Doing it for the kids

June 19, 2013
Wayne Valliere, packing canoe bark out of the birch forest, in the summer of 2012. Photo by Tim Frandy

Wayne Valliere, packing canoe bark out of the birch forest. Photo by Tim Frandy 2012

I am really concerned that kids are not getting useful and appropriate educations based on what we know to be useful and appropriate ways to educate kids. Research shows all sorts of things, and yet schools systems do other things. There are so many examples I dare not go into it (and so many reasons why, the road-blocks to change sometimes feel insurmountable). Happily, I know there are independent and creative thinkers who are working their butts off to add opportunities for meaningful and transformative experiences to the lives of youth.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council, where I work, has seven grant rounds every year. I am so proud of the projects we fund and also proud that a good number of them are designed to enrich humanities education for the youth of Wisconsin.

For example, a project called “These Canoes Carry Culture” awarded to the Goodman Community Center. This collaborative effort makes it possible for an Ojibwe artist, culture bearer and language teacher named Wayne Valliere to work side-by-side with a small group of young people from Madison and Lac du Flambeau to build a birch bark canoe. They will build it from scratch, making trips to gather materials from the particular forests and fields where the particular materials grow at a particular time of year. The kids will have time to talk to each other about what it is like to live in the city, or live on a reservation, while they are learning a disciplined craft and dying art from a master. They will read and discuss history and language and tradition, but not in a formal classroom with tests and grades. Instead, they’ll be exchanging ideas as they create, ultimately, a boat that will be on display in the new Dejope student dorm on campus.  The project brings together educators from community centers and academics from many departments at UW. It will be documented in a film and hopefully serve as a model for future community-university-folk artist partnerships. All wonderful and admirable. What most excites me is remembering what it was like to be a teenager and projecting what I imagine will be a life-altering experience for the kids involved. I believe this project will influence how these kids see the world and themselves in it, for the better.

Another inspired effort comes from Arts @ Large, a non-profit that works from within the Milwaukee School District to create “arts-infused learning.” They are responding to serious issues and producing serious outcomes that are student-led and student-centric. They have recently partnered with a group called Serve2Unite and together are creating student chapters of the organization dedicated to spreading peace through understanding, tolerance and, education.  Serve2Unite was formed after the tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5, 2012 where a gunman walked into a Sikh Temple opened fire, killing six members of the 400-person congregation.  They work to fight hate in the form of bullying and other violent crimes. Arts @ Large Serve2Unite chapters will research and develop service projects so that students learn, through doing, how to be agents of change, and social wellness, in their own families an communities. I heard some of the kids who have been involved in past Arts @ Large efforts speak recently and was impressed. Here, too, I see an example of how teenagers are treated as human beings with value, life experiences, and skills to bring to the table.

We know that kids, and more immediately teenagers, are the future leaders of the world. I’m excited about projects and places where they get to shine, speak up, hone skills, teach and learn from each other, and find meaning in their lives. I want that for my kids and all the kids, everywhere.

Read more about projects funded by the Wisconsin Humanities Council here.

by Jessica Becker
Director of Public Programs
Wisconsin Humanities Council


Joel Huntley’s Serene, Understated Redware Pottery

March 14, 2013

Potter

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Potter Joel Huntley’s art is calm, serene and internalized. Working with aged redware pottery inspired by the 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century folk art traditionally produced in Europe and America, Huntley has come to harmonize its understated, reflective beauty. For three decades his hands and heart have been kept occupied by his mind’s single-minded concentration to utilize clay in the making of sharp, ambitious, inspired things.

Joel Huntley’s ‘Selfish, Romantic’ Pottery

“This may sound selfish or romantic, but I don’t know how people exist in a job that they don’t have a passion for,” says Huntley, on a dark, drizzly day, sitting in a chair in the corner of his Columbus, Wisconsin, studio, back pressed against a wall scribbled with Bob Dylan quotes in pencil. “One of the first things I think about in the morning is how lucky I am to make a living at pottery; only a small, select crew of dedicated artisans is able to do that.”

One of the country’s foremost makers of traditional aged redware, or pre-Industrial Revolution folk pottery, Huntley throws and molds each day, every day. Pottery is more than just a matter or means of happiness or recreation to him, but a constant, steady, mysterious even, re-creation, a beautiful, noble, religious, mystical pursuit. Not fatuously euphoric, rather a disciplined process of strong, intense inner patterns.

“I guess you could say that I am hardwired to do this,” says Huntley. “People have always done this; it’s so much a part of human nature.”

Reflecting on more than thirty years of manufacturing pottery, the reclusive Huntley explains that pottery is less a lifestyle or ordinary job than it is something approaching the seriousness and complexity of a religion. “From the start the goal for me was to make a living in my chosen craft. All these years later I’m completely self-defined as a potter. I’ll never stop worshipping clay.”

Huntley’s studio is divided into two parts; the front comprises a gallery which showcases the artist’s eclectic wood-fired pots and face jugs. Beyond those doors, the self-sufficient craftsman, closed to the outside, open to his own thoughts and creativities, burnishes the luster and patina for heirlooms and commission pieces, slowly, if not perfectly, illustrating the metamorphosis of clay. His utilitarian surroundings look exactly the way one would envision: shelves and cabins crammed with wares; used and unopened bags of clay on the floor; tables stacked with painter’s tools and pots requiring painting. Hard work is the key to the potter’s success and no amount of heady praise from patrons or passersby can fool the potter into delusions of self-grandeur.

