Monday, September 30, 2013

Top-Down Road Trip: The Great River Road

This past week we took an overnight trip along Wisconsin's Great River Road.  We've been taking late summer or early fall drives along the Mississippi almost as long as we've been married, and the scenery never disappoints.  

One of our favorite places to eat on these trips is the Harbor View Cafe, in Pepin.  The place is always busy; I suspect it is a favorite of lots of Twin Cities folks as well.  The menu changes daily, and is posted on a tall chalk board behind the bar.  There are usually several seafood options, some red meat and chicken, and vegetarian choices.  My stuffed risotto fritters with roasted vegetables tasted as good as they look.

Another of my favorite places is the tiny village of Stockholm.  There are several galleries, a pub, and a nice park on Lake Pepin.  We stopped so I could poke around in a gallery/home furnishing place called Abode, and later I spotted this man working in his little garden between two shops.

We like to take little side trips, and explore out of the way places.  Alma, a charming river town with a lock and dam, is fine, but the view from Buena Vista Park, high on the bluffs over the Mississippi.  This photo captures the view fairly well.

We stayed one night in Trempealeau; this photo was taken from our balcony in a mom and pop motel with great views of the river, and of all the freight trains that follow it.  The trains are fun to watch, though once or twice they sounded like they were headed right into our room during the night.  Still, trains are part of the experience.  Their whistles echo weirdly between the coulees, and over the water.

We hadn't been to Grandad's Bluff Park overlooking LaCrosse, in years, but we heard that the park and visitor's center had been renovated, so we took a side trip to see.  The whole area is beautiful, and is now handicapped accessible, with good places to sit, and safe railings.  With views like this, it's no wonder that the spot has been popular for so long.

A few weeks ago I watched a Wisconsin Public Television documentary about the state's rustic roads.  That sent me to the internet to find maps, and to the library for a book about the rustic roads program.  It turns out that Wisconsin has 114 beautiful rural roads designated as rustic, covering over 600 miles.  These are roads that are preserved for their beauty, and many are narrow, hilly, filled with twists and turns, tree lined, and dotted with scenery that has not changed for many many years.  I took this photo on Rustic Road 70 in Grant County, through the windshield of our convertible, and even though there is some dash reflection, I think the beauty of the road shows clearly.   Sometimes the fun is mostly in the journey, isn't it?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Equinox 2013

My most recent abstract paper collage, 8x8 inches

It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and I was mostly in Madison at the State WRAP conference.  I always come away from these shows and talks invigorated and full of ideas.  The Wisconsin Regional Artists Program is a venerable program, begun over 70 years ago at the University of Wisconsin under the guidance of John Steuart Curry.  The idea was, and is, to promote artistic growth in non-professional rural people.  The program sponsors shows around the state, an opportunity for amateur artists of all sorts to show their work, and get encouragement and feedback on it. At each local show a certain percentage is chosen to go to the state show, which has traditionally been on the UW campus. 

This is my piece, almost a full sheet, which hung in the Pyle Center in Madison for the past month.  This painting started out as a watercolor, based on a photo a model at figure study allowed me to take.  Later on I added pastel, which made the colors more interesting.  She always posed in yoga clothes, which made a painting of her easier to send to a show like this.  I'm not sure how they would respond to nudes, which is what I usually draw at figure studio sessions.  I was interested in the judging this year.  I know judging is entirely subjective, but was surprised at how few figures or portraits received any special awards or recognition.  There were some beautiful pieces at this show.

So anyway, the autumnal equinox happens today, and we head into fall.  I'm enjoying cooler evening temperatures, which make working upstairs much easier than when the temperature is higher.  But I know the days of hummingbirds, basil in pots, and tender flowers is coming to an end soon.  And that is always sad.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Abstract Collage With Maple Leaf


I'm back to making a series of small collages, and am feeling an autumnal vibe.  This one has my favorite things in it, a bit of a map, parts of a dictionary page, old notebook paper, altered National Geographic pages, and a tiny maple leaf that fell out of a magazine I saved.  The textured paper with small squares is actually a bit of wallpaper sample, covered with gesso and then drawn into with a hair pick.  I also have a bit of newspaper covered with white gesso and then stamped with a ginko leaf.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Drippy Preview of Autumn, and a Poem

Mural in the Lower Courthouse Park, by professional chalk artist, Lee Jones
The image is of the Rock Aqua Jays water ski team members

It's September, and the back yard garden has seen better days.  Everything that intended to bloom already has, and our recent dry weather has encouraged the maples to start dropping leaves in the yard and on the deck.  The squirrels are feeling it too, making a first class mess building a nest in the tree that has our deck built around it.  We encouraged them to move.

Kids are back in school.  Football is back on the television.  The farmers market is overflowing with cherry tomatoes and other fall bounty.  And Janesville's ill-fated Art Infusion has ended the drought once more.  While the weather was ideal yesterday, today gray skies and steady rain made it necessary for Lee Jones to work under a tent to finish her work, and for the handful non-professional artists to tape plastic over their creations in order for them not to not be washed away.
The event started in 2011 with a $10,000 grant from the state tourism bureau to the Janesville Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau. The convention folks' stated goal was to bring 5,000 new people downtown to listen to  musicians, watch chalk artists of all ages at work , and a be delighted by a flashmob (remember those?). They hoped to infuse the local economy with an extra $250,000.  The group hired the talented and amiable Wisconsin native Lee Jones to teach chalk painting workshops to the general public and to school children, and to create a large work downtown.  They bought boxes of chalk, hired billboards, wrote press releases, and did radio interviews,  then hoped for the best.  But bad weather - and probably other circumstances - conspired to make participation less and less each year.  The first year had two days of unrelenting rain, the second unseasonably cold weather, and this year much-needed rain one of the two days.  And each year fewer and fewer participants.  I walked downtown today and peeked at Jones' chalk art, and saw only five others, total. None of the sweet young children's artwork I remembered from last year.  No music.  No flash mob.

I am in no position to judge why this happened.  Bad luck?  A misguided effort to concentrate publicity in Illinois and Wisconsin counties other than Rock?  I wonder how many Beloit folks or people from Walworth county would really come to Janesville and then stay over night for an activity like this one.  Requiring a $10 fee to participate?  Parents of local children who paid the fee last year and still had the boxes of chalk from 2012 may not have felt like shelling out another $10 for this year.  Lack of involvement by the local arts community?  Were the Janesville Art League, individual artists, or groups like the Rock Valley Woodcarvers, who had a show the same weekend, involved?  Perhaps this just isn't a community that appreciates sidewalk art. I don't know.

Looking at the small number of entries for the $250 first prize this year, part of me thought I should have given it a go, but I am not sure the prize (if I were able to snag it) would cover the pain-relievers I'd need for my knees and hands if I did. 
 Amateur entry in chalk painting contest - the only one not covered with plastic this afternoon

Mushrooms, by Mary Oliver

Rain and then
the cool pursed
lips of the wind
draw them
out of the ground --
red and yellow skulls
pummelig upward 
through leaves, 
through grasses, through sand; astonishing
in their suddensess,
their quietude,
their wetness, they appear
on fall mornings, some
balancing in the earth
on one hoof
packed with poison,
others billowing
chunkily, and deicious --
those who know
walk out to gather, choosing
the benign from flocks
of glitterers, sorcerers,
panther caps,
chark-white death angels
in their torn veils
looking innocent as sugar
but full of paralysis:
to eat
is to stagger down
fast as the mushrooms themselves
when they are done being perfect
and overnight
slide back under the shining
fields of rain.