Stringalong – Changing the world one weekend at a time

November 2, 2012

Long, long ago back in 1998 my fiddle teacher suggested I go to the “Stringalong” at Camp Edwards where he was teaching a workshop and I could experience another side of music. My life has never been the same. I was new to music in 1998 having just started to learn the fiddle in 1996. I played “Book 1”, held my fiddle in “a war pose” (his words not mine), and couldn’t play anything without the music sitting in front of me. Memorize a piece –  impossible, learn by ear – not even in the realm of possibilities.

Stringalongs, started and maintained by Ann and Will Schmid from the UW Milwaukee Folk Center, were a whole new ballgame. These were family events although most attendees were like me, adult learners, musician wannabees. There was no written music at the workshops, everything was taught by ear. People sat around in the evenings and late into the night “jamming”. If you didn’t know the music, you played quietly in the background hoping to catch a few notes each time they went through the tune. If that wasn’t working you could sing along or sit back and just enjoy the strands wafting in air and hope by osmosis it would all sink in. Believe it or not, it does sink in. The tunes sink deep into your soul and although you don’t know the name or the key, you can hum the melody years later.

I met a whole new set of friends at the Stringalongs at Camp Edwards. When you eatfamily style and sleep in cabins with 12 strangers, and dance with whomever is standing alone, you bond and bond fast. I would be lying if I said I could remember all the names. I can’t. But I remember the faces and the stories and their words of encouragement.

That’s me in the blue shirt and black vest.

Stringalongs were set up in such a way that professional musicians would come in and teach a work shop or two for the weekend each one meeting 3 times between Saturday morning and Sunday at noon. As an attendee you could select up to three different workshops to attend or you could hang out and walk the trails or jam on the porch with your new best friend. Between Friday evening and Sunday at noon you also got to listen to a short concert by each of the presenters. There were people who never attended a workshop, they just came to hear the “professionals” play. I don’t know how Ann did it but she brought in big names – Pat Donohue, Mike Dowling, Joel Mabus, Pigs Eye Landing, Bill Staines, Second Opinion, Crystal Ploughman, Ken Kolodner, Randy Sabien.

A lot has changed since 1998. My life has changed. Music and my experiences at the Stringalongs introduced me to life long friends and gave me the confidence to not only join a band but to start NorthWoods Strings a non-profit organization to provide string instrument instruction to children in Hayward. Stringalongs let me see the world as it ought to be even if only for a weekend. They reminded me that any thing is possible. That although our world may rapidly change somethings stay the same – you can’t make music with someone and argue at the same time, that joy comes from peace deep within, that dreams are not foolish unless you forget to follow them.

Beginning tonight at Camp Edwards, the Stringalongs come to an end. For one last weekend the world will stop turning if only for two days. With any luck the first snow fall will come and the outside world will mirror what’s happening on the inside. I wish that I would be there but the outside world has different plans for me. In my own way,I suppose that I will be there. My heart will be there. Tonight I will think of my friends and the memories we made. On Sunday when the final songs are sung, I will be singing along  and I will imagine the notes floating all the way to East Troy and mingling with the voices there.

To Ann Schmid who dreamed up this wonderful experience and made it happen:

Ann Schmid

There are those in the world who never dream, those who dream but think them foolish, and those who dream and turn those dreams into reality. You, my friend, are obviously in that final group and the world is a better place because of it. Have a wonderful weekend. I will be thinking of you all and wishing with all my heart that I was there.



Dayle Quigley
Author: Pig and Toad Best Friends Forever
Exec. Director: NorthWoods Strings

Black Ash Basketry

September 13, 2011

By Emily Umentum, guest contributor

Basketry is one of the oldest crafts in human history, and yet the knowledge of making these simple, and once essential, vessels has become a rarity in the modern age. Of the available basket-making materials, the flexibility and durability of black ash is unsurpassed; baskets woven of black ash splints can endure extreme compression and load and yet quickly spring back to their original form and strength, even after having been in use for years or even decades!  This beautiful, yet useful art has been making a renaissance in Northern Wisconsin since a few individuals have taken the time to seek out those who know the craft and are willing to pass it down to others.

April StoneDahl, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) is currently the only black ash basket weaver of her band.  Studying and weaving since 1998, she has also been teaching basketry in northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan since 2000. April takes great pride in weaving quality utilitarian baskets which are meant to be used. I first encountered April more than a year ago when I visited the annual Traditional Ways gathering held on the Bad River Reservation near Ashland, Wis. My first impressions of her dedication to craftsmanship, durability and sustainability have been proven accurate in all my dealings with her since.

