Going to Pot

August 23, 2010

Back in June I confessed my weakness for art pottery with matte green glazes. I’ll have a chance to see matte green pottery, and a whole lot more, this weekend at the Wisconsin Pottery Association’s annual show and sale.

I like these kind of events because I see a lot and learn a lot. The pottery show combines a more studied, formal “show” where I’ll see pottery from afar. But Saturday’s event includes a “sale,” which means real hands-on learning, too.

The show part of the day will feature Wisconsin pottery from the last 80 years. It will include studio pottery by Kurt Wild and Abe Cohn, among others, and production pottery from a range of producers including one not terribly familiar to me: Pittsville Pottery in Wood County. I look forward to seeing work that is both familiar and surprising.

Samples of Pittsville Pottery

I have the same expectations at the sale. Best of all will be the tactile experience of pottery – the feel of a glaze, the touch of an incised line, the heft of a pot. Pottery offers a visual experience, to be sure, that is only enhanced by seeing it up close and turning a pot to catch a sparkle, a tiny decorative detail, or a pinpoint gap in glazing — the kind if “imperfection” that I find appealing.

For me it’s not about buying or being obsessed with building a collection. If I see a pot I like, I may go for it. Even if I leave with nothing wrapped tightly in a brown paper bag, it will be a full day.

–Michael Bridgeman

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Heritage Happened…

August 16, 2010

I don’t want this to become a diary, but there are times when something experienced is worth sharing.

This is one of those times.  I recently attended the 37th Annual Honor the Earth Homecoming Celebration & Pow-Wow on impressive ceremonial grounds within the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation near Hayward, WI.  What I saw was historical and inspirational wrapped in one colorful package.

This was a reunion, a celebration, an observance and an artistic display of harmony the likes of which I haven’t seen in several decades of life.  It was a genuine display of harmony, between those in attendance and an accord with all who have come before.

The Native American existence has never been easy and one can sense it in those within the bloodline, from the very young to the very old.  Beneath the outward smiles and the camaraderie lives the ever-present feeling that there is, and has been, a burden reluctantly delivered from generation to generation.  An encumbrance that began within the hardship of early life in the American wilderness augmented by later injustice and discrimination.  Here, the sacrifices of ancestors are not lost within superficial and artificial contemporary life, as so much of American history is today.

I think what was most impressive to me was the spirit in which these proud Americans gather to remember, relate and renew.  I’ve been to a lot of reenactments in which a certain group remembers the past in costume, spoken word, music and theater – but seldom are they capable of flawless interpretation in every category.  This event nailed it.

I’m also not a student of the authenticity of Native American observances – I probably wouldn’t know the difference between something real and something made-up for effect.  But I do trust my instinct when it comes to witnessing the nature of humans in commemoration.  These were people very serious about what they were doing – with a concentration on honoring a heritage and those who paved the way.

From attire to attitude and everything in-between, I was privileged to witness people gathered for meaningful reasons….with no room for lackluster.  Drab may indeed exist in the world, but one won’t find it here.  The anticipated Grand Entry is like a human rainbow, there to remind us that it’s not what’s at the end of that rainbow that matters, rather life is about concentrating on, and on behalf of, natural beauty.  And at the Honor The Earth Pow-Wow, that kind of beauty is found both on the outside and the inside of those hosting and those participating.  I’m hoping other spectators, like myself, came away with their own positive lasting impressions.

Al Ross


Imagination Conversation

August 3, 2010

I have no imagination.  None, zero, zip.  The best I can do is like when I was in college and would go to tough bars; I always made sure I hung around with a really big guy.  So I had a great opportunity last week because I got to hang around for a couple of days with some of the most innovative folks Wisconsin has to offer.  Once again, I was clinging to coattails, a good tactic for a 5-foot-5 wimp with the creativity of a fire hydrant.

Wisconsin’s Imagination Conversation is one of a series to be held in all 50 states, a project of the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education.  It was hosted by Nicolet College in Rhinelander in partnership with the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Wisconsin School Music Association, and the School of the Arts in Rhinelander.   Gathered there were artists, musicians, actors, educators, activists, visionaries and one doofus.

And doofus really enjoyed it.  My place in this Imagination Conversation was to tag along (of course) with people who make arts happen.  And maybe better yet, people who help artists make healthy communities happen.  It’s good to be reminded once in a while that culture, history and art are things sought after by those whom we would lure as future residents and the visitors who make our communities prosper economically.  As the button says, it’s not a frill.

