Battle of the Bread Spreads

November 18, 2010

A brochure created in the 1930s to encourage consumption of Wisconsin butter. Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society.

In the 1950s and 60s, Wisconsin had a smuggling problem so widespread that state officials all but looked the other way. The contraband in question–not drugs or weapons, as you might guess–was margarine. Yellow margarine, to be precise.

Dairy farmers took the late 19th century introduction of margarine to the Midwestern marketplace personally: many viewed the product as unwholesome and (when colored to resemble butter) downright fraudulent, an industrial threat to the agrarian lifestyle. That perceived threat initiated a battle of the bread spreads that would last decades, with dairy interests typically prevailing. For years margarine, primarily the colored variety, was taxed and regulated by both federal and state governments. And no state fought longer or harder to edge out its oleaginous opponent than Wisconsin, which by 1915 had staked its claim as the nation’s Dairy State. Between 1895 and 1967, using colored margarine here was a crime, punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.

Historian Gerry Strey chronicles the epic butter/margarine conflict in an article called Oleo Wars: Wisconsin’s Fight Over the Demon Spread, which I found in a back issue of The Wisconsin Magazine of History. As Strey tells it, emotions ran high among dairy sympathizers of the day. One of the more famous examples of their collective frustration occurred in 1931, when farmers marched on the State Capitol in Madison. “Down With Oleo! Farm Crusaders Cry” read the lead story in the Wisconsin State Journal on December 16th of that year.

The traveling Smithsonian exhibition Key Ingredients: America by Food,  currently taking place in Reedsburg, features a display about another  protest that took place in the 1950s. On Wisconsin Public Radio recently to promote the exhibition, curator Donna Neuwirth explains how Green Butter Day came about: “Apparently the editor of the paper in Sauk City launched a protest and said, ‘Rather than eat your damned yellow oleo, we’re going to dye this vat of a ton of butter green’  … they did, and they sold out by mid-day. And the entire issue of that week’s paper was printed in green ink. ” (Wisconsin history enthusiasts will be interested to know that this same newspaperman, Leroy Gore, also wrote the consequential editorial Joe Must Go. In 1954, Gore’s opinion piece launched a movement to recall Senator Joseph McCarthy.)

Green Butter Day in Sauk City. Photo submitted by Donna Neuwirth.

Donna Neuwirth says the Green Butter Day account was “just one of the many stories we’ve unearthed” for the Key Ingredients exhibition. She says that particular display, which includes the Sauk-Prairie Star article and other oleo artifacts, has elicited lively conversation among people who experienced the oleo versus butter controversy firsthand. My own mother used to talk about purchasing a sort of DIY butter substitute–uncolored margarine sold with yellow dye and a plastic bag. The product, never outlawed, allowed consumers to mix their own yellowish margarine. And my aunt tells me that my grandparents staged their own butter/oleo taste test back in the day (but interestingly she can’t remember which product our farming kin backed, or which won).

Even with the added taxes, margarine remained the cheaper alternative. So consumer loyalty for butter began to erode during the Great Depression and faded even further during the food rationing times of World War II.  Federal support for the dairy spread waned, too, as lobbies for soybean and cottonseed oil producers gained strength. As a result, dairy-producing states gradually gave in to market pressure and eased up on oleo regulations–all except Wisconsin, that is, where the margarine ban remained on the books the longest. These combined factors set the stage for the aforementioned oleo smuggling, when margarine sold legally in Illinois commonly came across the border by the trunkload.

As we all know, Wisconsin legislators did finally relax their anti-margarine stance. Though a few regulations remain in effect, most restrictions on margarine were repealed in 1967.

The Wisconsin Historical Society sells gift items, like this t-shirt, for butter loyalists. Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society.

Interested in learning more? If so, I highly recommend:

–Gerry Strey’s 2001 article, which is exhaustive but never boring. Demonstrating an impressive knowledge of legislation, market forces  and consumer behavior, Strey weaves an engaging tale that spotlights some of the colorful characters behind the controversy.

Key Ingredients: America by Food, on view in Reedsburg through Dec. 3  (in conjunction with the Reedsburg Fermentation Fest). Visitors will find photographs, artifacts and panel displays, presentations and local food-related art, all dealing with the ways history, culture and environment have shaped national and regional dining habits.

–Larry Meiller’s interview with Donna Neuwirth on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Wisconsin Statute 97.18 details current “oleomargarine” regulations. If you’ve made it this far into my post, I’m betting you’ll find these interesting–maybe even a bit surprising.