“It may be surprising but I can tell you that pottery is a stressful, hardcore business,” says Huntley. “There are compromises, disciplines and tradeoffs.” Huntley markets wholesale models to stores, large and small, across the country; the “bread and butter” of his operation is small scale, artisan studio productions. The luxurious pottery he crafts, which, he says, suits primarily Eastern tastes, sell in locales as diverse as Colonial Williamsburg to decorative art shops in the middle of Iowa.

Huntley employs old-fashioned hand tools and methods to produce the quality of aesthetic object and spiritual subject of a luxury item. Shape and texture are paramount to Huntley who first contemplates the tactility of the product before he even considers color coordination. When asked whether he sees his work as ‘exquisite’ or ‘beautiful’ he refuses to acknowledge these attributes. Aestheticism’s unfailing sharpness is what needs to reign supreme.

“I want the viewer to receive pleasure from the aesthetics,” says Huntley. “I hope that the quiet, yet powerful nature of my pottery preserves and serves strong utilitarian and aesthetic functions. I want people to appreciate the individual glaze and texture, and notice how a surface soothes or slows down, or associate a piece of pottery with a favorite place or land.”

With pottery, spontaneous senses converge all at once. Unpredictable, intense, and sensual, it is an endeavor fraught with novelty, impulsivity and adventurousness. Perhaps accordingly, mistakes often happen.

“Pottery is a cruel mistress,” says Huntley. “You can make a mistake anywhere in the process, but it’s only after you have invested all of your time, concentration and money –after the kiln – that the flaw or mistake becomes apparent. You can do all the steps correctly, but you still won’t find out until the very end. That appeals to me.”

Joel Huntley Life of Wisconsin Potter

Mindful of its physical nature, he concedes that pottery has taken a somewhat punishing toll on his body. Indeed, there is an underappreciated physicality to chucking clay which contravenes the outsider’s knowledge of the potter’s life; the rough processes of combining and crafting such visual, functional art is staggering: eight hours a day, solo, glazing, mixing, pounding, decorating, and throwing and spinning at the wheel.

“I have a clean bill of health to move ahead,” says Huntley. “But the bags of clay still weigh one hundred pounds and a large bucket of clay still strains the back. I am fortunate to have a strong one. Bad backs are endemic among this craft because of the repetitive nature of the wheel.

“There is a danger to it that I enjoy. There are power tools to be run, open flames to be burned by, temperatures to be dealt with, and all kinds of ways to burn or cut something off. I like that about the craft, the raw, open passion.”

Though Huntley often pedals his wares on State Street at the Dane County Vendor’s Market, he is more noted in such places as Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, than he is close by in Madison, Wisconsin. And he understands that it is not always easy to find an audience willing to pay for a handmade item which is priced four times higher than the one a machine spits out.

“Honestly, my profit margin is small because everything is done by hand. I just hope to connect with people who will pay more for a mug or plate because of how I value it, and because of who made it or why it was made.”

Talented and tenacious, pottery has endowed Huntley’s life with an authenticity and relevance and anchoring motivation to do, try, seek, touch and attempt. At 53, he says that it may even be the right time to embark on a new phase of his artistic career.

“All I ever have wanted to do is live in a rural setting and make pottery,” says Huntley. “Right now, I’m not at a turning point so much as a reflecting point, 30 years of making a living at this. The businessman and artist in me wonders what I can add or enhance in the genre, and wonders what I want to do for the next stretch. The glass is half full.”

Brian D’Ambrosio is a writer, editor, instructor, and media consultant. D’Ambrosio’s recent articles have been published in local, regional, and national publications, including High Country News, USA Today, Wisconsin Trails, Bark Magazine, Montana Magazine, and Backpacker Magazine.

His latest book about legendary vigilante screen actor Charles Bronson, Menacing Face Worth Millions, A Life of Charles Bronson, is available for purchase on Kindle. D’Ambrosio’s next book, Desert Horse: A Life of Marvin Camel, a biography of the Montana boxing legend, will be published by Riverbend Publishing in 2013.
Copyright Brian D’Ambrosio


Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton’s Path to Happiness

August 5, 2012

Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton’s path to happiness has been illuminated by physical and mental hurdles. 

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Dare to be happy as a child. Find your passion. These are Suzy Favor Hamilton’s much loved subjects of discussion. Passion has always come relatively trouble-free for Favor-Hamilton – one of the most decorated athletic competitors in the United States. A seven-time US National Champion, three-time Olympic contender, and winner of nine NCAA Titles, her slim, taut physique once adorned nationwide magazine covers and she had enjoyed never-ending fan support.

But being happy was an effort, a demand. In fact, it took her years to discover the secret of happiness. While she publicly maintained her intense focus and chipper deportment, even following a family heartbreak in 1999, when brother Dan committed suicide at age 37, inside she was fighting a serious conflict with depression.

Disaster hit its climax for Favor-Hamilton at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.  She collapsed on the track of the 1500- meter, an event she was predicted to perform well at. The root of the breakdown was the subject of euphoric speculation. Her illness became so dire at one point, that she even contemplated killing herself.

Suzy’s exercise concealed her depression and buried the underlying issues. At times she used exercise as an obsessive mode to dismiss or turn her back on what was really troubling her. She eventually sought corrective help and has vastly improved on medication. Ultimately, she learned that in order to make yourself happy you have to first love yourself.

“Being happy is a choice,” said Favor-Hamilton, 42. “We are so often the cause of our own suffering.” Now a popular motivational speaker, she explores the links between the words happiness and passion.

