Have you ever sneaked into a gallery to see an exhibit before it opened to the public?

March 23, 2010

I did exactly that last week.  I went to the local arts center as soon as I learned that the exhibit had been hanged.  I could not wait for the next day when Jean Mollendorf’s retrospective art show officially opened.  I was not disappointed with his dazzling show. His pieces evoke strange emotions and wonder.  Jean’s work is a new approach to post-impressionist abstraction that leans away from current European attempts and delivers a fresh new look at what’s there.” He uses bold colors and brushstrokes to contain high energy in his figurative art, portraits, abstracts, cityscapes, landscapes, etc.

Jean is a very shy man, who moved several years ago from Chicago to the La Crosse area.  Jean does not talk very much about himself or his art.  He allows viewers’ imaginations to interpret and discover a story hidden on his canvases.  And believe me, a lot of unexpected stories are captured on Jean’s canvases.

According to Jean, he has been painting since he was two years old.  Jean, who is now in his early seventies, attended the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art.  His painting has evolved from pre-planned, realistic work to more spontaneous, post-impressionist abstraction.  He claims: “painting and sculpture are my life blood, a God given gift which I must respect.”

Have you ever seen Jean’s paintings or met him?  If you have not, you should plan a trip to La Crosse and meet him during his reception at the Pump House on April 17, from 5-7 p.m.

–Martina Skobic

People and Ideas=Incredible Potential!

March 18, 2010
Making it Home Film Fest at the Al. Ringling Theatre: Liz, Milly, Woody

Opening Night at the Al. Ringling Theatre with Baraboo Making It Home project director Liz Nevers and Milly and Woody Zantow. Photo by Jessica Becker.

Milly Zantow is my new hero, but I am not alone. Almost 200 people turned out at the Al. Ringling Theatre last weekend to honor Ms. Zantow at the kick-off for the Making It Home Film Festivals. Milly Zantow is a pioneer in plastics recycling!

“We came up with the idea of a little imprint on the bottom of every container, a little triangle emblem with a number inserted in it and that would identify what the plastic was—1, 2, 3 on up— and so I was real happy when that went through and now days everybody can see that,” Milly explains in a short film about her work directed by Liese Dart, a student of the UW-Madison Nelson Institute’s fall 2009 Environmental Filmmaking Workshop. (All seven “shorts” shown throughout the 2009 Tales from Planet Earth film festival can be viewed here.)

Yes, we can see it and probably take it for granted. I know I did. When I learned that a woman from Wisconsin was behind the national plastics recycling movement, and the EPA adopted practice of labeling, I was impressed.

Milly says that after she returned from a visit to Japan in the 1970s, she started seeing her home surroundings differently. She had been impressed by the way garbage was neatly organized and collected in Japan, so she went to the dump in Sauk County and spent a little time observing. Turns out most of what was coming on the trucks, and blowing around the dump, was plastic in one form or another.

The story continues—she and a friend sold their life insurance policies, bought a machine to recycle plastic, collected and processed the stuff themselves, and even found commercial buyers to use the recycled material to make new products. Much of what Milly was able to accomplish began as simple questions leading her to learn what was going on and why. As she learned more, she educated others. People started coming to her to ask “can this be recycled?”

A visit to the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame clearly shows there many Wisconsinites from whom we can draw inspiration and feel state pride. In fact, three new members will be inducted next month: citizen activist Emily Earley, DNR science writer Ruth Hine, and UW-Stevens Point professor of biology George Becker.

We all have our own way of connecting with place, of seeing ourselves in the larger community and landscape, and of understanding how to translate our passions and values into meaningful action. These are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who dedicate their energy and time to help to make the state a place we are lucky to call home.

At the most recent Making It Home Film Festival in Dodgeville, I had the pleasure of meeting many of these people, caring and compassionate regular people, who came in droves to watch free movies and talk about them. The conversations after films like “The Greening of Southie” about a “green” construction project in Boston, or “Upstream Battle” about people who worked together from various interests—tribes, hydroelectric companies, and farmers—to return salmon runs to a threatened river in the Pacific Northwest, were wonderful. I was reminded that it’s not just Wisconsin’s lakes, forests, and seasons that I cherish. I love the spirit of the Wisconsin people, and it’s these people who are part of a larger tradition of caring for the land, the water, and the communities that thrive here.

Now, as I look around my Madison neighborhood and I wonder why things are done the way they are, or not done, I think of Milly. Having the courage to ask questions and think creatively about solutions, as so many Wisconsinites do, will naturally lead to new ways to improve the quality of life for myself and my neighbors. It is spring in Wisconsin and the soil feels very fertile!

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

Plastics One Through Seven (TRAILER) from Nelson Institute @ UW-Madison on Vimeo.

Visual artists from the 7Rivers Region have a new place to show their art

March 8, 2010

Wisconsin residents are increasingly looking for affordable art outside traditional museum or gallery settings.