By Tammy Kempfert,

A Dropped Egg and Flannel Cake

November 17, 2010

By Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council

In other words, a larruping breakfast. More specifically, a poached egg and pancake. Delicious!

photo by Jessica Becker

I’ve been futzing around on the Dictionary of American Regional English Website to increase my knowledge of colloquial sayings. Why? To make interesting party conversation, of course.

You can start by taking the quiz of synonyms. The first one is pretty easy, just to get you feeling confident, but don’t allow yourself to be honeyfuggled.

A colleague forwarded a New York Times article to me about the latest humanities frontier. Powerful technologies and vast stores of digitized materials are allowing for completely new ways of understanding languages, history, and the arts. The author argues that because these projects are digital, searches and contributions can be done remotely, making for a more global humanities community and replacing the traditional stereotype of the humanities professor, working alone in an archive composing a philosophical treatise or historical opus. Very cool.

It is no surprise that Google awarded $1 million to people doing digital humanities research last summer. The Humanities seem elusive when referred to as such. But I think we all, to some degree, care about and concern ourselves with finding meaning in life. Historians, linguists, anthropologists, scholars of religion or philosophy, they are interested in comparing the different meanings, different ways of experiencing things, different ways of seeing the world. With new technological tools that can map the evolution of language from databases of correspondences between early writers or that can animate the stories within a medieval tapestry, I might have a chance to engage with the information on some level. And while I joke about improving my social chit-chat, I truly believe that exposure to interesting nuggets of information makes my life more interesting, rich, and fulfilling.

So I’ve book-marked the DARE site (a project that has received WHC grant awards) and will check back for the word of the month. And I seriously considered making eggs and pancakes for dinner. In the end, leftovers won out.

Visualization, Synchronicity and Planning

November 15, 2010

By Evelyn Patricia Terry

After discovering I wanted to be an artist, I planned to plan my life, but I couldn’t create a plan past getting an education, which seemed much more controllable. After that, life seemed “up for grabs.” Though I’ve since learned to rely on visualization and synchronicity to move forward (more about that later), I first entertained the idea of college teaching—both to earn money and because “professor” sounded important.

Magic is Dreaming Tall Dreams, Evelyn Patricia Terry.

Magic is Dreaming Tall Dreams, Mixed media monoprint, 22” x 30” (at Cuvée Lounge). Evelyn Patricia Terry. All rights reserved.

But I really desired to be like the much-celebrated Picasso, who represented passion, commitment, personal vision and prosperity. There was no mention of African-American artists or women in my classes, so Picasso was it in 1968. Art history was like American history–very little mention of non-white races. I excitedly believed I was going to be the first African-American artist.

After earning one degree, I was informed by some nebulous network that to acquire a job teaching at a college or university, an MFA was a must. I went to Chicago after also being told that universities and colleges did not hire people who graduated from the same institution. Inbreeding of ideas was an issue. I wanted to live in Wisconsin, even though the winters were harsh and heating bills were high, so earning a degree from outside might help.

Evolving from the Silence, Evelyn Patricia Terry.

Evolving from the Silence, Pastel, 30” x 44” (at Cuvée Lounge). Evelyn Patricia Terry. All rights reserved.

I married, had two children, and then divorced while the children were young. There are only 24 hours in a day, so I had to release something: art needed eight hours; my children needed at least eight, more on the weekends; and I had to sleep. Producing art was too personally rewarding for me to let go, because of the appearance of “hard times.” Instead, I chose to let my goal of “professor” go, even though I did earn the MFA after divorcing.

An introduction to a church study group for “New Thought” enabled me to embrace being a full-time artist without fear. “New Thought” introduced me to visualization and the philosophy of synchronicity. One of the first things I learned was “do not get a job to acquire health insurance: working to get health insurance is planning to get sick.” I was shocked. Instead I was instructed to look within for my income source and for healing. Have the faith of a mustard seed and choose for “love of” something, rather than “fear of” something. Knowing I could muster up that tiny bit of faith, I committed to being an artist and a mother. I never wanted to feel that my two young children were in the way of producing art or that art was in the way of their total nurturing. I integrated them into the creative process. When they were about 6 and 7, I hired them to assist me. I remember asking about a pastel that I was working on, “Is this finished?” One of them said, “If you have to ask, you know it’s not finished.”

Meditation and positive visualization played a major role in keeping my mind focused on healing. Before 1990, I suffered from bouts of excruciating back pain (sciatica) for about 12 years, along with tooth decay, bronchitis, sinusitis and unsightly painful skin conditions like eczema and acne. After reading many books about the power of consuming juiced raw green vegetables, vitamins, minerals and exercising, I accomplished healing. I secured a great dentist who is also an artist. Presently my health is better than it has ever been.

