MUS-kuh-day, not Mus-KOH-dah

April 29, 2009

Now there’s no excuse for mispronouncing the names of Wisconsin places and people. Wisconsin Radio Network reporter Jackie Johnson, AKA Miss Pronouncer, has created a Web resource devoted solely to state phonetics. Site visitors can click on hundreds of Wisconsin-specific names for online audio pronunciations–places like Muscoda (MUS-kuh-day) and people like Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (kuh-BEER BAH-zha bee-uh-MIL-uh).

At her Web site MissPronouncer.com, Ms. Johnson writes, “I started out pronouncing all the names you’ll hear on this Web site myself, but in the cases when you’ll hear other voices, such as many of the lawmakers and cabinet members, those are the actual people pronouncing their own names. The exception is the voice pronouncing athletes, which has Wisconsin sports guru Bill Scott at the microphone.” She came to Wisconsin Public Television‘s Madison studios for an interview with Frederica Freyberg of Here and Now a while back.

If only Miss Pronouncer would head west to my home state, South Dakota. The state capital is PEER, folks. Not pee-AYR.

–Tammy Kempfert


Artprize

April 27, 2009

I just read about this new effort to change the relationship between artists and the audience. Artprize.org is the website for this American Idol style art contest.

My first thought was, “Oh, how cool!”, and I immediately wanted to enter the contest. Then I did some research, reading on the site, and I don’t think this is a contest conducive to the smaller scale photography that I work in.

I love this idea though, and I love the initiative being taken to do this. The Artprize mission is:

ArtPrize exists to reboot the conversation between artists and audiences on a grand scale

This relationship is something I’ve been thinking about lately as we continue to work on the cooperative and prepare to open our gallery. I feel change in the air and can’t wait to see what emerges as we move through these challenging and exciting times.

Spyros Heniadis


A Photographic Mystery

April 24, 2009

A few years ago, Paul Beck, Special Collections Librarian at the UW-La Crosse’s Murphy Library, accepted a donation of six hundred glass plate photographic negatives. A La Crosse alumnus had acquired them at a farm auction in Indiana. No one there knew much about the negatives except that they had come from Wisconsin and, as scribed on many of the images, they were made by the “Taylor Bros., Adams, Wisconsin.”

Photo: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.TaylorBros

Photo: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.TaylorBros

Beck attempted to learn more about the negatives and the photographers with little success. The Adams County Historical Society had a collection of Taylor Brothers prints, but did not know much about the brothers themselves. Impressed by the quality of the images and the subjects they depicted, Beck had them scanned and added to the Murphy Library’s Digital Collection. All nine-hundred plus images may be viewed at http://murphylibrary.uwlax.edu/digital/index.html.

In the last year or so, researchers in Adams County have learned more about these two men who, while they plied the photographer’s trade, created fine photographic art.

Born in the 1880s, Leon and Eugene Taylor grew up on their parents’ farm in the Adams County town of Monroe, about a mile east of what is now the Petenwell Flowage of the Wisconsin River. Soil scientists list the sand soil here as among the poorest in the state. Their findings were supported by farmers like the Taylors who, after a single generation of hard-earned failure, parked the plow and sought other means to make a living. Eugene and Leon thought they could make a go of it in the photographic line and, about 1910, acquired a heavy box camera, tripod and hood, cartons of glass negatives, plus trays, chemicals and paper to process and print “pictures.”

Photo: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.TaylorBros

Photo: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.TaylorBros

To make a living in sparsely settled country, they had to hit the road, first by horse and buggy, then by auto. They covered the territory from Columbia and Marquette counties west to Juneau, Jackson and La Crosse. Group shots were popular and potentially profitable: students at rural and village schools, entire church congregations lined up on the lawn, National Guard units in camp, Ho Chunk gatherings, settler families proud of their kin and their kine.

Public buildings of note, Main Steet shops, grain mills, steam excavators, train depots, bridges, even cemeteries, any image that might garner interest and a sale was worth capturing. They had no eyes for landscapes or nature, no forests primeval, rock-strewn bluffs or river views. Instead, when the North Western railroad created the village of Adams, the Taylors set up a tent near the tracks and chronicled the birth of one of Wisconsin’s last railroad boom towns.

Yet they had a gift. As their portraits make evident, the Taylors could capture the humanity of their subjects and transfer it to the photo plate. They were especially adept at depicting people and animals together, able to calm the discomfort, ease the shyness, settle the fears of man, woman, child and beast for the long seconds required to make the picture. A boy stands between two work horses and cradles his pet dog in his arms. A smiling woman transcends the dull chore of the chicken coop to pose with her children and her poultry. A young couple sits, house-proud in their new front yard, while the hired hand holds their prize horse and the cow dog watches, poised at his master’s side.

