Catherine Jozwik
Art Scene

Meet the Mary Nohl Grant Winners

LaNia Sproles, among a group of winning artists, sees exciting growth in city’s arts scene.

By - Nov 18th, 2019 01:07 pm
LaNia Sproles. Photo courtesy of LaNia Sproles.

LaNia Sproles. Photo courtesy of LaNia Sproles.

Through her imaginative, colorful drawings, artist LaNia Sproles examines themes of gender, identity and sexuality.

A lifelong Milwaukee resident, Sproles received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design several years ago. Her work has been exhibited at Wisconsin galleries, including the Portrait Society Gallery and Kenosha Creative Space. Sproles is also one of this year’s recipients of the Mary L Nohl Fellowship fund, an esteemed prize for Wisconsin artists.

The established artist winners, who each won a grant of $20,000, are video artist Cecilia Condit and muralist and painter Ras ‘Ammar Nsoroma. The emerging artist winners are Sproles, photographer Vaughan Larsen, and filmmaker Natasha Woods who each won a grant of $10,000.

Next Door Neighbors by LaNia Sproles. Photo courtesy of LaNia Sproles.

Next Door Neighbors by LaNia Sproles. Photo courtesy of LaNia Sproles.

Sproles, who has been drawing since she was young, counts Wagechi Mutu, Kara Walker, and Rebecca Morgan among her artistic influences. “Seeing their work for the first time as a teenager, I feel, morphed my understanding of the power of taking charge of my own identity. Their work inspired me to make work that contemplates the weight of being black and femme,” she said.

The artist noted that her experience with printmaking often governs how she approaches other media. “As of late, I’ve been using gouache when making pieces. By maintaining the print media mindset, I’m drawn to the elements of collage, constructing patterns, and working in layers,” Sproles said. “Thinking in this way allows me to make sense of any new medium or material I want to explore.”

Sproles, who plans to attend graduate school, is currently working on a number of projects and further developing her artist portfolio. She recommends aspiring artists reach out to mentors and teachers. “Value your teachers and mentors. They are incredibly important and want to be there to help you,” she said. Sproles also advises beginning artists to surround themselves with supportive friends who are also artists. “It’s crucial to have people that will just show up for you and help highlight the best part of you and your abilities,” she added.

The artist feels optimistic about Milwaukee’s visual arts scene. “Being born and raised here, I definitely feel Milwaukee’s arts scene is beginning to grow in ways that I’ve always hoped for,” said Sproles. “I think, as time goes on, there will be more opportunities popping up for the talented community we have here. It’s quite exciting to watch, and I’m sincerely hopeful. I also feel extremely lucky to be surrounded by amazing mentors that are always thriving and wickedly supportive.” (You can follow the artist @laniasprolesartist on Instagram.)

The jurors for this year’s Mary Nohl award included Janet Dees, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, and Jessica S. Hong, associate curator of global contemporary art at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth. Those who didn’t win grants but were finalists for the emerging artist grant were Grant Gill, Michael Ware, Rosy Petri, and Nykoli Koslow. The finalists for established artist grants included Matthew Lee, Valaria Tatera and Santiago Cucullu.

Art Events and Gallery Openings

Tuesday, 1:30 p.m.:

-The Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) will host a gallery talk on its current exhibition, A Modern Vision: European Masterworks in the Phillips Collection, with Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art, in the Baker/Rowland Galleries.

Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.:

-The MAM’s Member Holiday Shopping Party will take place in the museum store. The member-only event will feature a new ornament design by artist Hannah Jablonski and plenty of perks, including free parking and gift wrapping, a double member discount on store items, and complimentary appetizers and wine.

Friday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.:

-“Buskers,” an art exhibition and fundraiser for underrepresented artists in the Milwaukee community, will be held at Real Tinsel Gallery. Artwork is available for purchase, and Real Tinsel will match fundraiser contributions with a donation to the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee. For more information visit .

Friday through Sunday:

-The 76th Annual Milwaukee Holiday Folk Fair will take place at the State Fair Park expo center. The Folk Fair will highlight cuisine, dance performances, art, and vendor booths from more than 30 ethnic groups. Visit for tickets and more information.

Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.:

Featuring artisan items from Ireland, as well as local gifts, the 19th Annual Celtic Christmas Boutique will be held at the CelticMKE Center, 1532 Wauwatosa Ave, in Wauwatosa.

Last Chance: Gallery Exhibits Closing

“A Time of Expectant Hopes,” a collaboration between artists Pete Railand and Jenna Valoe, will close Saturday at Scout Gallery, 1104 W. Historic Mitchell St.

“Mythic Menageries,” which features the work of 11 artists, will close Saturday at the Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St.

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