Kat Murrell


By - Jun 30th, 2009 09:24 am
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It still amazes me, the vigor with which we Milwaukeeans stream out of our cold, dark hovels at the first blush of summer sunshine, and as the weather warms, increasingly live outdoors. Any sidewalk wide enough to accommodate even the tiniest café table becomes a candidate for outdoor eating, and crumbly old parking lots become enchanted places for BBQ-goodness and frosty beverages through the magic of tailgating. Along with eating, there are plenty of other things that are transformed into summertime plein-air activities.

The city’s galleries and museums still have much to offer, but there are some unique opportunities for art viewing when the temperature goes up. Art fairs and festivals abound in the city and suburbs, and even farmers markets are showing plenty of items from local makers. Not only is it a chance to see and buy interesting works at good prices, but often the artist is there as well, ready to share their creative tales

LFOA: A look back

The recent Lakefront Festival of the Arts (LFOA; June 19-21) was one of the first major art festivals of the summer season. This year’s event enjoyed hot, toasty weather, particularly on Saturday and Sunday. It seemed like the first real June weekend, bright with a definite call for sunscreen. Wandering through the crowds, there seemed to be an air of relief, as in “yes, we can finally break out the tank tops and swim suits; banish those sweaters until September!” Hedonistic children, flush with the wealth of a three-month vacation, splashed on their bellies in fountains, pretending to swim in the formal, shallow pools.

The mix of exhibiting artists was mostly on the new side; out of the 172 participants, nearly 100 were showing at this festival for the first time. Wandering through the tents had the feel of a high-end bazaar, and really, that’s a pretty accurate description. Booths displayed work from photographers, ceramicists, woodworkers, many artists showing paintings and works on paper, even textiles. There was clothing made of fine fabrics, fur, and let us not forget the potential of chainmail-like designs, as shown by Elaine Unzicker (www.unzickerdesign.com). This is certainly not your dorky brother’s Renaissance Faire costume; it’s far too haute couture to wear while brandishing swords and giant turkey legs.

The prevailing aesthetic is highly decorative, thoroughly polished, keen on craftsmanship and decidedly non-threatening. This is not the forum where you’ll find the latest controversies in art springing up. These artworks want to live with you at home, peacefully, amicably, politely. This is not to say that work is not interesting or does not have a story to tell. One of the best parts about these fairs and festivals is hearing the artists’ stories, how they make their works and what inspires them.


Artist Michael Tonder and visitors at the Lakefront Festival of the Arts. All photos by Kat Murrell.

Michael Tonder (www.blueskiesglassworks.com) from Two Harbors, Minnesota, is deeply influenced by nature, and creates sculptures that call to mind coolly suspended northern waters within rippled geometric forms. His glass works have a decidedly non-functional character; they’re not bowls or vases, but are like strange and unique bits of nature. Tonder described how he creates his pieces from reclaimed plate glass, taking windows from buildings being torn down or remodeled. He assembles glass parts, fires them, then works in textures and details with a blowtorch. And the unique shades of aqua blue, jade green and milky white? It comes from the mineral content of the glass. The color was always there, and is brought in this reformation of windows-turned-sculpture.


Artist Matthew Adelman and a small section of his painting, “One.”

One artist that was continually besieged by visitors of all ages was Matthew Adelman from Oberlin, Ohio (www.matthewadelman.com). Warm and earnest, he was showing elements from his massive painting called “One.” It’s an unfinished work, but the entire piece will consist of one million squares; so far, he’s done about 35,000, and ambitiously plans on five years to complete the whole project. But you can be part of it already – the individual squares are for sale, and at $20 for a single tile, they were selling like hotcakes. Adelman is making “One” viewable online, and each of the squares, signed and assigned a number in the sequence of work, will be searchable. You can look up your piece and see where it is in relation to the massive whole.

“It’s for people who don’t have the wall or wallet for big paintings,” Adelman tells me, surveying his booth and the patrons milling about. It definitely seems to appeal to young people – while I’m there a high school boy purchases one, and Adelman tells me about one of his youngest patrons, a 4-year-old girl who got to pick out her own piece. He sees his work as a metaphor for humanity: we’re all individuals, yet part of something much bigger.

