Spring rambling

April 8, 2013

When I look down, I miss all the good stuff. When I look up, I just trip over things.

It is the kind of wisdom I forget often and find refreshing when I hear it again. Ani DiFranco’s lyrics are good like that.

My daughter stubs her toe AT LEAST 100 times a day, so I’m trying to teach her to look down and notice the good stuff that is literally beneath her feet. Spring is perfect for that. And books are such a fun way to start conversations with kids.

Backyard bare feet by Jessica Becker

Backyard bare feet by Jessica Becker

We have a great book by Erin Stead called “And then it is Spring.”

First you have brown. All around you have brown. 

Green equals spring. We are on a quest to find green. For her third birthday this weekend, my daughter got a magnifying glass. We took it outside and searched.

There isn’t a lot of green to be seen, or tripped over, but instead she picked up a rock. A really nice one with shiny quartz flecked throughout and angular cuts. We brought it home as treasure from our first spring hike, if you can call what one does with a three-year-old a hike. We placed it on the special pedestal for found things. It’s actually a martini glass, inspired by the pedestals made by Richard Jones at Studio Paran. It’s such a great concept.

As spring pops all around, and the brown melts into vibrant green, I feel excited for 2013. For one thing, the new Central Library is scheduled to open later this year in downtown Madison. I can’t wait to take my kids to discover new authors, new books, new ideas. Libraries offer both the thrill of discovery, as you wander through tripping over new ideas, and the joy of admiring what others have found and laid out for us, like on a pedestal. So it makes perfect sense that Madison Public Library will be host to the 2013 Wisconsin Book Festival this fall. We all at the Wisconsin Humanities Council are so thrilled to watch the Festival sprout, grow, and flourish in fresh soil tended by such dedicated book lovers.

Looking up from reading another favorite kids book this morning, “The Meandering Neanderthal,” (A small-batch book from Madison’s Matt Robertson and Nisse Lovendahl), I saw a big bird land in our back yard. We all stood at the window marveling. One lone mallard duck.

Lucky duck, I thought. It’s spring!

by Jessica Becker
Director of Public Programs
Wisconsin Humanities Council

Ye Olde Catchcough

March 18, 2013

“The general consensus is that between 50 and 90% of languages spoken today will probably have become extinct by the year 2100.”

This from Wikipedia, the know-it-all of my generation. Also this:  language refers to “the cognitive ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to describe the set of rules that makes up these systems, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules.”

I was specifically looking for the word “creative” in the encyclopedia entry because I have been thinking about how language, writing, and communication are creative endeavors. I’m not just thinking of stories and poems and works of literature, but the way we put words together to communicate basic, or complex, ideas. My nearly three-year-old daughter impresses me daily with her choice of words and turns of phrases.

I was recently sitting among middle school students watching Ron Frye of Milwaukee’s Optimist Theater  act like William Shakespeare. He was in full garb, explaining he had just traveled 400 years to talk with us. His hook, with the kids and with me, was good: He told us he had just heard some of our modern rap music and that he quite liked it, but didn’t fully understand the words. Instead he enjoyed the rhythm and cadence and got the gist of the thing. That, he suggested, is the best way to enjoy his (Shakespeare’s) plays.

Shakespeare has become synonymous with literature and the first line of the Wikipedia entry states that he is “widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.” He was a playwright. Why not a playwrite? That would make more sense, but the rules have never made sense. (Tell that to the folks who were up late celebrating National Grammar Day  earlier this month).

This photo of a sign in both  Malayalam and English was taken by Samia Shalabi, who leads tours in South India. Visit http://www.karazidesign.blogspot.com/ to see more.

This photo of a sign in both Malayalam and English was taken by Samia Shalabi, who leads tours in South India. Visit http://www.karazidesign.blogspot.com/ to see more.

In his day, Mr. Shakespeare, AKA Ron Frye, explained that spelling was considered a creative act. Writers tried out different spellings of the same word within one piece of work, just to demonstrate how clever they were!

Blogging is a relatively new genre of writing and naturally some are more clever, others more rule-abiding. As a general rule, it’s more important to keep it pithy than to get the sentence structure right. Penelope Trunk, a blogger whom I read because she is interesting, says that the best way to judge writing today is if people want to read it. She suggests we forget the rules and aim instead to find an audience. That is, if we are hoping to communicate something. The post is titled “How to teach writing: Ignore Grammar.”

