Architect and Apprentice

January 31, 2011

James Dresser died late last week at 85. When I saw his obituary, I couldn’t quite place the name until a friend helped me remember “the Del-Bar.”

Dresser was an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin starting in 1945 and established his practice in Wisconsin, working in Lake Delton. That is also the site of The Del-Bar, a well-established restaurant that owes its present-day appearance to several remodels and expansions that Dresser undertook starting 60 years ago.

The Del-Bar is “Wrightian” in the general sense, not aping Wright’s style, but using his ideas as a starting point. The influence of Wright and organic architecture probably shows itself best in the interior with stone walls knitting interior and exterior, extensive use of wood, varied ceiling heights , custom lighting and other deft touches.

The lake side of the library in Lake Geneva

The other building of Dresser’s that is familiar to me is the Lake Geneva Public Library which was dedicated in 1954.It has the long, low lines and materials—Roman brick, wood and glass—that typify the work of Wright and his protégés.

Edgar Tafel, another apprentice, died earlier in January at 98. He was better known than most of those who studied at Taliesin, thanks in part to several books he wrote about Wright.  Tafel did some work in Wisconsin and I have visited a house he designed in Racine. Perhaps because Dresser is more “local,” his work has a more solid place in my architectural experiences.


Kid-Friendly Things to Do in Madison

January 31, 2011

By Brian D’Ambrosio

From picking farms, to concrete art parks, to bluff and lake hikes, there are a bevy of fun options for kids in Madison, Wisconsin. Here are 10 unique, enjoyable, and unforgettable kid-friendly adventures, ranging from the offbeat to the outstandingly scenic.

Nick Englebert's Grandview.


Aztalan State Park

Lake Mills, WI

The family doesn’t need to have to trek to Egypt or Central America in search of pyramids. Less than one hour’s drive from Madison, they can visit the archeological pyramids of Aztalan State Park, where in 1836 a man named Timothy Johnson stumbled upon remains of an ancient village. According to park brochures, most experts believe the civilization to be a blend of two Aztec societies. This mysterious park was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Great open space for picnicking or simply wandering around.

Blue Skies Berry Farm
Paul & Louise Maki
10320 N. Crocker Rd.
Brooklyn, WI 53521
(608) 455-2803
Blue Skies Berry Farm grows raspberries, heirloom tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and greens using only organic inputs. U-pick season: mid-August to October. The family-friendly property is located 16 miles south of the Beltline via Hwy 14, toward Evansville. Hook right at Union at Tavern then head onto W. Union Rd. 1.5 miles and left on Crocker approximately 500-feet.

Bures Berry Patch

3760 W. Brigham Rd.

Barneveld, WI 53507

(608) 924-1404

Bures Berry Patch is a popular patch where families gather to pick the freshest produce. The farm specializes in cultivating asparagus, rhubarb, sweet corn, pre-picked/U-pick; peas, strawberries, raspberries and pumpkins. Always call for hours and availability. From Madison: travel Hwy 18/151 west for ~30 miles; go 2.5 miles past Barneveld; turn south on W. Brigham Rd.; proceed one mile.

Carandale Farm

5683 Lincoln Rd.

Oregon, WI 53575

(608) 835-5871

One of Dane County’s most popular family-friendly farms, Carandale Farm offers U-pick or pre-picked strawberries, Concord grapes, and fall raspberries. It is located at the very end of S. Fish Hatchery Rd., 8.5 miles from the Madison Beltline.

Door Creek Orchard

3252 Vilas Road

Cottage Grove, WI 53527

(608) 838-4762

Door Creek Orchard, just minutes from east Madison, is a beautiful family friendly farm offering U-pick and pre-picked apples as well as U-pick table and wine grapes, fall raspberries and pumpkins. Unpasteurized cider is pressed weekly. In addition to the pleasant fall fruit and cider for sale in the shed, the Griffiths’ provide customers with a quiet place to pick nature’s bounty, a true harvest experience that offers an escape from the pressure of fast-paced urban life.

Meat and naturally colored yarn are available from the Black Welsh Mountain sheep, which can we watched grazing near the upper orchard. Twice during the season, horse and buggy rides through the orchard may be purchased. Season: mid-August to late November. From Madison, take Hwy 12/18 east 3 miles past I-90, turn right on Vilas Rd. and go 1/2 mile.

