Explore Art/Enjoy Music and the Outdoors at Nick Engelbert’s Grandview Plein Air Event on August 16

August 14, 2015

Wisconsin is rich with roadside art, and many a weekend can be spent tracking down hard-to-find treasures hidden in rural places that seem almost lost. In the next few weeks some of these sites will entice you with great family outdoor activities. It’s a good time to fire up the jalopy and head to the hinterlands.

On August 16th you can enjoy food and refreshments, music, tours, and art making at Nick Engelbert’s Grandview Plein Air Event from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free! Grandview is roughly equidistant between New Glarus and Mineral Point just outside Hollandale in Highway 39, only 45 minutes from Madison.

Take a liking to this Viking at Grandview, just west of Hollandale in Iowa County

Take a liking to this Viking at Grandview, just west of Hollandale in Iowa County

Art-making activities will include plein air (outdoor) painting inspired by Engelbert’s sculptures. Art instruction, materials and easels will be available for beginners and young folks. Experienced artists can choose from scores of interesting objects and perspectives to create something unique. Cash prizes will be awarded in both amateur and professional categories.

You don’t need to be an artist to enjoy the day. There will be plenty of time to tour the grounds and see sculptures ranging from historical figures to fairy tale and mythological depictions. Bring a lawn chair and your favorite beverage and enjoy live music from 1 pm – 4 pm. Snacks will be provided, too, and the kids will love the unique setting.

Nick Engelbert’s Grandview Plein Air Event is part of a series of five Wandering Wisconsin Roadside Art Experiences being held during August and September. The events include art making inspired by each site’s creators, entertainment, refreshments, and exploring some of the grandest, most astonishing, and original visions in American art. All activities are free and all ages are welcome. For more information about these events, call (920) 694-4534 or email wanderingwisconsin@jmkac.org. If you have any questions about the Grandview event email marilynr@mhtc.net or call 608-574-7169.

Soon the 2015 Wandering Wisconsin Outdoor art festivities will move to other venues. Come back soon to Portal Wisconsin to get more information.

Even if you cannot make the events, set some time aside to visit all the Wandering Wisconsin sites to experience a unique Wisconsin perspective. With each amazing site comes a great ride in the Wisconsin countryside.

Wandering Wisconsin is a consortium of eight art environments located throughout Wisconsin. The Roadside Art Experience is funded by Kohler Foundation, Inc.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale

Warrior in the Ring: The life of Marvin Camel, Native American world champion boxer

December 3, 2014

Warrior in the Ring: The life of Marvin Camel, Native American world champion boxer


Brian D’Ambrosio

In the Golden Age of boxing, Marvin Camel—a mixed blood from the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana—defied all obstacles of race, poverty, and geographical isolation to become the first Native American to win a world boxing title.

Complex and wildly charismatic, Camel combined tremendous physical talent with staggering self-discipline—forged by the sting of his father’s belt—to claw his way to the top, twice winning world titles in the newly minted cruiserweight division and fighting on the same cards as boxing icons Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Bob Foster.

Camel’s journey was an amazing example of gritty determination: punishing runs on Montana’s back roads, relentless training in make-shift gyms, sleeping in beat-up cars before fights in glittering Las Vegas, and even training and fighting for a world championship in a foreign country, alone.

Always, Camel willingly represented his state and his people, proudly wearing his eagle-feather headdress into the ring. Yet with success came sacrifice and pain, both physical and personal, but in life as in the boxing ring, Camel emerged bloody but unbowed.

With irresistible detail gleaned from years of frank interviews with Camel, his family and friends, his former opponents, and seasoned boxing insiders, Brian D’Ambrosio’s gripping biography captures the drama, danger, beauty, and ugliness of boxing, of Indian life on reservations, and especially, of the life of a stereotype-shattering man who inspired his people and boxing fans everywhere with his courage, achievements, and great warrior heart.




