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,

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.


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