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

The Ghosts of Sinipee

February 7, 2012

Hunting for ghost towns this time of year will give you the shivers in more ways than one.  And I know of an example in Grant County where you can earn an extra shriek if you find the lonely cemetery that harbors the victims of a long ago disaster.

Sinipee was built as a point of budding commerce in the Wisconsin territory.  The crescendo of lead production convinced a group of Mineral Point investors that money could be had if they constructed a port through which they could ship ore and bring in supplies.  Dubuque was only four miles downriver but it was on the wrong side.

The investors formed the Louisiana Company and selected an area a few miles north of Dubuque on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi where a creek empties into the mighty river.  They paid a rich sum for the land with the stipulation that the landowner build a splendid hotel, and hired a man named John Plumbe to manage the venture.

The village and port prospered.  A constant stream of barges arrived from St. Louis to carry lead.  Sometimes five steamships would be moored at the dock.  One source stated that there were 25 commercial buildings in the village and another suggested the population reached a high of 1,000 residents.

The grand hotel at Sinipee, years after the town had been abandoned

The hotel was a two-story showplace made of stone with a large room upstairs for gatherings.  It was built at the base of big bluff and water from a spring that flowed from the rock would travel right under the hotel.

Folks from all around and miles away came for fun and recreation.  One story has it that two American presidents visited Sinipee.  Both Zachary Taylor and Jefferson Davis were stationed with the garrison at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien to the north. (Granted, Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States, not United States of America.)

Developer John Plumbe was a visionary with a grand plan that the United States build a railroad across the nation to join the east and west coasts.  He worked hard at his proposition and one evening – with a group assembled in the hotel – drafted a petition to the U.S Congress to start with a link between Milwaukee and Sinipee.  Although the idea was well received in Washington D.C., the venture never got off the ground.  But the seeds of a transcontinental railroad were sown.

Sometime around 1839 Sinipee was struck by a monumental tragedy.  Melting snow and spring rains had caused the Mississippi to flood.  The waters quickly receded but left shallow pools of stagnant water, perfect breeding areas for mosquitoes.  Soon villagers faced an outbreak of malaria that spread rapidly, infecting almost everyone and killing many.  Those who survived fled the town.

By the beginning of 1840 all but two families had abandoned Sinipee. Theodore Rodolf, a member of the Louisiana Company, returned to Sinipee and wrote this haunting account:

“When we finally rode down the ravine to the Mississippi River, and the bankrupted city burst upon our view, a singular sensation took hold of me. The buildings were all new, showing no sign of decay or deterioration by usage or the weather, having stood there but a little over a year. I expected momentarily to see the occupants come out to bid us welcome. There, was, however, not a living being to be seen or heard … I think not even a bird gave life to the desolation. The quiet of a church-yard reigned. The houses, all painted white, seemed to loom up as monuments of departed greatness.”

This bank note was most likely issued a little after the demise of Sinipee. It does give credibility to the old story of future presidents visiting the village: If you look closely this note was issued to a J. Davis, most likely Jefferson Davis, eventual President of the Confederacy who was stationed at the garrison in Prairie du Chien

Today, there isn’t much left.  It is an uncommonly isolated and quiet spot.  Much of the old village is now underwater, a result of permanent flooding caused by the construction of Lock and Dam #11 in 1934.  In a 2001 article Clifford Krainik called it “Atlantis on the Mississippi”.

But there is plenty to explore, and almost everything worth seeing is on public land.  Now called the Fenley Recreation Area and managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the site was willed to the state by descendents of Payton Vaughn, the guy who sold the land for the village and built the hotel.   Almost anyone who knows about the place goes there to fish, but you can go to explore.

In the spring before things start to get green you can see indentations along the path to the river where homes and businesses used to be.  A little farther along that same trail you’ll meet the railroad tracks and you can venture north a few yards to the site of the old hotel.

If you’re really adventurous you can head a bit farther north to look for a crevice in the bluff, where it is said an image of the Virgin Mary was found in the rock.  Stories have it that thousands of people came to view the image and locals finally placed bars over the niche to protect it.  I haven’t found that yet.