“I ask people often what their passion is,” continued Favor-Hamilton. “What’s interesting is that many people can’t answer that simple question. They have no answer. ‘What makes you excited about life?’ I ask. Passion takes soul-searching and some looking back to childhood.”

Passion, said Favor-Hamilton, is the ultimate reality of our being. It is both love and joy.

“Look deeper if you can’t find your passion,” said Favor-Hamilton. “To get to the bottom of depression, or hopelessness, or other issues, it takes examination from the outside, and confronting painful areas of life. We should talk about it, release it, and get rid of it, and not ignore it.”

Favor-Hamilton was born and raised in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. At college at the University of Wisconsin, she first established a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost middle-distance runners. Following graduation, Favor-Hamilton competed three times for the U.S. in the Olympic Games – 1992, 1996, and 2000 – and seven times in the U.S. National Championships. She once owned the U.S. record for the 1000-meter and the U.S. indoor record for the 800-meter.

Favor-Hamilton remains the only American woman to have the top seasonal 1500-meter time in the world (in 2000, she placed first in the world based on time, at 3:57.40.) and one of only two American women to have finished the 1,500-meter in less than four minutes.

After Favor-Hamilton ended her professional athletic career she was recruited by the marketing department for the UW Badgers to use her celebrity to promote collegiate athletics. Eight months later, she realized that many people were interested in the details of her own life story, and the exciting world of public speaking took root.

Motivational speaking has lifted Favor-Hamilton to the summit of happiness. Happiness constantly re-creates her. Happiness, she explains to audiences, is ordinary, it is human, and it is for everyone. Nonetheless, her quest for happiness hasn’t been without the help of strong perverseness of the mind.

“Growing up in the world of sports, you see the projected false image,” said Favor-Hamilton. “But I knew how unhappy, spoiled and mean some athletes were. Personally, I thought the gold medal would make the difference, somehow change the world. I am realizing that not having the medal opened doors in a healthier, better way. It has brought me honesty.”

The sunlight of happiness really is there in her eyes – she has not created it; she learnt that she could only let it in. Positivity has led her to transcendence. And she preaches that maintaining a negative attitude only prevents great accomplishments from coming.

“I try to only let in positive people and thoughts,” said Favor-Hamilton. “I have no control over the negative behaviors of others. What’s most important, I learned through my therapy how to change myself. That’s the greatest gift I can give my (four-year-old) daughter (Kylie).”

Favor-Hamilton, currently one of Madison, Wisconsin’s most successful realtors at Favor Hamilton Realty Group of First Weber, is open about her experiences, unguarded about her personal struggles, challenges, and faults. She hopes that somehow her suffering may lessen the suffering of others.

Ordinary happiness has brought Favor-Hamilton closer to the natural path of gratefulness. Life, she has proven, can offer new opportunities – provided you are willing to welcome them.

“I try to live life passionately for (my brother) Dan,” said Favor-Hamilton. “I wish I could have given him more love and support when he was here. But I can’t. But I can fight against the stigmas of depression and suicide, fight against those fears.”

Favor-Hamilton’s happiness not only nourishes a feeling of gratitude toward life but serves as a very important expression of her faith, hope and self-healing.

“Sharing who I am is therapy for me,” said Favor-Hamilton. “Happiness was always inside of me, but I had to dig deep down and find it. Now I share it.”

Brian D’Ambrosio is the author of Menacing Face Worth Millions: A Life of Charles Bronson. For more about D’Ambrosio’s biography of the legendary screen actor: Menacing-Face-Worth-Millions


Antler Basket Weaving

June 18, 2012

Jen's antler basket for yarn

It’s no secret that Wisconsin is filled with talented artists. What isn’t always evident, though, is how willing they are to not only share their craft, but to teach it as well. Such is the case with Mary Luckhardt-Klemm, who makes a variety of woven items in her western Sauk County home, the most stunning of which are her antler baskets.

My friend, Jennifer, first met Mary and saw her work during the Fall Art Tour in 2011. After bringing her in to teach basic weaving to a troop of Boy Scouts, we had the fortune to visit Mary in her studio and learn how to incorporate an antler into the construction of our baskets.

Mary prepping an antler shed

the basket studio

Jen pulling round reed

Jen and Mary

One of my favorite things about visiting any artist is the opportunity to tour their workspace. Being in Mary’s studio was a multi-sensory experience. It was filled with raw materials and finished objects, all rich with a variety of colors and textures.

We learned about preparing the antlers, which can become handles or components, such as a rim or base. Even the tips of the horn as well as splices of it are used as feet and beads, or to cover the end of a frame piece. Once the frame is constructed and basic binding has been done to secure the edges, the basket can be woven using a free form or planned design. We chose natural materials, including sea grass and round reed, to fill in the weaving and finished up with a dip into a natural stain solution.

If you’re interested in learning to weave, chances are that there are classes in your area. Wisconsin is rife with weavers talented in a variety of areas, from Native American black ash and birch bark weaving to extremely modern art installation pieces. Inquire at your local community or crafting center, or ask a weaver when you see one at a craft show. Additionally, there is a partial list of basket weaving guilds in Wisconsin at The Country Seat, Inc website.

[The finished baskets featured in this piece are the work of Jennifer Mack.]

woven antler basket

Jodi Anderson


Christopher Sholes: Inventor of Typewriter, Keyboard Layout

June 17, 2012

By Brian D’Ambrosio

In 2012, the typewriter may be an anachorism. The increasing dominance of personal computers, desktop publishing, high-quality laser technologies, and the pervasive use of web publishing, email and other electronic communication techniques, have widely replaced typewriters in the United States.