The Wisconsin Humanities Council, where I work, has just awarded Optimist Theater’s outreach program with a grant to continue the hard work of making Shakespeare fun, relevant, and inspiring. Their mission is based on the belief that “the theatrical arts broaden and enrich those parts of our minds and spirits that are most essentially human.” Ron Frye takes the challenge personally, making him a great blend of history-nut and modern man. He wears a sword in a scabbard, so he gets respect.

March fourth, you say? Language evolves. OMG, it does. Many of you have stopped reading by now because I’m getting long winded. If I still have your attention, will bring this back around to ponder the influence the internet is having on language. While there are 6,000-7,000 languages in the world, over half of the internet is in English. It was mostly typed with a keyboard based on the English language. The foreign language internet  is rapidly expanding, with English being used by (surprisingly? only?) 27% of users worldwide (Again, thanks Wikipedia). I translate that to mean that more and more people will be using English as their second language and I think that only can add to the creativity of language use. In my experience, people who are communicating in a language that is not their mother-tongue are the most inventive! Aside from toddlers.

I’ll end with a new word for handkerchief, coined by my daughter: The catchcough. Let’s see if it goes viral.

By Jessica Becker
Director of Public Programs
Wisconsin Humanities Council 

Bringing the Bayou to the Driftless

March 14, 2013

Cajun Music and Dance Weekend returns to Folklore Village near Dodgeville on March 22-24, 2013.   Expect hot music, lots of dancing, workshops with master artists and an abundance of yummy Cajun food.  Louisiana among the Holsteins.

You never know which way March weather will turn in Wisconsin but the Cajun influence is not foreign to colder climes.  It all started when Acadian exiles from Canada – mostly from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – settled in southern Louisiana and brought the French language with them.

Cajun music is evolved from its roots in the music of the French-speaking Catholics of Canada. In earlier years the fiddle was the predominant instrument, but gradually the accordion has come to share the limelight. It gained national attention in 2007, when the Grammy Award for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album category was created. The category has since been folded into Best Regional Roots Album, and it is interesting to note that the 2013 winner – The Band Courtbouillon – includes Wilson Savoy, the brother of Joel Savoy, one of this year’s Cajun weekend headliners.


Joel Savoy and Jesse Lege

Workshops on guitar, fiddle, accordion, dance and even cooking will feature an outstanding lineup of artistic staff, headlined by master artists Jesse Lege and Joel Savoy, who have collaborated on numerous appearances and albums alike.  Jesse grew up in rural southwest Louisiana and is one of the most admired Cajun accordionists and vocalists in the region.  Jesse has been nominee and winner of numerous Cajun French Music Association awards: Traditional Band of the Year; Accordion Player of the Year; Male Vocalist of the Year; Band of the Year and Song of the Year. Whew!  In 1998 he was inducted into the Cajun Music Hall of Fame.  He’ll teach advanced accordion and a vocal workshop.

Joel Savoy is one of the most requested fiddlers in Louisiana today – he comes from Cajun royalty they tell me – and has developed a style that is at once authentic and cutting edge.  His playing leaves little doubt that Cajun music is still alive.  Joel will teach advanced fiddle workshops.

Other artistic staff include Charlie Terr and John Terr, founders of the Chicago Cajun Aces band.  Charlie and John have been a part of the Folklore Village Cajun festival from the start.  Charlie will lead the intermediate accordion workshops and John will conduct the guitar workshop.Image

Eric Mohring is a nationally recognized Cajun fiddler who plays with the New Riverside Ramblers.  He will lead the intermediate fiddle classes and a beginning fiddle workshop.  Gene Losey will guide very beginning accordion players in basic scales, fingering, and techniques that “make it sound Cajun.”

If you like to kick up your heels or do a little Louisiana jitterbug, Maurine McCort joins the 2013 staff as Cajun Dance Instructor.  Maurine has been an inspiring force in the Cajun and Zydeco music and dance scene in the Twin Cities since 1990 and has taught both Cajun and Zydeco at home (every Saturday for 18 years) and festivals around the country. Although she lives upriver, her passion for the dance and music of southwestern Louisiana is from the people who she learned this dance style from.

ImageAnd if all this thought about music and dance makes you hungry that’s perfect because there will be Cajun food galore.  Jackie Miller will teach cooking classes in the Folklore Village Farmhouse for those who would like to bring this lively culture back home.  Jackie learned cooking from all the grandmas she could adopt and has authored two Cajun cookbooks.  She is a regular instructor at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia.