The most stunning remainder of Sinipee is the all-but-lost cemetery, a lonely sentinel perched atop the bluff over five hundred feet above the location of the village.  It is said that there are 60-70 graves up there but only a few are marked.  The walk up the bluff trail is super. I have macabre visions of funeral processions from the village below up the steep bluff trail – it’s quite a haul.  The view from the top is extraordinary.  If I was going to be dead someplace this would be a good choice, as long as I wasn’t keen on having many visitors.

I like to come here in the spring and fall, when the air has a nip to it and the bugs are gone.  The hike keeps you warm against the cool air.  When I last visited I sensed that those in the graves appreciated my presence.  I got chills thinking that the ghosts of Sinipee knew I had returned.  Visit Wisconsin’s Atlantis on the Mississippi and introduce yourself to them.  Now you know their story.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, WI (Pop. 283)

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 »

The Curious Hu-Manatees

November 16, 2011
The Harbor in St. Petersburg, FL

Beware of the hu-manatees in St. Petersburg, Florida. Photo by Jessica Becker.

Until about five years ago, 1000 people a day relocated from somewhere else to live in Florida. I arrived in St. Petersburg Florida for a conference organized around the over-arching theme of re-imagining the American Dream just as the world took note that global population has reached 7 billion. The former director of the Florida Humanities Council welcomed us to St. Pete’s with a semantics joke: In her state, where people have always come to reinvent themselves and live out their American dreams, she was sometimes called the director of the Florida Manatee Council.

The annual conference gathered together people from the 56 humanities councils located in the U.S. states and territories, all of which receive funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  As the current economic and cultural climate requires that we all use full-strength creativity to re-imagine our life here on earth, and public funding for the humanities becomes less certain, I wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea to team up with the dolphins and palm trees and manatees to explain the value we bring to the world.

After three days of deliberate and truly stimulating conversation about what, exactly, this American Dream notion means to each of us, as well as what role the public humanities play in the future of our states, the country, and the planet, I remembered why we are importantly not staffing sea animals and tropical plants as colleagues.

The humanities are about being human. They are everything about being human. How we as humans make sense of our place on earth, as one of 7 billion other humans, or as one of millions who have chosen or found ourselves in Florida or Wisconsin or wherever. And the way we each think about identity, responsibility, opportunity, citizenship, destiny, and our dreams. As humans, we are curious creatures and therefore are humanists by nature. We engage in the humanities as we wonder about stuff, explore the world, and talk about it with others. And the more of us on the planet there are, the more curious minds will be ruminating on this wild and interesting life and trying to make meaning of it.

At this particular point in history, money for public humanities projects is scarce. Public humanities projects, such as museum exhibitions, the collection of oral histories, the publication of reflective historical accounts, the opportunities for people to gather to read, write, and think together, those projects are harder to fund. It makes me sad. And it is a major assault on my own personal American Dream: that we as Americans enjoy public education, cultural sharing, and civic debate. But I am still hopeful that human curiosity and creativity will overcome silly things like money problems.

The day before I returned to Wisconsin, I sat in the harbor looking out at the Gulf. I was surprised to see a single dolphin swimming very close to my feet, which were dangling from the cement shoreline. I think of dolphins as hanging out in pods, not alone. This particular dolphin, I imagined, was a curious one. He was checking things out. A budding humanist, perhaps, exploring and looking for meaning? In Florida, it seems, the manatees and dolphins are part of the story.

By Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs at the Wisconsin Humanities Council



An unwavering season of growth

November 4, 2011

Evelyn Patricia Terry, "Sacred Precious One," Pastel, 41 x 37 inches.

Summer zoomed through like a torpedo. The backyard garden, which in past years always yielded cucumbers and tomatoes, went neglected. This unexpected turn of events instead yielded a season of personal growth and diverse experiences: an unplanned vacation; a chance connection to the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; a famous juror at a community festival; and finally a major move.

In June, I accepted an invitation from my daughter and her husband, living in New York, to fly in for a couple of days and hang out with them and his mother visiting from Montana. We enjoyed each other’s company and sought out great experiences for our brief soirée. Though we didn’t have time to catch a Broadway show, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Savage Beauty” had all the trauma and drama of a major theatrical production. A multimedia exhibition, it enthrallingly traversed the prolific fashion career of the late Alexander McQueen whose suicide at age 40 stunned the fashion world. His haunting designs are artistic explorations, shrouded in beauty, mystery and dazzling showmanship. It is no wonder that on the final day of the exhibition, a New York friend reported lines several blocks long, keeping MMA open until midnight.