I bought one, too. Mine hangs in my bathroom, and while brushing teeth and fussing with hair, it’s a good metaphor to think of.

I went looking for eggs, and found art.

So the Lakefront Festival of the Arts has been packed up and the artists moved on, but where else can one seek out interesting and unusual art with the fun of an outdoor treasure hunt? The term “farmers market” may call to mind images of gorgeous produce, very suitable for eating and still life painting, but there are often craftspeople, artisans, and artists of all sorts showing their work next to the growers of delicious edibles.

On a recent Saturday morning, the East Side Green Market was in full swing just outside of Beans and Barley (1901 E. North Avenue). I was interested in artworks on view, as well as hoping to find some farm fresh eggs. The atmosphere at these markets is as relaxed and laid-back as your best weekend morning, and prices are nowhere near the three- and four-figure sums for works at major art fairs like LFOA.


Ceramics by Kathy Corbin at the East Side Green Market.

Along with fruits, veggies, and art objects, there were all sorts of other interesting things: soaps, ceramics, tasty crepes prepared on-the-spot, and delicious iced tea served up by local company Rishi Tea. A little eating, plenty of looking, shopping and sunshine. Welcome to the weekend.


Rose Onama and Shelia Miller at the East Side Green Market

Rose Onama and Shelia Miller shared a tent at the market, their jewelry and art complimenting each other well. This was Miller’s first year at the market, but Onama’s third, and she’s pleased that they’ve reverted back to Saturday mornings from last year’s schedule of Thursday evenings. Onama, whose familial roots go back to the same area as President Obama’s family, sees her jewelry as a way of carrying on family traditions and heritage. Miller creates pins, jewelry, and accessories from reclaimed jeans and leather, working with a variety of fabrics to give them new purposes and life.


Ian Pritchard and photographs at the East Side Green Market

Photographer Ian Pritchard was one of the few showing two-dimensional works. This was his first year showing at this market; he usually participates in a variety of art shows. A native of Scotland, he came to the United States twelve years ago and taking photographs gave him a way of sharing his experiences with family and friends across the pond. His images have the feel of travel photography, of investigating a place from a keenly fresh perspective.

If you’re hanging around the eastside / downtown area, the Milwaukee Public Market also holds an outdoor market which runs until mid-afternoon – perfect for us brunch lovers. Perhaps in keeping with the shopping and boutique nature of the Third Ward, the vendors on this Saturday afternoon were even more aligned with the functional art/jewelry/handmade objects type. Alice Beaulieu from Racine makes a bi-weekly appearance at this market where she shows delicate arrangements of framed, dried flowers.  She tells me that many of the flowers were actually pressed by her mother, some more than twenty years ago, and after she died, Alice began to frame the flowers, as well as creating new arrangements of her own. Some of the older pieces feature gossamer-like Queen Anne’s Lace with richly dyed edges, suspended in picture frames like summertime snowflakes.

Jennifer Lockwood, a Wisconsin/Illinois artist, showed cityscape prints. Not composed of the usual drawing media, she meticulously clips out words, pictures, and logos from print publications of the city (Chicago, Milwaukee, and Lake Geneva were selections on this day), and arranges the bits and pieces into a large scene. Her Milwaukee piece was a view down Wisconsin Avenue, the Pfister Hotel on the left, in the distance Mark di Suvero’s The Calling (yes, that is the orange thing) and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Nestled into the larger view, a multitude of phrases and names, including the Art Bar logo; the literal picture of the complex fabric of the city.

Some Upcoming Art Fairs and Festivals:

Lake Country Art Festival, July 11
Naga-waukee County Park, Delafield

Art Fair on the Square, July 11-12
Capitol Square, Madison

Midsummer Festival of the Arts, July 18-19
John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan

Plein Air Festival, July 19 – August 1
Door County

Morning Glory Fine Craft Fair, August 8-9, 2009
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Downtown Milwaukee

Oconomowoc Festival of the Arts
August 15-16 Fowler Park, Oconomowoc

Categories: Art, Arts & Culture, VITAL

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