The kitchen in Farwell Hall will feature hearty authentic Cajun meals prepared by Folklore Village’s own Foodways staff, led by Bonnie Isaacson-Miller and J Miller. If eating is more important to you than preparation the weekend will feature hearty authentic Cajun meals prepared by Folklore Village’s own Foodways staff, led by Bonnie Isaacson-Miller and J Miller. Saturday’s lunch will feature traditional style Sausage Jambalaya with Lucky Pennies – a marinated Carrot Salad, and refreshing Peach-Pineapple Crisp for dessert topped with heavy cream.  Supper is a Cajun Mardi-Gras Feast of Chicken Gumbo, Sweet Potato Pone, Tasty Homemade Potato Salad, Cajun Corn Salad and Cayenne Toast, plus Pecan Bars with Chantilly Cream for Dessert.

Cajuns have a reputation for a joie de vivre (“joy of living”), in which hard work is appreciated as much as “passing a good time.”  On his web site Joel Savoy says it straight: “Next time we come to town, come on out and say hi and listen and dance if you feel like it. Be a part of our music instead of a background for it.”  At Cajun weekend, Wisconsin people can join in this rare treat.Image

You can still register for the Folklore Village Cajun Music and Dance weekend by calling 608-924-4000. Sign-up for the whole shebang, part of the shebang or for individual workshops and meals.  For more information visit the Folklore Village website or give them a holler.

Just so you know, Folklore Village provides a broad range of cultural and recreational programs. The year-round schedule of over 100 events and activities includes Saturday night potlucks and social dances, concerts featuring master folk artists, folk culture learning retreats and folklife education programs for schools.

Folklore Village overlooks gently contoured fields, dairy farms, nearby woods and a prairie restoration project. The 94 acre site includes Farwell Hall, a 5,500 square foot facility with two beautiful hardwood dance floors, exhibit and classroom spaces and a restaurant-quality kitchen, Wakefield School, an 1893 one-room school house, and the Tall Grass Prairie Restoration Project, which includes over 30 relic species of remnant prairie and many grassland bird species.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale WI  Pop. 288  (if you’ve been checking, we’ve gained 5 people!)

Wisconsin State Cow Chip Scrapbook

August 29, 2012

wisconsin state cow chip throw and festival

Since 1975, when the Sauk Prairie Jaycees recognized the twin villages of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac as the cow chip capital of Wisconsin, the community has annually organized the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival.

While it’s not likely to be an Olympic event anytime soon, there were a plethora of nominations for local chip-chucking legend and 10-time world cow chip throwing champion, Kay Hankins, back in the mid-1980s when Wheaties held a nationwide search for sports champion to grace the front of their cereal box. Though a champion, Kay did not make the cover.

The event is held each Labor Day weekend. Festivities for this 37th year kick off on Friday with a corporate cow chip toss and live entertainment. Saturday begins with 5k and 10k run/walks, with the proceeds going back into the community to fund charities, youth-centered activities, and college scholarships. The kids start off the cow chip throw in the morning and that is followed by the Tournament of Chips parade at noon. The rest of the day has activities for everyone — a fine arts and crafts fair, cow chip throws for all ages, a beer garden and food court, pedal tractor pulls for the kids, community displays, and three stages of entertainment including one that is specifically for children.

Cow chip deflectors are available at the event, should anything fly your way.

picking cow chips

chucking a chip

pedal pull seating

pedal pull contestant

pedal pull trophies

magician props

feeding sheep

livestock treats

saint vince

Jodi Anderson

Choosing Change: Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop Part 2

July 20, 2012

Student painting watercolor inserts for handmade book. Lois Ehlert’s “Eating the Alphabet” used as inspiration.

“Find a way to be a benefit,” my son continually suggested, in response to my constant lament for the return of my lucrative career. I eventually took his advice. By combining years of nutritional research and even more years as a full-time artist, I developed the “Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop,” while applying for an after-school grant opportunity. Drawing upon my interest in watercolor painting, unrelenting enzyme research, and the science of healthy living, this workshop has potential as a universal benefit.

A girl and boy hammer nail holes into book spines.

A Book cover with student’s name and title.

In my previous post, “Choosing Change: Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop,” I described how one of the goals – to provide education about the important connection between raw food, enzymes, and great health – strongly connects to a newer goal – to make consuming raw green vegetables “fun.”  Smoothies, juices, and tasting with dips became sources of “fun.” In this post, art projects are presented as a “fun” way to become more familiar with raw foods.  One watercolor project, the handmade book,allows students to depict the artistic beauty of fruits and vegetables before tasting them. Then health benefits, researched and  printed on labels, are put into their books.