Evelyn Patricia Terry shares a moment with Dr. Roland Patillo. Photo: Lynda Jackson-Conyers.

Back in Milwaukee in August, as an honoree, I attended the elegant Milwaukee Community Journal Anniversary Celebration, the Academy of Legends. Academy of Legends organizer Patricia O’Flynn Pattillo, founder and CEO of the MCJ weekly newspaper, cleverly emulated Hollywood’s Academy Awards. I took the opportunity to exhibit my work, Sacred Precious One, to a new audience.   I graciously congratulate Florence Dukes for winning in the Arts/Music Category, thus sparing me from giving an acceptance speech.

Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

More importantly,  before the event, I was honored to speak with both former Wisconsin residents, Mrs. Pattillo and her husband, Dr. Roland Pattillo–now Georgia residents. Dr.  Pattillo, a Morehouse School of Medicine professor and Director of Gynecologic Oncology,  shared his role in the discovery of HeLa, the first immortal human cell line ever grown in culture from the cells of Henrietta Lacks. The controversial medical discovery received major news coverage in 2009, with the publication of Rebecca Skloot’s bestselling book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Lacks cells were being used for medical research long after her death, without her family’s knowledge or permission. Dr. Pattillo, who helped expose the existence of the cell line, now organizes and chairs the Annual Morehouse “HeLa” Woman’s Health Conference. After my inspirational conversations with Dr. and Mrs. Pattillo, I went immediately online and read a compelling excerpt of the book.

Back in my comfort zone, I was invited by Mount Mary art professor Brad Anthony Bernard to the 2nd annual Community Arts & Funk Festival reception in Milwaukee — which he organized. I provided artwork from artists represented by the Terry McCormick Gallery.  For me the festival highlight was speaking briefly to renowned Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt. Hunt — along with Nicholas Frank, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design faculty member, and Dr. Annemarie Sawkins, Haggerty Museum Curator — juried the festival. Said to have completed more public sculptures than any other artist in the country, Hunt has in impressive signature sculpture installed on the Mount Mary College grounds. Best of Show went to Eddie Davis (painting), 1st Place went to Angela Smith (wearable art), 2nd Place went to Jeff Newville (leatherwork), and 3rd Place went to Bashir Malik (painting). Honorable mentions went to Vedale Hill (painting) and Jessica Laub (ceramics). A lively end of summer occasion, which along with original artwork, feathered live performances by singer songwriters of original music.

Nicholas Frank, Richard Hunt and Dr. Annemarie Sawkins tally scores. Photo courtesy of Harrison Kern.

Finally, I created a kind of win-win change from a potentially unpleasant situation in late August. On three days’ notice, I was asked to relocate from my art studio, at Lincoln Center Middle School of the Arts, to a much smaller space. After negotiating space for my two studio partners,  I decided to move my studio to my home. The daunting task, packing up and moving into the school’s temporary storage from my space that I had occupied since 1985, occurred with the assistance of three maintenance engineers and two friends nearer the end of September.

The move out of storage is only partially accomplished. Nevertheless, I feel that the new fall season signifies even greater growth. This includes my new project, “Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop.” Designed to benefit k-12 youth and their families, this workshop is funded by a MPS Partnership for the Arts Grant, Alice’s Garden, Walnut Way Community Corporation, Riverwest Artists Association, and Lena’s/Piggly Wiggly. It signals the continuation of unwavering growth opportunities including the return of next year’s cucumbers and tomatoes.

–Evelyn Patricia Terry, evelynpatriciaterry.com


A forest and a purpose

November 3, 2011

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t mind going off the beaten path to find a nugget, I’ve got a great place for you.  And no matter which direction you come from, the drive will be outstanding because teeny Valton in southern Wisconsin is in the heart of one of the most secluded and beautiful areas of the state.

Nestled in a small valley in the northwestern panhandle of Sauk County, near rural hamlets of Cazenovia, Hillsboro, LaValle and Yuba, is an historic fraternal meeting place with a very uncommon story, one of an itinerant painter who stayed for two years.

A common exterior........