At the same time emerging artists are looking for alternative spaces to show their art.  They display their works at open house events, co-op galleries, libraries,  university galleries, churches, coffee shops, bookstores, beauty salons, hospitals, airports, tourist centers, clubs, convention centers, parks,  market places, during art walks and art fairs,  etc.  It seems that crafts and arts have been offered at many places.

La Crosse area artists have been showing their works at nearly every locally available conventional and unconventional location.  Recently, they discovered a new alternative space.

Myrick Hixon EcoPark, a non-profit organization in La Crosse, whose vision is to achieve community understanding of, and respect for nature, and to protect the environment for future generations became a new meeting ground for environmentalists, artists and art enthusiast.  The organization will feature a new artist every month.

Lee Harwell, local photographer is the EcoPark’s first Artist of the Month.  His photographs truly reflect the vision and mission of the EcoPark.   Lee’s framed and unframed nature inspired photographs will be displayed in the EcoPark’s gift shop during March and will be one of many points of interest for visitors eager to explore the Park’s vast array of educational programs, events, volunteering opportunities, etc.   I had an opportunity to meet Lee in November of 2009 when he won with his photo “Seed Nesting,” the Second Annual Benefit Art Show hosted by Gallery La Crosse.

Lee Harwel's Photo

The Artist of the Month reception will be held on Saturday, March 13 from 11:30-1pm and will be free for general public.

The EcoPark is now accepting exhibition proposals for the Artist of the Month Program!  If you would like to apply and  be considered during the next jury session, contact Michelle Nelson at 608-784-0303 ext. 221 or by email at mnelson@mhecopark.org.  For more information check out EcoPark’s  website at www.mhecopark.org


Dead Girl Haunting

March 6, 2010

by Joan Fischer

Sid, the young protagonist of Postcards from a Dead Girl (Harper Perennial), is going through what might kindly be called a rough patch. He falls into frequent swoons infused with vivid scent hallucinations of lilac. He seeks refuge from the world by sitting in drive-through car washes and mud baths. He’s making friends with the local psycho postal worker. Worst of all, his heart still aching, he’s receiving oddly dated missives from a former flame who’s gone missing. What’s Sid hiding—or hiding from? Who’s sending the postcards? Is Zoe really dead, as the book title says? Those mysteries, combined with the novel’s quirky humor, keep the reader bouncing from one short chapter to the next. The indie vibe and theme call to mind the movie (500) Days of Summer. But all the while one has the wary sense of being set up for a gut punch.

Postcards, a semi-finalist in the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, is the debut novel of Kirk Farber, a former Wisconsin resident whose other honors include a March “Indie Next List” recommendation from independent booksellers, being a finalist in the Wisconsin People & Ideas magazine/Harry Schwartz Bookshops Short Story Contest (his story Salting the Walks was published in fall 2007), and publication in The Great Lakes Reader essay anthology (Delphinium Books, 2009).

The novel was nurtured through many drafts at Milwaukee’s Redbird Studio. Farber returns home this week to four appearances in greater Milwaukee, including a March 11 panel discussion with five other writers at Redbird titled “Getting Published in 2010.”

Farber responded to a few questions before his homecoming.

Q. What was your inspiration for this book? Specifically, were you ever haunted by a “dead girl”?

Luckily, I’ve never been haunted by a dead girl. The inspiration actually came from a song called “Letters from the Dead” (The Bees) about a guy who finds postcards in his room from a past relationship and he doesn’t know how to deal with them. While I was listening to this song, I kept thinking, “What if someone were actually sending you postcards, and you weren’t sure if they were alive or dead? How would that play out?” And then the scenes started coming.

Q. You frequently express thanks to Redbird Studio. What role did Redbird play in your writing?

Redbird Studio was my writing group when I lived in Wisconsin, and I wrote this whole novel (and several short stories) while going to biweekly roundtables there. That group was integral to keeping me motivated and I learned so much from the other writers. Judy Bridges, the founder, set a great tone of encouragement and critical feedback, and there is a real sense of community at Redbird, which is wonderful to have after spending so much time alone writing.

Q. Why did you leave Wisconsin? Just to try somewhere new?

My wife, Kelly, and I left Wisconsin because we’ve always been drawn to the mountains, and really did want to experience a new place after having lived in the Dairy State our whole lives. I grew up in Oconomowoc and went to school at UW–Milwaukee and lived in the Milwaukee area after that. Kelly grew up in Oshkosh and went to school in Madison and Milwaukee. I think we just wanted an adventure, so we “went west” to Colorado. There are actually quite a few Wisconsinites out here, much to our surprise. Even a Packers bar!

We definitely miss our families and friends back home, and I also miss all of the lakes—not too many large bodies of water out here. Actually, I recently contributed an essay about living in Wisconsin for The Great Lakes Reader anthology on Delphinium Books, and I did most of the writing while on a snowboarding trip in the Rockies. I guess when it comes to Wisconsin, you can never leave home.

More information about the author at www.kirkfarber.com.