The “trump card”

For students, painting with watercolors can be as challenging as tasting raw green vegetables. They have to acknowledge and accept their beginner’s status. Offering fruit as a tasty “trump card” encourages persistence, especially when painting confidence wanes and students despair or “act out” as a cover up. Offering fruit as a reward, again a “trump card,” also encourages students to taste vegetables, especially raw green ones.

An unexpected outcome, of the workshop, was finding strategies to correct behavior problems. For example, in one class, a student became very frustrated. She first painted the required bright watercolors on a large sheet of paper and suddenly changed to wild erratic black strokes covering most of the colors. She loudly declared it “ugly.” I had instructed students to use the bright colors only. But I told her, “The black paint does not matter and “ugly” has nothing to do with anything.”

Nevertheless, she crumpled the painting, shot it in the wastepaper basket, and stormed out of the room. She eventually returned as we began our tasting session. She asked for more fruit. I requested that she retrieve the discarded drawing and proceed with the assignment to get more fruit and she complied. Luckily, the opportunity to taste raw vegetables, and especially the sweet fruits, helped her and many other students to focus and adjust their behavior.

The “Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop” is interdisciplinary. It incorporates biology, reading, writing, math, science, and visual arts, all while exploring composition, abstraction, page design, color theory, form, and foreground and background relationships in the handmade books.

Evelyn helping Maurice thread a needle.

Fine motor skills—such as painting, cutting folded pages, hammering nails (very loud, but they loved it), threading needles, gluing, and sewing book spines—are developed by various book construction activities. Once completed, the book becomes a resource to share with family and friends. Plus, until its pages are full, more benefits can be added. It reinforces the importance of consuming enzymes, a little known protein nutrient found in raw produce and destroyed by cooking food.

7 year-old Eugene’s book with strawberry and benefit label.

Enzymes can also be found in dried fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, uncooked grains, beans and other uncooked protein foods. Raw green vegetables are emphasized, because students, their teachers, and parents often refuse to eat them.

Combining visual art with tasting raw produce establishes a foundation to enhance creativity, develop self-confidence, and plant seeds for instituting and maintaining health. Consequently, the “Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop” fills in nutrition and art educational gaps, encourages future artists, develops art patrons, and promotes a healthy appetite for daily living.

“The Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop” was awarded a Milwaukee Public School Partnership for the Arts Grant. Matching community funds came from Alice’s Garden, Riverwest Artists Association, Walnut Way Conservation Corp, and Lena’s/Piggly Wiggly. For more information, please email me at terryevelyn@hotmail.com or visit evelynpatriciaterry.com.

– Evelyn Patricia Terry

Farewell To A Landmark

June 20, 2012

Building 200 in early 1945, with a giant flag on a towering flagpole in the front lot and banners marking awards for production flying nearby.

As far as historical landmarks go, Building 200 is among America’s homeliest. It’s a two-story barracks-like structure built for function with no attention paid to form beyond the basics of level, plumb and square. Anyone who has spent time on a military base in the years since World War II has seen buildings like it.

For exactly seventy years this month, Building 200 has stood off Highway 12 on the Sauk Prairie just down from the Barabo Hills. It was, until a couple of months ago, the headquarters of the United States Army at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant. Here the Army Corps of Engineers and the Army Ordnance Department supervised the work of the various civilian contractors who constructed and operated the plant since 1942.

Homely it is. Two stories of narrow office corridors in the shape of a rectangle with a cross corridor creating two open courtyards. Not that the weed-choked courtyards are decorative. They are merely a means to admit natural light to the inner row of offices. The exterior is a catalog of historical siding. Wooden clapboards in the 1940s covered by asbestoes sheathing in the 1950s covered by vinyl in the 2000s. The framing is entirely wood post and beam, instead of iron or steel, precious materials reserved for more strategically important purposes. Instead tthe Army used top-grade Pacific Coast fir, old growth lumber, hard to find today.

World War II was fought out of Building 200, so was the Korean conflict. From 1965 to 1975, the managers in Building 200 oversaw the production of propellant for the ammo discharged by the rifles, machine guns, artillery, and rockets fired by American troops at war in Southeast Asia. Pick a scene of combat from a Vietnam war movie, the only way most of us experienced that war. It’s more likely than not that, in the real war the movie imitates, the ammo fired in that scene was manufactured at Badger.

