By Alisha Siebers, Executive Director, Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center
When you look at a travel journal or a pastel drawing by Helen Kleczynski, you step into an experience. When she creates a piece, Helen likes to spend time sketching her subject in person, rather than working only from a photograph. She’s traveled to all kinds of places for her subject matter – Ireland, Italy, Croatia, Scotland, Scotland, Maine, the Traverse City area, and in Oregon, where she grew up.
When she returns from her travels, she folds the entire experience into her work – her art is a story about the people who stopped to share local information while she sketched; it’s about sounds, colors, and smells. It’s about the entire feeling of a place.
Helen explains that when an artist works on site from life, it gives a deeper understanding about the topic. One example of this is her pastel compositions of barn interiors. You can see plenty of photos of barns from the street, but Helen’s work invites you inside the barn.
One of the barns she depicted was given to a family in Pigeon, Mich., six generations ago for fighting in the Civil War. She told me the barn is full of stories: about how the kids used to climb the ladder one-handed with food to feed the birds in the rafters and how they would swing from the ropes into the hay. In the composition, you can see the texture and marks in the wood from the hand-held tools that built the structure. Helen shows what the barn meant to the families who used it.
Helen earned a degree in architecture from University of Oregon, so she is particularly drawn to capturing man-made objects. She likes the challenge of portraying the perspective and texture of old boats, barns and ancient buildings like Roman ruins and Irish abbeys. The buildings she recreates are nurturing and comforting – they offer us shelter or protect animals. From Helen’s perspective, when buildings are built mindfully with respect for the environment, they have an important role.
Helen has learned that you have to sit with something for some time to understand it in a deeper way. She described to me how she once tried to draw a trout lily at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. It was closed in the morning when she arrived, but as the day brightened up, the lily opened. Then, as the sun moved, the flower followed. Later that afternoon, a cloud came and passed, and the lily responded by closing up and opening again. Helen explained that you don’t see the process and change if you just walk by or snap a photo. She says that once she was so immersed in painting, that she heard a spider approaching her through dry leaves for 30 minutes. She joked that sometimes they build webs on her, which tells her that maybe she’s been out drawing for too long!
With her artist’s perspective, Helen sees beauty in ordinary things. When she was in Ireland, a tourist complained that the view of the countryside was ruined by laundry hanging on a line. Helen thought, “Look at these beautiful shapes, colors, and patterns.” She saw so much more than laundry – she saw abstract shapes, textures and patterns of light.
If you would like to learn how to see the world with an artist’s perspective and study with an award-winning, internationally acclaimed artist right here in our community, you can take classes in drawing, watercolors, pastels with Helen at her Art House: email Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org.