During the year after I first visited Bad River, I have been serving as a VISTA with Northwoods NiiJii, a Wisconsin tribally-affiliated nonprofit based on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation. VISTA is a federal service program charged with fighting poverty, in my case, by helping develop a community-oriented art center and gallery known as the Woodland Indian Art Center . In the course of helping build infrastructure and form community partnerships, I have had the opportunity to engage various artists from communities outside Lac du Flambeau as well. Luckily for us, April was one of those artists.

Those in attendance at the August 26, 2011, Black Ash Basket class at the Woodland Indian Art Center were able to witness this tree’s amazing properties firsthand as they learned the preparation of materials and crafted their own baskets! The instructors, April and Jarrod StoneDahl of Woodspirit (, began by discussing the habitat, behavior and current threats to this singular and historic tree.

The Black Ash, Fraxinus nigra, is a deciduous (seasonally leaf dropping) tree native to cool, wet regions of the Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada. It is currently threatened by an invasive insect known as the Emerald Ash Borer, whose larvae are spread by the movement of firewood from park to park. The best chance we have of preserving the black ash from complete destruction is to encourage campers to only purchase firewood locally, instead of transporting it. Why all the fuss over this one tree species?

This tree is unique among all North American trees because its growth rings (the seasonal trunk growth produced by the tree) are not connected to each other by fibers, as are other trees. As mundane as such a distinction may seem to the average person, for basket-makers it means that the rings may be separated from each other and made into splints for baskets. Without this tree, this particular type of basketry is in danger of disappearing.

Jarrod explained that Black Ash trees form annual growth rings of two types of wood: spring wood is a rapidly laid-down, loose connective layer which links each year of more robust summer growth to the next. He stated that by soaking the trunk in water and then pounding it with a rounded steel mallet, the spring connective layer is crushed and allows for the summer wood to be peeled off in long strips. The weaker bond of the connecting fibers is what allows the summer wood strips to separate. These strips, or ‘splints’, as they are called, vary in color according to where they lie in the tree; sap wood, the outer layer where moisture is currently flowing in the tree, is a lighter color, and heart wood, which lies at the core of the tree where moisture once flowed, is darkened with age. Trees are typically harvested in late spring or early summer (because the bark can slip off with prodding of the hands), and pounded right after harvest.  Although spring and summer is the ideal time, trees may be harvested throughout the year as needed.

After receiving the lecture and viewing some very artistic diagrams on the Art Center whiteboard, the class wandered outside to test the theory for themselves on a soaked and freshly-peeled black ash log set up for the occasion. Jarrod began the demonstration and each student tried a hand at pounding; the consensus was that despite an absence of fibers, separating the layers still was a lot of work! Who knew basket-making could be so vigorous?

The class was told that the strips were further refined by scraping and splitting, typically with a stout knife, in order to give one side of each strip the satiny-smooth finish characteristic of the exterior of black ash baskets. Splints are then rolled up and may be stored indefinitely. After experiencing only a fraction of the prep work involved in pounding and a demonstration of splitting, the class was grateful for their pre-pounded, scraped and split materials!

The first step in weaving a basket is to select and trim the splints to a desired length, in this case, a little longer than the width of the bottom, plus twice the height of the basket. These strips are generally thicker because they will be bent to become the vertical portion, or the ‘uprights’ of the basket’s walls. They must be trimmed along their length as well, because uniformity of width helps guarantee the tightness of the basket’s weave, especially on the bottom.

Trimmed splints are then soaked in a basin of water until they are pliable, and woven into a mat in which the small squares between the weave are kept the same. One of the future ‘uprights’ is then split in two, the long way, down to the bottom of the basket; this now-uneven number of uprights guarantees that the basket’s horizontal weave will stay uniform.

The next step in weaving is to decide on the width of the ‘weavers’ or horizontal splints in making the basket; different looks are achieved by trimming weavers to be thicker, narrower, or the same as the width of the uprights. The first weaver is always the trickiest, as the uprights are not yet bent upwards! After the first weaver goes all the way around the basket and crosses two consecutive uprights, then the uprights may be bent into their true upright position. Eventually, the uprights are held in place by the weavers, and the basket comes together quickly.