Just as importantly, Badger and Building 200 were part of the Cold War arsenal of the United States. When the communist governments in eastern Europe collapsed, when the Soviet Union dissolved, when China moved away from strict Maoism to whatever philosophy governs it today, they didn’t throw a party in Building 200, but they could have. Just as Badger was part of the victory in the relatively short World War II, it was part of the decades long grinding down of communism afterwards.

As a result, Badger worked itself out of its job. It was decommissioned in 1998 and Building 200 became headquarters for a massive effort to decontaminate over 5,000 acres of infrastructure, soil, groundwater and surface water in nearby Lake Wisconsin.

Much of that work is completed. The Army and its contractors no longer need the 66,000 square feet of office space in Building 200. The property itself has been transferred to the Wisconsin DNR and will become part of the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area. Efforts by preservationists to prevent the demolition of Building 200 and convert it to a visitor center/museum have attracted little support.

Demolition work has already begun. Seventy years ago, when Building 200 was first ready for occupancy, over 8,000 workers were swarming over the grounds beyond to complete the over 900 structures necessary to begin production as scheduled in January 1943.

Today, a handful of equipment operators will pull Building 200 down. It’s not an architectural masterpiece, about as far from a Calatrava or a Lloyd Wright as a building could be.

Let’s call it a landmark to transience, a reminder that the greatest of human achievements, like the humblest, are temporary.

Snapshots of Heritage

May 31, 2012

750 Seventh Street

Late last year, I heard the first murmurings of a substantial dry plate glass negative collection at the Sauk Prairie Area Historical Society, the majority of which had not yet been scanned, much less identified, nor entered into the museum’s records. Around that same time, Jody Kapp, director of development at SPAHS, procured a grant through Heritage Credit Union that enabled the development of an educational photographic program for elementary school children as well as the purchase of a new scanner, with which the century-old negatives could be digitally preserved.

Ochsner bird collection at Tripp Museum in Prairie du Sac

To kick off the program, half a dozen groups of second and fifth graders visited Tripp Museum this spring to learn about the history of photography. They were first introduced to several types of vintage photo processes and taught about composition. Afterwards, everyone had an opportunity to compose drawings, using what they had learned in the presentation, and to design a cyanotype, which developed outdoors and was then taken inside for a quick bath. These are now on display.

Children (and adults!) who visit this summer are invited to use one of the museum’s digital cameras to take photos, which can then be emailed to the photographer and may be posted to the historical society’s Facebook page. “Our goal is to not only help people understand the importance of photography in capturing the stories of a people,” says Jody, “but also to interest them in learning how to make their own well-thought-out compositions so they too can help preserve the people, places, and things that are important to them through photography.”

School kids working on cyanotype creations

In late March, I began working with fellow society members and volunteer archivists, Jack Berndt and Verlyn Mueller, helping to scan, identify, and catalog the vast glass negative collection. We have thus far archived 132 images and believe that there are approximately 300+ left. Some of the photos had been previously printed, and it was a great pleasure to realize that the society has the originals, while the majority have not really seen the light of day in more than a century. Farm scenes, newly-built houses, social venues, and landscape portraits are common themes, and it was certainly expected that those sorts of things would be uncovered. Less expected are what appears to be an 1899 trip to New Orleans, photos of photos, and touching memorials for deceased community members.

Many of these images have been printed and enlarged, and they are on display now through November 17 in the Mueller Gallery on the first floor. The entire collection, as it is unveiled, will be presented as a slideshow that you can see when visiting. The public is invited to help identify the people, places, and events depicted in the images. In conjunction with this exhibition, there are a variety of vintage cameras and photo-related equipment on display, such as an old US Army projector, several magic lanterns, varied types of photography, and much more.

Verlyn inspecting a dry plate glass negative

Tripp Museum is located at 565 Water Street in Prairie du Sac and generally open Fridays and Saturdays from 9 am – 1 pm, or throughout the week by appointment. Call 608.644.8444 or email (spahs@frontier.com) for more information. While there, be sure to check out the Bradford Bison [Bison Occidentalis], on long-term loan from the University of Wisconsin Zoological Museum, which was discovered locally by then seven-year-old Joshua Bradford in 2005, and returned to SPAHS this year. There are also tickets available for the Bradford Bison Quilt Raffle, drawing to be held at the “Brunch with a Bison” community party on Sunday, July 1, 2012.

Ed Steuber gives a driving lesson near Prairie du Sac[Edna Graff and Edwin Steuber, Stella Carpenter and Leta Bernhard Stelter]

Jodi Anderson