Modern Woodmen of America Camp 6190 was one of numerous fraternal organizations whose buildings were common in communities in the 1800s.  The organization provided brotherhood and life insurance and the building served the community as well as lodge members.

Going into the Painted Forest is like entering the cocoon to see the butterfly.  The commonness of the exterior gives way to an explosion of color inside.  It’s all around you, truly an environment.  You walk in from outside and might think you’re back outside.

An uncommon interior

After the initial awe, the skill of artist Ernest Hupeden manifests itself in detail.   Hupeden started by painting the stage curtain in exchange for lodging at a local hotel.  His work so impressed the camp members that they further commissioned Hupeden to continue his painting and adorn the walls.  After a couple of years the work was finished. Hupeden had literally covered every inch of wall space including the arched ceiling, window frames, wainscoting and curtains. The vivid imaginative scenes depict a remarkable vision of life, death, initiation rituals, and the aspirations of the Valton M.W.A camp members.

The John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan has works by Hupeden and you can view two of his paintings – The Valley Where the Bluebird Sings and The Bolton Landscape on the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society.  (Click here for the collections page, then click “search” and type “Hupeden”.)  The Kohler Foundation website also contains information on the artist and his work.

In and of itself the Painted Forest is quite a story.   Edgewood College of Madison cares for the site and another chapter of the tale is how they’ve added to the history and made it a significant rural art resource.

In 2004 they constructed the Art Studio and Study Center about a block away from the old camp building.  The facility provides space for interdisciplinary workshops, lectures, retreats, and artist residencies.   This modern facility doesn’t look “new”, it looks like it has been part of the village for decades.  Very nice.  It has bathrooms, a full kitchen, a sleeping loft and an activity space that can accommodate up to 25 people.

I was there recently for a meeting of the Wisconsin Art Environment Consortium, a group representing nine art environments around the state.  We helped produce the Wandering Wisconsin tours, which includes the Painted Forest, to help build awareness and appreciation of these Wisconsin wonders.

Members of the Wisconsin Art Environment Consortium at work in the studio

The group connects regularly to share tips about site operation and conserving the art we’re entrusted to preserve.  Through Wandering Wisconsin and with the help of the staff of the John Michael Kohler Art Center, the consortium produced thousands of maps with suggested tours and great information about the environment builders and nifty places to visit near each site.  We were able to accomplish this with a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, which now includes the Wisconsin Arts Board.  Both are great supporters of local arts organizations.  The consortium is working on more marketing plans for 2012 and perhaps some summer opportunities for artists near each site as well.

Ernest Hupeden died in 1911.  It is said he froze in a snow bank by Hillsboro, but no one is certain.  One hundred years after his death we learned that he is buried in an unmarked grave in the potter’s field at the old Richland County Farm/Home near Richland Center, sharing a single marker with over 60 others.

Art Studio and Study Center

Some of Hupeden’s amazing art has been found and conserved but the thought is that many pieces remain in the Valton area, perhaps lost in attics or hidden behind paneling.  Recently a Hupeden mural was found in a bar.  Poor Ernest, he was freed from prison in Germany for a crime he did not commit.  After he was exonerated he came to America and painted his way west.  Now, a hundred years after his death, his genius is beginning to attain broader exposure but it is unsettling that his earthly remains have yet to gain the respect we often take for granted.

The Painted Forest is open Saturdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day or by appointment.  Contact David Smith, director, with questions about the site or access to the studio.  It is a remarkable resource in an uncommon, but equally remarkable setting.  The journey and destination are both enveloped by Wisconsin’s natural beauty – truly conducive to serenity and inspiration.

Elephant Rock - on the way to Valton from the south

Edgewood College has proven to be an exceptional steward of the Painted Forest and then some.   The vision of folks there has enhanced a remarkable facet of Wisconsin’s history.  In partnership with the Kohler Foundation, Edgewood has added contemporary uses to historic preservation.  They’ve made a place that you could see into a place where you can also do, a resource to share with artists, writers and even a baseball team seeking a retreat venue.