Christopher Sholes invented the first practical typewriter and introduced the keyboard layout that is familiar today. As he experimented early on with different versions, Sholes realized that the levers in the type basket would jam when he arranged the keys in alphabetical order. He rearranged the keyboard to prevent levers from jamming when frequently used keys were utilized. The rearranged keys in the upper row formed the order QWERTY, and the design exists to this day. 

Inventor’s Wisconsin Link

Sholes was born in Danville, Pennsylvania. As a young teenager, he apprenticed with a printer. Shortly after, he moved to Wisconsin where he worked as a printer, editor, and journalist. Always interested in issues of the day, Sholes served two terms as a Wisconsin senator, another term in the state assembly, and helped found the Republican Party in Wisconsin. Eventually, President Lincoln asked Sholes to become customs collector for the port of Milwaukee.

Sholes enlisted the help of investors to sell his typewriter, but his marketing tactics were not successful. For the remainder of his life, Sholes continued to work at typewriter inventions, but made no basic improvements, and eventually sold his interest in the original machine piecemeal during the years from 1872 to 1880.

In 1873, he sold his rights to the Remington Arms Company. The company began manufacturing the Remington typewriter, and Sholes continued to devise improvements for it. In 1878, he added a shift key to give users the option of lowercase or uppercase letters.

Sholes spent his later years in retirement in Milwaukee.

Brian D’Ambrosio is the author of From Football to Fig Newtons: 76 American Inventors and The Inventions You Know By Heart. Available Electronically Here.


Wisconsin’s Literary Landmarks: From “Our Town” to “Citizen Kane”

March 6, 2012

Wisconsin’s Literary Landmarks

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Joseph Webster House, Elkhorn, WI

As hard as it may seem at times to give reasons for, there is more to learn about and excite the sentiment in the Badger State above and beyond milk and cheese (regardless of how deliciously impressive) and the Green Bay Packers (notwithstanding stunning Super Bowl success). Wisconsin has produced many influential authors and dramatists and served as the source for many great fictional bodies of work. In this article you’ll take a winding journey, from Pepin to Kenosha, on the path to discover Wisconsin’s unique ancestry of literary landmarks, storybook attractions, and scholarly sites, and how the unstoppable spirit of a few of its residents came to heavily influence the tenor of mythical Americana.

Sterling North Boyhood Home, Edgerton

In Edgerton, Wisconsin, tourists with the most bookish of bents will enjoy  visiting the landmark boyhood home and museum of Sterling North (1906-1974), world-famous author of Rascal, So Dear to my Heart, The Wolfling, and 28 other works.  In 1963 North completed the book Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era. Set in 1917 when he was 11-years-old, the best-selling book chronicles a boy’s fondness for and friendship with a pet raccoon in the fictitious “Brailsford Junction.” The home, which is open from April 5 through December 20, Sunday afternoons 1:00 to 4:30 p.m., may be toured by appointment. Refurbished to its 1917 setting, furnished with period antiques, the museum showcases North’s desk, typewriter, photos, books and many family artifacts and memorabilia.

Lorine Niedecker, Fort Atkinson Poet

Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970) was a poet of eminent endowment whose life and work were long cloaked in anonymity. The introverted daughter of a carp fisherman, she spent most of her life on a flood-riven plain in southern Wisconsin. She was born and died on a marshy spit of land known as Blackhawk Island near Fort Atkinson. The Friends of Lorine Niedecker sponsors a monthly poetry reading in Fort Atkinson, which is rich with Niedecker-related sites, including W7309 Blackhawk Island Road, the location of Niedecker’s writer’s cottage and modest home. Both of which are private property, but access is allowed through an appointment with the Friends of Lorine Niedecker. Other notable markers include: Union Cemetery, County Road J north of Hwy 106, Cemetery Road, the burial place of Lorine Niedecker and her parents Henry and Daisy; 506 Riverside Drive, the home where Lorine stayed during the school year 1917-1918 with family friends; 1000 Riverside Drive , the home where the Niedeckers lived from 1910-1916; 209 Merchants Avenue, the Dwight Foster Library, home to Lorine’s personal library archive; 401 Whitewater Avenue, the Hoard Historical Museum, which operates a room with myriad artifacts related to the poet’s life.

Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm, North of Baraboo

Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac will be read and revered ad infinitum. This classic, featuring philosophical essays and natural observations established Leopold (1887-1948) as America’s preeminent environmental thinker. Published in 1949, shortly after Leopold’s death, A Sand County Almanac is a masterpiece of nature writing, widely referenced as one of the most seminal nature books ever penned. Writing from the vantage of his retreat shack along the shore of the Wisconsin River, Leopold mixed conservation and wildlife essays, polemics, and memoirs, in what has become a catalyst for the country – and world’s – evolving ecological awareness. “Outdoor prose writing at is best……A trenchant book, full of beauty and vigor and bite…All through it is (Leopold’s) deep love for a healthy land.” So raved the New York Times. The Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm is located near Baraboo, Wisconsin. Purchased by Leopold in the early 1930s, he converted a chicken coop, which he dubbed ‘the Shack’, for his family to spend weekends. Tours of the Shack are offered Saturdays, from Memorial Day through the end of October. Guided tours originating at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center are the only way to access and view the inside of the Leopold Shack.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Birthplace, Pepin 

It appears that every state wants to claim a piece of author Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957). Anyone who watched the Little House on the Prairie TV series knows that Walnut Grove is in Minnesota and there’s a bust of Laura on display in Missouri where she settled in her later years. Laura also lived in Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Florida, New York and South Dakota. Near the tiny village of Pepin, Wisconsin, Wilder’s birthplace is commemorated. The Ingalls family lived in a small cottage when Laura was born, in 1867. You’ll find a replica of her log cabin at the Little House Wayside and an historical marker in Pepin Park. Plan on visiting in mid-September to participate in Laura Ingalls Wilder Days.

