Lorine Niedecker’s Cabin in Fort Atkinson, Wisc. – A Literary Landmark

January 27, 2012

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Photo of Lorine Niedecker's Cabin in Fort Atkinson, Wisc. - A Literary Landmark, By Brian D'Ambrosio

Lorine Niedecker was a poet’s poet. English poet Basil Bunting considered her to be one of the finest poets of the 20th Century, and William Carlos Williams called her the Emily Dickinson of her time. Though internationally noted, in Wisconsin she remains a stranger – so much so that a 2003 biography of Niedecker by John Lehman was titled America’s Greatest Unknown Poet. Lorine Niedecker is referred to as a poet of place because her imagery was so rooted to her life on Blackhawk Island. She celebrated the visions and sounds of Blackhawk Island, a stumpy, marshy peninsula along which the Rock River pours before emptying into Lake Koshkonong. As an objectivist poet, the simplicity of her words still intuitively touches our own experiences.

The daughter of a Wisconsin carp fisherman, Niedecker was greatly influenced by her life on Blackhawk Island. She was born in May 12, 1903, on a spit of land near Fort Atkinson. She lived much of her life beside a flooding river in a Spartan cottage without electricity or running water. An only child, her words weave the textures of her culture, family and neighbors.

The seminal point in her poetic development came in 1931 when she read Louis Zukofsky’s “The Objectivist” issue of Poetry magazine. By 1940 Niedecker viewed herself exclusively as a poet. Reclusive and shy, her primary motivation was to have her poetry shared and read and her reputation as a poet locked. Niedecker’s poetry reflects her vision of the world, water, fish, fowl and flood. She spent her childhood outdoors watching blackbirds, willows, maples, boats, fishermen and spring floods engulfing her little house. In a letter to a friend in 1967, Niedecker confirmed the pure inspiration she found in her surroundings on Blackhawk Island: “Early in life I looked back of our buildings to the lake and said, “I am what I am because of all this – I am what is around me – these woods have made me….”

View of Spit From Lorine Niedecker's Cabin

She lived first in the log-sided house and later the house alongside the waterway from 1947-1970. Today, literary followers from around the world make their way to Blackhawk Island to view the small one-and-one-half-room cottage where Niedecker lived and wrote. The Lorine Niedecker homes are privately owned and not open to the public.

The Friends of Lorine Niedecker sponsors a monthly poetry reading in Fort Atkinson, which is rich with Niedecker-related sites, including W7309 Blackhawk Island Road, the location of Niedecker’s writer’s cottage and modest home. Both of which are private property, but access is allowed through an appointment with the Friends of Lorine Niedecker. Other notable markers include: Union Cemetery, County Road J north of Hwy 106, Cemetery Road, the burial place of Lorine Niedecker and her parents Henry and Daisy; 506 Riverside Drive, the home where Lorine stayed during the school year 1917-1918 with family friends; 1000 Riverside Drive , the home where the Niedeckers lived from 1910-1916; 209 Merchants Avenue, the Dwight Foster Library, home to Lorine’s personal library archive; 401 Whitewater Avenue, the Hoard Historical Museum, which operates a room with myriad artifacts related to the poet’s life.

“Our job is to promote and identify the work of this great poet,” said Ann Engelman, president of Friends of Lorine Niedecker. “Her fellow poets were so promotional of her, from William Carlos Williams to Allen Ginsberg. Her fellow poets really praised her.”

Few people were aware of Niedecker’s poetry, and she died virtually unknown outside of contemporary circles. Her poetic reputation has enhanced so widely that in 2011, Engelman can claim that no anthology of 20th Century American poetry is whole without some of Lorine Niedecker’s work.

Lorine Niedecker

“Her esteem as a major American poet grows each year,” said Engelman. “In Wisconsin, she is still very much unknown. Our goal as a society is to change that.”

Lorine Niedecker: A Life, UW Press
American Poetry Archival Project, University of Nebraska

Creating Art: Toward 500 Images – Part II

January 20, 2012

Anwar Floyd-Pruitt hold his mixed-media assemblage, "Crown Head on Criss Cross" at Blutstein Brondino Fine Art.