As the old guys on the park bench say, “It ain’t what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it”.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, WI

Art – Alive and Well in Wisconsin

October 20, 2011

When I moved to the Midwest 15 years ago, my family was surprised. How could one move from the East Coast to the Midwest? It seemed incomprehensible to them. When I informed them I was moving to the North Woods, to a small town in the “middle of no where”, they were alarmed. What about culture? What about music? What about opportunities for the children? My answer was always the same. “It’s not that far from the cities.I have a car.” In reality, we didn’t really need to go to the cities, we just had to be more pro-active, plan well in advance. We had to change our expectations, more local artists, more amateurs, less professionals. The truth is…. that was reality then but it isn’t reality any longer.

I have spent the last year traveling around Wisconsin visiting small town performing art centers and other musical venues. Let me tell you, small town Wisconsin is not only alive and well it is thriving. Yes I have seen my share of local musicians and various “amateurs” but I have also seen Bill Staines, Brandi Carlisle, John Prine, Mike Compton, Yonder Mountain Band, Corky Siegel, or best of all the ABBA Tribute band. Yes I have gone to the big city in years past and seen the likes of Carol King and James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, Elton John. They were great concerts but I will take a small performing arts center any day to the likes of the Xcel Center or the Target Center where you watch the big screen more than the stage. It is true that you don’t have multiple options on the same evening like you would have in Madison or Milwaukee. It’s true that in many towns the venues operate only once or twice a month. Seeing a performance every weekend might mean traveling at least to the next town. But, that is a small cost for living on 20 acres two miles from the center of town and being kept awake at night because of the deafening sound of peepers.

The Park Theater, Hayward

So on the average day, I would have to say that although we are close in small town Wisconsin, we still are not quite on par with “the big city.” That all changed this month. You see, on October 1st, small town Wisconsin was at least on par if not ahead of many big cities. On October 1st, Hayward Wisconsin was host to the Manhattan Short Film Festival. That put us on par with Milwaukee and Minneapolis and put us ahead of Madison and Chicago. The Manhattan Short Film Festival was shown in over 200 cities, across six continents for one week. It is a film festival of short films, nothing lasting more than about 18 minutes. From all of the submitted films, from all over the world, the top 10 go out around the world to be viewed and judged by the world at large. I was there at The Park Theater on October 1st with 179 friends, laughing and crying and reading sub-titles. Our votes counted just as much as those in New York,  San Francisco, and London. Hayward is now on the map for something other than sporting events and the National Fishing Hall of Fame. Culturally, we are coming into our own, as I found all over Wisconsin last year.

This year I’m continuing my pursuit of eventually attending every Performing Arts Center in small town Wisconsin. This year I’m targeting theatrical performances. I suppose that’s because I saw Of Mice and Men in Green Spring at the American Players Theater and was enthralled. If you have particular PACs (Performing Art Centers) that you think I ought to visit, drop me a line. Otherwise, I’ll just plan to see you out on the trail.

Dayle Quigley

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin Cottage

October 13, 2011

Recently I spent a weekend at the Seth Peterson Cottage, a Frank Lloyd Wright house near Lake Delton. It was my second overnight visit, my first having been in 1993, about a year after the cottage was opened for private rentals and regular public tours.

The wall of windows faces southwest.

The setting is delightful: a wooded hill overlooking Mirror Lake. Indeed, the small house is now within Mirror Lake State Park and maintained and operated by an arrangement between the non-profit Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy and the Department of Natural Resources.

Had it not been for the Conservancy, and particularly Audrey Laatsch, the cottage might have been lost. When she came upon the house in 1988, it had been unoccupied for years and suffered serious deterioration.

Seth Peterson Cottage is small, measuring 880 square feet. The plan is simple, with a large open space that embraces living and dining areas wrapped around a large fireplace. A shed roof opens to an expanse of windows facing southwest with a patio at 90 degrees that looks northwest. It is from the west corner of the house that one gets the best view of the lake below.

The corner of the patio overlooks Mirror Lake below.

There is a small and quite workable kitchen and a single bedroom under a low, flat roof at the rear of the house.

Designed by Wright in 1958, the cottage was unfinished when the young client, Seth Peterson, took his own life in 1960. Wright had died a year earlier at age 91. After sitting empty for two years, the cottage was purchased by Lillian Pritchard for her son and finished pretty much as designed. Only a few years later, in 1966, the state purchased the house and surrounding land for $38,400 to become part of the new park. With no plans for the house, it was boarded up and languished. More than 20 years later, Laatsch and the Conservancy rehabilitated the house for public use.

