Politics and a milkman’s masterpiece

September 22, 2017

Picture an old time hitched-horse team and driver, but in this instance the horses are a donkey and elephant and the driver is Uncle Sam. “Can anybody do a day’s work with a team like that?” ponders poor Sam, obviously in a quandary. Of course, most of us would shake our heads knowingly given the way democracy has been working lately.

Uncle sam photoYears ago, from the 1930s though the 1950s,, an immigrant Hollandale dairy farmer named Nick Engelbert created a fantasy land of statues in his yard and embellished his house with found objects stuck in concrete. Known as Grandview, the place still exists and is a sanctuary of sorts, open to the public free of charge. Today many call places like this art environments. You’re surrounded.

There isn’t much left of the Uncle Sam statues. By the early 1990s when restoration began Uncle Sam and the donkey were long gone. Only a lonely elephant remains.

But the mildly veiled message Engelbert intended when he created the tableau is probably more poignant today than when it was built.

Efforts are underway to restore the milkman’s masterpiece. Using photo documentation, restoration experts will recreate Sam and the donkey and spiff-up the elephant, too, all part of a grand plan to fully restore the Grandview site.

If you’re from Wisconsin then you probably understand the bigger picture. Wisconsin people are famous for creating roadside attractions like Grandview, and they dot the state map like freckles. Many were created years ago and today remain as echoes of the voices of Wisconsinites long past.

You can stop by Grandview any time, the grounds are open to the public and the museum is often open on weekends.  There’s never an admission fee. You’ll find the place just west of Hollandale on State Highway 39 in southwest Wisconsin.

If you’re interested in Uncle Sam – visit Grandview’s website at and look for the Uncle Sam link. Of course, restoration is an expensive proposition so the non-profit that manages the place appreciates donations to the project.

US-Painting

In his later years Engelbert painted his Uncle Sam tableau

You can learn about many other similar sites around the state through Wandering Wisconsin.

Rick Rolfsmeyer


Jim Godsil: Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names”

October 1, 2015
Noon gathering outside of Riverwest Co-op and Café. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Noon gathering at Riverwest Co-op and Café. Photo © by Lee Matz.

With the assistance of wonderful weather, over 400 nurturing relatives and friends arriving during the course of the day, Milwaukee’s Jim Godsil celebrated his 70th birthday on August 22. Affirming his uniquely inclusive style, the festivities began with a relaxing bus tour and concluded with Godsil’s festive Southside Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.”

James Godsil at his 70th year birthday party. Photo © by Lee Matz.

James Godsil at his 70th year birthday party. Photo © by Lee Matz.

The date chosen honors the following important organizations in Godsil’s life: the 40th year of Community Roofing and Restoration – the main event sponsor, the 10th anniversary of the Milwaukee Renaissance Wiki Magazine, the 5th anniversary of the Sweetwater Foundation and the one-year anniversary of Heart Haus, the tour’s final destination.

Intermingling from “hither and yonder,” guests appeared representing diverse family members, community advocates, gender diversities, artistic professions, religious persuasions, political interests, age and education ranges and class designations.

“All I wanted to do was expand the value of my 70th birthday to include jump-starting a rainbow artist and adventurer boundary-crossing drum-bus party experiment,” Godsil said. “I hoped to introduce European Americans to the wonderful neighborhoods, galleries and studios of African American artists on the North side and introduce African Americans to a south side European American neighborhood. I hoped to mix up all of God’s children with good food, good drink, good music and a street party celebration and it worked!”

Purple Cow Bus at Riverwest Coop. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Purple Cow Bus at Riverwest Coop. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Starting at noon, Godsil greeted his first round of bus riders as they gathered at Riverwest Coop and Café to board the 71-seat capacity Purple Cow Organics Bus donated for this event by Sandy Syburg. Traveling from all parts of the country, Godsil welcomed the attendance of his children Rachel, Megan, Joseph, and Bridie, as well as grandchildren Kate, Rebecca, Monilola, and Darragh, sons-in-law Jim Freeman and Ok Jeyifous, sisters JoAnn and Jean, and brother-in-law Joe Werth.