Pandora's Box: Thirteen God Workers Come Forth

Pandora's Box: Thirteen God Workers Come Forth, Pastel, 22” x 30” (at Rosenblatt Gallery). Evelyn Patricia Terry. All rights reserved.

Synchronicity, concentration on what I want for my life, and positive visualization play major roles, whenever I experience times of lean sales. Among other things, I affirm that art sales are incredible, that I enjoy leading workshops from kindergarten to seniors, and I embrace lecture tours. For six months, I am presently exhibiting abstract artwork from three bodies of work at Cuvée, a champagne and events space in the Third Ward above Artasia Gallery. In the same building, on the second floor at the Rosenblatt Gallery, I am also exhibiting two pieces from my Pandora’s Box series. It is interesting to note that one day after I visualized possibilities for my art to go beyond my studio space, the Cuvée opportunity occurred very synchronistically, through a chance encounter. Although synchronicity and visualization has gotten me this far, I often feel that planning could allow me to reach many other goals–but I don’t know.

Don’t miss Evelyn Patricia Terry’s artwork, on exhibition this month at the Rosenblatt Gallery (ph. 414-220-4292) and at Cuvée (ph. 414-225-9800). Both are located in the Isabella Ryder Building, 181 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. You can also view her work at


A Musical Adventure

November 9, 2010

I recently decided that it would be fun to travel all over Wisconsin and find small out of the way places where one can find good, really good music in small intimate settings. And so that is what I am going to do over the next 12 months. We have all visited large venues to see big name performers–Elton John, Eric Clapton, Carol King and James Taylor–or my latest bucket list performer… Cher in Las Vegas. But what about the small bars in the small towns where you can sit next to the performer or join in on the songs either vocally or instrumentally?  How about the places where music becomes less a passive experience and more an active one?

This idea came to me as I sat at the Pavilion in Hayward Wisconsin. The Pavilion is a gift store and wine cave owned by Molly Otis of Molly and the Hay Makers fame. The shop is combined with the Fiddlehead Restaurant (a small set of tables in the back on two floors) that serves food only on the weekends. The restaurant is owned by Lisa and Jane, who own two restaurants in Minneapolis. Lisa cooks and Jane, a visual artist, serves as well as provides an amazing array of paintings. When one is luckiest, a Friday or Saturday evening combines the talents of all of these women–great food, great atmosphere and amazing music by Molly and the Danger Band. This past Saturday, she was joined by a band regular, Randy Wydra, on the electric bass and another Randy (last name unknown to me)  on guitar. Guitar Randy hails from Minoqua. He is not a regular band member. He happened to be in the area celebrating his 34th wedding anniversary when he decided to sit in with the band for a couple of numbers. At one point other customers joined in heartily as vocal backup and the evening was complete.

This is definitely a spot to visit if you are ever in the area and you are interested in winning a trifecta–good music, good food, and good atmosphere. Life doesn’t get much better than that. Keep checking in as I scour the state for more great finds.

— Dayle Quigley


Park It — in Milwaukee

November 1, 2010

A friend and I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum on Saturday and arrived in style by parking in the garage beneath the Calatrava building. The fees are a bit extravagant, yet so is the garage itself. It shares the same robust, engineered skeleton as the art spaces upstairs. MAM garageSwooping arches are anchored by bog bolts and the whole space, when unoccupied, is shades of white, with natural light filtering in from clerestory windows tucked along the upper edges of the outer walls. It is the best temporary home my car has ever known.

I found myself equally taken by a park inside the building.

Downstairs in the older 1975 building is a “chair park” where visitors are invited to try out a collection of chairs from a simple Windsor chair and Chippendale side chair to 20th century seating by star designers including Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen, Gerrit Reitveld and Philippe Starck.

Though I’ve been past the chair park before, this time my friend and I took up the invitation to sit.

So did four others who were visiting the museum and we quickly started talking about which we liked and which we didn’t, which were comfortable and which were impossible.

Panton S chair

The S Chair by Verner Panton

It was the kind of free-wheeling exchange you’d never get in a gallery where whispers are the norm and no touching is allowed. And each of us had a direct connection, quite literally, with each chair we sampled. You sit and it either works or it doesn’t. Individual comfort rules. Theory and history are irrelevant.

Several of the chairs were in the galleries, including a couple in the European Design Since 1985 exhibition currently on display in the Calatrava building. There I could admire them as objects of desire and design.

By the way, the Wright reproduction in the chair park, his Peacock Chair for the Imperial Hotel, was quite comfortable, thus belying a frequent complaint about his furniture. Also high on my list was Verner Panton’s S Chair and the generous Chippendale. The big loser? Reitveld’s Berlin chair, better in the abstract than the real world of “parking it.”

–Michael Bridgeman