Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Art and Beer

Over the weekend I did two cool Wisconsin things. I also did an Illinois thing the previous weekend which was the Elmhurst Art Museum. Not the most exciting museum I've ever been to, but it's worth a visit if you have some time to kill before hitting Chicago.

One of the Wisconsin things I did this past weekend was visit the New Glarus Brewing Company in New Glarus, Wisconsin. The other thing I did was visit Nick Engelbert's Grandview in Hollandale, Wisconsin, just a few miles outside of New Glarus. There are times when art and beer go together, and other times when beer is art and other times when art is beer. This time, I think that beer was art, and art was not as good as beer.

Translation: New Glarus Brewing Co. may have been of more interest to me than Nick Engelbert's Grandview. Gasp! But, if you've ever been to New Glarus Brewing Co., maybe you know why.

Walking around the brewery was sort of like wandering around a museum. There were many objects to contemplate existentially..."Where did this come from...?" "What is it used for...?" I mean this in a very literal sense. I could not even fathom where the majority of the objects/devices/machines originated. For example, these fallopian beer tubes:

Is there some sort of trendy brewery manufacturing company that makes color-coordinated brewing equipment so that the brewery is enticing to the slightly buzzed tourist's eye...intricate, curvy, colorful...? A better hypothesis may be that the town of New Glarus is actually a town for Swiss elves who only come out at night to brew beer, cleaning every nook and cranny along the way. No joke, this was the cleanest place I have ever been, and I used to work in housekeeping, so I've got a keen eye! Check out the shininess: 

"Drink Indigenous"

Willy Wonka-looking beer receptacles

Screenshot from "Metropolis"

Outer facade

I hesitate to continue on the topic of beer, because it's not a specialty of mine by any means (although I've been known to enjoy a Spotted Cow from time to time). 

On the topic of Grandview and Hollandale, however, I can speak comfortably. I'll compare it to an experience I had in Chicago a few weeks ago: My friend Alli and I went into TopShop to do some window shopping first, and then we went into H&M. By comparison, H&M was kind of a let down. I think the same thing happened with Grandview. I was impressed by the brewery, so Grandview didn't seem as cool [Note: Julie and Johnie and I just had a conversation about the usage of the word "cool." Is it still cool to use the word cool?]. I can acknowledge, however, that if it was one of those places I would have come across randomly I would have been mystified. Grandview was a similar experience to that of Prairie Moon Road in that it was outdoors, and slightly unapproachable. A 4-wheel drive vehicle may be necessary in the winter, as the driveway to the park wasn't very well cleared. Boots are a necessity as well.

A rather "grand" view

The difference between Prairie Moon and Grandview is that Prairie Moon displays the works of multiple artists while Grandview is a menagerie of one artist, Nick Engelbert. Engelbert made sculptures that were inspired by his Swiss and Scandinavian heritage, and by other Wisconsin outsider/ folk artists. 

Mosaic eagle

Ring around the rosie

Monkey tree?


Close-up of miniature castle

Engelbert also constructed an outdoor porch which was probably my favorite piece on the property.

Like Prairie Moon, the house was a museum of sorts, but was closed for the winter season. I noticed through the window an abandoned case of beer, although, it wasn't New Glarus. 

A close-up reveals the amount of devotion that went into creating Engelbert's fantasyland: 

The casserole of old junk, ceramics, toys, and other knick-knacks glimmered in the sun as the day wound to a close, making the building look like an ever-changing film. In the distance Wisconsin's rural fields lay modestly, creating a perfect backdrop for the Pagan-like figures. It was peaceful, as most of rural Wisconsin is, and it was a unique experience to have a place to pull off and feel what the air actually feels like in these idyllic rural towns.

If I were planning a Wisconsin rural art tour I wouldn't pair the New Glarus Brewery and Grandview together. Firstly, Grandview seems less grand than the cavernous, glowing organs of the brewery, and secondly, there are a lot of treacherous rural roads to traverse in order to reach Hollandale. Maybe that's what happened to this guy...