Wisconsin art environments host second annual plein-air event

July 31, 2014

Five fascinating Wandering Wisconsin art environments will host an August weekend of free fun through art making. If you’re not an artist come anyway because there will be plenty of them and they’re fun to watch, especially when they’re painting outdoors at places as unique as these.

Artists in the yard at Grandview, 2013

Artists in the yard at Grandview, 2013

The events include exploring some of the grandest, most astonishing, and original visions in American art and painting in the plein-air style on a postcard-size canvas. Professional artists, amateurs and children of all ages may also enter their paintings to win cash prizes. If you are an experienced painter you can just have at it; there will be lessons at each site for children and those new to the style.

The sites hosting a Plein-Air Postcard Event are: Ernest Hüpeden’s Painted Forest, Valton (August 2–3); The Paul and Matilda Wegner Grotto, Cataract (August 2–3); Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park, Phillips (August 9–10); James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden, Town of Wilson (August 9–10); and Nick Engelbert’s Grandview, Hollandale (August 16–17).

Art environments are a different animal, and Wisconsin has a lot of them.  One of my favorite definitions can be found online at ITENet – Finnish Contemporary Folk Art: “An art environment consists of works of art, their relations to one another, and it also includes everything else in the living environment such as its architecture, plants and the geography of the area. The light and temperature in the environment vary according to the time of day and the season. The environment gets beaten by the rain and swept by the wind, parched by the sun and covered by snow. The sensual world of contemporary folk art embraces the perfume of flowers and the smell of manure

The 2013 first place adult category winner, by Stacey Lenz, painted at the WI Concrete Park

The 2013 first place adult category winner, by Stacey Lenz, painted at the WI Concrete Park

wafting from the fields, birdsong and sounds of traffic as well as the hum of mosquitoes and horseflies buzzing on the skin.”  These are unique places for art, nature, creativity and fun.

Prizes ranging from $15 to $250 will be awarded at each event. Judges will award three prizes in each of the following categories: children through age 12, youth ages 13 through 18, adult amateur, and adult professional. Award winners from each event will be entered in a statewide competition for a $500 prize.

Plein-air events begin at 8 a.m. Saturdays and end at 4 p.m. Sundays. Judging will take place from 4–5 p.m. on Sundays. Photos of all entries will be taken and photos of award winners will be exhibited on the Kohler Foundation website.

For beginners, there will be plein-air painting instruction from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. All ages and skill levels are welcome.

2nd place_Youth_ Valerie Carr_Grandview

Valarie Carr’s winning youth division painting, Grandview 2013

Paintings entered for judging must be on postcard-sized canvases/boards (5″X 7″), which will be supplied along with all other necessary materials. Professional artists may bring their own supplies and sell other works while painting at the art environments.

There are no registration or materials fees. For more information, call Emily Bianchi at (920) 694-4534 or email ebianchi@jmkac.org. Wandering Wisconsin is a consortium of eight art environments located throughout Wisconsin. The plein-air events are funded by Kohler Foundation, Inc.

Wisconsin is beautiful in August and the five participating Wandering Wisconsin sites are all around the state.  Maybe there’s one near you.  Bring family and friends for a unique, enjoyable Wisconsin experience.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, WI  (Pop. 288)

Doing it for the kids

June 19, 2013
Wayne Valliere, packing canoe bark out of the birch forest, in the summer of 2012. Photo by Tim Frandy

Wayne Valliere, packing canoe bark out of the birch forest. Photo by Tim Frandy 2012

I am really concerned that kids are not getting useful and appropriate educations based on what we know to be useful and appropriate ways to educate kids. Research shows all sorts of things, and yet schools systems do other things. There are so many examples I dare not go into it (and so many reasons why, the road-blocks to change sometimes feel insurmountable). Happily, I know there are independent and creative thinkers who are working their butts off to add opportunities for meaningful and transformative experiences to the lives of youth.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council, where I work, has seven grant rounds every year. I am so proud of the projects we fund and also proud that a good number of them are designed to enrich humanities education for the youth of Wisconsin.

