Poetry Turns to Film in Recent Grant Project

A recent SDHC grantee’s project harnesses the power of paintings, poetry and film to tell an emotional human story.

Christine Stewart-Nuñez, a South Dakota poet and South Dakota State University English professor, and the South Dakota Art Museum earned a $1,000 grant for the short film adaptation titled “Gladiolus.” Stewart-Nuñez created the 90-second film to reflect a poem she wrote about a painting of the same name by Myra Miller.

From now through December 4, the museum hosts the film as part of Stewart-Nuñez’s exhibit “Women Working from Women: A Poetry Ekphrasis,” which features 18 of the author’s artwork-inspired poems. The exhibit is open to the public.

gladiolas by myra miller SDAM credit.jpgStewart-Nuñez, who often writes poetry inspired by visual art, felt an emotional connection with Miller’s work and journey as a South Dakota artist.

Living on a farm in the northeastern part of the state, Miller (1882-1961) began painting at age 18 and developed a love for creating during the harsh winter months. She avoided fancy art schools and taught herself techniques by using catalogs for inspiration.

“Her conditions of work were fascinating,” Stewart-Nuñez said.

As Stewart-Nuñez explained, the film “Gladiolus” visually presents the colors, shapes and emotions of Miller’s painting and captures, for her, the symbolism of recurrent miscarriage. The gladiolus flower is a sign for the dead, Heaven and the afterlife.

Miller's painting, an oil on canvas, untitled (gladiolas) is shown to the left, a gift of Mr. Don Miller, South Dakota Art Museum Collection. Image provided by the South Dakota Art Museum.

The film was a collaborative project between Stewart-Nuñez and her brother, filmmaker Terrance Stewart, who graduated from California State University in film production. He used his own studio and volunteered his time in the filmmaking process, while others volunteered with editing and providing equipment. The grant from SDHC was used to hire actors and make-up artists.

Stewart-Nuñez is pleased with the results.

“The film is amazing and beautiful,” she said. “I got chills the first time I watched it. It’s really fascinating to see what my brother could do with my poem.”

The film and exhibit will also feature on the opening day of the South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings. Stewart- Nuñez presents “Women Working from Women” on Thursday, Sept. 22 from 5-6:30 p.m. at the South Dakota Art Museum.

For those interested in SDHC grants for humanities-related projects in South Dakota, visit the website at sdhumanities.org.

Applications for grants $1,000 and less are accepted on a rolling basis. For applicants interested in larger grants up to $7,500, the deadline to submit is Oct. 15. Successful proposals advance the mission of the council and promote humanities in American public life.