Making Seth Peterson Cottage available for overnight stays was a bold idea when inaugurated in 1992. It would not be a house museum, but a residence, even if transitory, as intended by client and architect. It was the first Wright house to offer such an opportunity. Today, there are eleven Wright sites where guests can spend the night, including two others in Wisconsin.

It’s a rare pleasure to spend time in a Wright house. I’ve visited plenty of Wright buildings over the years, usually in groups that are timed, managed and directed. For our weekend at the Seth Peterson Cottage, I and my friends had the priceless benefit of unhurried time. We could sit and look, read or relax. We could take in the house and its site from many angles, inside and out. We could enjoy the changing light through the day, the sun filtered by trees with yellowing leaves in early fall.

The cottage has a large fireplace, a common feature of Wright's interiors.

To be sure, spending the weekend is an extravagance and takes a bit of planning since the cottage books years in advance. Yet I could think of no better way to mark a milestone birthday. And the real luxury is that I had the time to enjoy the experience.

Note: The Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy offers monthly guided tours of the house and other events open to the public.

–Michael Bridgeman


Battery charger

September 22, 2011

The Rural Arts and Culture Summit was one of those events that made you want to get back home and get to work.  It’s been a few months since we attended, and I am still fired up.  There was something or somebody to learn from every moment we were there.

We attended as part of an organization that operates an historic site that also functions as a regional arts learning center.  The greatest benefit for us was that the gathering brought together all kinds of people involved and interested in the arts: musicians, visual artists, people who run arts organizations, theater folks, funders, community developers.

Anne Katz of Arts Wisconsin with other conference attendees

Each day was catalyzed by keynote speakers, including Wisconsin’s own Anne Katz, who spoke about the importance of measuring the specific contributions of artists, craftspeople and arts industry workers to an area’s economy.  Like farmers, many artists are self-employed and remain a shadow in the world of economic and employment data.  (Arts Wisconsin has great resources to help – check out their Arts Activist Toolkit.)

Anne was preceded by Bill Cleveland, writer, author, musician and director of the Study of Art and Community, who kicked off the conference’s opening day with a message of arts partnerships and community alliances.  Donna Walker-Kuene, a nationally known expert on audience development and veteran of over 15 Broadway productions, provided a closing day address on building access to the arts.

And the workshops were as varied as the conference participants.  I heard from a panel of state arts funders (North Dakota and Minnesota get it!) while my wife made a Ceramic Taco Fish.  I attended great presentations about feeding the Creative Economy in rural areas and developing regional strategies based on an area’s unique assets.  There were offerings about volunteer management and audience development, printmaking and Haiku, and even film screening. There was time to talk and plenty of time to listen.  I learned more about rural outreach in a half hour conversation with the director of a theater company located in an isolated part of Minnesota than I have over the last 10 years.

And copious thanks to organizers and suppliers for superbly prepared local food.

Great local food

The Summit was hosted and planned by A Center for the Arts and numerous partnering organizations and held at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls.  We were surprised by the place, frankly, as it is a stunning facility.  The building contains a permanent art collection started in 1960.  It now includes over 400 items which are seen everywhere in the college.  The art is beautiful and diverse – sculpture, paintings, weaving, woodwork, drawings, ceramics and wall carvings – and displayed and conserved by a curator who warmed our hearts with his passion.  Now that’s a proper environment for learning.

Fergus Falls was a treat.  It has what we think of as a “real” downtown.  There are scores of different stores and shops, and it did not come off as a tourist town, lively with locals and visitors alike. With a little exploration we discovered an all-but-abandoned little park on the east edge of town, aptly named Broken Down Dam Natural Area.  The only indication we were in the right place was a small sign and place for one vehicle to park at the dead end.  After a walk through a meadow and down a hillside we found an old dam, displaced by the power of the river it was built to contain.  It was a beautiful spot – the river rapids rushing over once grand stone ruins; isolated but within city boundaries; loud but still quiet.

The historic Fergus Theater, home to A Center for the Arts

The historic Fergus Theater is a gem from yesteryear with an incredible list of upcoming performances.  The city’s restaurants are outstanding.  And there are lots of ponds and lakes. Fergus Falls is so natural that cranes crowded  the trees in the park at dusk and made all kinds of fuss until they finally settled down for the night.

