Poetry inspires art at Featherstone

Artists match their work with a piece of poetry that speaks to them.

"Seeking Spring" by Daisy Lifton. —Daisy Lifton

A poetry-inspired gallery show is a natural fit for Featherstone Center for the Arts. Perhaps best known for their classes and exhibits encompassing the visual arts, the 21-year-old arts campus also hosts an annual Summer Festival of Poetry, featuring nationally and internationally acclaimed poets. Featherstone’s latest exhibit, “Poetic License,” pairs paintings, photos, and collages with the poems that inspired them — or in some cases vice versa.

“April is National Poetry Month,” said Ann Smith, executive director of Featherstone. “We thought it would be fun to have a show that would highlight poetry as well as the visual arts. We cross both genres because of our poetry festival.”

Outreach to the artist community recruited around 20 contributions to the exhibit. Each work of art is accompanied by the partner poem. In many cases, artist and poet are one and the same; others selected published works as their inspiration. Emily Dickinson’s “I Am Nobody” was translated into a half-face portrait by Olga Maranjian Church. Marston Clough, very appropriately, chose Billy Collins’ “Horizon” to accompany his lovely seascape painting, featuring a deep blue sky shifting to a pale minty green.

Photographer Lisa Sherman paired her work with a bittersweet poem by Tennessee Williams called “We Have Not Long to Love.” Her black-and-white photo is quietly moody with a bit of mystery. It features a room with antiques, a lamp giving off subtle illumination and, at the edge of the image, a hand is seen grasping the edge of a doorway. Her accompanying text explains what drew her to the scene.

“I was exploring an old mansion in New Orleans. Every corner of the grand dwelling exuded a lush past that told overlapping stories of revelry infused with writers, poets, and artists, whom I imagined during these long bacchanalian evenings in the irrepressible Southern heat to reveal long-held secrets, fracture tender hearts, and reveal painful but honest truths.” A lovely bit of prose and a very evocative photo.

Featherstone teacher John Holliday has contributed a beautiful bright landscape featuring the colors of fall. He offers up two poems to the viewer — a John Donne sonnet, and a simple double-couplet for those with shorter attention spans: “Trees are red. Skies are blue. Tashmoo. Is calling you.”

Similarly, Sheila Fane keeps things simple by including just the lines “By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea” as the verse for her lovely handmade paper seascape.

Daisy Lifton has incorporated some of her poetic choice, in the form of calligraphy, into her Japanese print of plum blossoms.

Bricque Garber has accompanied her beautiful mixed-media piece, featuring soft blended colors and a lot of texture, with a poem called “The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz. She describes the connection between her painting “Ashes” and the poem that inspired it: “‘Ashes’ gives a voice to pain, loss, and reluctant acceptance. Layers of translucent pigments are brought together with bits of silk to recreate my memory of wading into the quiet morning ocean and the gentle settling of ashes in the warm, salty sea.”

Of the artists who have provided their own poetry as well as images, Margaret Emerson is a standout. Expressing herself in both words and visuals is one of her signature styles. For the Featherstone show she has contributed two interesting expressionist paintings. The larger depicts a two-way line of cars stuck on a highway. The accompanying poem explains that the scene is a traffic jam caused by a car accident. The other painting, “Old Smoky S’loon,” is a wonderful barroom scene featuring an owl disrupting a raucous group of revelers. The entire poem was written using only one vowel in all of the words. It’s remarkable that Ms. Emerson was able to produce such a great piece of poetic storytelling, running for five stanzas, with only the vowel o to work with.

Mother and son Dorothy McLaughlin Petell and Sean Petell have collaborated on their contribution. Ms. Petell based her large mixed-media seascape, titled “Ocean Blue,” on her son’s poem “The Ocean and Me.” She describes her inspiration in an accompanying artist’s statement, saying in part, “Reading this poem written by my son makes me think of long summer days spent at the beach.”

It’s a rare treat to have the opportunity to experience an artist’s thoughts while viewing their work.

The exhibit also features some collages and poems created by members of the Memory Support Group. Both poetry and artwork were joint projects; the poems were developed by having each member contribute a line.

Nancy Langman, director of the Memory Support Group, is also represented in the show by a book of her poetry illustrated by Virginia Gosselin. The book, titled “Poetry From the Air,” is appropriately suspended by a cord with a pair of carved wings dangling above it.

“Poetic License” is a unique show, and one worth taking some time to peruse. It also offers a nice introduction to Featherstone’s summer season of poetry readings. This year, Featherstone, along with Pathways Arts, has scheduled two heavy hitters of the poetry world — Billy Collins and Robert Pinsky — to highlight their summer festival.

“Poetic License” will be up through April 26. A pop-up accessories show, featuring jewelry, bags, scarves, kimonos, and more by a dozen local artisans will take place on April 28, 29, and 30, with an opening on Friday night, April 28.