The Wisconsin art viewing experience

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Even Sailors Need Valentines

Magical Mississippi Meander Pt. 2: The Minnesota Marine Art Museum


After I passed through the mystical river town of Fountain City, WI (home of the Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden and Museum), I made my way to Winona, MN, a little further south. I hadn't been to Winona before, and was expecting a typical college town. However, it too possessed the same tasteful architecture and overall enchantment of the previous towns on my journey. It was also home to my second destination of the day, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. (I don't mean to prematurely spasm here, but seriously, everyone needs to visit this museum because it was AWESOME). I had no idea what to expect, or if I would even enjoy this obscure museum, but I had a great time, and am very excited to rave about it in this post. 

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM) has permanent collections as well as rotating exhibits that focus on the idea of water (in my opinion this sums it up a bit more than the word "marine"). This doesn't mean that they have thousands of paintings of water (although they certainly have quite a few of those), but rather a variety of content that is inspired by water in a very specific or a very broad way. For example, the first exhibit I looked at, "The Four Seasons: Leo and Marilyn Smith Folk Art" was  about the culture, traditions, and even objects that are a part of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. Leo and Marilyn Smith, a collaborative husband and wife pair, live between two towns that are located on the Mississippi River, one of them being the quirky Fountain City that I mentioned earlier. Leo is the woodworker, and Marilyn the painter of the wood. They create objects that are are so smooth, beautiful, and intricate that they deserve a second and then third walk around the exhibition to make sure that no detail is missed. This piece in particular merited a thorough contemplation:

Leo and Marilyn Smith, God (Autumn)

The Four Seasons is a visual cycle that represents the values that Leo and Marilyn observe in the different seasons. My guess is that God (Autumn) is depicting their tendency to turn inward as the weather grows colder, and to find peace from their own specific spirituality. Their work shows that they find most of their spiritual fulfillment from the river that they have built their lives around rather than from weekly visits to a church.

Leo and Marilyn Smith, Aorta

This piece, entitled Aorta, is a depiction of Leo's conviction that the Mississippi River is the most important vein in the circulatory system that is America. The wood in many of his pieces comes directly from the river itself, showing how much he values the river and its many uses.

Leo and Marilyn Smith, Paddlefish Mississippi

Paddlefish Mississippi is a replica of a paddlefish that one of Leo's friends pulled out of the Mississippi. Instead of hanging a dead fish as a prize on the wall, Leo and Marilyn instead bring to life and immortalize this unusual Mississippi fish in finely sanded wood.

Leo and Marilyn Smith, Lion and Lamb Santa

The above piece was featured mostly for aesthetic reasons, as it doesn't fit into the exhibition's larger concept. Below is a detail of another intricate piece.


After The Four Seasons, there was still much more to see at MMAM. I moved on to an exhibit called "Off the Wall Marine Art: An Exhibition of 2D and 3D Marine Art and Artifacts," which featured water-inspired art objects that were made by various associates of marine life, such as this "Sailor's Valentine" crafted in the 19th century by a seasick and lovesick crewman.

"Sailor's Valentine"

Crafted with shells found at sea, these valentines were actually quite common in the 19th century. It sure beats a Hallmark card!

Another item that fascinated me was this hand painted French shell from the year 1890.

"French Shell Painted with Ship Portraits"

The reason that historians know the shell is from 1890 is because of the kind of ship being portrayed in the painting (this particular one is a steamship with two stacks, common between the years of 1880 and 1890).

This last handmade object made me wonder if maybe sailors would also make excellent grandmothers. 

Handmade Embroidered Tapestry

This is a handmade tapestry, an example of one of many made by English sailors in the 19th century to combat boredom on ships. In the lower left and right hand corners the sailor/artist also included photographs of his family, adding a collage component to this already intricate piece of work.

There were two more galleries in the museum featuring water-inspired paintings from Europe and America, but I didn't photograph any of these (if you can imagine, lots of dramatic scenes of ships in various predicaments at sea). The last exhibit I visited was another contemporary exhibit featuring five women and their take on marine art.

Julia Crozier, River Town

Crozier's painting of a river town caught my eye because of the enchanting time I had driving down the Mississippi through several river towns. Also, I had just been living near St. Croix Falls, WI, a vibrant river town with some of the most magnanimous people I have ever met. Crozier said this painting is not depicting a specific river town, but river towns in general, and their tendency to be cluttered, colorful, and quirky.