Jahme Tony Finlayson's musical acumen shared. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Tony Finlayson shared rhythms on the bus. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Bused to the Northside – Part 2

On the bus, Jahmés Tony Finlayson’s adept drumming established a comfortable ambiance. Marquette University’s Bob Pavlik, Riverwest backstreet Mayor Vince Bushnell and Seton Hall Law Professor Rachel Godsil joined 40 Riverwest activists.

The tour’s initial stop was Mother Clara Atwater’s and Toussaint Harris’ Gingerbread Land, which included several brightly colored houses and Atwater’s Love Tabernacle church. There another ten people boarded the bus..

Gathering in Mother Clara's Gingerbread Land. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Gathering in Mother Clara’s Gingerbread Land. Photo © by Lee Matz.

The “rainbow” busload proceeded further into Milwaukee’s north side central city to explore additional treasures. The next stop was the Terry McCormick Contemporary Fine and Folk Art Gallery, located in Evelyn Patricia Terry’s two-story home.

Fondé Bridges passing out his Healthy Words sayings as the gallery visitors exit the bus. Photo © by Lee Matz..

Fondé Bridges passing out his Healthy Words sayings as the gallery visitors exit the bus. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Godsil said, “We feasted upon Fondé Bridges’ healing “Healthy Words” performance as Terry’s gallery greeter. The tour party went inside the gallery filled with room after room of beauty and listened to Evelyn’s great stories, which she continued after she boarded the bus to join the tour.”

Two young visitors to terry's gallery. Photo © by Lee Matz..

Two young visitors to terry’s gallery. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Passing by Dep’s Hall of Fade and proceeding west to Lisbon Avenue, the bus unloaded its passengers to view Muneer Bahauddeen’s Ogbe Meji Studio exhibiting his finely crafted ceramic art. Some viewers momentarily slipped into the Amaranth Café across the street to buy a quick treat. Bahauddeen spoke outside to visitors about his vision to create an Amaranth Urban Sanctuary. Everyone participated in Finlayson’s Drum Bus Circle and sang Godsil’s birthday song before boarding the bus with new riders.

Muneer Bahauddeen's ceramic studio. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Muneer Bahauddeen’s captivating ceramic studio. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Bused to the Southside Finale – Part 3

Introducing Milwaukee’s Southside, the tour bus entered the site of the Old Main Soldiers Home Reef National Historic Landmark. Cleo Pruitt, who met us there, gave a moving tribute to forgotten soldiers of color as founder of the Rebirth of Freedom Project. She explained her vision of a future monument to them. Godsil observed, “The site astonished people with the terrible beauty of that sacred place.” Ms. Pruitt later joined the street party.

Cleo Pruitt explaining her Rebirth of Freedom Project. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Cleo Pruitt explaining her Rebirth of Freedom Project. Photo © by Lee Matz.

As the finale, Ben Kohler’s Heart Haus team impressively hosted the Southside Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.” “Foolosopher” Sky Schultz, in white cloth, silently greeted enlightened bus riders – arriving an hour late without complaints

Foolosopher Sky Schultz welcomed the riders as they joined the street party. Godsil's Rainbow Street Party of

Foolosopher Sky Schultz welcomed the riders.  Photo © by Lee Matz.

Poet Christina Zadowski reads poetry. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Poet Christina Zawadiwsky reads poetry. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Joining the party already in progress, the travelers settled in to participate in the merriment. They listened to award-winning Christina Zawadiwsky read poetry within the shadow of a specially constructed street stage. Howard Lewis, Holly Haebig, Dena Aronson and Jay Anderson provided music.

Muneer Bahauddeen on the right offering hands on art lessons. Photo © by Lee .