When the basket has reached its desired height, the uprights are trimmed and tucked away to leave a smooth surface for the rim. The inner and outer rims, typically cut from a thicker splint, are positioned and held in place with spring clips until they are firmly lashed into position with a very narrow, pliable strip of splint wrapped one way, and then the other.

Everyone in the class was pleased with their durable and attractive new baskets; students left both creatively and ecologically informed about this singular tree and its uses. Given the skills of April’s apprentices and captivation of her students, the black ash in our region will certainly have a fighting chance! We hope to have April and Jarrod back again soon; stay tuned for upcoming announcements on future black ash basket classes! Please feel free to stop in at the Woodland Indian Art Center, located at 562 Peace Pipe Rd. in downtown Lac du Flambeau or call us at 715-588-3700 for more information.


Emily Umentum is a VISTA member serving at the Woodland Indian Art Center in Lac du Flambeau, WI.  There she helps develop community partnerships, organizational capacity and arts programming. She has worked and volunteered with a number of community arts and education organizations in the Midwest and abroad; from puppet theaters to women’s shelters, organic farms to language schools, she brings a diverse array of experiences to bear in her writing. See her original post, with additional photos, at the Woodland Indian Art Center blog.

Celebrating George: Celebrating Art

July 21, 2011

George Ray McCormick, Sr. stands in front of two carvings from the “Four Horsemen” Series,” 2008 (Collection of Deana McCormick). Photo courtesy of Terry McCormick Gallery.

By Evelyn Patricia Terry

George Ray McCormick Sr.–my life partner, my good friend, and as my son says my “road dog”–transitioned on July 30, 2009. To honor our joint creative impulses, I founded the Terry McCormick Gallery that same year. Needed repairs to the gallery porches, kitchen floors and basement, along with other perceived failures and hardships, like accomplishing the publication of my first book bogged me down this year. Desperately desiring success, I avoided opening the gallery.

Lately I learned, by listening to many self-empowerment conversations and recordings, that embracing perceived failure is a necessary component to any success story. I then realized that George’s transition date aligned perfectly with July’s Gallery Day in Milwaukee, a synchronistic moment that trumped my gridlocked thought pattern. Subsequently, I am hosting a reception on July 30, 2011 and exploring options for completion of my book “Permission to Paint, Please! 150 Year Celebration of African American Artists Connected to Wisconsin.”

This realization allows the honoring of my goal to make available, to the public, George’s artwork and that of the other gallery artists, Shana R. Goetsch, Ras `Ammar Nsoroma, Ktinsley and Jacqueline A. Richards.

George Ray McCormick, Sr., “Adam and Eve Series: Cupid Speaks,” 31” x 11” x 11,” Painted, woodburned carved wood, found objects and welded steel, 2007, (Collection of Paul Phelps). Photo: Larry Sanders.

George’s remaining artwork includes spiritual and secular subjects in woodcuts, garden and large bug-like creatures, ink and pencil drawings (exploring sexuality and depression) and woodburned painted carvings (featuring his last series–roosters). His family retained many of his pieces and collectors acquired work through ongoing sales–such as those hosted by the Jazz Gallery and the Center for Spiritual Living.

George deeply desired to have his artwork valued and “paid for” by avid contemporary folk art collectors and museums. He resolutely avoided being taken advantage of after reading how African-American contemporary folk artists often were. Notebooks and entries on bits of paper preserve some of George’s thoughts indicating his personal struggles with “trust,” “God” and “evil.”

Throughout our eleven-year relationship, he also struggled with health issues. Diet changes, to predominantly vegetable-based protein, facilitated his recovery from cancer (twice), arthritis, and blindness in one eye from a stroke. His greatest challenge was drastic blood pressure fluctuations. My research shows managing one’s thoughts, diet and proper sleep drastically impact blood pressure control.  George’s intense commitment to mastering the guitar led him to research and practice into the night. A resulting aneurysm, too soon for me, ended his struggles. Without him “going places” is less interesting. I content myself with completing goals and exploring informative concepts like the law of attraction and the ability to control one’s life by one’s thoughts–a rich exciting opportunity.

