Under the Big Top

May 31, 2009

Under the Big Top…..to a large percentage of us that conjures up images of circus tents and performers, animal trainers and acrobats. Even if we are too young to have experienced the circus under a tent, we all have read enough stories, seen enough movies to associate the two – Big Top equals circus. There is one place however where Big Top conjures up a different picture all together and that place is the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where Big Top equals Chautauqua, Lake Superior’s Big Top Chautauqua to be exact.  A place so magical that you cannot help but be drawn back show after show, season after season.  This is the granddaddy of all tent shows.

Tent shows, or Chautauquas, began back in the 1870s initially as a means to educate Sunday school teachers and then as religious revivals. Tents set up just a little ways outside of towns with easy transportation available via train were meeting spots for week long gatherings. Although they started with a religious bent, they quickly changed into a means of exposing the public to entertainers and new ideas. It was a forum for gathering and dispersing information, for friendly discussion of political views, and for enjoying vaudeville type entertainment. Chautauquas reached their pinnacle in the 1920s and then slowly disappeared with the advent of the radio. History does repeat itself as each new technological advance seems to be mirrored by the loss of something else.

There are still a few Chautauqua’s around the country but none so dear, at least to me, as Big Top Chautauqua located between Washburn and Bayfield on the Bayfield Peninsula. There is certainly no grander site then the viewing of the large blue striped tent nestled at the base of Mt Ashwabay on a clear blue day. The Big Top is now in its 24th season, having started just this past weekend with the raising of the tent and going until it comes down again on September 12th. Between now and then, there will be 56 shows encompassing everything from nationally known performers and historical musical theater to the annual Pie and Politics forum. Tens of thousands of patrons will cross into the tent under blue skies and then emerge under skies filled with a thousand stars.TentOverview_700

Lake Superior’s Big Top Chautauqua is a non-profit organization started by a few local community members who were willing to dream big and then put in the effort to see the dream come true. It is now sustained by a small army of volunteers who work all aspects of the organization from raising money year round to physically manning the facility during the summer. I do believe this may be my 10thyear as a volunteer. I have always found it much more fun to be intimately involved with a program then to slip in, see a show, and then slip out. Okay, there are times when I enjoy going the more mainstream route. Buy a ticket on line or purchase one at the little ticket booth the day of the performance, arrive with enough time to get a drink and something to eat, casually take my seat, enjoy the evening of entertainment and casually slip back out. But, my greatest memories are from the shows I have staffed. I have worked everything from ticket salesperson to stagehand. I have been a local roadie for Willie Nelson and Randy Sabien. I have provided security for Earl Scruggs, sitting on the front of the stage to assure no one attempted to rush on. That’s kind humorous since I’m only 5’6” and not very stout. And I’ve worked backstage security for numerous performers. That’s my favorite spot. Arriving early, talking to the performers, watching parts of the show from the wings, and answering endless questions about whether or not the performer will sign autographs afterwards, it’s what I live for. There are volunteers who come to the area for a week and work every show that occurs and volunteers who make it up just once a season.  They all have the same love for the tent and sense of ownership in the magic that is made.

Getting involved in the local arts scene as a volunteer, whether it is at Big Top Chautauqua, the Park Theater in Hayward, Lucius Woods in Solon Springs, or the local performing arts venue in any neck of the Wisconsin woods, not only rewards the volunteer with an evening of entertainment but assures that these organizations can continue to exist. George Burns once said, “When you stop giving and offering something to the rest of the world, it’s time to turn out the lights.” Perhaps this is the summer to make sure that all the lights remain on.

–Dayle Quigley

The Wisconsin Halls of Fame

May 29, 2009

I spent Memorial Day Weekend in Chamberlain, South Dakota, a lovely Missouri River town in the south central portion of the state. If you’re traveling by car from Wisconsin, Chamberlain is down Interstate 90 a patch from the South Dakota Corn Palace in Mitchell, but a few hours shy of the Badlands, the Black Hills, a free glass of ice water at Wall Drug and that well-publicized tourist mecca, Mt. Rushmore.

One thing few people know about Chamberlain (South Dakotans included, I would venture to say) is that it’s home to the South Dakota Hall of Fame. Tom Daschle, Tom Brokaw and Mary Hart are in the Hall, as are Sitting Bull, Lawrence Welk and Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Not surprisingly, there are even categories hailing the state’s finest “Professional Cowboys” and its “Unsung Heroes and Good Hearts.” Each year, one South Dakota artist and one writer receives special commendation, too.

During the long car trip back to Madison on Monday, my traveling companions and I wondered why our adopted home state has no such entity. After all, Wisconsin has no shortage of creative thinkers who have led important lives–in politics, the arts, conservation, athletics, academics.  We have our unsung heroes and good hearts here, too–I know a few of them myself. And while I’m strapped to come up with a Badger State cowboy of note, I’m hoping blog readers will prove me wrong.  Who is Wisconsin’s Casey Tibbs?  And who are Wisconsin’s heroes of the past and present? Let us know whom you would induct into my imaginary Wisconsin Hall of Fame.