Jennifer Terpstra, Great Lakes Contaminants

Great Lakes Contaminants was the only conspicuously dire piece in the entire museum. Although fairly straightforward, it shows that the strength of this museum, which comes from a powerful acknowledgement of our spiritual connection with water, is threatened every day by the carelessness of humans, who forget that without water, we wouldn't even be alive. It makes me wonder if a contemporary sailor's valentine would perhaps have to be analyzed from a less emotional and more scientific eye, for example, "Thanks for the valentine, honey, but what kind of invasive species of mussel is it made of?" It could break a sailor's heart, I tell ya.

Overall, this museum made me want to get off my butt and swab the artistic poop deck. That is, I felt like the bar has definitely been raised as to what I think qualifies as a "good" museum, and a "good" exhibit: strong content about a very specific theme. I hope to make it back for some of MMAM's future exhibitions, and I hope you make it there, too.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Prairie Moon Road, and Magic

Last week I turned what could have been a very mundane drive on Hwy I-94 across the state of Wisconsin into an unexpectedly magical adventure. I left Minnesota after living there for six months and was feeling pretty sad about it. Although I love Wisconsin I found Minnesota to be a quirky and exciting place filled with vibrant culture, scenery, people, and of course art. Plus I enjoyed living in close proximity to my biggest supporter Josh. But, it was time to move on to the next thing, and I decided to leave Minnesota in the best way possible: Mississippi River road trip!

Instead of tackling the heinous I-94 I decided to split the first half of my drive between the Wisconsin and the Minnesota sides of the Mississippi River, opting for 35 S and 61 S. I had been doing some research on cool art things to go see in Wisconsin and Minnesota and with a stroke of luck two of them happened to fall on this brilliant stretch of US highway. I was more than shocked by the sparkling radiance of the mighty Mississippi as I made my way down 35 S through towns such as Stockholm, WI (population 66) and Fountain City, WI, which looked like a snapshot from the year 1896. An incredibly bad iPhone photo to give you an idea of the view out of my window:

I often feel lucky and surprised that there are still amazing things to see and do in the world, and I felt particularly so on this day. Of course I am not the first person to take an adventure down the Mississippi River, but I was just so shocked to see that there was something so pristinely beautiful so close to where I had been living my whole life. Riding this adventure wave put me in the perfect mood for the first stop on my journey, which was Herman Rusch's Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden and Museum. I had found the Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden on the John Michael Kohler Art Center's "Wandering Wisconsin" tour. Since I will be starting an internship with them in January I want to take the initiative to learn as much about their SUPREME MAGNIFICENCE (understatement) as I possibly can before starting. In a nutshell, "Wandering Wisconsin" is the Kohler Foundation's highly successful effort to preserve art environments in Wisconsin. You can visit all of these spots in Wisconsin on a fantastical art tour, or just choose a couple of them. 

As I wandered around Wisconsin, I couldn't help but feel like Prairie Moon had chosen me. The day felt truly magical as I approached the mysterious grounds.

Due to the fact that it was one of the coldest days in my recent memory, there was no one at the park. The chilly temperatures also meant that the museum building wasn't open, which was a disappointment. However, the outdoor park left plenty to be seen. I won't go into much detail, but the park consists of a mixture of sculptures made by Herman Rusch (the original owner of the museum), another folk artist named Halvor Lansverk, and a self-taught artist named Fred Schlosstein. Although I am slightly unclear about which figures were made by which artist, I don't think it matters that much. If you're interested, read the link, or GO SEE IT YOURSELF! The truly important thing is the way it felt to be walking around in the sunshine, on the edge of the Mississippi, in between two charming old towns, on the coldest day you could possibly imagine, in an art environment that was important enough to be saved and seen by the world.

I've worked very hard to see a lot of magical things in my life, but there have been very few times when a place was magical for more reasons than just being beautiful or hard to find. This was one of them. It's cheesy, but I guess you had to be there to know what I mean. Or think that preserved outdoor art environments are as awesome as I do. Ha ha. It also might be kind of a cop out to call Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden "magical" rather than actually describing to you why I think it is significant, but sometimes there is just one word that sums up the experience and the place quite nicely. 

Next week's post: The second stop on my Magical Mississippi Meander. Mmmmm.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The North House Folk School, and Other Northern Topics

I'm back! I missed my blog, but a two week break was necessary. I was on a small productivity hiatus to clear the mind and prepare for newer and better topics. Yay!