Photo: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.TaylorBros

Photo: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.TaylorBros

Rare it is to find a face blank, frozen or empty of expression in a Taylor portrait. The subjects smile, grimace, turn a profile or look straight back at the lens, invariably speaking to the camera in a visual language acquired from the photographers.

The Taylors continued to make photos until the 1930s. Eugene died in 1952. His obituary does not identify him as a photographer. Leon’s death notice has yet to be found. We do not know how the glass negatives got to Indiana.

–Michael Goc


The Arrival of Spring

April 22, 2009

Spring has arrived in the NorthWoods as well as the rest of the state this week. No it’s not the weather that has allowed me this revelation. Certainly the cold Nordic air mixed with little white flakes does nothing to remind me of spring. Instead the appearance of the endless music recitals is always my harbinger of spring and impending summer.

I am a product of spring recitals. Faced as a youngster with the springtime piano recital, my joy for music was completely expunged. I loved playing the piano at home. I would bang along to my favorite pop tunes, a piano bench full of sheet music. But the recitals were always another story altogether. I never got to play those pop tunes. Instead I would carefully prepare for weeks or months a piece hand selected by my teacher to prove my increased proficiency. It wasn’t always classical music. I remember one year playing an absolutely dreadful jazzed up version of Old MacDonald that seemed to last forever. It wasn’t just the music I detested; it was the feeling of the recital. The noticeable inhaling of the entire audience as one sat down to play. The realization that they were holding their breath hoping not to exhale until the piece was over. You see, as soon as the first blatant mistake was made – a wrong note, a loss of timing, or the dreaded complete loss of any knowledge of the song –the entire audience would exhale together in the sound of a mournful sigh. There is no sadder sound for the young student standing or sitting in front or for that matter to the next student waiting to be led to the site of execution then the group sigh. Needless to say, I stopped taking piano lessons as soon as my mother decided I and everyone else in the family had suffered enough, seven years of suffering to be exact.

When I began playing the violin as an adult in my 30’s I was surprised that my feelings towards recitals had not changed. If anything my sense of impending doom was heightened. Although I enjoyed playing in a group, the instrument became a torture contraption as each recital neared. That all changed one day, however, when I stood up to play my piece and instead of starting right into the piece I opened my mouth. Out popped the words, “Hi, my name is Dayle and I have stage fright.” My teacher looked horrified. The audience however looked totally relieved. Someone yelled, “Hello, Dayle” as if they were attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and the entire place broke out laughing. With those few words, the atmosphere changed. No longer was the audience silent, stiff, and breathless. Instead of waiting for the mistakes to begin, they began cheering each correct note. Their encouragement was palpable as I made it through the piece to its completion. I would love to say that the piece was perfect, that miraculously my performance was spotless. It wasn’t. There were missed notes and missed pitches, dropped notes and perhaps dropped measures. Truth is I haven’t ever played a piece perfectly and I never will. But that isn’t what music or performances are all about.

The beauty of music is its ability to stir in both the performer and the listener a range of emotions. Its beauty is not in its perfection, it’s in its sharing of something deep. Music mimics life and life is not perfect. I don’t participate in recitals anymore. I much prefer “musical extravaganzas” where the rules and expectations are simple. The musicians play music they enjoy; music they would play even if it wasn’t on the practice list. In addition they must try to share that joy with the audience. There are rules for the audience as well. They must cheer often and wildly. They must forget every wrong note and remember only the correct ones. Finally, they need to remember the courage it takes to stand in front of family and friends and bare one’s soul.

I have no doubt that countless of us will either be performing in or listening to recitals in the coming weeks. Any recital however can easily be turned into a musical extravaganza, perhaps not in the title, but in the heart where it matters most. Breathe deeply and often, smile for the simple joy of being with a group of people sharing a moment never to be repeated, and relish the fact that someone, sometimes very young, is willing to open up and tell you about themselves without uttering a word.

–Dayle Quigley, Hayward, Wis.


A different kind of economic development

April 20, 2009

It wasn’t long ago that conversations about economic development were not about artists, small farms, micro-enterprises and independent people like me who make our living from home because we have the good fortune to have Internet service. (Note to my city friends – in the countryside broadband availability is a crapshoot. It depends heavily on whether you live on a ridge or in a valley or which utility serves your area. I’m one of the chosen few: I live on a ridge.)

Oftentimes the emphasis of business assistance programs seemed more of a trickle-down kind of thing: Give a big incentive to a large concern and they’ll build a factory or something and provide jobs. That’s not a bad thing in the eyes of many but to some it was the only way to do it.