Finally, even though we don’t have a central Wisconsin Hall of Fame, we do in fact have many specialized Halls of Fame. Thanks to Michael Goc’s recent post, Comfort in a Centennial, I had already learned about the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Here are a few more I found online:

Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum

Snowmobile Hall of Fame

Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame

Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame

Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame

Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame

Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame

–Tammy Kempfert

Creativity and Dreaming

May 26, 2009

I was listening to Wisconsin Public Radio (www.wpr.org) this past Tuesday while doing some yard work and I heard a very interesting show about dreams and dreaming. The guest on the show was Robert Moss (www.mossdreams.com) and he was talking about the power of our dreams. For a long time I haven’t been able to remember my dreams, and while I had attempted to change that in the past it was a pursuit that had fallen to the wayside. I considered calling in with my question, how do I start remembering my dreams again, but I didn’t have to. Another listener beat me to it saving me the need to climb out of the garden and wash up. The solution proposed by the guest was ridiculously simple, and it worked! I simply stated to myself my desire to remember my dreams! The last three nights running now I’ve remembered and recorded my dreams. They’ve been intensely vivid and crazy weird, and I love it.

One of the most intriguing thing he talked about on the show was the research that he has been doing into dreaming over the decades. One of the things he talked about was comparing scans of brain activity when dreaming with other waking activities. It turns out that when we are engaged in creative activity, our brain activity is the same as when we are dreaming.

This perked me right up. I’ve been looking for ways to expand and engage my creativity more, and here was a way to do it in my sleep! There are some classic examples of people using dreams to enhance their waking activities, one of the most notable being Einstein and his use of the dream state to achieve several breakthroughs in developing the theories of relativity. So, now I’m actively trying to remember my dreams and journal them when I wake from them.

If want to listen to the show, follow the link to the WPR online archives. The show aired on 5/22 and is coded 5/22E


–Spyros Heniadis

Posted via email from Spyros Heniadis

Comfort in a Centennial

May 21, 2009

Wisconsin’s budget shortfall sags past $6 billion. Home foreclosures and unemployment rates rise, retail sales and tourism fall. University tuition goes up, job prospects for graduates go down. Our schools cut programs and staff, but demand for a better educated work force grows. By all accounts, we face the most serious economic crisis since the 1930s.

So why am I sitting in the visitor’s gallery of the Wisconsin Assembly to show support for a resolution heralding the centennial of the first airplane to fly in Wisconsin. You would think–actually, you’d know–that the legislature has a mountain-high pile of more serious matters to consider. Yet here I am, part of a group of men and women, members of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, who care about the history of aviation in our state. We rise and wave when Representative Gary Hebl of Madison introduces the resolution, each paragraph starting with a “whereas” that explains and justifies why the measure merits the time and attention of the people’s representatives in these parlous times.


On November 4, 1909, an inventive and prosperous businessman from Beloit named Arthur  P. Warner, made the first successful flight of an airplane in Wisconsin. He had purchased a newly-built flying machine from Glenn Curtiss, the New Yorker who, in 1908, designed and built the second American airplane that could fly.

Arthur Warner was the first American to buy an airplane. It cost $6,000 in 1909 money but he could afford it. When he took it out to a farm field on the outskirts of Beloit and flew it, without any training or experience flying anything, he became the eleventh American to pilot an airplane. Not only did he get the Curtiss Pusher, as it was known, into the air, Warner also landed without breaking his neck. He made seven or eight flights that day, soaring about one-quarter mile as the crow flies and all of fifty feet off the ground–about the same as the Wright Brothers on their breakthrough flight in 1903.

Arthur Warner introduced Wisconsin to aviation. As historians of flight, we in the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, thought this event worthy of celebration statewide and we will be celebrating this summer. We’ll be touring the state with an exhibit featuring a beautifully crafted quarter-scale model of Warner’s plane. It was on display in the Capitol as the resolution was discussed and will be back again in a few months. We’ll celebrate in Beloit on November 4 with an re-enactment of Warner’s flight and on November 7 with a lecture at Beloit College delivered by Dr. Tom Crouch, Senior Curator of  Aeronautics at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

While we watched, the Assembly passed our resolution declaring November, 2009 as the Centennial of Flight Month in Wisconsin. It did not cost the taxpayers anything–except for time and effort expended by Representative Hebl and his staff. It was recognition, the kind of recognition of our interests that we citizens expect from our representatives. In this case the item recognized was a cheerful landmark of accomplishment. Progress made. A new age begun. We know the cliches.

Yet there is comfort in these cliches. We face a colossal crisis but we tend to matters of seemingly minor significance. We ask our elected representatives to do the same and we all find comfort there.

–Michael Goc

What a La Crosse Lady Has in Common with Grand Duke of Luxembourg Henri Albert Gabriel Félix Marie Guillaume?

May 14, 2009

Marie, my sophisticated colleague at the SBDC, La Crosse is not only sharing the same name with the current Grand Duke of Luxemburg, but they are sharing the same ancestors’ homeland too.