During the hiatus I finally made it to another northern location in November (last year it was Reykjavik, Iceland). Don't judge! Traveling in November has its definite perks: cheaper rates (can you say hotel room with a lake view?) and less people. And when I say less people, I mean practically no people at all.

This year's sparsely populated location was Grand Marais, MN. More specifically, The North House Folk School

To set the scene:

Grand Marais is located 4 hours north of Minneapolis, 2 hours north of Duluth, and 1 hour south of the Canadian border. A quiet fishing town on the shores of the largely untamed Lake Superior, Grand Marais is sleepy, quaint, and beautiful. Most businesses don't even open until 10 in the morning, and the sight of my neon pink hat bobbing down the road caused people to stare out of the windows of the town's idyllic shops.

Harbor view, Grand Marais

Northern graffiti

Aforementioned hotel room view

I was interested in Grand Marais because of its reputation as a vibrant arts community brimming with natural beauty. Although I didn't visit in peak season, I am positive that the reputation is true. I was also interested because I had never been to northern Minnesota, and knew I would be leaving the area soon. So far I have gotten more than I bargained for on the trip. The drive up was shockingly beautiful, with many famous sights along the way such as the town of Two Harbors, MN. 

Two Harbors

Farther along up Hwy 61 are two more parks, Grand Portage State Park (Minnesota's largest waterfall), and Judge Magney State Park (home of Devil's Kettle- a waterfall which pours its waters into a mysterious hole in the  ground). 

Devil's Kettle

I think it's important to talk about the setting of The North House Folk School to understand why it is the way it is and why it exists where it does. I didn't make it there until the second day of the trip, but luckily I woke up bright and early this morning and trekked my way through the snow that will continue to fall for the next two days. When I walked into the small office, a woman behind the desk told me, "You're early." She was right...it was only about 8:30 in the morning. 

Unfortunately, I arrived at the school at a bad time. There were no classes going on, and the last group of interns had just left for the winter. However, I still got to look through the wonderful gift and book shop, which boasted crafts made by the talented instructors at the school. The shop had everything from hand carved Swedish horses to mittens made from Icelandic wool. It also had books on the many types of Northern crafts that the school offers such as canoe building, knitting, sailing, and baking. The nice lady behind the desk let me look through some of the buildings on campus like the canoe building room shown below. 

The campus is cozy and small, and felt more like a summer camp than a school. I can see that the climate in the summer months would make this an ideal setting for learning Northern crafts, however, the winter must inspire much of what comes out of the school such as hand painted winter scenes on birch bark and the incredibly pricey wool mittens I mentioned earlier. The school also brings a unique cultural component to Grand Marais by hosting events like the Arctic Film Festival on December 18 (yes, I am more than slightly heartbroken that I am missing it). The school is an important place, similar in nature to Franconia because of its setting in a community that is traditionally where people go to hunt, fish, ski, etc. - but not to look at art. It is also located in an area that is of course delightfully saturated with Scandinavians, and therefore has all the support it needs to be successful. It has helped to give Grand Marais its reputation as an arts community and to draw people from all over the world. People such as these weirdos.


The town also boasts several galleries and an Arts Colony (although I haven't visited any of these). It is colorful and historical, and the people are very welcoming and eager to talk. It is another one of Minnesota's marvels and a fantastic example of how supportive Minnesota is of arts and culture. In a place like Grand Marais, the arts should be encouraged. The unique blend of undeveloped freshwater shoreline, unexplored forests, and unexpected hills creates a perfect nook for those looking to learn the delicate and intricate crafts of the north.  It's safe to say that Josh, Luke, and I will not be the last creative souls to venture to Grand Marais looking for its welcoming embrace. Although, we may be the only people stupid enough to visit on the brink of a blizzard [truthfully, I am still relaxing comfortably on the North Shore. The anticipated snowfall in the next two days is about 20 inches, and we may or may not be stranded in town with no Wifi or electricity until the weekend. Okay, not really, I'm exaggerating. But seriously, I wanted to make sure this post got written JUST IN CASE. If we get stuck we may just have to stay in town and learn how to build a yurt. We can stay the winter hunting deer and befriending moose. Wish us luck!].