Muneer Bahauddeen on the right offering hands on art lessons. Photo © by Lee Matz .

Internationally collected artist, Della Wells and her great grandson, Momari Dejohnett, visited  the designated inter-generational play area and Bahauddeen’s Peace Post Clay Table.

Tim Green record scratching. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Tim Green record scratching. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Occupying a corner of the Heart Haus porch, Tim Green skillfully scratched records and played a range of music, welcoming revelers as they gathered “food and drink” from the house. Tables covered with Cheryl Sitzler’s African patterned tablecloths transformed the space.

Scrumptious rainbow entrees came from The Riverwest Coop Café, Juan’s Mom’s Tamale, Curt’s Chicken, Timbuktu and Martha’s Mighty Fine Foods. Janine Arseneau placed her six freshly baked fruit pies on a table in the street.

Janine Arseneau's delicious fruit pies. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Janine Arseneau’s delicious fruit pies. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Brad Pruitt, an awarded documentary filmmaker, directed filming of this historical event.

Brad Pruitt speaking during bus tour. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Brad Pruitt speaking during bus tour. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Enjoying every moment, along with his guests, Godsil noted, “A European American retired doctor told me it was the most significant trip he had ever taken. An African American elder said it was a life-changing experience to see 20 and 30 African Americans celebrating with scores of European Americans in a south side residential neighborhood.”

Godsil's Rainbow Street Party of !00 Names. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Godsil’s Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.” Photo © by Lee Matz.

Revelers delighted in the impact of Godsil’s mindfulness as a community and world force. Many openly expressed appreciation for Godsil’s refreshing wisdom, activism, buoyant nature, enthusiasm, supportive language and visionary joyfulness. He plans many more celebrations until his 100th birthday!

Evelyn Patricia Terry's Photo © by Lee Matz.

Evelyn Patricia Terry Photo © by Lee Matz.

Evelyn Patricia Terry wrote this blog. Jim Godsil’s interest in associating with creatives of like minds from many facets of the community particularly impressed her. Volunteer editors and proofreaders are welcome and needed as artists continue to strive to increase our state’s art profile. Reach her at the email address terryevelyn@hotmail.com with any corrections. Plus, because hacking into websites happened, Terry is reconstructing her website.


It’s gotta be in ya to do it

September 24, 2015

Wisconsin is well-known around the nation for a proliferation of roadside art. Many of the artists were self-taught, adding to the intrigue, if you will, of farmers and tavern keepers becoming artists because something inside them had to come out. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Statue.

Fred Smith owned a bar near Phillips, Wisconsin, and next to it he created one of the state’s most unique treasures, now known as the Wisconsin Concrete Park. Over the years Fred made more than 200 statues. I can’t imagine how many times people asked him why.

FoFS2015-3His answer seems simple: “It’s gotta be in ya to do it.” Clearly one could delve deeper than that, for the motivations must have involved heritage, history, patriotism, humor, local culture and scores of other reasons. (In those days bar owner Fred had a lot of glass bottles to get rid of.) For the visitor, the joy is not just the art – but wondering what the motivation was for any particular work.

Saturday, September 26, 2015 is a perfect day to visit the Concrete Park. The Friends of Fred Smith is hosting the Celebration of Arts in Action, a daylong event intended for……well, just about everybody.

Visitors who want to participate are offered an array of instant opportunities to create art in four different FoFS2015-1mediums: painting on a life-sized mural, glazing and firing raku pottery, decorating the park garage with mosaics, and painting open-air, postcard-sized landscapes. All open-air paintings completed at the park are eligible for entry into the competition for cash prizes. Judging starts at 4 p.m. and awards are given thereafter. All materials for each medium will be provided. That’s a pretty neat deal!

The event runs from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. There will also be a quilt display, live music by the Highland Bluegrass Band, an auction and great food make this a wonderful event for the entire family. I bet kids will love it. If you’re a parent with a carload you know how important that is.