I got to be part of a presentation on a small-town arts site and learning center and especially enjoyed partnering with ArtsBuild, the regional arts organization serving southwest Wisconsin.  Jay and Donna from the Wormfarm gave their super-neat version of the same message.  LaMoine from the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts in Amery and his colleagues knocked us down with the stuff they’ve been doing there for half of forever.  All this was intended as food for thought.  Yum.

The important part of the day was the story circles, the seven work groups (the term we less-than-creative souls use).  We “visioned”.  Being Imagination Impaired I was a little unsure of that before the fact but thoroughly amazed after we were done.  Clearly I was clutching the right coattails as folks came up with all kinds of vivid vignettes of what neat communities could look like 25 years from now.  The folks in my story circle were very kind and did the “nice doggie” thing to make me feel I was a part of it all.   But I kept thinking I was a beneficiary more than a contributor.

An important purpose of all this is building awareness that creativity is a critical skill. And even sans imagination I can understand how critical it has become.  I’d better — I am a school board member and community developer.

The things we make don’t so much come out of a machine anymore; they come out of us.  A rapidly growing segment of us are in a knowledge economy where imagination is currency … trading higher than ever. That’s not just today’s reality, it is the future. And that’s good for rural folks because it is an opportunity through which people can thrive without the need to be near a factory or other place of work that is often far away.  It’s an environmentally sustainable future in which we can make a good living close to home.  That’s doubly important if you have children.

It is also easy to see the value of getting together on issues such as these.  All these great ideas are invigorating, and some of the folks I met will be new partners for some action right now, as well as into the future.

You don’t have to have much of an imagination to be part of making imagination happen.  I’m kind of the geek in the corner that can make things work, and there’s lots of room for people like me.  I love connecting with creative people and am always grateful for the knowledge and energy I gain when I get off my fanny and participate in things like Imagination Conversations.

“Envisioning a successful future for Wisconsin’s rural communities.”  Hmmmmmm.  It seemed so abstract at first but it doesn’t anymore.  It’s not so much the start of a roadmap as a commitment to a principle that can be the cornerstone of a vibrant future for rural communities.

A while back I was part of a small group that attended a presentation from students and staff at a high school that was really good at math and science.   Also there was a Human Resources staffer for a very large multi-national company that hires lots of engineers and such, and we had a great conversation.  This fellow remarked that his work entailed screening lots of job applications from bright, accomplished and well-educated people.  His had to come up with a small number to interview.  That seemed tough – a big pile of four-point-ohs and Dean’s List applicants to chose from.

How did he discern?  He said they looked for a background in the arts or music.  They wanted inventors, not just scientists.  They wanted people who would come up with new products.

My light bulb lit.  I’m starting to get it.

And, by the way, what do you imagine your community can be like in 25 years?

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

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman

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In Search of Wisconsin Taverns (in Seattle)

August 2, 2010

While on vacation in Washington state last month, I learned of an exhibition worth adding to an ambitious Seattle itinerary — Hudson-based photographer Carl Corey’s series Wisconsin Tavern League, on view at a gallery near my hotel.

I had seen Corey’s large-scale photographs before, though none from this particular series. Photos in his Habitat series get consistent praise for their sharp-eyed take on American scenes. People say when Corey aims his camera at mostly unmemorable things — like picnic tables and overpasses — his deft use of color and light makes the ordinary seem otherworldly. I would only add that his photos nearly glow.

"2982--Jamos, Milwaukee," by Carl Corey. Posted with the artist's permission.

Of his Wisconsin Taverns series, Corey has said that taverns are “very much a part of Wisconsin history and community, and they’re going away. These people [the owners] are struggling. I thought it was important to document that” (see “MMoCA’s Wisconsin Triennial is all over the place, to its credit,” by Jennifer Smith).

Enjoying the Tavern show for the first time in another state appealed to me somehow, and so I went looking for Wisconsin Taverns in Seattle.

I won’t describe the mishaps that prevented me from finding the Seattle show, except to say that I (twice!) fruitlessly climbed and wandered the city’s First Hill. After my failed quest, I talked by phone to a woman representing the gallery, who explained where I went astray. She praised the Tavern series effusively, and told me Seattle residents–many of whom are transplanted Wisconsinites, she said–have loved it, too.

"2664--Marty, Chippewa Club, Durand" by Carl Corey. Posted with the artist's permission.