For example, a project called “These Canoes Carry Culture” awarded to the Goodman Community Center. This collaborative effort makes it possible for an Ojibwe artist, culture bearer and language teacher named Wayne Valliere to work side-by-side with a small group of young people from Madison and Lac du Flambeau to build a birch bark canoe. They will build it from scratch, making trips to gather materials from the particular forests and fields where the particular materials grow at a particular time of year. The kids will have time to talk to each other about what it is like to live in the city, or live on a reservation, while they are learning a disciplined craft and dying art from a master. They will read and discuss history and language and tradition, but not in a formal classroom with tests and grades. Instead, they’ll be exchanging ideas as they create, ultimately, a boat that will be on display in the new Dejope student dorm on campus.  The project brings together educators from community centers and academics from many departments at UW. It will be documented in a film and hopefully serve as a model for future community-university-folk artist partnerships. All wonderful and admirable. What most excites me is remembering what it was like to be a teenager and projecting what I imagine will be a life-altering experience for the kids involved. I believe this project will influence how these kids see the world and themselves in it, for the better.

Another inspired effort comes from Arts @ Large, a non-profit that works from within the Milwaukee School District to create “arts-infused learning.” They are responding to serious issues and producing serious outcomes that are student-led and student-centric. They have recently partnered with a group called Serve2Unite and together are creating student chapters of the organization dedicated to spreading peace through understanding, tolerance and, education.  Serve2Unite was formed after the tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5, 2012 where a gunman walked into a Sikh Temple opened fire, killing six members of the 400-person congregation.  They work to fight hate in the form of bullying and other violent crimes. Arts @ Large Serve2Unite chapters will research and develop service projects so that students learn, through doing, how to be agents of change, and social wellness, in their own families an communities. I heard some of the kids who have been involved in past Arts @ Large efforts speak recently and was impressed. Here, too, I see an example of how teenagers are treated as human beings with value, life experiences, and skills to bring to the table.

We know that kids, and more immediately teenagers, are the future leaders of the world. I’m excited about projects and places where they get to shine, speak up, hone skills, teach and learn from each other, and find meaning in their lives. I want that for my kids and all the kids, everywhere.

Read more about projects funded by the Wisconsin Humanities Council here.

by Jessica Becker
Director of Public Programs
Wisconsin Humanities Council

Joel Huntley’s Serene, Understated Redware Pottery

March 14, 2013


By Brian D’Ambrosio

Potter Joel Huntley’s art is calm, serene and internalized. Working with aged redware pottery inspired by the 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century folk art traditionally produced in Europe and America, Huntley has come to harmonize its understated, reflective beauty. For three decades his hands and heart have been kept occupied by his mind’s single-minded concentration to utilize clay in the making of sharp, ambitious, inspired things.

Joel Huntley’s ‘Selfish, Romantic’ Pottery

“This may sound selfish or romantic, but I don’t know how people exist in a job that they don’t have a passion for,” says Huntley, on a dark, drizzly day, sitting in a chair in the corner of his Columbus, Wisconsin, studio, back pressed against a wall scribbled with Bob Dylan quotes in pencil. “One of the first things I think about in the morning is how lucky I am to make a living at pottery; only a small, select crew of dedicated artisans is able to do that.”

One of the country’s foremost makers of traditional aged redware, or pre-Industrial Revolution folk pottery, Huntley throws and molds each day, every day. Pottery is more than just a matter or means of happiness or recreation to him, but a constant, steady, mysterious even, re-creation, a beautiful, noble, religious, mystical pursuit. Not fatuously euphoric, rather a disciplined process of strong, intense inner patterns.

“I guess you could say that I am hardwired to do this,” says Huntley. “People have always done this; it’s so much a part of human nature.”

