“Oh that glorious Wisconsin”….landscape.

April 26, 2011

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

April the month of Earth Day is about to close and we ‘Sconies should be proud of the attention paid to our conservation trinity of Nelson, Leopold and Muir. Gaylord Nelson got his customary credit as the father of Earth Day, while John Muir and Aldo Leopold were the subjects of new, nicely produced video biographies.

As the videos showed, Muir and Leopold were scientists and philosophers, but also eloquent and lyrical writers. No line in either man’s work, so strikes us home state folks like Muir’s ecstatic, “Oh that glorious Wisconsin wilderness,” where the Scotch farmer’s son experienced, “Nature streaming into us, wooingly teaching her wonderful glowing lessons.”

Glorious it was and in Wisconsin, the Muir family farm, but it was not wilderness—at least if you define wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”  That’s how the United States government defines it in the Wilderness Act of 1964 and I think most of us would agree that wilderness presumes the absence of “man.”

The Marquette County where the Muirs settled in the 1840s was a mix of woodland, grassland and wetland as yet largely “untrammeled” in the negative sense posed by the Wilderness Act. But “man” was much more than “a visitor” here. Native people had been living on this land, managing and shaping it for thousands of years before the wagon bearing the Muir clan bounced onto the premises. The sedge meadow flanking Fountain Lake, the bluestem prairie where young John and his brothers wrestled, the patches of tough oak and hickory “grubs” that persuaded Muir to keep his breaking plow “trimmed” so they might be more easily sheared off, were components of a landscape created by earth, water, climate and the hands of men and women.

Fire was their chief tool, and the grasslands—prairie, savanna, wet meadows–covering nearly all of southern Wisconsin until the arrival of immigrants like the Muirs, their handiwork. As Muir wrote, “Had there been no fires these fine prairies, so marked a feature of the country, would have been covered by the heaviest of forests.”  He went on to say that the “farmers prevented running grass fires,” and as soon as they did so, “the grubs grew up into trees and formed tall thickets so dense that it was difficult to walk through them and every trace of the sunny openings vanished.”

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The farmers may have prevented the grass fires, but not by swatting at them with wet blankets or organizing bucket brigades. They stopped the fires by plowing and clearing away the grass and shrubs that were their fuel and by removing the people who ignited them. In 1848, one year before the Muirs settled on their farm, the last natives to hold a recognized claim to land in the vicinity, the Menominees, were ordered north to their reservation on the Wolf River. With them, they took the fire that shaped the landscape.

Muir had a blind spot when it came to recognizing the landscaping work of native people. He always saw the direct hand of god at work, and did not admit that god’s work could be and was performed by skin clad natives who were as ingenious and—for all we know—as spiritually-minded as he. I wish that Muir had recognized the role native people played in creating the first patch of earth he came to know and love, but his omission does not invalidate his experience or his message.

As shaped by native people, the Muir farm was the glorious place where nature streamed into a young man’s soul and wooingly taught him wonderful glowing lessons.

–Michael Goc


India, Polio, and Itzhak Perlman

April 14, 2011

Dayle Quigley

Okay, it’s true that nothing in the above title fits into my goal of experiencing music in small town Wisconsin venues but life is never as neat as we would like. It has also been longer than I would have wanted since I lasted blogged but you will soon understand why.

Itzhak Perlman

The premier violinist of modern times, Perlman contracted polio at age four and overcame physical challenges to achieve international acclaim in classical music. He is the recipient of 15 Grammy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence.

Sometimes when life calls you need to answer even when it is inconvenient and messy, even when it is unplanned and unexpected. Sometimes, you just have to say yes. Back in October I heard that Itzhak Perlman was playing a benefit concert in Chicago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Polio Plus. Rotarians around the globe have been working for close to two decades to eradicate polio and as Mr. Perlman would tell you, we are this close. I have never seen Mr. Perlman play in person and as a violinist, I was not going to miss this opportunity. I reserved my tickets for the March 7th concert in October. It was so far in advance, I couldn’t remember in January where I had put the tickets (turned out they were in the will call office.) And then in late December I got an invitation to go to India to participate in the National Polio Immunization Day campaign. Twice a year in India, they vaccinate every child under the age of 5 years old against polio. They set up stations for in every city and town across the nation for the first day and then spend the next 2 to 4 days going house to house, tent to tent, making sure that every child is found. During this time, they vaccinate over 200 million children. The sheer enormity of it is overwhelming. And so when the invitation came, I considered it an aligning of the stars and I said yes. Go to India, vaccinate children against Polio and then return to the States just in time to hear Itzhak Perlman, a polio survivor, perform. It doesn’t get much more cosmic than that.

