A chicken crosses the road

May 31, 2013
Chickens in Nyanga

Chickens in Nyanga, South Africa. Photo by Jessica Becker

“In spite of my grandmother’s careful tutelage, I have long forgotten how to tat, and to that skill loss, I say good riddance. There is a reason that the French word for tatting is derived from frivolite. But how far down this road of incapableness am I willing to travel?”

-Sandra Steingraber, ORION Magazine Jan/Feb 2009

There was an exhibition called “Vital Skills” at the Watrous Gallery in Madison that probed this question. I found myself returning to walk through the collection several times and then thinking about what skills I personally value, and possess. What seems most crucial for my children to learn, either from me or others? It’s not hard to imagine a world they might live in as adults, but it’s bound to be different than I could ever predict.

Often on travels outside the U.S. I am struck by the fact that people seem, by nature or necessity, more resourceful than I am. It’s not that I don’t have some talents, but as a 21st century American, I honestly count knowing how to tie shoes as a skill I intend to pass on to my daughters. I’ll have to be deliberate about it! Velcro and crocs are sending the old bow-knot the way of lace-making and chicken-butchering.

Years back, after a trip to Cuba, where chickens run free and many were killed expressly for me to eat, I felt particularly inept. The urban-chicken movement was taking off and I jumped on the bandwagon. I bought four teenage layers from a farm outside of the city and tried to acclimate them to an urban setting. My neighbors, a sales and repair shop for lawn mowers, were loud and made the birds skittish. The birds themselves made me skittish—I never got good at catching them with my hands—and more than once I wished I’d had more of a 4-h education.

My dad, who grew up on a farm, came to visit and helped me chase chickens that had escaped and were trying to cross the road. He took me to private language lessons and coached my baseball team but didn’t teach me much about poultry.

Man with chickens in India

Man with his chickens in India. Photo by Jessica Becker

Eventually I decided to have the chickens butchered as I wasn’t getting many eggs. The entire experiment was celebrated with a closing feast of chicken tortilla soup.

That was not even ten years ago. Backyard chickens were the gateway drug and now neighbors and friends are trying out bees, goats, and more. These are folks with no personal background with farm life, just the idea that they want to know how to do stuff. I think it’s because we want to feel resourceful.

Ultimately, I don’t think the details matter as much as the attitude. Thinking again of the exhibition of beautiful hand-made brooms and skillfully designed blown glass, I suspect that teaching my kids to tie their shoes might be more about slowing down to learn a skill rather than because tied shoes are going to serve them better than slip-ons in the future.

by Jessica Becker
Director of Public Programs
Wisconsin Humanities Council

Vital Skills was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin.


Wisconsin State Cow Chip Scrapbook

August 29, 2012

wisconsin state cow chip throw and festival

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

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

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

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

picking cow chips

chucking a chip

pedal pull seating

pedal pull contestant

pedal pull trophies

magician props

feeding sheep

livestock treats

saint vince

Jodi Anderson


Choosing Change: Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop Part 2

July 20, 2012

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

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

A girl and boy hammer nail holes into book spines.

A Book cover with student’s name and title.

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

The “trump card”

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

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

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

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

Evelyn helping Maurice thread a needle.

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

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

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

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

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

– Evelyn Patricia Terry


Choosing Change: Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop

July 7, 2012

Watercolor painting before tasting fruits and vegetables.

“Skittles, cookies, potato chips, Snickers, licorice, Flaming Hots.” That’s how 2nd and 3rd grade students answered my question “What foods ‘raw’ and ‘green’ do you eat?” Little did I know they heard something other than what I intended.

The puzzle began to unravel when a 3rd grader, lining up to leave class, genuinely inquired, “Ms. Terry, why haven’t I seen you at Walgreen’s?”
Completely baffled, I responded, “Why would you see me at Walgreen’s?”
He said, “My dad takes me there all the time and you are never there.”
Speechless, we stared at each other. I thought, “Does he know how many Walgreen’s there are, and why does he think I should be in any of them?”
Then an epiphany occurred.

A discerning facilitator said, “He thought you were saying ‘Walgreen’s’ as you repeatedly said, ‘raw’ and then ‘green’.” That insightful moment, beginning the Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop series revealed the dearth of knowledge that workshop sessions must address about health. Special emphasis on the importance consuming “raw green” and other colored vegetables have on acquiring and maintaining radiant health is necessary.

Hosted by Barack Obama K-12 School (formerly Custer High School), YMCA Young Leaders Academy and Brown Street Academy, in Milwaukee, The Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop, became the perfect vehicle for me to provide beneficial after school activities to students. Implementing it this past school year, I made a serious commitment to lay the groundwork for eating raw green (and other colored) vegetables by planting seeds toward future growth.  But, one day, I was asked, “Isn’t there some way to make eating raw green vegetables fun as well as healthy?” “No,” I answered. “It takes discipline.” Nevertheless, the question lingered in my mind.

Student, with washed hands, juicing.

Thankfully, final student surveys suggested that I help them to “eat raw vegetables” by providing salad dressings. For future workshops, dips and salad dressings will be added to create “fun” for the taste buds.  For students, after all, the point is to get them to eat raw vegetables. They generally like fruit. By adding small amounts of fruits to juiced raw green vegetables, the possibility of “fun” definitely increases. Smoothies, already fun, can be made healthier, with blander tasting raw green vegetables added. Caroline Carter’s smoothie recipe with pineapple, collard greens, and bananas is a hit with everyone.

This workshop is timely. First Lady Michele Obama stresses health on a national level. In Milwaukee, Will Allen, a 2008 MacArthur Genius Award Fellow, founded the organization Growing Power to promote urban farming.

And just published last month, Karen Le Billon’s  French Kids Eat Everything discusses ten rules to accomplish this. One of them, based on French scientific findings, is that children must taste a food a minimum of seven times to accept eating it. She explains how she ridded herself of antiquated beliefs that her children wouldn’t eat healthy foods. And just think, this indulgence reinforces bad habits and ultimately leads to tooth decay, obesity and acute and chronic diseases. Teachers and parents must begin to offer raw fruits and vegetables instead of offering junk food.

With matching community support, Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop, an art and nutrition program, was awarded funding from the Milwaukee Public School Partnership for the Arts and Humanities grant. The grant is an allocation of $1.5 million approved by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, to support arts and humanities-related opportunities for children and youth in after school and summer programs.  Alice’s Garden, Walnut Way Conservation Corp., Riverwest Artists Association, and Lena’s Piggly Wiggly provided the required matching community funds.

Visual art, with watercolors, is covered in the second blog of a two-part series. For additional information, email terryevelyn@hotmail.com.

–Evelyn Patricia Terry

 


Farewell To A Landmark

June 20, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Snapshots of Heritage

May 31, 2012

750 Seventh Street

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

Ochsner bird collection at Tripp Museum in Prairie du Sac

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

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

School kids working on cyanotype creations

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

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

Verlyn inspecting a dry plate glass negative

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

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

Jodi Anderson