What was going through Fred's mind?

What was going through Fred’s mind?

But back to Fred and the others who seemed to come out of nowhere to create these places. When you visit the Concrete Park take some time to really look at the statues. (My kids love the skunks in the back.) Dedications to soldiers and depictions of country life are more obvious, but other pieces really get a person thinking.

And if you’re more ambitious a lot of information about Fred and other Wisconsin environment builders is just a search engine or a visit to your library away. A good place to start is the Kohler Foundation web site.

The Wisconsin Concrete Park is a Wandering Wisconsin Roadside Art Experience and one of five special art environments hosting a Plein Air Painting event this year.

Wandering Wisconsin is group of nine art environment steward organizations. And I would be remiss not to thank a wonderful public/private partnership for their support of all the events, so a tip of the hat goes to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and the Kohler Foundation.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, WI (Pop. 288)


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


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)


The meaning of life

July 22, 2013
Prairie Flowers

The Heart of the Matter” report riffs off recent attention given to STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) by saying the humanities are the bloom on the stem. Photo by Jessica Becker (via Instagram and facebook)

The humanities world is talking about a new report, released by The Academy of Arts & Sciences, calling attention to the importance of the humanities in 2013. I already believe the humanities are important, but it’s still nice to read editorials and listen to radio talk shows that bring together people who have done the research and given a lot of thought to these things. Like, how many people are working toward humanities degrees (only 7% according to David Brook’s NYTimes piece), what employers are looking for (curiosity, creativity, humility…), and how a humanistic approach is understood to be critical for countries working their way into first-world nation status (like China and Russia). If you don’t have time to read the report itself, there is a 7 minute video here, and after reading Mary Rizzo’s commentary suggesting the new report sounds a lot like the 1964 version, I guess I’d recommend the short-form.

Many of us would prefer the quick version. I mean, who has time for the full report? That reality has me thinking about how things have changed since 1964. I’m thinking of blogs, instagram, pinterest, twitter, tumblr, flikr and, yes, facebook.  I believe people are by nature humanists and we modern humans are on over-drive to keep up with the speed at which our world is spinning. Isn’t it all a huge humanities endeavor? Looking through my facebook newsreel today, I find people:

-reflecting on issues (“These photos are so fascinating and sad at the same time.” responding to the modern ruins in Detroit)

-reminding themselves and others to celebrate the richness of life (“First cherry tomatoes of the season will be in tomorrow’s lunchboxes.”)

-encouraging conversation around ideas (“in case you missed it, an article on what the brain can tell us about art.”).

-building community (A link to  “The City Paper” on Borracho’s new record! “We’re celebrating tonight at RnR Hotel. Come rock with us!”)

-and searching for meaning in the mundane (“This morning, as I’m trying to work at home, all I’ve heard is, “When I get my blog, I’m totally going to write about how you never change your underwear.” “When I get MY blog I’m going to post a picture of you crying like a baby.”)

I could go on, but it’s hard to look at my newsreel without getting sucked in. There is so much to comment on, share, and follow.

“The humanities” are, quite simply, the different ways we as humans have come up with for looking at the world and making meaning of it. The humanities are studied in academic disciplines (like philosophy, literature, linguistics, art history, folklore, anthropology, and history), and the report encourages folks to remember that the distinctions we have more recently (in historical time) made between the sciences, arts, and humanities are detrimental to both a real education and getting a job.

Less public money is being directed toward “the humanities” and that has a lot of us worried since how we spend our money indicates what we value.  However, I have no fear that our search for the meaning of life will wither and die. I see it everywhere in all that we do.

I’m worried that we’ll all drown in our ongoing, non-stop chatter into the e-niverse about how meaningful every little thing is and we’ll forget how to sit still, grow bored, and wonder if life is, actually, meaningless.

The wondering, I know, is worthy.

by Jessica Becker (why not follow me on Instagram?)
Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council

Instagram


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