Of course, there’s no need to go to Washington to see Carl Corey’s work; in fact, there’s no need to leave your chair. After searching Seattle for Wisconsin Taverns, I came home to find Corey’s photos nearly everywhere I looked, which is perhaps, as it should be.

A Portal Wisconsin online gallery artist, Corey just added ten new images to his section of our site. The photos represent newer work both from his Habitat series and from the Wisconsin Tavern series. Many, many more are posted at his well-designed personal site, carlcorey.com.

You can also pick up a copy of the Wisconsin People & Ideas summer issue at your local library or bookstore. Included in this issue’s Galleria is a beauteous ten-page spread of some of the Tavern series, striking images of out-of-the-way pubs that ooze personality.  Featured taverns are sometimes fantastical, surprisingly pristine and, though I’m not exactly a roadhouse regular, oddly familiar. Fans of photography will find the magazine well worth its $5 cover price.

And finally, for a very limited time, three photos from Corey’s Tavern series are on exhibit at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art‘s Wisconsin Triennial show, and a portion of his Habitat series is featured in a side-by-side solo exhibition (with glass artist Lisa Koch) at the James Watrous Gallery. You’ll find both the Museum and the Gallery at the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, incidentally just a ten-minute walk from the Portal Wisconsin headquarters.

Call me, if you need directions.

–Tammy Kempfert

P.S. Happen to be going to Portland, Ore., in September? Carl Corey tells me the Tavern Series will be at Blue Sky Gallery there, for a show of 25 large prints. I would love to hear from anyone who finds Wisconsin Taverns in Oregon.

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Say goodbye…

August 2, 2010

Wow….what a coincidence!

On Sunday, August 1st, with leisure summer time on my hands, I decided to look for some long-lost cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes from my broadcast past.  I started with some boxes on shelves in the garage and worked my way into the attached woodworking shop.  I uncovered the tapes I was looking for, but also discovered a box containing papers and photos dating back several decades – in fact, all the way back to my childhood.  Pressed between the volumes of ‘experience’ was a photograph I was describing to someone just a while ago.

It is a shot of me with my arm around none other than Mitch Miller…and both of us have rather large cigars protruding from our mouths.  I’m not sure of the date, however it was somewhere between 1983 and 1988, during my stint as Creative Director for Sundance Broadcasting in Milwaukee.  Mr. Miller, an icon of my and my parents’ generation, had stopped by the studio to record some promotional announcements and I was thrilled to meet, greet and record him that day.

When he arrived, he lightly complained about his limo driver not allowing him to have a cigar on the way.   I informed him that I, too, enjoyed a good cigar now and then – after which I gained his immediate favor.  After the interview, he reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a couple stogies – and we sauntered outside into the cold to have our photograph taken.  I wasn’t about to pass up that opportunity.

Finding the photograph prompted me to search for his whereabouts and biography – only to discover he had passed away the day before at the impressive age of 99!  I found what I was looking for – but regret that I hadn’t searched several years earlier.

Mitch Miller – and people like him – are a brand of entertainer very quickly becoming extinct.  I don’t expect many readers to remember his TV show or his albums – but it was the kind of music that defined a simpler and much more innocent era.  His all-male chorus, dressed in matching sweaters, sang for us and invited us to sing along.  His Christmas albums were memorable and downright traditional.  His smile was genuine – proof that he was, indeed, enjoying himself and his vocation.  He was also a producer of other people’s music – but he never seemed to put his name in lights in that category.

I’m saddened by the news of his passing.  I’m saddened each time I read about the passing of a writer or a singer or a musician from what I consider to be the good ol’ days; times when all one had to have was a good voice and a little bit of luck to make it in the business.   No shock factor – no bad language – in fact, lyrics and music worked together to make a song enjoyable.  Today, it seems as if one, or the other, takes the spotlight….unless pink hair gets in the way.  And identical to most other things, there are a LOT of singers and bands and CDs from which to choose….just like cars and beer and kinds of chewing gum.

Selection is overwhelming – while the quality can be underwhelming.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I do like a lot of today’s music and I’m pretty comfortable and contemporary with most things – I’m just feeling sorry for myself at losing another of the good guys in the entertainment business.

I’ll get over it.

Hey, next time, remind me to tell you about the impressive gathering I was fortunate to attend in Hayward.

Glad to do it.

See ya.

–Alan Ross

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