Devil’s Lake State Park

Baraboo, WI 53913

(608) 356-8301

All the physical and visual medicine one family needs is nestled in the South Range of the Baraboo Hills, an alluring gem of a lake flanked by two 500-foot-high bluffs composed of Precambrian quartzite. Set aside as one of Wisconsin’s first state parks in 1910, Devil’s Lake State Park, with its sweepings views, earthy rock formations, 360-acre spring-fed belly, 29 miles of hiking/biking park trails, and attractive hardwood forest, is a scenic little vista.

The view from above, courtesy of the steep East and West Bluffs has wowed adults and children alike for centuries, even hosting more than 1,300,000 visitors in 2008. Park Hours: Devil’s Lake is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Visitor Center hours are from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily in the summer and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in other seasons.

Dickeyville Grotto

305 West Main Street

Dickeyville, WI 53808-6842

(608) 568-3119

Dickeyville Grotto and its surrounding shrines will amaze dads and children of all ages. These striking designs of stone, mortar, and vivid-colored objects, collected materials from all across the world, include colored glass, gems, antique heirlooms of pottery or porcelain, stalagmites and stalactites, commemorative China, sea shells, starfish, petrified sea urchins and fossils.

Embedded within are a variety of corals, amber glass, agate, quartz, ores, such as iron, copper and lead, fool’s gold, rock crystals, onyx, amethyst and coal, petrified wood and moss. Most of the shells, stones, tiles, wood, glass, gems and geodes were donated by parishioners. Visited by 40,000 to 60,000 visitors per year, Dickeyville Grotto stands at the crossroads of U.S. Highway 151 and Highway 35.

Nick Engelbert’s Grandview

Hollandale, WI 58010

Nick Engelbert’s Grandview is something out of a fairy tale. Nick Engelbert created his first concrete sculpture in the 1930s while recovering from a sprained ankle. By 1950, his entire yard was transformed into a landscape of over 40 offbeat sculptures.

Mineral Point Railroad Depot

11 Commerce Street

Mineral Point, WI 53565

(608) 987-2695

Most kids love trains. Adorned walls and glass cases in the Mineral Point Railroad Depot Museum tell the tale of Mineral Point’s economic explosion and bust. The first train pulled into the depot in the summer of 1857; the Mineral Point depot was built one year earlier from local materials. It has survived to become the oldest depot in Wisconsin. The Mineral Point Railroad Society museum is open seasonally, from the first weekend in May to late October. Hours of operation are: Thursdays 10am-4pm, Fridays 10am-4pm, Saturdays 10am-4pm and Sundays 12-4pm.

Sterling North Boyhood Home

409 West Rollin St.

Edgerton, WI 53534


In Edgerton, Wisconsin, dads with the most bookish of bents can visit the landmark boyhood home of Sterling North, world-famous author of Rascal, So Dear to My Heart, The Wolfling, and 28 other works. Native Wisconsinite Sterling North grew up in the once thriving tobacco town of Edgerton. In 1963, he completed the book Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era. Set in 1917 when he was only 11 years old, the best-selling book chronicles a boy’s fondness for and friendship with a pet raccoon in the fictitious “Brailsford Junction.”

The home, which intentionally creates a kid-friendly ambience of books and Rascal-related merchandise, is open from April 5 (on Sunday afternoons from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m through December 20 may be toured by appointment). Refurbished to its 1917 setting, furnished with authentic antiques, the museum showcases North’s desk, typewriter, photos, books and many family artifacts and memorabilia.

Brian D’Ambrosio is the author of Madison For Dads: 101 Unique Adventures.

Ellison Bay Seeks Historic Escarpment Plaque

January 31, 2011

Robert Murray of Door County sent the following appeal to last week. Mr. Murray authored an Ellison Bay day trip for us last year and keeps in touch by email from time to time.

Recovery of the historic escarpment plaque is a priority for the Ellison Bay Service Club. Photo: Robert Murray.

Ellison Bay, Wis. In the 1920s, professors came from the Universities of Chicago and Wisconsin to camp and build cottages along Ellison Bay’s northeastern shore.  For the following 38 years, hundreds of students traveled to Ellison Bay from the world over to study the Niagara Escarpment at its pinnacle, Ellison Bay’s “Big Bluff.”