Zona Gale Home, Portage 

Zona Gale Home, Portage, WI

Novelist and playwright Zona Gale (1874-1938) achieved nationwide popularity as a writer and won the first ever Pulitzer Prize awarded to a female for Drama. Once she gained a niche in the literary world, she returned to her place of origin – Portage, Wisconsin – where she lived and worked the rest of her life. Zona Gale was born in Portage on August 26, 1874, and, barring a brief time in Minnesota, lived there until she entered the University of Wisconsin. At the time of her birth, her father was a Milwaukee Road railroad engineer, working at the time out of Minneapolis. Zona’s mother chose to be prepared for the birth of their first and only child at the Portage home of her mother. Gale first garnered attention for her short stories set in the fictional town of Friendship Village. Published in 1908, Friendship Village proved very well-liked and she went on to write a similar series of stories. Miss Lulu Bett shared best seller honors in 1920 with Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, and the adaptation of the novel brought her the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, in 1921.

Hamlin Garland Homestead, West Salem 

Hamlin Garland was born in a West Salem log cabin on September 14, 1860. After spending his teenage years in rural Iowa, Garland (1860-1940) became a teacher in the Boston School of Oratory. Between the years of 1885 and 1889 he taught private classes in both English and American literature. Some time was also spent lecturing on land reform in and around Boston, where he made the acquaintance of Oliver Wendell Holmes, George Bernard Show, William Dean Howells, Edwin Booth and other worthies. It was in 1917 that A Son of the Middle Border was published. The next year, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. For the novel A Daughter of the Middle Border he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for best biography of 1921. In 1893, Hamlin Garland bought his parents their first home, called the Hays house, in West Salem, Wisconsin. The homestead, open weekends May through October, came to be known as “Maple Shade.”

Joseph Webster House, Elkhorn 

At 9 East Rockwell Street in the small town of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, stands the neat, modest, white Greek Revival style house where composer Joseph Philbrick Webster (1819-1875) lived. He lived here from 1857 until his death in 1875, at the age of 56. Most of Webster’s more than 1,000 songs were penned during this period. Some of his classics are still well-known today. “Lorena” was heard and immortalized in the classic movie Gone With the Wind. Webster’s compositions were eclectic, including music for ballads, religious hymns, nationalistic drama, and a cantata – a vocal composition intended for musical accompaniment and a choir. The house, which served as a stopping point and sanctuary as part of the Underground Railroad, is open year-round to the public.

Thornton Wilder Birthplace, Madison 

Thornton Niven Wilder (1897-1975) was born in Madison, Wisconsin (at that time a town of eighteen thousand inhabitants) at 140 Langdon Street on April 17, 1897, the son of Amos Parker Wilder, a Wisconsin State Journal editor, and Isabella Niven Wilder. His twin brother died at birth, and Wilder grew up with an older brother and three younger sisters. He took to writing as a youngster, eventually earning his undergraduate degree at Yale, and graduate degree at Princeton. By the time he died on December 7, 1975, at his home in Hamden, Connecticut, Wilder garnered international fame as a playwright and novelist. To this day, his works are translated, performed and prized by audiences worldwide. Wilder’s most famous work, Our Town, explores the lives of people living in the quintessentially American small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. It was first produced in 1938 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Madison was the first of three “our towns” in Wilder’s boyhood (he lived here until he was eight), and it is indicative of Wilder’s interests that each was academic – Madison, Berkeley, New Haven. Though primarily associated with Our Town, Wilder also earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1927 for the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. A small plaque commemorates the birth site.

John Muir Park and Boyhood Home

Father of our national park system, farmer, inventor, sheepherder, explorer, writer, founder and first president of the Sierra Club, and conservationist John Muir (1838-1914) was perhaps America’s most rugged and prominent naturalist. Raised near a little lake outside Portage, Wisconsin, Muir’s family immigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1849. They build a home (long since eroded) and started a farm called Fountain Lake Farm; Muir’s formative years in the Badger State instilled a love of nature and land. Muir published six volumes of writings, all describing discoveries of natural environs. Additional books and compilations were published after his death in 1914. Perhaps what is most important about his writings was not their number, but their sagacious content, which continues to hold an influential effect on American ideas and the policies that help to nurture and preserve nature’s elegant habitats. The park is open year-round.

Orson Welles Birthplace, Kenosha

The son of a gifted concert pianist and wealthy inventor, Kenosha’s Orson Welles (1915-1985) proved a precocious child, excelling in music, art, and even magic. By age 16, Welles had set out to make his mark in the dramatic arts. Within three years, he’d entered stage, film, and radio, and by 1941, he’d co-written, directed and starred in Citizen Kane, considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. Born George Orson Welles to Richard Head Welles and Beatrice Ives Welles, May 15, 1915, Welles once said: “I never blamed my folks for Kenosha. Kenosha has always blamed my folks for me.” Built in the 1880s, Welles’ birthplace is a private residence, the front of which holds a bronze plaque commemorating the home town mastermind.