My “Aha Moment” came a day after our regional economic development conference, when I realized that I had watched almost an entire slate of economic development awards go to small business entrepreneurs and those who help them be successful in their ventures. Times are changin’.

Small business is the bedrock of many local economies. Over a quarter of the workers in Iowa County where I live are self-employed and there is a much greater incidence in neighboring areas. My neighbors run their own businesses and I am self employed, too.

But a new job here or a new job there is not newsworthy and, in terms of what’s hot, we weren’t. At best we were ignored but for the most part we did not exist in the eyes of policy folks (self-employed folks are not included in unemployment rates and other commonly-used indicators).

I’ve worked in community development most of my career, and I realize paradigm shifts can develop slowly. But after the awards ceremony I started to think that much of what I had promoted for many years had arrived. The spotlight was on the little guy.

We’re seeing more and more economic development programs aiming to assist the entrepreneur. A good example is ArtsBuild – an economic development program of UW-Platteville intended to utilize the arts to foster economic development and grow the economy of the reab1gion by expanding existing and developing new art-related businesses. For this to happen, the university had to recognize that the arts were an untapped resource in the local economy – one worth investment.

When ArtsBuild started in 2004 the hope was that as many as 60 artists might be reached and some would participate. In a matter of weeks there were over 200 involved. The program now provides opportunities for education, marketing, partnerships and networking– the latter being critical for new businesspeople.

A newer UW-Platteville effort – Local Fare – works with small agricultural producers to expand the Local Foods market and build a local/regional food system.

The awards were part of the Building Economic Strength Together conference, the annual economic development spark plug of southwest Wisconsin. Accolades went to an Extension Agent who gets Crawford County entrepreneurs together, a dairy supply company from Darlington, a new regional bicycle roadmap with tons of tour loops, and a young graduate of UW-Platteville who loves robotics and built a great little company around his dream.

The Woman in Business award went to an angel who has dedicated her life to helping rural folks with handicaps obtain productive work. The City of Benton, an entrepreneurial hotbed of 975 still euphoric over a first state basketball championship, won the Cool Community award. It was a wise choice – it IS a cool community!

A big treat for me was being in the room when the folks who run Driftless Market (Portal Wisconsin Blogs – March 22, 2009) received the award for Regional New Entrepreneur.

Emphasizing the economic value of the local artist or entrepreneur recognizes that economies can be grown one step at a time. And besides that, most local artists, farmers or the home office worker will not leave for the next tax or cash incentive. We’re where we are for other reasons. Besides, many of us lucky enough to have adequate telecommunications tools can market our products and services anywhere.

Clearly small business is the economic backbone of Wisconsin and most of the Midwest. Cool communities and neighborhoods can grow many of their own jobs, and when economic developers recognize and support this we all benefit.

There is some great information on the economic impact of the arts and creative industries on the Arts Wisconsin website.  They’ll be the first to tell you that art is not a frill!

Rick Rolfsmeyer

Wisconsin Rural Partners, Hollandale, WI (pop. 283)


History…that is fascinating!

April 17, 2009

I am surprised how often I hear that one thing or another is being celebrated because it happened a certain number of years ago. On the one hand, I understand that this is one way we positively integrate an awe for history into our collective experience of the current calendar year. On the other hand, it often feels a little hollow. The opportunity is taken to get some attention, but not so much to reflect on the current day in light of that important event, or that person’s impressive actions.

Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809, so 2009 is being regarded as the 200th anniversary of Lincoln. I was treated last week to a special tour of the Tallman House in Janesville. It was my first visit to what was, in it’s day (1850s) the largest home in Wisconsin. The owners were powerful and generous people, but they are now overshadowed by the fact that their home is where Lincoln slept when he visited Wisconsin in 1859. This year is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s visit to Wisconsin!

A sink at the Tallman House used water collected in a roof-top cistern. Photo by Jessica Becker

A sink at the Tallman House used water collected in a roof-top cistern. Photo by Jessica Becker

While touring the house, however, I was more curious about the details of luxury and practicality than in the lore of Lincoln’s visit. I like thinking about these things because of how much and how little has changed, and how frequently, it seems, we fail to recognize which is which.

For instance, I loved learning about the “modern” indoor plumbing at the Tallman house, fed from rainwater caught in a cistern on the roof for sinks on every floor of the house. I know of “modern” homes being built now to catch rain for gardening or flushing toilets. Similarly, when thinking of Lincoln’s short stay with the Tallman’s, I wondered how many beds recent candidates Barrack Obama and John McCain must have slept in during 2008, and if those spots will be similarly preserved and revered? I marvel at how much President Obama has traveled during his first days in office to meet with people all over the planet. How different time and space and distance were in the 1900s!