In the mid-1900s, a University of Chicago cartographer, who had been among those many students, designed “The Escarpment Marker,” including a bronze plaque showing a world map with dotted lines converging on Ellison Bay from five continents.  A legend reading: “From where they came to study Ellison Bay” was also engraved on the plaque. A large slab of Niagara dolomite was dragged across the frozen bay in winter, the bronze plaque was attached, and the Escarpment Marker was erected in the Community Center Park at the foot of Ellison Bay in 1965.

Unfortunately, the pins securing the heavy bronze plaque gave way.  It fell from its mounting on the dolomite slab and vanished sometime during the 1970s – probably salvaged by someone who chanced upon it.  Recovery of the Marker plaque is a priority project of the Ellison Bay Service Club, whose mission is to serve the Ellison Bay community and preserve its history.  The club’s sole intent is to return the marker to its original “home” in Ellison Bay Park for all Door County residents and visitors to enjoy.

If you have, or happen to know of anyone who may have information that might lead to the recovery of The Escarpment Marker plaque, please contact Gary Kemp at 608-963-8705 in confidence.

One small town, two great women and one weird musical combo

January 27, 2011

The Christmas holidays have come and gone. The children are back at their respective locations and I have once again started to travel the state in search of great small venues and interesting musical endeavors.

This past weekend after returning my son to school in De Pere, (go Green Knights!!) I headed over to the town of Wautoma and the McComb/Bruchs Performing Arts Center. I knew nothing of Wautoma prior to selecting it for a visit, other than the fact that it was just a hop, skip, and a jump from De Pere/Green Bay and therefore “on my way.” Wautoma is actually very similar to Hayward, my own home town. It has a population of just about 2000 with what appears to be a large number of homes on the adjacent lakes. It has a beautiful little downtown and a large number of incredibly friendly individuals. Since I did not want to drive over 4 hours after the concert, I booked a room at Pine Ridge – I’m sure at one point it was a farm with the farmhouse and barn still on the property but now it houses a lodge, restaurant, bar, and bunk house. With no room in the inn, I was in the bunk house. That doesn’t sound overly attractive but it was very very nice. No complaints at all – clean, new, well-appointed. I will have to say that even nicer than my accommodations was the friendliness of the hotel staff. They helped me find the Performing Arts Center, went on a wild goose chase for my lost mittens in the restaurant after hours, talked me through getting my direct t.v. working at almost midnight, and then found an open restaurant for me on Sunday morning since brunch didn’t start until 9AM and I needed to get on the road home. Without a doubt I will always stay here when I’m in the area.

The concert for the night was being held at the McComb/Bruchs Performing Arts Center. I will admit that I wasn’t overly excited about visiting this venue. Most performing art centers are nondescript; they look the same; they feel the same. There is little to write home about. This is not the case with the McComb/Bruchs. I think I will now refer to it as MB as this is shorter and thus faster to type. The MB has been in existence for the past 20 years. This is their 20th Season. The center was built when two women with foresight and presence of mind bequeathed significant funds for the sole purpose of building a performing arts center in a small Wisconsin town. Ms. McComb donated one million dollars and with it specific requirements for the building – everything from its approximation to the school, to the distance of the furthest seat from the stage (57 ft), to the necessity for bathrooms and showers within the dressing rooms. The seating is also very unusual as the rows are long; 38-40 seats with no center aisles. The only way to enter the rows is from the ends. This is not the traditional American model but Ms. McComb wanted it this way so that the performers would look out and see a sea of faces instead of an empty aisle. How brilliant is that? I should mention that Ms. Bruchs donated more than $200,000 to further the cause. The center is utilized not only for monthly concerts by nationally recognized artists but also by the schools, and the community choir, and the community theater guild. The center was to be seen as a resource for the entire area and it is obvious that they are fulfilling their mission beautifully. This is a performing arts center that I would be happy to attend on a regular basis.

Finally, the entertainment for the night was Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues. Okay this is a traditional string quartet (2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello) with Frank Donaldson seated on the floor playing percussion and Corky Siegel on harmonica and piano. This is a combination that shouldn’t work. This sounds like a combination where between it and three banjos, one should pick the banjos. But, and here is the big but, it works. It really works. The fusion of musical tones is a whole new and wonderful experience. It’s a marriage between the past and the present. Perhaps producing a new future. On this Saturday evening the ensemble was joined by Randy Sabien, jazz violinist. In a sense Randy plays with this idea of two worlds colliding on a daily basis playing “alternative’ music on the violin. In this case, however, he is involved in bridging an even further distance; bringing the classical world and the world of blues and jazz onto the same musical page. With or without Mr Sabien, this is an act that is worth experiencing. I will admit that I have no idea if the music plays out as well coming through your speakers as it does as when one experiences it in person. It may be one of those acts you need to experience initially up close and personal in order to fully appreciate.

