For over a decade I have been involved with Nick Engelbert’s Grandview – an artist environment in the rolling hills of Iowa County, about 35 miles west of Madison. Like other environment builders, Nick was inspired by the Dickeyville Grotto, and after he sprained an ankle and became temporarily incapacitated in the 1930s he started to build Grandview piece by piece.
But this blog is not about historic the site or Nick – I’ll save that for some other time. This blog is about what artists do at the site. Grandview is alive with arts folks. Nick would be thrilled.
For the last decade Grandview has hosted classes for young and old. The Grandview Academy started because there weren’t any arts enrichment activities in the area for the kids in our school or for community members. We wanted to be more than a tourist attraction.
And we wanted very much to identify and support the scores of artists and artisans who live in our area. Many of them were our first Academy faculty when we started in 1998. We wrote grant applications like crazy, established a workshop fee of $2 a person, hung a few flyers and off we went. That first year we had about 225 folks take classes. Not earth shattering but we’re in a very rural place and this was something new – so we were pleased.
Now Grandview has over 30 local artists teaching scores of classes. Some teach during the summer, some teach afterschool classes for the kids. One ties the summer and winter Solstice and Norwegian culture together. (Check out this year’s summer line-up.)
As more people found out about the classes they grew in size and in number. People started coming from greater distances and K-12 art teachers started to show up. Last year, in cooperation with Edgewood College in Madison, we held our first Teacher Academy. This year we’ve partnered with UW-Platteville and we hope it grows. Few activities in rural areas get art teachers together for professional development and, when that happens, they also learn a great deal from each other. Field studies are part of the class and they travel around Wisconsin studying environment builders and developing school curricula that tell the story of their own places and people
So now Grandview is a real summer school. The public schools the kids attend can count time the children spend at Grandview classes as summer school hours. This helps the schools. Teachers and other adults can get one or two credits from the UW-Platteville Office of Continuing Education, depending on what courses they take. And in many instances the kids and grown-ups are taking the same classes together, in a quiet country setting surrounded by the statuary and cement-embellished home of visionary farmer Nick Engelbert.
We have a parade every year – close down the state highway and let the kids follow the fire engine and high school drummers up the hill to Grandview. Artists do mini-workshops there. Last year one of those artist-teachers was a Pecatonica elementary school student who wowed the other kids by teaching them to make marble trees. She wowed the parents by exhibiting some serious preparation and pedagogical skills: in an hour and a half each kid in the entire school had made a marble tree. She teaches the same class for the Academy in the summer. At Grandview your teacher’s teacher may be your kid.
So we have this storage shed just outside the historic grounds. Years ago some young folks from the Wisconsin Conservation Corps built it but it was never sided.
One colleague had the idea to cover the darn thing with cement and stick stuff in it – just like Nick did with his house. So when we had the parade for the kids a few years ago we had some high school students there to spread the mud, so to speak. The elementary school kids brought marbles and jewelry and memorabilia to stick in the fresh concrete and stick they did: Lots of giggly kids plunking their valuables in concrete on the wall, wondering if they will still be there when they’re old.
Last week a great group from the UW-Platteville Art Department, Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement and our buddies at the regional arts organization ArtsBuild came to mud more of the shed. Many of these folks were students, future art teachers. With the guidance of Professor Kaye Winder and local artist Bill Grover they took-on a section and made it glow. Without a plan their design evolved as they talked. They used palettes of colorful glass, damaged pennies, tile, souvenir pottery and other junk from yard sales. One person brought a little pot that belonged to her son’s fiancé who was killed in an auto accident. No one could bear to break it into pieces – the whole thing went into the concrete.
Those young people and their mentors were the latest artists to leave their mark. That shed is getting to be a story.
Some of us watch all this and tacitly celebrate being country folks and having these opportunities and this beauty right outside our doorsteps. Sometimes when the kids have gone and we’re ready to lock up for the night we’ll have a bit of wine and reflect on it all.
All this stuff is the type of thing that kids remember as they grow up. These are the kinds of memories that make young people think being an artist or a teacher is cool, and reinforce without a lecture what creativity is all about. It helps our young people think that being rural is cool, too.
Wisconsin is rich with places and people like Grandview and our artists. What’s your story?
Wisconsin Rural Partners
Hollandale, WI (Pop. 283)