So, I got my VISA, rearranged my schedule and flew literally half way around the world. I went to India with 35 rotarians from across the United States and helped cover Ghaziabad a town of 16 million people outside of Delhi. The first day 446,000 children were vaccinated in our town utilizing 2800 vaccination centers and 943,00 vaccinated by home visits. That’s over 1.3 million children vaccinated in just Ghaziabad. Here are the statistics for the week of 27 February 2011. 709,000 immunization stations, 2.5 million vaccinators, 209 million homes visited, and 169 million children under the age of 5 vaccinated. It is hard to fathom the number of people necessary just to organize this endeavor let alone carry it out.Some people would ask if it is worth it. Can it possibly be successful? But just look at the numbers ….In Nigeria and India in 2008 there were 1357 cases, in 2010 just 63 cases, and to date in 2011 just 1 case. We are this close.

Staff Benda Bilili

A Congolese soukous band largely composed of polio survivors, Staff Benda Bilili describes the impact of the disease in the group’s signature song, “Polio.” The band received a 2009 WOMEX (World Music Expo) Artist Award for World Music.

You might ask what this has to do with art, what this has to do with Wisconsin. Ask these questions of Itzhak Perlman and James DePreist. Both are outstanding artists and both, although very successful in life, would rather I believe go through life standing up. The last indigenous case of polio in the United States was in 1979 but it is only one non-stop airplane trip away. Any child not currently immunized in the United States is at risk of being a statistic, at risk for multiple corrective surgeries, at risk for permanent disability. We are this close.

I will tell you that the End Polio Now concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James DePreist, and featuring Itzhak Perlman was a raging success as was the reception afterwards. The hall was packed and the performers at the top of their game. I’m glad I said yes. Yes, to going to India to help our counterparts in their daunting task. And yes, to the benefit concert where I was encouraged to see people who are willing to fight to help people who live 4000 miles away. You see, we are this close…but as a friend of mine points out, close only counts when you’re dancing. We have the ability by working together to end a devastating disease. To wipe it from the face of the earth. What a legacy we can leave our children and grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, but only if we work not as a single community, or state, or nation but only if we work as one world.


Two Wisconsin Artists

April 11, 2011

In recent years I have become more familiar with the work of Wisconsin artists and increasingly appreciative of their artistry. I’m not an expert, but rather a “curious observer.”

Schomer Lichtner: Untitled, 1982-1987, Acrylic — Racine Art Museum, Gift of the Schomer Lichtner Trust and the Kohler Foundation, Inc. Photography: Jon Bolton, Racine

For some time I’ve been aware of Schomer Lichtner (1905-2006) and his work, but only in the most casual way. I was even less familiar with Ruth Grotenrath (1912-1988). A recent visit to the Racine Art Museum gave me the chance to get to know both of them better. That’s where a show of their work is on display through May 8.

Both were quintessential Wisconsin artists having been trained in Milwaukee’s public schools and attending the state’s public universities. Lichtner and Grotenrath married in 1934 when both were involved with Depression-era public art projects. The show includes early Regionalist style work from both artists and then follows their careers in more or less linear progression. Upon entering the upstairs gallery, the visitor goes left for Grothenrath’s work and right for Lichtner’s and meets them together again at the back of the rectangular space.

Ruth Grotenrath: Interior with Mural, 1980, Casein — Racine Art Museum, Gift of the Schomer Lichtner Trust and the Kohler Foundation, Inc. Photography: Jon Bolton, Racine

There’s a good selection of Lichtner’s brightly colored cows, the work most familiar to me, though there is much more to see. I was even less familiar with Grotenrath’s paintings and was quite taken by them, especially those with a clear Asian influence. They are detailed without being fussy and domestic without being sentimental.

I’ve been very pleased with my several visits to the Racine Art Museum and this small show was no exception.

–Michael Bridgeman

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Stacey Williams-Ng recently did a blog post about Grotenrath and Lichtner for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Art City. It’s worth reading to learn more about these two talented Wisconsin artists.


With Music In Its Soul, Wisconsin Went To War

April 8, 2011

Michael Goc

The credit scandal and recession that had felled the economy three years previous had eased but the manufacturing, financial and real estate sectors were still lagging.

The Republicans had swept into office at the last election, taking the governor’s office and gaining commanding majorities in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature.

The party’s vehement opposition to the Democratic administration in Washington had brought national attention to the state and its aggressive young governor, Alexander Randall.