Final Analysis:

1. Pine Ridge at Wautoma – worth every penny

2. McComb/Bruchs Performing Arts Center – my favorite to date

3. Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues – don’t miss them. You may question the sanity of it all but you won’t go home disappointed.

Next week – Door County and Mojo Perry

–Dayle Quigley

Ole Bull in Wisconsin

January 18, 2011

Ole Bull, a virtuoso violinist of the 19th century, got some well-deserved recognition at a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert last weekend. I’m not aware that Bull’s work is frequently played, though I heard a short violin solo he composed on Wisconsin Public Radio one evening last year.

This time I enjoyed a live performance. After playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, a crowd-pleaser of the first order, soloist Henning Kraggerud offered a sweet, elegiac piece written by Bull on the occasion of his wife’s death in 1862. Introducing the encore, Kraggerud remarked that Bull later found love in Madison where he met Sara Chapman Thorp.

Bull, like Kraggerud, was a Norwegian musician with an international career. Born in 1810, Bull was a celebrity before he was 30 and made his first tour of North America in 1843.

Ole Bull

Ole Bull

It was after an 1868 concert in Madison that the widowed Bull met Sara Thorp, daughter of Eau Claire lumber baron Joseph G. Thorp, who maintained a home in the capital where he pursued business interests and served two terms as a state senator.

Bull was 60 and Thorp was 20 when the couple married secretly in Norway in 1870. A formal wedding took place in Madison later that year and the Bulls took up residence in the mansion deeded by James Thorp to his daughter. The lakefront  home became Bull’s base when in the United States and his wife traveled with him as he toured. Bull returned to Norway in 1880 in ill health and died soon thereafter.

The Bulls’ home still stands at 130 E. Gilman St. in Madison. After Ole Bull’s death, his widow sold the house and moved to Cambridge, Mass., where she published translations of Norwegian writer Jonas Lie and a memoir of Bull. Jeremiah Rusk bought the house after he was elected governor in 1882 and later sold it to the state. It was the governor’s residence until 1951 when the house was purchased by UW-Madison. Today, it continues a less lavish life as a residence for select  students in the final stages of their post-graduate work.

Knapp House

The home of Ole and Sara Thorp Bull is now a residence for UW graduate students.


Teens view their world ‘In a New Light’

January 14, 2011

My Mother's Teardrop. Photo: Dakota, age 14.

By Tammy Kempfert,

“If you think about it, a lot of successful artists had troubled youths,” said Ben Thwaits of Spooner. He teaches at Northwest Passage, a residential mental health treatment center for teenagers. Last week, we talked by phone about an inspiring youth project he developed with his wife Branda, a National Park Service Ranger.

Funded by an America’s Best Idea grant,  “In a New Light” connects boys enrolled at Northwest Passage to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway through photography. The project relies on the combined powers of art and nature to help restore a sense of dignity and wholeness to troubled teens’ lives.

Thwaits told me that a student who winds up in his all-male class may have faced any number of roadblocks to a healthy childhood—problems like substance abuse, harmful relationships or developmental disorders. Some have had truancy issues and haven’t attended school for years. But along the St. Croix River and behind the camera lens, Thwaits’ students thrive. When I asked why, he surmised:

Photography involves the quest to find the emotional essence of a subject, and it can take photographers a long time to get into that way of thinking. But whatever their challenges, a lot of these boys are truly emotionally brilliant, and they have so much pent-up emotional energy. They operate on gut instincts and often make emotion-based decisions. This project gives them an outlet for their emotional, expressive, creative sides.