Reflecting on more than thirty years of manufacturing pottery, the reclusive Huntley explains that pottery is less a lifestyle or ordinary job than it is something approaching the seriousness and complexity of a religion. “From the start the goal for me was to make a living in my chosen craft. All these years later I’m completely self-defined as a potter. I’ll never stop worshipping clay.”

Huntley’s studio is divided into two parts; the front comprises a gallery which showcases the artist’s eclectic wood-fired pots and face jugs. Beyond those doors, the self-sufficient craftsman, closed to the outside, open to his own thoughts and creativities, burnishes the luster and patina for heirlooms and commission pieces, slowly, if not perfectly, illustrating the metamorphosis of clay. His utilitarian surroundings look exactly the way one would envision: shelves and cabins crammed with wares; used and unopened bags of clay on the floor; tables stacked with painter’s tools and pots requiring painting. Hard work is the key to the potter’s success and no amount of heady praise from patrons or passersby can fool the potter into delusions of self-grandeur.

“It may be surprising but I can tell you that pottery is a stressful, hardcore business,” says Huntley. “There are compromises, disciplines and tradeoffs.” Huntley markets wholesale models to stores, large and small, across the country; the “bread and butter” of his operation is small scale, artisan studio productions. The luxurious pottery he crafts, which, he says, suits primarily Eastern tastes, sell in locales as diverse as Colonial Williamsburg to decorative art shops in the middle of Iowa.

Huntley employs old-fashioned hand tools and methods to produce the quality of aesthetic object and spiritual subject of a luxury item. Shape and texture are paramount to Huntley who first contemplates the tactility of the product before he even considers color coordination. When asked whether he sees his work as ‘exquisite’ or ‘beautiful’ he refuses to acknowledge these attributes. Aestheticism’s unfailing sharpness is what needs to reign supreme.

“I want the viewer to receive pleasure from the aesthetics,” says Huntley. “I hope that the quiet, yet powerful nature of my pottery preserves and serves strong utilitarian and aesthetic functions. I want people to appreciate the individual glaze and texture, and notice how a surface soothes or slows down, or associate a piece of pottery with a favorite place or land.”

With pottery, spontaneous senses converge all at once. Unpredictable, intense, and sensual, it is an endeavor fraught with novelty, impulsivity and adventurousness. Perhaps accordingly, mistakes often happen.

“Pottery is a cruel mistress,” says Huntley. “You can make a mistake anywhere in the process, but it’s only after you have invested all of your time, concentration and money –after the kiln – that the flaw or mistake becomes apparent. You can do all the steps correctly, but you still won’t find out until the very end. That appeals to me.”

Joel Huntley Life of Wisconsin Potter

Mindful of its physical nature, he concedes that pottery has taken a somewhat punishing toll on his body. Indeed, there is an underappreciated physicality to chucking clay which contravenes the outsider’s knowledge of the potter’s life; the rough processes of combining and crafting such visual, functional art is staggering: eight hours a day, solo, glazing, mixing, pounding, decorating, and throwing and spinning at the wheel.

“I have a clean bill of health to move ahead,” says Huntley. “But the bags of clay still weigh one hundred pounds and a large bucket of clay still strains the back. I am fortunate to have a strong one. Bad backs are endemic among this craft because of the repetitive nature of the wheel.

“There is a danger to it that I enjoy. There are power tools to be run, open flames to be burned by, temperatures to be dealt with, and all kinds of ways to burn or cut something off. I like that about the craft, the raw, open passion.”

Though Huntley often pedals his wares on State Street at the Dane County Vendor’s Market, he is more noted in such places as Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, than he is close by in Madison, Wisconsin. And he understands that it is not always easy to find an audience willing to pay for a handmade item which is priced four times higher than the one a machine spits out.

“Honestly, my profit margin is small because everything is done by hand. I just hope to connect with people who will pay more for a mug or plate because of how I value it, and because of who made it or why it was made.”

Talented and tenacious, pottery has endowed Huntley’s life with an authenticity and relevance and anchoring motivation to do, try, seek, touch and attempt. At 53, he says that it may even be the right time to embark on a new phase of his artistic career.