I read a short piece in the spring issue of Orion magazine about a town in Minnesota that had been a bustling hub until the railroad veered traffic and commerce eight miles southeast to a neighboring town. The author, Katrina Vandenburg, grew up in Detroit, and drew comparisons between the growth and decline of her hometown as a direct function of the automobile (and peak oil). Janesville, is connected to this history, as well, with the closure of General Motor’s oldest plant, opened in 1919. The City of Janesville is under major financial distress and is being criticized, as the owners of the Tallman historic house, for letting it fall into disrepair.

Vandenburg’s essay is called “Nails” and, like my fascination with the Tallman’s plumbing, she is interested in the fact that nails were, in the 1800s, valued so differently than they are today. When residents abandoned the Minnesota town, they burned their homes and took the nails with them. Vandenburg is frustrated that, despite the fact that we know our history, we often do the same dumb things over and over. She wishes we would “build something better” with those saved nails.

Toilets for different sized people at the Tallman House, run by the Rock County Historical Society in Janesville. Photo by Jessica Becker

Toilets for different sized people at the Tallman House, run by the Rock County Historical Society in Janesville. Photo by Jessica Becker

I, too, hope we can learn from history. I want us to ask probing questions instead of retelling stories without asking why the story is interesting in the first place. Two hundred years from now, on a tour of the White House, will the most popular anecdote be of selecting and naming the Obama family puppy? Sure, we all fascinate on different parts of history, but these sparks have the potential to ignite our visionary powers and allow our minds to travel from the past to the future. My hope is that anniversaries of important dates do not emphasize how dead history is, but instead give our collective imagination juicy nuggets to fascinate upon.

by Jessica Becker


On Birds and Bards: Central Wisconsin’s Prairie Chicken Festival

April 17, 2009
A territorial encounter between male Greater Prairie Chickens.  Photo: Len Backus.

A territorial encounter between male Greater Prairie Chickens. Photo: Len Backus.

Birding enthusiasts who hoped to take part in Greater Prairie Chicken watching at the Central Wisconsin Prairie Chicken Festival can sleep in this weekend: all four viewing venues are filled to capacity.

Don’t be discouraged, though, because there are many ways to participate in this annual celebration of the state’s grassland habitats. Each of seven locations will host its own variety of activities that incorporate art, science and literature, including a day-long “non-urban” literary festival featuring Wisconsin bards and book authors.

The festival began at dawn this morning (April 17) with the first Prairie Chicken viewing experience. Those lucky enough to have made a reservation to the Buena Vista Wildlife Area event–the early birds, you might say–saw male Prairie Chickens vying for female attention. Part of this annual mating ritual includes an activity called “booming:” the male inflates the orange-colored air sac on his neck, emitting a sound that can be heard as far as a mile away. Additional tours of the Prairie Chickens booming grounds are scheduled for Paul J. Olson Wildlife Area in Rudolph and Mead Wildlife Area in Milladore–but again, they’re booked solid.

Everyone can still attend the Wisconsin Center for the Book‘s Literary Bash taking place tomorrow (Saturday, April 18) at Grant Elementary School in Wisconsin Rapids. Featured speakers include the Cooperative Children’s Book Center‘s Megan Schliesman, who will recommend nature books for youth; travel writer Mary Bergin; Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Glen Moberg; and others.

Booming Bob greets a 2008 festival goer. Photo: Jodi Hermson.

There’s lots for kids to do, too: arts and crafts activities, maple syrup tasting, bird-banding demonstrations and guest appearances by festival mascot “Booming Bob.” At the Literary Bash, poster contest winners from Grant Elementary’s “Celebrating Grasslands” competition will be honored, as will the youth winners of the Letters about Literature competition, a state and national student writing contest coordinated by Wisconsin author Tom Montag.

And this evening, Rapids Mall hosts a Nature Art Crawl where festival goers can purchase the works of central Wisconsin artists and learn from area conservation organizations. In addition, enjoy a screening of the film “Northern Harrier” by Wild Journey Films and the performance “Red Land” by Academie de la Dance.

In its fourth year, the festival has rapidly gained in popularity, even as Greater Prairie Chicken numbers in Wisconsin have declined. Last year’s estimate put the population at 1,000 in Wisconsin, down from 55,000 in 1955. One of the main goals of the annual festival is to support the efforts of landowners who wish to preserve the habitats of the Greater Prairie Chicken and other wildlife. Festival activities will include information on land management practices and programs that can assist them in their efforts.

Soon after the dust settles on the booming grounds this year, planners will begin preparing for the 2010 event. So if you want an up close look (and listen) at the Prairie Chicken in Wisconsin, remember to plan early for next year’s fest. Meanwhile, here’s a YouTube video from the Missouri Department of Conservation to show you what you can expect to see.

–Tammy Kempfert