News from Washington had been troubling for months and, as the winter of 1860 warmed into the spring of April 1861, the national crisis worsened.

On April 12, word reached Madison that armed forces of the state of South Carolina were firing on United States troops and on the American flag at Fort Sumter. The news arrived the same day it occurred, thanks to the latest innovation in communication technology—the telegraph.

On April 14, the receiver tapped out the message that the U.S. Army had surrendered Sumter to the Carolinians.

On April 15, President Abraham Lincoln, in office for only six weeks, issued his proclamation calling on the states to raise 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion and “cause the laws to be duly executed.”

In Madison, a crowd gathered outside the Capitol, along with two companies of Wisconsin militia men who paraded around the Square. Inside the Capitol, the Republicans isolated themselves in the governor’s offices to discuss how to respond to the President’s appeal. The Democrats held their own caucus in another room.

Second Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin Capitol, 1860.

About nine o’clock at night, the Democrats came to the Republicans and said that they all wanted to work with the majority party “in defense of the country and the restoration of the principles of our National Constitution.” The Republicans welcomed them warmly.

The next day they went to work—together—and agreed to raise and equip all the troops the President required and borrow several million dollars (in 2011 money) to equip and pay them.

The session lasted until April 18. On that final day, while waiting for the Assembly to finish some work, the Senate went into recess. As they milled around their desks and out in the hall, one of the Senators started to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Soon the other thirty Senators joined in.  By the time the Senators finished the first chorus, they were joined in singing by ninety-some voices from the Assembly meeting across the hall.

The legislators continued and the song was taken up by spectators and workers in the Capitol. It spread outside to the militia men, as well as women and children in the Square, until several hundred people—inside and out—were singing the anthem.

“Everyone, whether possessed of music in his soul or not, did his utmost to do justice to the song.”

Then the legislature adjourned and, along with the citizens on the Square, shouted  cheers “that shook the building,” for the militia and the flag.

With music in its soul, Wisconsin went to war.

Source: E.B. Quiner, The Military History of Wisconsin, 1866.


“Art Play Date” at the Terry McCormick Gallery

April 7, 2011

Children ages 4-12 attend Evelyn Patricia Terry's Art Play Date.

As we grow older, we often fixate on other people and thus cannot focus on goals that we originally had. I have done so in the past and many people around me do so now. We lose ourselves in the whirlwind of wanting to be loved, wanting politics to go our way or wanting what someone else has. We grow disappointed in the world, we think, but we’re really disappointed in ourselves for not disappearing the “piles of disappointments.” Our anger creates so much insecurity. We, afflicted ones, believe that it is exclusive only to our lives and the worse is that we believe that there is no way to change or adjust our prognosis. I needed options to change. I received them. That is what I pass on to others.

I take my cues often from children. Children between birth and 7 years old unabashedly want what they want. They might hear “no” a lot, but they are determined—thus, the tantrums. Later on, in varying degrees, they begin to think that what they want may not be forthcoming, acceptable or possible. Some devise schemes, some give up – the fortunate ones are given options.

That’s why I hold “Art Play Date” in my space, the Terry McCormick Gallery. I teach children, and their parents and grandparents who must accompany them, to access their creativity in the visual arts, as they are introduced to and learn more about healthy food choices. My watercolor and mixed media workshops encourage individual thinking, exploration and exposure to a wide range of art supplies. In past workshops, I have also introduced juicing raw vegetable with apples and blending frozen fruit smoothies. In the summer, frozen berry and banana smoothies are not only a healthy treat, but very refreshing.

Children making art at the Terry McCormick Gallery.

At my last “Art Play Date,” in February, we created mixed media brooches and works on paper. The children and their parents enjoyed vegan chili, somosas, hummus and chips, and lots of raw fruits and vegetables. Attendees must learn to eat raw healthy snacks, so that they can enjoy finishing with a dessert–blueberry, strawberry, apple and walnut pizza pie. My goal is to promote what is within our control and dwell less on what is outside of our control. We can start with honoring our bodies and strengthening our connection to our creativity.

I thoroughly enjoy working with children, just as I do with people of all ages, because my goal is to maintain an atmosphere that allows people to go within to access their creative strength. I believe we must teach children possibility thinking—encouraging them to search for and develop options. Teach children they must not demand that others get something for them, be something for them, or know what they want. Rather they must learn to create ways to get what they want–it is their responsibility to keep their eyes on “their prize.”

Frequently, young children ask me, “Why do I have to do anything your way?” I always answer them honestly as I can. Which is, “Because I created an opportunity for you to learn something new–you can go home and do it your way after this session.” When visiting schools, I often add, “I was paid to be here, why would someone pay me to teach you what you already know?” They usually decide to learn whatever it is I am teaching. Many times after they follow directions and attempted a project, if there is time, I let them do it their way.