August Derleth, Walden West Festival 

August Derleth (1909-1971) was a prolific writer, publisher, and anthologist. Though best remembered as the first publisher of the horror writings of H.P. Lovecraft, he wrote in several genres, including biography, detective fiction, science fiction, poetry, and historical fiction. Sauk City’s August Derleth Society sponsors a yearly event the second weekend in October, The Walden West Festival. The festival includes satires, musical performances, speakers, a drive to Derleth-relevant sites, and an evening poetry gathering at the writer’s grave. Permanent exhibits linked to Derleth are located at Leystra’s Restaurant and the Cedarberry Inn in Sauk City, the Sauk City Library, and at the Sauk County Historical Society, in Baraboo.

–Brian D’Ambrosio

 

Share


The Curious Hu-Manatees

November 16, 2011
The Harbor in St. Petersburg, FL

Beware of the hu-manatees in St. Petersburg, Florida. Photo by Jessica Becker.

Until about five years ago, 1000 people a day relocated from somewhere else to live in Florida. I arrived in St. Petersburg Florida for a conference organized around the over-arching theme of re-imagining the American Dream just as the world took note that global population has reached 7 billion. The former director of the Florida Humanities Council welcomed us to St. Pete’s with a semantics joke: In her state, where people have always come to reinvent themselves and live out their American dreams, she was sometimes called the director of the Florida Manatee Council.

The annual conference gathered together people from the 56 humanities councils located in the U.S. states and territories, all of which receive funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  As the current economic and cultural climate requires that we all use full-strength creativity to re-imagine our life here on earth, and public funding for the humanities becomes less certain, I wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea to team up with the dolphins and palm trees and manatees to explain the value we bring to the world.

After three days of deliberate and truly stimulating conversation about what, exactly, this American Dream notion means to each of us, as well as what role the public humanities play in the future of our states, the country, and the planet, I remembered why we are importantly not staffing sea animals and tropical plants as colleagues.

The humanities are about being human. They are everything about being human. How we as humans make sense of our place on earth, as one of 7 billion other humans, or as one of millions who have chosen or found ourselves in Florida or Wisconsin or wherever. And the way we each think about identity, responsibility, opportunity, citizenship, destiny, and our dreams. As humans, we are curious creatures and therefore are humanists by nature. We engage in the humanities as we wonder about stuff, explore the world, and talk about it with others. And the more of us on the planet there are, the more curious minds will be ruminating on this wild and interesting life and trying to make meaning of it.

At this particular point in history, money for public humanities projects is scarce. Public humanities projects, such as museum exhibitions, the collection of oral histories, the publication of reflective historical accounts, the opportunities for people to gather to read, write, and think together, those projects are harder to fund. It makes me sad. And it is a major assault on my own personal American Dream: that we as Americans enjoy public education, cultural sharing, and civic debate. But I am still hopeful that human curiosity and creativity will overcome silly things like money problems.

The day before I returned to Wisconsin, I sat in the harbor looking out at the Gulf. I was surprised to see a single dolphin swimming very close to my feet, which were dangling from the cement shoreline. I think of dolphins as hanging out in pods, not alone. This particular dolphin, I imagined, was a curious one. He was checking things out. A budding humanist, perhaps, exploring and looking for meaning? In Florida, it seems, the manatees and dolphins are part of the story.

By Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs at the Wisconsin Humanities Council

 

 


A forest and a purpose

November 3, 2011

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t mind going off the beaten path to find a nugget, I’ve got a great place for you.  And no matter which direction you come from, the drive will be outstanding because teeny Valton in southern Wisconsin is in the heart of one of the most secluded and beautiful areas of the state.

Nestled in a small valley in the northwestern panhandle of Sauk County, near rural hamlets of Cazenovia, Hillsboro, LaValle and Yuba, is an historic fraternal meeting place with a very uncommon story, one of an itinerant painter who stayed for two years.

A common exterior........

Modern Woodmen of America Camp 6190 was one of numerous fraternal organizations whose buildings were common in communities in the 1800s.  The organization provided brotherhood and life insurance and the building served the community as well as lodge members.

Going into the Painted Forest is like entering the cocoon to see the butterfly.  The commonness of the exterior gives way to an explosion of color inside.  It’s all around you, truly an environment.  You walk in from outside and might think you’re back outside.

An uncommon interior

After the initial awe, the skill of artist Ernest Hupeden manifests itself in detail.   Hupeden started by painting the stage curtain in exchange for lodging at a local hotel.  His work so impressed the camp members that they further commissioned Hupeden to continue his painting and adorn the walls.  After a couple of years the work was finished. Hupeden had literally covered every inch of wall space including the arched ceiling, window frames, wainscoting and curtains. The vivid imaginative scenes depict a remarkable vision of life, death, initiation rituals, and the aspirations of the Valton M.W.A camp members.

The John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan has works by Hupeden and you can view two of his paintings – The Valley Where the Bluebird Sings and The Bolton Landscape on the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society.  (Click here for the collections page, then click “search” and type “Hupeden”.)  The Kohler Foundation website also contains information on the artist and his work.

In and of itself the Painted Forest is quite a story.   Edgewood College of Madison cares for the site and another chapter of the tale is how they’ve added to the history and made it a significant rural art resource.

In 2004 they constructed the Art Studio and Study Center about a block away from the old camp building.  The facility provides space for interdisciplinary workshops, lectures, retreats, and artist residencies.   This modern facility doesn’t look “new”, it looks like it has been part of the village for decades.  Very nice.  It has bathrooms, a full kitchen, a sleeping loft and an activity space that can accommodate up to 25 people.