I discovered that fact just before the Mother’s Day during one of brief lunch break’s chats with Marie. She mentioned her mom, Mrs. Karen Rieber, and her amazing journey to learn about her family roots.

No, Mrs. Rieber is not a historian. She is an amazing lady who raised her kids and when she reached her senior years started exploring the origins of her family.  After many years of patient research, tracking old family photos and letters, hundreds of birth and wedding certificates and other documents, and interviewing known and previously unknown relatives, she wrote a book “Where The Babbling Brook Begins” about her ancestors’ lives and origins. She traced her ancestors back to the 1720’s when they lived on a farm outside of Luxemburg City.

Catharina and Henri Gilles were the first relatives to move to America in early 1800’s. According to Mrs. Rieber’s findings, “there are over three thousand descendents from the first Gilles in 1720, to those born in 2005. They moved to every corner of the United States.  They have many names by which they are called and many places they
call home.”*

Although Mrs. Rieber’s book became an instant hit between her relatives, she is not resting on that success. She has been actively researching her husband’s roots and collecting the documents and interviewing his relatives.  She is also a founding member of the planning committee for creating a Luxemburg American Descendants Society in

What a great way to spend her senior years! Leaving a gift of documented family history for new generations.


P.S. If you wish to learn more about the Society and Mrs. Rieber’s book, please feel free to contact her at 608.782.3716 or at: ladyhawk220@hotmail.com

*Karen Rieber, “Where The Babbling Brook Begins,”2006.

Meet George Tzougros

May 13, 2009

When politicians, pundits and government watchdogs use appropriations for the arts and education in the same sentence as “pork,” I first want to debate the meaning of the term “government pork.”

Then, I want to introduce them to the Wisconsin Arts Board‘s Executive Director, George Tzougros. Who better than he to explain why investing in the arts and arts education pays off  for Wisconsin communities? Now, thanks to Arts Midwest, YouTube and the Portal Wisconsin blog, I can.

So, politicians and pundits, meet George Tzougros.

Next, meet Sue Martinsen. Up north in Ashland, Wis., she has embarked on a decade-long mission of bringing revenue to her community through the arts.  The mural artist and businesswoman says she concocted the idea for an Ashland Mural Walk after watching tourists pull over to view Ashland’s first historic mural (completed in 1998),  take a snapshot, get back inside their cars and speed off to their intended destinations. With the Mural Walk, now twelve murals strong, Ms. Martinsen’s goal is to make Ashland the intended destination.

“I make no bones about it,” she says. “These murals are about getting people to come to Ashland, shop in Ashland, vacation in Ashland, move to Ashland, work in Ashland. It’s all about Ashland. It’s about jobs and commerce.”

The Asaph Whittlesey mural painted by Kelly Meredith and Sue Martinsen was Ashland's first of twelve mural projects.

This mural, the first of 12 painted by Kelly Meredith and Sue Martinsen, depicts Ashland's founder.

Ashland is not alone in recognizing the relationship between art businesses, education and community prosperity. The Web pages at PortalWisconsin.org are filled with stories of arts and culture organizations that serve as economic anchors for their neighborhoods–the sea of dots you see on Mr. Tzougros’ map land in Menomonie, Milwaukee, Hollandale and places too numerous to mention.

Still, with all the talk about bridges to nowhere and three million dollar projectors, even as Americans continue to lose jobs and homes, it’s no wonder many are angry about what they see as government waste. Unprecedented federal spending proposals have ramped up the squabbling, with accusations aimed in every direction. Republicans and Democrats alike promise theirs will be the party to provide greater transparency in the legislative spending process:  “I will make them famous and you will know their names,” John McCain famously said of lawmakers who insert earmarks into federal legislation.

We should know their names, I think. As citizens, we should be frugal, vigilant and skeptical. But let’s not confuse sound investment in communities with wasteful spending. As a statement released by the National Endowment for the Arts reads, “the arts and culture industry is a sector of the economy just like any other with workers who pay taxes, mortgages, rent and contribute in other ways to the economy.”

Remember one person’s pork may be another’s bread and butter.

At the Arts Board Web site, artists and others can find a “Toolkit for the Economic Crisis.” Meanwhile, please watch for more about the ongoing Ashland Mural Walk project in PortalWisconsin.org’s feature section later this month.

–Tammy Kempfert

Art Vacation

May 9, 2009

While I am an artist, like many of us (all of us!) I have a job too. My job isn’t art related and it’s been consuming more of my time than I would maybe like.

Lately my wife and I have been talking about taking a vacation, and we’d like to take an Art Destination vacation.

One of our ideas was to go to Michigan for the Artprize event that I mentioned in a previous post, and another idea was to meet up with some friends in the Twin Cities to take in some galleries.

So now I have two questions for our readers out there.

1. What are your ideas for an art vacation in the US?

2. What are your ideas for an art vacation in Wisconsin?

Spyros Heniadis