Anwar Floyd–Pruitt graduated from Harvard University with a psychology degree and then his creative muse lead him in a totally different direction.  Exhibiting in “IMITATING LIFE: Synthesizing Saneness” with painters Kevin Boatright and Mikal Floyd-Pruitt (Anwar’s brother) — this is his first official art exhibition. Possessing the intuitive approach often attributed to self-taught artists, unhampered by mainstream aesthetics, Anwar is driven to make things that are recognized as “art.” Often declaring it strange, many witnessing this art genre are perplexed. Preconceived notions and expectations that artists draw only realistically commonly prompt, “Can you draw me?”

Most likely influenced by these same expectations, Anwar confided, “My work is a way to deal with the jealousy I sometimes feel when I see other artists’ work. Saddened, as a child, by my inability to draw, sculpt, or paint figurative works very well, I decided to put time into doing what I enjoyed and exploring the possibilities outside of realism.” His revelation reminds me of the jealousy that I, as a child, felt toward classmates who received praise for drawing well.

Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, "Skulls," Khaki, Denim, leather, wood, tacks, acrylic paint, 11" x 9," 2012, at Terry McCormick Gallery. Photo by artist.

Accomplishing a kind of conceptual folk art came with Anwar’s decision to move outside of realism as he gravitated to reusing rescued materials destined for the garbage can. “I am free from having to make sense and I love the fact that recycling creates much of my work. I also enjoy the fact that I can find inspiration for my work anywhere – like interesting patterns. As a youth, certain patterns disturbed me, and even today looking too long at a honeycomb or at images from an electron microscope create this unpleasant visceral reaction. Strangely, I am often drawn to examine these patterns further, almost like playing chicken with my nerves.”

Presently, Anwar collages the reverse sides of old marketing posters with cut up old marketing posters, cuts and/or knots scraps of discarded clothing and leather, sands and staples butt-ends of wood, pounds tacks, and sews with thread. “I give a new life to that which was pronounced dead,” he declares. “Instead of a defibrillator, I use scissors, sewing machines, staple guns, hot glue, hammers, and double stick tape.” Plus, the sound that his tools make “lets him know that change is occurring.”

Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, "Drunkard's Last Stand (detail)," Acrylic and collaged recycled posters, 6 of 30 - 11" x 17" each, 2010, at Terry McCormick Gallery. Photo: Mikal Floyd-Pruitt

With the beginnings of a new piece, he says he often fights uncertainty and fear,  unsure of what the end result will be. “My work relates to the exhibition title “IMITATING LIFE/ Synthesizing Saneness” in that the process of creating art calms my nerves, soothes my soul, and provides an outlet for my pent up thoughts and emotions,” he explains. “I find that making art is a meditation of sorts. Not that anything in this sometimes – crazy outside world has changed by the time I finish a piece, but I have changed. I have increased my ‘saneness.’

Being acquainted with Anwar’s family for years, I’ve known him as my daughter’s classmate, in elementary and high school — and as my youngest patron. One of my most memorable art sales followed my slide lecture presented to his 1983 Montessori class. When Anwar requested a “large” piece of my artwork, his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Pruitt, purchased a watermelon pastel. Now 34, his early art interest and foray into collecting in elementary school has germinated. Functioning like a consummate obsessed, self-taught visionary, Anwar is well on his way to creating his 500th piece. Witnessing that journey is “icing on a very artsy cake.”

“The Passion of the Self–Taught Artist” is Anwar’s next exhibition at Blutstein Brondino Fine Art, opening on Gallery Night Friday, January 20, 11 – 9 pm. – March 10, 207 East Buffalo Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 1-800-737-3715. Receptions are also planned for January 26th and 27th.

The Terry McCormick Gallery: Contemporary Fine and Folk Art continues with his work on Gallery Day, Saturday, January 21, 12 – 5 pm at 2522 North 18th Street. For questions, call 414-264-6766 or email terryevelyn@hotmail.com.

–Evelyn Patricia Terry


I Love This Town – Hartford, WI

January 10, 2012

It has started, my year of visiting small town Performing Art Centers to experience theater. If the remainder of the year is like this first trip, I’m going to have a wonderful time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Creating Art: Toward 500 Images – Part I

January 9, 2012

“As an artist, you will know who you are, when you have created your 500th image,” stated one of my UW-Milwaukee art professors in the 1970s. Often I pass his statement on to artists desiring their art careers to “hurry up and blossom” or their personal styles to “hurry up and blossom.” As a benchmark worth aiming for, a commitment to 500 images sounds like a stretch, but it keeps one busy creating – the most beneficial element of a successful art career.

Mosaic fabricator Catherine Lottes & workshop leader Evelyn Patricia Terry flank "Life's Garden." Photo: Yokesphotography.

So that is, of course, what I told Kevin Boatright, Mikal Floyd-Pruitt, and his brother, Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, after encountering them in October at different locations during Milwaukee’s final 2011 Gallery Night and Day’s 23rd annual event. The afternoon of Gallery Night, Anwar and Mikal attended the unveiling of a public art project, “Life’s Garden,” created by Catherine Lottes and installed at 6th and Reservoir. In 2010, Lottes invited me to assist her with my expertise in facilitating watercolor workshops. Pieper Hillside Boys and Girls Club’s art students and Lapham Park’s resident seniors attended separate workshops – developing images for Lottes’ innovative mosaic tile production process. During the reception, Anwar, Mikal and I talked about art, and shared desires and life situations.

About 10 p.m. that evening, I encountered Kevin Boatright in the Third Ward. As we sat talking about art and visibility, Kevin said emphatically, “I want more for my career.” I concurred with that desire “of more” for my career. Kevin then said, “You may be down now, but at least you have been up.” “Down,” referenced my statements that I needed my large pastel and monoprint sales — so robust once-up-a-time — to resume.

Both fortuitous meetings compelled me to offer the Terry McCormick Gallery: Contemporary Fine and Folk Art, as a stepping stone in their journey and point them in a direction that would eventually propel them toward “prosperous” career goals. I recalled speaking with renowned artist, Faith Ringgold. She stated that “lack of money flow” was never an issue in her career — so “continuous” copious money flow tops the list of my present career goals. These three artists desire a career in which their art will make money for them also.

I requested their input, but my initial and ongoing advice was that they consider choosing healthy lifestyles to be holistically successful artists. Being sick is a mentally and physically challenging environment to create in. Consequently, our meetings included freshly juiced green vegetables and small amounts of fruit, along with Caroline Carter’s raw crackers, dips, and granola. Kevin eventually acquired a juicer and Anwar has been looking for the right one.  Until it is acquired, he began blending raw vegetables and fruits.

During brainstorming sessions, Mikal and Kevin developed the exhibition title, “Imitating Life: Synthesizing Saneness.”

Imitating Life: Synthesizing Saneness, Postcard, 4" x 6," designed by Mikal Floyd - Pruitt.

Mikal designed an energetic invitation, reflective of dominant color choices evident in his paintings — red, blue, yellow, green and white. Artists’ statements, artwork presentation, titles, prices, signage and press releases were tackled, as basic foundations that fueled my career. Anwar and his father, Dr. Eugene Pruitt, graciously assisted moving furniture from downstairs to upstairs to create more wall space.

The opening reception, December 10, 2011, was well attended. I was acquainted with a few people, but many new faces were in the crowd. A resulting visit from Barbie Blutstein during the first week of our exhibition, netted an invitation for Anwar’s artwork for the next Gallery Night and Day, January 20 and 21, at Blutstein Brondino Fine Art. They are located in the Marshall building, 207 East Buffalo Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1-800-737-3715). With a self-taught theme, this exhibition additionally includes folk art selections of George Ray McCormick, Sr., Ktinsley, Prophet Blackmon, Richard Mynor and Rev. Josephus Farmer from the Terry McCormick Gallery.

Daily goal setting, intense productivity, record keeping and audience cultivation must be focused on to reach my instructor’s “500 – image” benchmark and/or the success that they desire. They have the “God-given gift.”  “The rest of the story” as Paul Harvey, so aptly included in commentaries, will be individually honed.

Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, Kevin Boatright & Mikal Floyd-Pruitt in front of Mikal's paintings. Photo: Terry McCormick Gallery.

Kevin’s, Anwar’s and Mikal’s artists’ statements, aesthetics and more information of our earlier art encounters, continue in my next blog. The Terry McCormick Gallery will be open again on Gallery Day, Saturday, January 21, 12–5 pm. It is located at 2522 North 18th Street. Call 414-264-6766 or email terryevelyn@hotmail.com. Check my website for our press release and other images: evelynpatriciaterry.com/news.

–Evelyn Patricia Terry