I was there recently for a meeting of the Wisconsin Art Environment Consortium, a group representing nine art environments around the state.  We helped produce the Wandering Wisconsin tours, which includes the Painted Forest, to help build awareness and appreciation of these Wisconsin wonders.

Members of the Wisconsin Art Environment Consortium at work in the studio

The group connects regularly to share tips about site operation and conserving the art we’re entrusted to preserve.  Through Wandering Wisconsin and with the help of the staff of the John Michael Kohler Art Center, the consortium produced thousands of maps with suggested tours and great information about the environment builders and nifty places to visit near each site.  We were able to accomplish this with a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, which now includes the Wisconsin Arts Board.  Both are great supporters of local arts organizations.  The consortium is working on more marketing plans for 2012 and perhaps some summer opportunities for artists near each site as well.

Ernest Hupeden died in 1911.  It is said he froze in a snow bank by Hillsboro, but no one is certain.  One hundred years after his death we learned that he is buried in an unmarked grave in the potter’s field at the old Richland County Farm/Home near Richland Center, sharing a single marker with over 60 others.

Art Studio and Study Center

Some of Hupeden’s amazing art has been found and conserved but the thought is that many pieces remain in the Valton area, perhaps lost in attics or hidden behind paneling.  Recently a Hupeden mural was found in a bar.  Poor Ernest, he was freed from prison in Germany for a crime he did not commit.  After he was exonerated he came to America and painted his way west.  Now, a hundred years after his death, his genius is beginning to attain broader exposure but it is unsettling that his earthly remains have yet to gain the respect we often take for granted.

The Painted Forest is open Saturdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day or by appointment.  Contact David Smith, director, with questions about the site or access to the studio.  It is a remarkable resource in an uncommon, but equally remarkable setting.  The journey and destination are both enveloped by Wisconsin’s natural beauty – truly conducive to serenity and inspiration.

Elephant Rock - on the way to Valton from the south

Edgewood College has proven to be an exceptional steward of the Painted Forest and then some.   The vision of folks there has enhanced a remarkable facet of Wisconsin’s history.  In partnership with the Kohler Foundation, Edgewood has added contemporary uses to historic preservation.  They’ve made a place that you could see into a place where you can also do, a resource to share with artists, writers and even a baseball team seeking a retreat venue.

As the old guys on the park bench say, “It ain’t what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it”.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, WI


Sauk County ‘DTour’

October 11, 2011

Wayfinder, by Terrence Campagna.

Now through Oct. 16, as part of its 2nd Annual Fermentation Festival, Reedsburg is offering the Farm/Art DTour, a 50-mile circular excursion through rural Sauk County. The tour winds through the county’s less-traveled roads, past tidy farms and tiny towns, to flaunt the season’s explosive color. What makes this particular drive so exceptional, though, is more than two dozen farm-based art installations and other attractions–from Roadside Culture Stands selling local produce to music and theater performances in the fields along the way.

At its core, the Reedsburg Fermentation Festival is a showcase for fermented food and drink (beer, of course, plus cheeses, yogurts, sauerkrauts and more). But organizers have billed the fest as a “live culture convergence,” connecting culture of the microbial sort with cultivation of the earth and cultivation of the mind and soul. By embracing the roots of the word culture, or “the action of cultivating land” in 12th-century Anglo-Norman, the event helps clarify relationships among where we live, what we eat and what we grow–as well as what we create, and what we love.

Boots, by Christopher Lutter-Gardella of Puppet Farm Arts

To make the most of festival offerings, I recommend planning ahead; many events require registration. For example, if you’re a fan of  fermented cabbage, you can participate in Saturday’s ‘Powerkraut‘ workshop. Love kombucha? Find out how to make the fermented beverage at home from a Madison-based kombucha company, also scheduled for Saturday. Opportunities for less adventurous tasters include yeast breads, honey, yogurt, wine and beer presentations.

"Field Notes" installation interpreting a hayfield for tour takers.

If you take the Farm/Art DTour, try scheduling your trip around one of the pasture performances. On Saturday, Nath and Marnie Dresser present ‘Some Kind of Sign,’ a story told in poetry and song. And Sunday, the Madison-based band Graminy performs. Download a map and take a self-guided tour, as we did, or sign up for a guided bus tour on Sunday, Oct. 16, that includes a stop at Carr Valley Cheese Factory in LaValle.

As of today, the weekend forecast for the Reedsburg area calls for sunshine with highs in the 60s. Not quite the balmy weather we enjoyed for last Saturday’s drive (car windows wide open in October!)–but still, near perfect conditions for a fall day trip.

–Tammy Kempfert

Share


Black Ash Basketry

September 13, 2011

By Emily Umentum, guest contributor

Basketry is one of the oldest crafts in human history, and yet the knowledge of making these simple, and once essential, vessels has become a rarity in the modern age. Of the available basket-making materials, the flexibility and durability of black ash is unsurpassed; baskets woven of black ash splints can endure extreme compression and load and yet quickly spring back to their original form and strength, even after having been in use for years or even decades!  This beautiful, yet useful art has been making a renaissance in Northern Wisconsin since a few individuals have taken the time to seek out those who know the craft and are willing to pass it down to others.

April StoneDahl, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) is currently the only black ash basket weaver of her band.  Studying and weaving since 1998, she has also been teaching basketry in northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan since 2000. April takes great pride in weaving quality utilitarian baskets which are meant to be used. I first encountered April more than a year ago when I visited the annual Traditional Ways gathering held on the Bad River Reservation near Ashland, Wis. My first impressions of her dedication to craftsmanship, durability and sustainability have been proven accurate in all my dealings with her since.