A young artist participates in an Art Play Date in February.

My “Art Play Date” allows me to share the knowledge I attained much later in my life–knowledge I feel would have been very valuable to have known at a younger age. I have always loved receiving information as a foundation to better navigate life. Believing that there are others like me, younger and older, my gallery’s “Art Play Date” opportunities are my way to share creative freedom from other people’s opinions. This freedom has allowed me to create unabashedly. Because we still have many opportunities to access creative outlets in Wisconsin, we must make sure that we support them by utilizing them.

–Evelyn Patricia Terry


The Other UW: John Muir’s University of the Wilderness

April 6, 2011

John Muir National Monument, Marin County, Calif.

Whenever I leave the state, it seems I take a little Wisconsin with me–and a brief trip to San Francisco last month was no exception.

Besides enjoying the more popular Bay Area tourist spots, my family and I spent a day hiking through Muir Woods National Monument. These woods, just a short drive north of San Francisco–past expensive homes and enticing overlooks on Marin County’s winding roads–contain one of the region’s last uncut stands of old-growth redwood trees. They’re named for famed American naturalist John Muir.

Americans refer to Muir as the “Father of the National Parks,” and Californians claim him as champion of Sequoia National Park and other wild West Coast places. But as Wisconsinites know, John Muir also had strong Wisconsin ties.

In 1848, the Scottish-born Muir immigrated with his family to Marquette County, Wisconsin, where he grew up from age 11 on. His engaging memoir, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (which you can read online at Project Gutenberg), describes early experiences with coons and snakes, shrikes and stumps, glacial lakes, Wisconsin winters and hard prairie living–all of which had certain impact on his later activism. In fact, Wisconsin authors Kathleen McGwin and Daryl Christensen have written a book called Muir is Still Here about these early influences.

John Muir. Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society.

Muir eventually left his family home at Fountain Lake Farm to study geology and botany at UW-Madison, but he never graduated. The last lines of My Boyhood and Youthrecount his wistful farewell to campus. “I was only leaving one university for another, the Wisconsin University for the University of the Wilderness,” he wrote. From then on, he left his gentle footprint all over North America, wandering the U.S., Canada, Panama and Cuba, and eventually winding up in California.

While I’m grateful to Muir for my memorable day in the California woods, I’m also grateful to philanthropists William and Elizabeth Kent. They donated the property then known as Muir Woods to the federal government in 1907, at which time President Theodore Roosevelt suggested renaming the place Kent Monument. In a charming exchange of letters, William Kent declined the tribute. He explained:

I have five good, husky boys that I am trying to bring up to a knowledge of democracy and to a realizing sense of rights of the “other fellow,” doctrines which you, sir, have taught with more vigor and effect than any man in my time. If these boys cannot keep the Kent name alive, I am willing it should be forgotten.

At the Muir Woods National Monument Visitor Center: a shelf-full of books on Muir.

For his part, on learning that the monument would retain his name, Muir expressed gratitude. “This is the best tree-lover’s monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world,” he wrote.

Muir would be so honored many times, with parks, trails and schools (and apparently even a minor planet) bearing his name. Wisconsin alone has John Muir Park in Green Bay; John Muir Drive in Middleton; John Muir View in Poynette; and of course, the family’s homestead site in Marquette County, Muir Memorial Park. I’m sure there are others.

In California, along a section of boardwalk at Muir Woods National Monument, we came across a new mom pushing her sleeping infant in a stroller. While stopping to admire the baby, I  wondered if the long shadow of the sequoia would imprint her newly born subconscious. How will the rush of Redwood Creek and the cool cyprus-scented air shape her development? Perhaps this nursery school of the wilderness is how the likes of John Muir are formed.


If you’d like to learn more about Muir or the National Park System, watch these two excellent videos: The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and National Parks: Wisconsin. Also, read Kathleen McGwyn’s day trip tour of Marquette County on Portal Wisconsin. Then, hit the trails!

–Tammy Kempfert


Wood cutting culture

April 4, 2011

Around November the conversation switches from the weather to “Got your wood in yet?”  Gas station, grocery store, Friday night fish, almost anywhere: “How ya’ been?  Got your wood in yet?”

I see my brother-in-law every 3 months or so.  The purpose of these meetings is for me to confess I don’t have much wood cut and also to try my new excuses for why.  Like, “Isprainedmyankleandmyunclediedagain.”  If I can get some sympathy from Max (for the 17th time in a row), I know I can use that line again.

