by conjuring images of farmers she’s known herself. Her husband (definitely not a farmer, she said) posed as a model.
“I just dreamt up the rest of it,” she said.
Carol Stott illustrated the portion of the poem “Insomnia” that concludes:
“The moon does not meet/the tree line until the pink glow/from the east demands/that I push from bed,/drag back to an office/that does not care/who rested or who hunted/last night.”
Retaining her distinct watercolor style, Stott juxtaposed a glowing tree line with an authoritative-looking office building, a sleep-dazed woman contemplating them both.
“I read and re-read the poem for a week or so and did quite a few sketches,” said Stott, a habitually meticulous artist who has said it’s not uncommon to return to a piece many times over the course of weeks. “I could’ve filled up several pieces of paper just from one section of her poems.”
The portion of “Hayloft’s Gift of Night” that Judith Forster Monson chose references dust motes that “climb the shafts of light” that peer in through holes in the barn wall.
Painting such dust motes, however, proved a technical challenge for the artist. While covering the rest of the painting, Forster Monson used a toothbrush to flick white paint onto a ray of light that bisects her canvas.
“Artists have all kinds of tricks,” she said, adding that it was an exciting opportunity to illustrate Chambers Stevens’ work: “We are just enchanted with her poetry.”
The exhibit was funded by a grant provided by the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.