A video filmed for the project by Black Ice Productions shows a few of the boys in action:

A nature-based treatment facility, Northwest Passage takes advantage of its close proximity to the St. Croix Riverway to administer its programming. However, the program traditionally has used the adventure model—hiking, canoeing, camping—to incorporate nature into its curricula. “In a New Light” approaches nature therapy from a new angle, so to speak. According to Thwaits:

With this project, we’re really immersing ourselves in this beautiful and wild place in a quiet and introspective manner … I could almost see the boys’ brains slowing down; I could see them focusing. These are some of the most severe cases of ADHD that you’ll see in a teenaged boy, and yet they’ll spend hours and hours on end looking at a bird, a flower or a frog.

The "In a New Light" exhibition is on view at Wisconsin's State Capitol Building through January 22. Photo: Ben Thwaits.

An exhibition of the students’ work has already traveled from St. Croix Falls to Wausau,  and is on view now through January 22 at the  State Capitol Rotunda in Madison. Each photograph includes commentary, or in some cases poetry, from the boys themselves.

Student photographers participated in artist receptions at two of the exhibitions, events that Thwaits called “magic, truly pivotal moments in the boys’ lives.” At one reception a student was overheard saying, “That’s the first time in my life I’ve ever gotten an adrenaline rush from doing something good.”

Thwaits  credits a whole community of partners with the project’s success. The Wisconsin Arts Board, Black Iris Gallery and Custom Framing, the previously mentioned Black Ice Outdoor Productions and others made significant contributions, he said.

Those unable to take in the exhibition in Madison will have two more opportunities: the show travels to Cable in February and returns again to Spooner in March. A project website also showcases the boys’ work. And below, one more example of a photograph you’ll find in the exhibition—this one from 16-year-old Chuck.

Just a Teenager 

I’m just a teenager.
A teenager tryin’ to make it.
A teenager tryin’ to get there.
A teenager tryin’ to move on.
A teenager tryin’ to break free.
I’m just a teenager
that doesn’t want to fall through the cracks.

–Chuck, age 16

Students make history in Weston, Wis.

January 4, 2011

The livelihoods of cash-strapped schools and youth programs routinely depend on fleets of small salespeople—youngsters turned loose door-to-door—who are obliged to peddle everything from gift wrap to cookie dough to magazine subscriptions. I’m happy to support these budding artists and future leaders in my neighborhood, honestly I am, but sometimes it seems there’s a disconnect between a program’s mission and its merchandise.

Not so in the case of D.C. Everest School in Weston, Wis.,  where an innovative project sustains itself through book sales. “You won’t find a program like ours anywhere in the country,” Paul Aleckson, the project coordinator, recently told me.

Selling books might not seem all that original, but at D.C. Everest, students sell the books they’ve created. For eighth and tenth grade honors students, collecting local oral histories is built into units of study that have included the Great Depression, Hmong culture and Wisconsin veterans. A current project on the Holocaust had students reading and discussing Doris Bergin’s War and Genocide and traveling to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Ill., before they interviewed area Holocaust survivors.

Students at D.C. Everest School display books they helped produce through the school's oral history program. Photo: Paul Aleckson.

After transcribing the interviews, obtaining consent forms, writing brief bios of interviewees and collecting their photos, students submit their work to the school’s extracurricular Oral History Club. The club takes on all the publishing responsibilities for the project, such as layout, editing and proofreading. “The kids are so independent,” Aleckson says. “They show up and just work, work, work.” His own enthusiasm for the students and their work comes across loud, clear and heartfelt.

According to Aleckson, the final products regularly exceed people’s expectations of middle and high school students. “We get some pretty unbelievable pictures that you won’t find anywhere but in our books,” he added. “If you’re studying World War II, for example, you’ll want to get our books because they’re primary sources.”

Each book project takes three years to complete and costs about $10,000, and though the project has received grant support from funders like the Wisconsin Humanities Council, it remains largely self-financed through its book sales.  To date, the group has published 18 of them, and most are available for purchase from the project’s website. Aleckson–whose passion clearly lies in the student learning experience–admitted that marketing the books has been his greatest challenge.

Students from the oral history club read their collection of Hmong folk tales to an elementary class. Photo: Paul Aleckson.

Aleckson won the VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award in 2002. And last year, the American Historical Association selected the D.C. Everest Oral History Project as the recipient of its prestigious Albert Beveridge K-12 Teaching Award.

The club’s not resting on past achievements, though. “We’ve got two exciting projects coming up–our Holocaust project and a new book on Wisconsin women–and they’re both going great guns right now,” said Aleckson.

–Tammy Kempfert