Shana R. Goetsch, "Tributary 3" (detail), Collograph prints on paper, 2 feet x 65 yards, 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As for other Terry McCormick Gallery artists, it is important to note that Shana just completed her MA in Community Art at Maryland Institute College of Art and is opening at the Jazz Gallery in Milwaukee, August 6, 2011, 6-9 p.m., with her thesis exhibition “3 Tributaries.” Shana R. Goetsch’s intense and provocative pieces, including 4,000 individual prints of row houses on one sheet of paper, challenge us to visually and emotionally connect to 4,000 victims of domestic violence. (You can also see her work in’s online gallery.)

Ras `Ammar Nsoroma with “Thought, Speech, Action,” (1 panel of 14), 4' x 8,' Acrylic on board, 201l. Photo: Elisabeth Miller.

Ammar recently completed a project of 14 panels for the Franklin Square Apartments spearheaded by Melissa Goins of Maures Development group. Ammar, the lead artist for accomplishing ten murals in conjunction with youth employed by Artworks for Milwaukee, Inc., created the last four, independently, in April.

Evelyn Patricia Terry, "And God Loves You, Too," 24" x 16," Screenprint (edition 125-few remain), 1979. Photo: Vernessa Weatherall.

Open to the public, Terry McCormick Gallery hosts “George Ray McCormick, Sr. Celebration” at 2522 North 18th Street on Saturday, July 30 from 1 p.m.–5 p.m.

Gallery Night and Day sites to view my artwork  are: Friday, I will be present for my continuing exhibition at Cuvée’s featuring a winding down of  “One Hundred Dollar Special Sale,” at 177 North Broadway from 5:30 p.m.–9 p.m.

Selections from “Finding Peace Prayer,” an abstract collage series, are exhibited during Peltz Gallery’s “21st Annual Remarkable Women Show 2011.” Located at 1119 East Knapp Street, the hours on Gallery Night are 6 p.m.–9:30 p.m. and on Gallery Day are 11:00 a.m.–4:00 pm.

Jose Alfredo Chavez produced this video, after learning of George’s transition, in time for his memorial service. For more information visit


The makings of happiness

July 5, 2009

This year the Independence Day holiday makes me think of Nick Engelbert, the farmer and self-taught artist who in the 1930s through 50s created the Grandview art environment in southwest Wisconsin.  Nick was an immigrant from Austria, who married Katherine Thoni, who emigrated from Switzerland.

After schooling and Army service Nick bicycled throughout Europe, then embarked on world travel, working on ships as a nautical engineer and visiting Jamaica, Puerto Rico, South America and the West Indies.  He landed in Baltimore, Maryland in about 1908, and over the next few years traveled the U.S. extensively, harvesting wheat in Kansas, picking grapes in California, and prospecting for gold in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The guy got around.

MVC-337FNick came to love the United States deeply and he chose to settle in this country near the village of Hollandale in Iowa County, where he created Grandview.  He practiced democracy with fervor.  His daughter Alyce remembers, “Father was basically a man of few words except when it came to politics and the relating of his past experiences and travels.  On the former he expounded at length and there was many a heated discussion of political issues among friends and relatives at our home.  It was the era of the LaFollettes in Wisconsin and our parents were their ardent supporters…”

Nick the artist reflected his patriotism in his sculpture. In the 1940s he told a reporter, “You can’t really appreciate the United States until you’ve actually lived in other countries.  It is because of my deep appreciation for what the United States has given me that I am continually working on this historical farmyard.”

His humor and acute understanding of American democracy is particularly evident in one tableaux, in which Uncle Sam attempts to drive a

"Can anybody do a day's work with a team like that?"

"Can anybody do a day's work with a team like that?"

team comprised of a Republican elephant and counterpart donkey.  A sign nearby read, “Can anybody do a days work with a team like that?”

Immigrant Nick summarized his appreciation for his new place best when saying,“Old Glory represents liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness.  It is sure none of the three can be found under any other banner. I know, because I have looked for them all over the world, and I have never found anything worth having anywhere else.  If a man can’t be happy on a little farm in Wisconsin he hasn’t the makings of happiness in his soul.”

A lot of school kids visit Grandview, and we like to remind them that the likes of Nick and Katherine immigrating here a hundred years ago is much the same as folks today coming from Mexico, Somalia or Laos.  The students can see how a self-taught immigrant artist of yesteryear still enriches our lives today, and understand how today’s immigrants will do the same. Like our forebears, they seek the makings of happiness.

The influence of immigrants from many nations is reflected in art all around Wisconsin.  What’s your favorite?

Ricky Rolfsmeyer

Hollandale, WI