“All I ever have wanted to do is live in a rural setting and make pottery,” says Huntley. “Right now, I’m not at a turning point so much as a reflecting point, 30 years of making a living at this. The businessman and artist in me wonders what I can add or enhance in the genre, and wonders what I want to do for the next stretch. The glass is half full.”

Brian D’Ambrosio is a writer, editor, instructor, and media consultant. D’Ambrosio’s recent articles have been published in local, regional, and national publications, including High Country News, USA Today, Wisconsin Trails, Bark Magazine, Montana Magazine, and Backpacker Magazine.

His latest book about legendary vigilante screen actor Charles Bronson, Menacing Face Worth Millions, A Life of Charles Bronson, is available for purchase on Kindle. D’Ambrosio’s next book, Desert Horse: A Life of Marvin Camel, a biography of the Montana boxing legend, will be published by Riverbend Publishing in 2013.
Copyright Brian D’Ambrosio

Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton’s Path to Happiness

August 5, 2012

Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton’s path to happiness has been illuminated by physical and mental hurdles. 

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Dare to be happy as a child. Find your passion. These are Suzy Favor Hamilton’s much loved subjects of discussion. Passion has always come relatively trouble-free for Favor-Hamilton – one of the most decorated athletic competitors in the United States. A seven-time US National Champion, three-time Olympic contender, and winner of nine NCAA Titles, her slim, taut physique once adorned nationwide magazine covers and she had enjoyed never-ending fan support.

But being happy was an effort, a demand. In fact, it took her years to discover the secret of happiness. While she publicly maintained her intense focus and chipper deportment, even following a family heartbreak in 1999, when brother Dan committed suicide at age 37, inside she was fighting a serious conflict with depression.

Disaster hit its climax for Favor-Hamilton at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.  She collapsed on the track of the 1500- meter, an event she was predicted to perform well at. The root of the breakdown was the subject of euphoric speculation. Her illness became so dire at one point, that she even contemplated killing herself.

Suzy’s exercise concealed her depression and buried the underlying issues. At times she used exercise as an obsessive mode to dismiss or turn her back on what was really troubling her. She eventually sought corrective help and has vastly improved on medication. Ultimately, she learned that in order to make yourself happy you have to first love yourself.

“Being happy is a choice,” said Favor-Hamilton, 42. “We are so often the cause of our own suffering.” Now a popular motivational speaker, she explores the links between the words happiness and passion.

“I ask people often what their passion is,” continued Favor-Hamilton. “What’s interesting is that many people can’t answer that simple question. They have no answer. ‘What makes you excited about life?’ I ask. Passion takes soul-searching and some looking back to childhood.”

Passion, said Favor-Hamilton, is the ultimate reality of our being. It is both love and joy.

“Look deeper if you can’t find your passion,” said Favor-Hamilton. “To get to the bottom of depression, or hopelessness, or other issues, it takes examination from the outside, and confronting painful areas of life. We should talk about it, release it, and get rid of it, and not ignore it.”

Favor-Hamilton was born and raised in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. At college at the University of Wisconsin, she first established a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost middle-distance runners. Following graduation, Favor-Hamilton competed three times for the U.S. in the Olympic Games – 1992, 1996, and 2000 – and seven times in the U.S. National Championships. She once owned the U.S. record for the 1000-meter and the U.S. indoor record for the 800-meter.

Favor-Hamilton remains the only American woman to have the top seasonal 1500-meter time in the world (in 2000, she placed first in the world based on time, at 3:57.40.) and one of only two American women to have finished the 1,500-meter in less than four minutes.

After Favor-Hamilton ended her professional athletic career she was recruited by the marketing department for the UW Badgers to use her celebrity to promote collegiate athletics. Eight months later, she realized that many people were interested in the details of her own life story, and the exciting world of public speaking took root.