During the year after I first visited Bad River, I have been serving as a VISTA with Northwoods NiiJii, a Wisconsin tribally-affiliated nonprofit based on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation. VISTA is a federal service program charged with fighting poverty, in my case, by helping develop a community-oriented art center and gallery known as the Woodland Indian Art Center . In the course of helping build infrastructure and form community partnerships, I have had the opportunity to engage various artists from communities outside Lac du Flambeau as well. Luckily for us, April was one of those artists.

Those in attendance at the August 26, 2011, Black Ash Basket class at the Woodland Indian Art Center were able to witness this tree’s amazing properties firsthand as they learned the preparation of materials and crafted their own baskets! The instructors, April and Jarrod StoneDahl of Woodspirit (www.woodspiritgallery.com), began by discussing the habitat, behavior and current threats to this singular and historic tree.

The Black Ash, Fraxinus nigra, is a deciduous (seasonally leaf dropping) tree native to cool, wet regions of the Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada. It is currently threatened by an invasive insect known as the Emerald Ash Borer, whose larvae are spread by the movement of firewood from park to park. The best chance we have of preserving the black ash from complete destruction is to encourage campers to only purchase firewood locally, instead of transporting it. Why all the fuss over this one tree species?

This tree is unique among all North American trees because its growth rings (the seasonal trunk growth produced by the tree) are not connected to each other by fibers, as are other trees. As mundane as such a distinction may seem to the average person, for basket-makers it means that the rings may be separated from each other and made into splints for baskets. Without this tree, this particular type of basketry is in danger of disappearing.

Jarrod explained that Black Ash trees form annual growth rings of two types of wood: spring wood is a rapidly laid-down, loose connective layer which links each year of more robust summer growth to the next. He stated that by soaking the trunk in water and then pounding it with a rounded steel mallet, the spring connective layer is crushed and allows for the summer wood to be peeled off in long strips. The weaker bond of the connecting fibers is what allows the summer wood strips to separate. These strips, or ‘splints’, as they are called, vary in color according to where they lie in the tree; sap wood, the outer layer where moisture is currently flowing in the tree, is a lighter color, and heart wood, which lies at the core of the tree where moisture once flowed, is darkened with age. Trees are typically harvested in late spring or early summer (because the bark can slip off with prodding of the hands), and pounded right after harvest.  Although spring and summer is the ideal time, trees may be harvested throughout the year as needed.

After receiving the lecture and viewing some very artistic diagrams on the Art Center whiteboard, the class wandered outside to test the theory for themselves on a soaked and freshly-peeled black ash log set up for the occasion. Jarrod began the demonstration and each student tried a hand at pounding; the consensus was that despite an absence of fibers, separating the layers still was a lot of work! Who knew basket-making could be so vigorous?

The class was told that the strips were further refined by scraping and splitting, typically with a stout knife, in order to give one side of each strip the satiny-smooth finish characteristic of the exterior of black ash baskets. Splints are then rolled up and may be stored indefinitely. After experiencing only a fraction of the prep work involved in pounding and a demonstration of splitting, the class was grateful for their pre-pounded, scraped and split materials!

The first step in weaving a basket is to select and trim the splints to a desired length, in this case, a little longer than the width of the bottom, plus twice the height of the basket. These strips are generally thicker because they will be bent to become the vertical portion, or the ‘uprights’ of the basket’s walls. They must be trimmed along their length as well, because uniformity of width helps guarantee the tightness of the basket’s weave, especially on the bottom.

Trimmed splints are then soaked in a basin of water until they are pliable, and woven into a mat in which the small squares between the weave are kept the same. One of the future ‘uprights’ is then split in two, the long way, down to the bottom of the basket; this now-uneven number of uprights guarantees that the basket’s horizontal weave will stay uniform.

The next step in weaving is to decide on the width of the ‘weavers’ or horizontal splints in making the basket; different looks are achieved by trimming weavers to be thicker, narrower, or the same as the width of the uprights. The first weaver is always the trickiest, as the uprights are not yet bent upwards! After the first weaver goes all the way around the basket and crosses two consecutive uprights, then the uprights may be bent into their true upright position. Eventually, the uprights are held in place by the weavers, and the basket comes together quickly.

When the basket has reached its desired height, the uprights are trimmed and tucked away to leave a smooth surface for the rim. The inner and outer rims, typically cut from a thicker splint, are positioned and held in place with spring clips until they are firmly lashed into position with a very narrow, pliable strip of splint wrapped one way, and then the other.

Everyone in the class was pleased with their durable and attractive new baskets; students left both creatively and ecologically informed about this singular tree and its uses. Given the skills of April’s apprentices and captivation of her students, the black ash in our region will certainly have a fighting chance! We hope to have April and Jarrod back again soon; stay tuned for upcoming announcements on future black ash basket classes! Please feel free to stop in at the Woodland Indian Art Center, located at 562 Peace Pipe Rd. in downtown Lac du Flambeau or call us at 715-588-3700 for more information.

***********

Emily Umentum is a VISTA member serving at the Woodland Indian Art Center in Lac du Flambeau, WI.  There she helps develop community partnerships, organizational capacity and arts programming. She has worked and volunteered with a number of community arts and education organizations in the Midwest and abroad; from puppet theaters to women’s shelters, organic farms to language schools, she brings a diverse array of experiences to bear in her writing. See her original post, with additional photos, at the Woodland Indian Art Center blog.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers