Bernard J. Roberts: A Curatorial Treasure

November 28, 2012

“Current,”  Bronze, 26″ x 42″ x 25, 2004

My strong attraction to several fluidly carved wood forms, bronze sculptures, white Gessoed brightly colored wood constructions, and heretofore unknown textures created by powder bug infestations, enticed

Untitled Stick Form
 Powder Bug Wood and gesso
33″x 21″ x 11″
Circa 1993

me to repeatedly visit the gallery exhibition Out of the Forest, Into the Furnace – Bernard J. Roberts Bronze and Wood Sculpture. Continuing through December 26, 2012, Roberts’ passion for and exploration of his obvious muse “nature” inhabits every piece.  Worthy of his zeal, Vanguard Sculpture Services masterfully provided the extraordinary vision, teamwork, expertise, and “elbow” grease, demanded to bring this exhibition into fruition.

Bernard J. Roberts’ death, on July 19, 2011, greatly impacted and delayed plans for his retrospective at Vanguard’s gallery space – then under construction. Curated by gallery director Beth Sahagian, Roberts’ exhibition opened, a year later, July 24, 2012 in “THE GALLERY,” a pristine space deftly conceived and built by Shagian’s husband, Ed Sahagian-Allsopp and Vanguard’s staff.   Sahagian and Mike Nolte, Vanguard Sculpture Services founders, lead by Roberts’ son Aari and daughter Andrea, selected 150 art pieces from his estate. Sahagian and Nolte effectively guided foundry artists Tom Clark, Chris Andrews, Care Ekpo, and Ed Sahagian-Allsopp through cleaning and restoration of at least 110 pieces. The team’s masterful skills and curatorial decisions result in an intriguing visual presentation of Roberts’ stunningly seductive abstract carvings and bronzes, exploratory ceramics, whimsical assemblages, and conceptual constructions.

Untitled Bowl Form. Carved White Oak, 4″ x 12″ x 8,” Circa 1978

From his published biography, he was the first of his siblings to earn degrees. Beginning at University of Wisconsin-Steven’s Point in wildlife ecology, he realized his passion for art and transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, earning a Bachelor of Science in 1960; a Masters of Science in ceramics and sculpture in 1966; and finally completing his formal education  with a Masters in Fine Art in 1969.    He married, raised two children, taught school, and finally settled on creating artwork from 1992 onward. Over the years he showed widely in galleries and museums throughout the Midwest. His work resides in the permanent collections of the Neville Public Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.   Over 400 hand carvings and assembled wood pieces reflect his

“Yellow Germination”
16″ x 22″ x 15”
Wood , foam and paint
Circa 1988

interest in mitosis, waves, seedpods, growth, ovum, male and female forms, topography, and germination. As an avid naturalist, craftsman, teacher, and restorer of prairies, his lifelong stewardship of native Wisconsin prairies and forests coincided with his fervor for making art.

Storage Barn on the Robert’s estate.
Photo courtesy of Vanguard.

Sahagian added, “He bought a barren farm and planted 15 acres of arborvitae and black walnut trees making the entire property a forest and simultaneously fodder for his art. Pulling trees out of the ground, he threw them into the swamp to loosen the bark, bugs, and dirt. Then after sun drying and bleaching, Bernie stored them from floor to ceiling for future use along with his plethora of collected objects, unfinished sculptures, and countless boxes of ideas sketched on anything.” Aari, said, “He was always making art.”

Sahagian frequently spoke with Roberts, who in 1998 became one of Vanguard’s earliest clients. Offering important insights into his background, she said, “Bernie built several barn- like structures for studio space including a home for his family. Every surface seemed to be touched by his creativity, including textured ceilings, unique flooring, wood furniture, light fixtures, functional wood bowls, spoons, and even carved jewelry. Everywhere, one sees something unique. For example, known for a great sense of humor, between the house and his vegetable garden he poured a curvilinear sidewalk in the shape of a woman and planted a triangular grouping of forget-me-nots, appropriately, between the thighs and the navel.”

“Centipede Table,” Honey locust wood, 17″ x 50″ x 22,” Circa 1972

Curating her first retrospective and solo exhibition, Sahagian

“Hurdler of Hearts,” Wood , Gesso, paint, 23″ x 32″ x 8″ Circa 2009

quickly developed new insights into both the artist and his artwork, as did other Vanguard artists. She believes this is because Roberts always delivered one style of work to the foundry for casting. She said, “The sheer number of pieces, diverse styles, and materials completely changed the way I saw his studio practice. I was touched emotionally by the sensitive nature of the subject matter and his love for the materials he used. I often find myself smiling when I think of him pulling the perfect piece of wood off the pile or working on a particular piece. I see now why a person might choose to be a curator, the commitment allows an unusual amount of time with an artist’s work, what better way to get to know someone?”

Visit the website at: or Vanguard’s Facebook page for current gallery and foundry events and projects. Call 414.444.5508 or visit at 3374 West Hopkins, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Ed Sahagian-Allsopp photo credit.

Submitted by Evelyn Patricia Terry. She can be contacted for feedback at with any corrections or editing input.

North Avenue Public Art Bus Shelter “Kindred Ties” Reinstalled

November 27, 2012

“Kindred Ties” photo before car accident on St Patrick’s Day, March 17. Photo by Avagara, all rights reserved_2011

Milwaukee, Wisconsin  – The “emptiness” next to Bethel Baptist Church disappeared on October 27, 2012, when the Kindred Ties bus shelter unceremoniously reappeared on the site it had inhabited for the past six years. Evelyn Patricia Terry, creator of Kindred Ties, offered her perspective on its importance, explaining that, “Kindred Ties, a public art piece, establishes a sense of place in the African-American community and celebrates nurturing families, spiritual awareness, global knowledge, and educational achievement. Kindred Ties represents our history, culture, values, and what we incessantly speak of – thereby coalescing my ideas, the community’s ideas, and other artists’ ideas to share with the world.”

Located in the busy six points’ intersection of 21st Street, W. Fond du Lac Avenue and W. North Avenue, the bus shelter’s disappearance March 17th bewildered Kindred Ties artists, employees in Seaway Bank across the street, and many concerned community organizers. “What could have happened?” they asked Terry. Although as a public art piece it now belonged to the community, Terry felt invested and set out to solve the mystery. She eventually tracked it down through Sandy Kellner, Chief Operating Officer of the Milwaukee County Transit System.

Damaged “Kindred Ties.” Photo Courtesy of the MCTS.

Kellner explained that a car, around Saint Patrick’s Day, hit Kindred Ties and the damaged frame compelled immediate removal. In partial view to passersby, it rested in the back lot of MCTS on 17th Street near Fond du Lac Avenue. After establishing contact with Dean Amhaus, former Spirit of Milwaukee’s Executive Director and Ed Mordy, Spirit of Milwaukee’s financial consultant, a new bus shelter frame was purchased. Millennium Neighborhood Art Initiative, the original project host, provided restoration funds. The funds permitted the unharmed sixteen colorful welded sculpture images to be successfully transferred to a new bus shelter, and the repaired Kindred Ties to be reunited with embedded bronze plaques at the original site.

After seeing it repaired, Terry stated, “The positive energy that Kindred Ties summoned up for its creation and then for its restoration is extremely gratifying and speaks volumes to Milwaukee’s cooperative leaders. And Kindred Ties is much appreciated. Offering unsolicited comments during installation, several transit users told me that they were pleasantly surprised to have such a nice and unique object in their neighborhood. Many were also surprised to learn that an African-American woman originated the concept and secured funds to hire diverse Milwaukee artists and businesses to create the piece.”

Design and conception of Kindred Ties

In a section of Milwaukee where revitalization plans continue, Kindred Ties juxtaposes contemporary art with Bethel Baptist Church’s German-inspired, Gothic Revival Style architecture. Painted in an assortment of complementary colors, two welded and bent wrought iron linear sculptures occupy the interior and exterior of each of the eight glass panels. The abstract sculptures represent the spiritual universe, a family tree, and a three generation family including a grandfather and granddaughter, a grandmother and grandson, a mother, a father, a son with a book, and a daughter embracing a globe. Bronze plaques in the concrete identify the colorful artwork, share seven positive sayings, and celebrate the artists and others who contributed to the public art piece. The two yellow painted ceiling panels represent the beaming warmth of sunshine symbolizing prosperity and radiant health.

One painted top of “Kindred Ties” bus shelter.


Terry strongly desired to produce public art influenced by many of her colleagues nationally who were doing so. The opportunity came after her friend and sometimes mentor Durga Patel spotted a call-out-to-artists requesting proposals for public art in the Milwaukee community. The application process included selecting a community-based non-profit organization to assist with funding. Terry selected the WAICO/YMCA, in her neighborhood, and was fortunate to work with the YMCA’s Economic Development specialist, Mike Stiehl. Stiehl suggested a bus shelter project.

In 1999, Terry assembled a distinguished team of artists: painter Maxine Banks (originated the “family” theme); illustrator and muralist Ras `Ammar Nsoroma (rendered the drawings); architect Theodore Lipscomb (constructed the model); painter and graphic designer Jerry J. Johnson

Mike Nolte installing “Kindred Ties” plaques in 2008.

(designed project sites and presentations); UW – Milwaukee professor emeritus Narendra Patel (provided consulting); sculptor George Ray McCormick Sr. (apprenticed as welder); sculptor Don Rambadt (welded and provided instruction); writer Fondé Bridges (provided seven sayings from his book 101 Simple Suggestions for Better Living),  and both the Milwaukee County Transit System and Mike Nolte of Vanguard Sculpture Services (provided installation).

Terry stated, “I am just glad it’s back.”

Contact Evelyn Patricia Terry at

Stringalong – Changing the world one weekend at a time

November 2, 2012

Long, long ago back in 1998 my fiddle teacher suggested I go to the “Stringalong” at Camp Edwards where he was teaching a workshop and I could experience another side of music. My life has never been the same. I was new to music in 1998 having just started to learn the fiddle in 1996. I played “Book 1”, held my fiddle in “a war pose” (his words not mine), and couldn’t play anything without the music sitting in front of me. Memorize a piece –  impossible, learn by ear – not even in the realm of possibilities.

Stringalongs, started and maintained by Ann and Will Schmid from the UW Milwaukee Folk Center, were a whole new ballgame. These were family events although most attendees were like me, adult learners, musician wannabees. There was no written music at the workshops, everything was taught by ear. People sat around in the evenings and late into the night “jamming”. If you didn’t know the music, you played quietly in the background hoping to catch a few notes each time they went through the tune. If that wasn’t working you could sing along or sit back and just enjoy the strands wafting in air and hope by osmosis it would all sink in. Believe it or not, it does sink in. The tunes sink deep into your soul and although you don’t know the name or the key, you can hum the melody years later.

I met a whole new set of friends at the Stringalongs at Camp Edwards. When you eatfamily style and sleep in cabins with 12 strangers, and dance with whomever is standing alone, you bond and bond fast. I would be lying if I said I could remember all the names. I can’t. But I remember the faces and the stories and their words of encouragement.

That’s me in the blue shirt and black vest.

Stringalongs were set up in such a way that professional musicians would come in and teach a work shop or two for the weekend each one meeting 3 times between Saturday morning and Sunday at noon. As an attendee you could select up to three different workshops to attend or you could hang out and walk the trails or jam on the porch with your new best friend. Between Friday evening and Sunday at noon you also got to listen to a short concert by each of the presenters. There were people who never attended a workshop, they just came to hear the “professionals” play. I don’t know how Ann did it but she brought in big names – Pat Donohue, Mike Dowling, Joel Mabus, Pigs Eye Landing, Bill Staines, Second Opinion, Crystal Ploughman, Ken Kolodner, Randy Sabien.

A lot has changed since 1998. My life has changed. Music and my experiences at the Stringalongs introduced me to life long friends and gave me the confidence to not only join a band but to start NorthWoods Strings a non-profit organization to provide string instrument instruction to children in Hayward. Stringalongs let me see the world as it ought to be even if only for a weekend. They reminded me that any thing is possible. That although our world may rapidly change somethings stay the same – you can’t make music with someone and argue at the same time, that joy comes from peace deep within, that dreams are not foolish unless you forget to follow them.

Beginning tonight at Camp Edwards, the Stringalongs come to an end. For one last weekend the world will stop turning if only for two days. With any luck the first snow fall will come and the outside world will mirror what’s happening on the inside. I wish that I would be there but the outside world has different plans for me. In my own way,I suppose that I will be there. My heart will be there. Tonight I will think of my friends and the memories we made. On Sunday when the final songs are sung, I will be singing along  and I will imagine the notes floating all the way to East Troy and mingling with the voices there.

To Ann Schmid who dreamed up this wonderful experience and made it happen:

Ann Schmid

There are those in the world who never dream, those who dream but think them foolish, and those who dream and turn those dreams into reality. You, my friend, are obviously in that final group and the world is a better place because of it. Have a wonderful weekend. I will be thinking of you all and wishing with all my heart that I was there.



Dayle Quigley
Author: Pig and Toad Best Friends Forever
Exec. Director: NorthWoods Strings