Herbie the tractor and other tools. A little tractor gets around perfectly in the woods.

How much wood you have is like hay in the barn or food in the freezer, a sign or your industriousness and productivity.  That’s what worries me.  Telling people how much wood you have on hand is like the size of the fish you caught on that trip up north with your buddies.  There’s usually an inflation factor.  I keep my woodpile hidden from the road for more than aesthetic reasons.

I’ve been heating with wood for 40 years.  It requires a lot of specialized equipment.  We have three 4-wheel drive wood trucks that cost $450.  That’s $450 total, not each.  One was $250, another $200 and the third was “get this piece of junk out of my yard”.  That’s the best one, it’s a ¾ ton. I like to think I represent the “fleet” in Farm and Fleet.  They’re all Ford F series pickups which is good if you only have one alternator to share.   Before you say anything I know that $250 is a lot to spend on a truck but my oldest boy used it for Prom and my wife took it to Monroe once so it has more value than you might think.

What's growing in the back of your wood truck?

Spring is coming soon, in June they say, so you would think this is a good time to take it easy.  But even though it’s April the “pile” in front of our furnace looks like a spilled match stick box, so we had to do wood chores if we wanted to avoid another 52 degree Monday morning in the kitchen.  It also was a good day because our teenaged son had been to a party the night before and was beat, so he would be easier to sneak up on and capture.

So today our task was:  load green elm cut last fall, pile some branches, haul/cut some old poles and run the splitter.

The splitter, by the way, is an indicator of wimpiness.  I just bought it recently (honest) and tried to keep it behind the garage but one day someone in town asked what the red thing was in my yard and I was exposed, then and there.  “Getting old – can’t use a maul on his own wood anymore.  It would probably do him some good.”

I was already infamous at Lowes in Dubuque because we hauled the new splitter home behind a Miata.  I guess city folks aren’t used to trailer hitches on sport cars.  But sometimes the truck is impractical or doesn’t have the alternator on so we hitch trailers to the little black Miata.  I think of it as a support vehicle for the wood trucks, like a destroyer with an aircraft carrier group.

Small load of green wood.

At any rate my wife and the boy left to pile branches and load the elm on the Prom truck, about a mile away.  With warmer weather I figured I’d start by taking the chains off the tractor tires, although taking the chains off the tractor is one of the few sure ways to make it snow.  I hate the chains.  I hate putting them on and hate taking them off.  Of course, my disdain transfers to incompetence and it takes forever.

We have a great supply of poles, remnants of what our neighbors didn’t use for set posts.  (Nothing like a highway project to build your supply of poles.)  It’s best to use an old chain. Poles can have nails, staples and neat electricity warning signs on them so I use a lousy, old chain to minimize my loss when I hit metal, which is an invariable.  It is so dull I doubt it would cut butter so I try to sharpen it, which is somewhat like the chains on the tractor and a lot like bowling.  I bowled in a league for maybe 10 years and my average went down every year.  With the chains there is a strange inverse correlation that results in the chains getting worse the more time I put into sharpening them.  Like a few other things, I seldom disclose this in town.

In the summer Herbie does photo-ops for our city friends.

But I muddle through it, hauling a few poles at a time behind Herbie the little tractor, then cutting and splitting them to size.  The green wood duo shows up and joins in.  They have a small load of bigger wood so we split that up too, making a decent little pile. The 18- year old is starting to feel the stress of two hours continuous work without texting and is having hallucinations of a cold Mountain Dew.   We finish before tragedy strikes and he comes back around when we get his IPod into his hands.

We do wood chores every couple weeks. It’s a regular thing for many families around here.  But this has not been my year to brag about a big wood stash, so I usually like to redirect conversation to politics or the age-old argument about whether green or red tractors are best.  Lately it has been better to talk about the tractors.

But I am more conscientious this spring and finally on top of it all.  We got a lot of wood “done” today, at least a couple weeks’ worth.  So I think for once I’ve got a leg up in the bragging contest.  Almost makes me want to go down to town and wait for someone to start a conversation.

You thought I was kidding about Prom?

Before heading into the house I refuel the splitter. And in the distance I can hear the drone of at least three chainsaws in the distance.  My neighbors were hard at it, too.  Those dirty dogs.

So I have new plans to cut as much as I can this spring when I can see through the woods and before the underbrush grows too much.  I’ll get a biiiiiiiggg head start this time so by next fall I can crow when the weather and conversation both turn.  If not my uncle might die again.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, Wisconsin (Pop. 283)