Motivational speaking has lifted Favor-Hamilton to the summit of happiness. Happiness constantly re-creates her. Happiness, she explains to audiences, is ordinary, it is human, and it is for everyone. Nonetheless, her quest for happiness hasn’t been without the help of strong perverseness of the mind.

“Growing up in the world of sports, you see the projected false image,” said Favor-Hamilton. “But I knew how unhappy, spoiled and mean some athletes were. Personally, I thought the gold medal would make the difference, somehow change the world. I am realizing that not having the medal opened doors in a healthier, better way. It has brought me honesty.”

The sunlight of happiness really is there in her eyes – she has not created it; she learnt that she could only let it in. Positivity has led her to transcendence. And she preaches that maintaining a negative attitude only prevents great accomplishments from coming.

“I try to only let in positive people and thoughts,” said Favor-Hamilton. “I have no control over the negative behaviors of others. What’s most important, I learned through my therapy how to change myself. That’s the greatest gift I can give my (four-year-old) daughter (Kylie).”

Favor-Hamilton, currently one of Madison, Wisconsin’s most successful realtors at Favor Hamilton Realty Group of First Weber, is open about her experiences, unguarded about her personal struggles, challenges, and faults. She hopes that somehow her suffering may lessen the suffering of others.

Ordinary happiness has brought Favor-Hamilton closer to the natural path of gratefulness. Life, she has proven, can offer new opportunities – provided you are willing to welcome them.

“I try to live life passionately for (my brother) Dan,” said Favor-Hamilton. “I wish I could have given him more love and support when he was here. But I can’t. But I can fight against the stigmas of depression and suicide, fight against those fears.”

Favor-Hamilton’s happiness not only nourishes a feeling of gratitude toward life but serves as a very important expression of her faith, hope and self-healing.

“Sharing who I am is therapy for me,” said Favor-Hamilton. “Happiness was always inside of me, but I had to dig deep down and find it. Now I share it.”

Brian D’Ambrosio is the author of Menacing Face Worth Millions: A Life of Charles Bronson. For more about D’Ambrosio’s biography of the legendary screen actor: Menacing-Face-Worth-Millions

Antler Basket Weaving

June 18, 2012

Jen's antler basket for yarn

It’s no secret that Wisconsin is filled with talented artists. What isn’t always evident, though, is how willing they are to not only share their craft, but to teach it as well. Such is the case with Mary Luckhardt-Klemm, who makes a variety of woven items in her western Sauk County home, the most stunning of which are her antler baskets.

My friend, Jennifer, first met Mary and saw her work during the Fall Art Tour in 2011. After bringing her in to teach basic weaving to a troop of Boy Scouts, we had the fortune to visit Mary in her studio and learn how to incorporate an antler into the construction of our baskets.

Mary prepping an antler shed

the basket studio

Jen pulling round reed

Jen and Mary

One of my favorite things about visiting any artist is the opportunity to tour their workspace. Being in Mary’s studio was a multi-sensory experience. It was filled with raw materials and finished objects, all rich with a variety of colors and textures.

We learned about preparing the antlers, which can become handles or components, such as a rim or base. Even the tips of the horn as well as splices of it are used as feet and beads, or to cover the end of a frame piece. Once the frame is constructed and basic binding has been done to secure the edges, the basket can be woven using a free form or planned design. We chose natural materials, including sea grass and round reed, to fill in the weaving and finished up with a dip into a natural stain solution.

If you’re interested in learning to weave, chances are that there are classes in your area. Wisconsin is rife with weavers talented in a variety of areas, from Native American black ash and birch bark weaving to extremely modern art installation pieces. Inquire at your local community or crafting center, or ask a weaver when you see one at a craft show. Additionally, there is a partial list of basket weaving guilds in Wisconsin at The Country Seat, Inc website.

[The finished baskets featured in this piece are the work of Jennifer Mack.]

woven antler basket

Jodi Anderson


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,165 other followers