Roadside Culture Stands

March 1, 2010

The concept intrigued me, but when I finally saw the first Roadside Culture Stand its appeal was clear.  It looked cute from a distance and downright magnetic when stocked with veggies and cool art.  Hook it up to your trusty steed and go.  (A pick-up truck works well, too.)  Set it up at a festival in the city of near a state park in the countryside.  It looked…..well………..fun!

In southwest Wisconsin we get into discussions about locally-produced food, art and the like appealing to the same folks.  It’s not all academic, these deliberations happen at tourism and economic development meetings.  If we want folks to visit, what are those “clusters” of things they might enjoy?

The folks at the Wormfarm Institute have been on to elements of this dialogue for some time, as their mission is dedicated to integrating culture and agriculture.  Their website notes that they are “….an evolving laboratory of the arts and ecology and fertile ground for creative work. Planting a seed, cultivating, reaping what you sow . . . both farmer and artist have these activities in common”.  So it’s a natch that they would come up with the culture stand idea.

Roadside Culture Stands are artist-designed and built mobile farm stands that will be used to display and sell fresh local produce as well as the work of local artists.  “The Roadside Culture Stand tangibly unites art and farming,” said Donna Neuwirth of Wormfarm, “reminding us that culture surrounds our food and food imbues our culture.”

Artists, Wormfarm Resident Artists and volunteers help kids and adults make giant puppets from recycled materials for Reedsburg's Reedikulous Puppet Festival

The culture stands are part of a larger initiative of the Wormfarm Institute. The Re-enchantment of Agriculture explores the places where human imagination, experiments in sustainability, community well-being, and creative excitement, all converge. The Roadside Culture Stand project is such a convergence.  The hybrid nature of these stands allows communities to benefit economically, promotes cultural tourism, and in rural areas reinforces the message to ‘Eat the View’- a concept that makes the point to local residents and tourists alike – if you want to preserve the scenic beauty of agricultural landscapes, then eat from the food chain that created them.

The culture stands will vend local produce during the height of the Wisconsin growing season: mid June – October.  The stands will also serve as informational ‘kiosks’ that will attract and direct passersby to other area agricultural and cultural attractions. (i.e. other roadside stands, concerts in the park, on farm sales, restaurants that feature local farm products, cheese factories, etc.)

One stand has been built and tested, and three more are being constructed.  Plans call for two to be placed in rural venues in Iowa and Sauk counties.  Inner-city Milwaukee will have a stand, maybe two, located in “food deserts”, or places with little or no access to fresh, healthy food, but often served by plenty of processed food or fast food restaurants.

The new stands are being built through a generous and farsighted grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board.  Wormfarm has commissioned the construction, all three to be built on 5 X 10’ trailers provided by the Institute.  Wormfarm looked for artistic excellence in design, context, innovation and spirit of community collaboration when they selected the artists to build the stands.  The first one looks so cool, I can’t wait to see the design of the next three.

The roadside stand is a much beloved icon of America drawing on the power of the roadside attraction and the public’s yearning for authenticity.  Through a combination of affection and novelty the culture stand might do what stores cannot – it can be entertainment and outdoor recreation attracting those who may have no particular philosophical or environmental reason to “buy local”. This fun experience holds the promise of diversifying and growing the customer base for anything grown or made local.

The Wormfarm Institute facilitated the creation of murals in Reedsburg, including this one on the side of the old woolen mill.

Michael Bell, chair of the Agro-ecology program and professor of Rural Sociology at UW-Madison says, “This is a tremendous idea – one of those ideas that, once you hear it, you wonder why no one has thought of it or done it before. It both adds value and adds ‘values’ in the plural. What I mean is it promotes agricultural livelihoods through showcasing the produce of Wisconsin farms, while at the same time promoting the values of the beauty and sustainability of Wisconsin’s agricultural landscape. Even more than that, the Culture Stands connect the two, the value with the values, showing how each can promote the other with messages like “eat the view…”

So we’re hoping the Roadside Culture Stands bring a new audience connected with summer tourism, which takes us back to these conversations community developers are having.   Will tourists come for mix of great art and luscious foods in an environment steeped in history and natural beauty?  Can we bolster our economy without a water slide?

Will a stand in a Milwaukee food desert become an oasis for nutrition of the mind as well as body and become a cultural connection for neighborhood people?

The first Roadside Culture Stand in action

As this project evolves, the Roadside Culture Stands will test the collaborative possibilities of utilizing the arts as a marketing vehicle for local farmers’ products.  And both together as a slice of the bigger cultural/historic tourism pie.

One last note – there is an opportunity to be part of all this.  ArtsBuild, the regional arts agency of southwest Wisconsin, is seeking someone to operate the already constructed Roadside Culture Stand pictured in this article.  The target area is rural Iowa County.  Got ideas?  Contact ArtsBuild at spelicc@uwplatt.edu or 608-342-1314.

If you want to learn more about Wormfarm or the Roadside Culture Stand project contact Donna Neuwirth at wormfarm@jvlnet.com or visit their website.

Don’t miss Arts Day – March 3rd.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Wisconsin Rural Partners, Hollandale, WI (Pop. 283)