Some in-town exploring uncovered a great little Salvation Army.  That and the Goodwill Store gave us our Antiques Roadshow moment for the month.  For $40 at the Salvation Army we snagged a great 1936 German-made student guitar (in the original case – the original slides and picks were still there, too).  And at Goodwill we found five wonderful framed prints, an intact set from the 1860s, which we got for $3.99 each and saw for around $1,500 on the Internet.

It was a good place for this Summit.  These folks in Minnesota clearly understand that the arts are integral to keeping and attracting residents to their rural areas.  And they understand the business of arts and their importance to the economics of place as well as aesthetic framework of community.

Conferences are a little more difficult to attend in tough financial times and it is easy to forget how necessary getting together can be.  We live in the country and don’t get to network like we should.  The Summit was a reminder of the necessity of like-minded people to gather, speak, listen and learn and especially to strategize collectively when the influence of all of us is needed.

The Rural Arts and Culture Summit was not only excellent, it was unique.   Professional development is seldom so much fun.  As we get closer to the next event I will probably start to get tired and feel jaded about my arts volunteerism again, and need to charge the batteries.  And I’m also hoping the resale shops have more cool stuff when we come back.

What types of gatherings fire you up?

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, WI  (Pop. 283)



Hixon House, La Crosse, Wisconsin

August 19, 2011

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Gideon Cooley Hixon (1826-1892) accumulated a fortune in lumber, finance, and business, and this nineteenth-century baron utilized the very best of the La Crosse, Wisconsin area’s wood for his own home. The Hixon House reflects Hixon’s contemporary preferences while providing a peek back in time at an authentic Victorian existence.

Hixon House

Begun in 1859, the Italianate house features gorgeous woodwork, opulent interior decoration, and an abundance of local wood – including a walnut entry, oak and birch parlor, and stunning cherry dining room – at a time when the sawmill was king. Gideon’s wife, Ellen, lovingly adorned the Hixon House in the Aesthetic fashion. There is a pervasive Oriental and Arabic influence in the house décor, which includes a teak ivory desk imported from China and parquet flooring.

The Turkish Nook room features a gold-gilt ceiling nook lined with anaglypta, a thick, embossed paper, covered in aluminum leaf and coated with a layer of amber-tinted varnish.

For the Hixon House restoration of 2005, the Turkish Nook’s surface was cleaned and repaired. Portieres were reproduced for the doorways leading into the nook. The kilm carpets that cover the banquette were cleaned and repaired. The Turkish Nook also includes a harem screen, a portable wall used to keep women from entering or peeking into the men’s private area.

Hixon House, La Crosse, Wisconsin

The dining room of the Hixon House features a wall covering of leaves that was likely painted by interior designer Joseph Twyman’s daughter in 1900-01; the chandelier is made of red pebbled glass.

The Hixon House is filled with dim, masculine colors and leather, which would have been appropriate to the turn of the twentieth century. The folio in the library room is stacked with sumptuous books, including rare sets describing east coast American architecture and foreign antique collections.Over the marble fireplace is a photo of Gideon Hixon.

The Gideon Hixon home stayed in the family until it was donated to La Crosse in 1962. “When the Hixons turned the house over to the historical society,” said Dan Moen of Moen Preservation, owner of the Artisan Preservation, the company which restored the Hixon House (interview with author June 2010). “the house had been intact and unchanged for at least 40 years.”

Hixon House, Wisconsin

Today, it stands a National Landmark Historical site, an excellent example of true Victorian architecture and “original” Victorian furnishings and clothing.

“About 90% of the furnishings in the house are original,” says Moen. “This is a really big deal because it shows that this house has not changed much since the turn of the twentieth century. Honestly, the same elements are in existence, and everything is here. From its inception, the house museum has adhered to the guidelines for historical preservation, and (the house) maintains that strong sense of antiquity and preservation.”

The two-year-long, $1.844 million restoration Moen performed from 2003-2005 included cleaning and rebuffing light fixtures, replacing old and faded carpets with exact reproductions, and reupholstering and reproducing different fabrics. He was especially careful not to undermine the structure’s evocative nature or the aesthetic wholeness of its history.

“Dark corridors remain dark corridors,” says Moen. “I believe that historical sites like this one should exude the feel and idea of total immersion. Here, you are on a little journey.”


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