Fall Art Tour: artistic inspiration in rural areas

In 1979, Jura Silverman became smitten with the picturesque nature of Spring Green, so the paper and printer maker moved her art studio, from Chicago. She has not regretted the decision.

Jura was the first artist to set up shop there, and now her business – a former cheese warehouse, built in the early 1900s – showcases the work of 70 Wisconsin artists.

Spring Green, population about 1,500 and near the Wisconsin River in Sauk County, slowly has turned into a haven for art. “We get quite a few people who are interested in the area because of other things that are related,” Jura says, mentioning Taliesin (architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate) and American Players Theatre.

But it wasn’t always that way. Tours of Taliesin did not resume until five years after Jura moved to Spring Green, and APT was struggling financially upon her arrival. Now the area is flush with art venues and artists. Several have creative workspaces, old schoolhouses to barns.

The art studios typically aren’t open to the public, but this weekend is an exception. Almost 50 artists from four communities are participating in the Fall Art Tour. Visitors can use a map of the sites to drive from one place to another; maps are online and at each tour stop.

Artists and gallery owners in Spring Green, Baraboo, Dodgeville and Mineral Point will display their work and demonstrate how it is created. The free event goes through 6 p.m. Sunday; for details, visit www.fallarttour.com or call one of the three tour headquarters: Wisconsin Artists Showcase at the Jura Silverman Studio and Gallery, Spring Green, (608) 588-7049; Story Pottery, Mineral Point, (608) 987-2903; or Cornerstone Gallery, Baraboo, (608) 356-7805.

It’s 35 miles from Baraboo to Spring Green, 18 from Spring Green to Dodgeville and seven from Dodgeville to Mineral Point. Fall colors in the area should be at or near their peak, making for a great weekend drive.

“It’s hard to survive as an artist,” notes Jura. The decision to locate to a rural/remote area is an additional hurdle. Semi-isolation can nurture the spirit or challenge it.

“Somehow, beautiful rural areas make for the creation of beautiful art,” Jura says. “But it’s harder for the artist to survive in an area that attracts arts less.”

The 2003 Midwest Rural Arts Forum, to be Oct. 23-25 in Spring Green (with a pre-conference gathering in Madison), is an event designed to motivate, inspire and advise people in rural areas who want to promote the arts. Held since 1994, the forum’s registrants come from as far away as Ohio and Minnesota; sponsors include arts groups in Illinois and Michigan.

“It’s good to see histories of people who have started where there is nothing,” Jura says, noting that rural artists tend to collaborate more, out of necessity.

“The more you have for people to enjoy, the more likely everyone will benefit from the effort,” she says, noting that art advocates in Door and La Crosse counties have asked for advice.

“These ideas spread like wildlife,” she observes. “We’ll notice a lot of hits from another state on our Web site, then find out that it has put together an event like ours.”

For more about the Midwest Rural Arts Forum, go to www.wisconsinarts.org or call (608) 255-8316. Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton will be among the speakers. The Wisconsin Assembly for Local Arts, Wisconsin Arts Board and Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Ideas Foundation are among the supporters.

Is quilting an art or craft? If you’re looking at “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” at the Milwaukee Public Museum and talking to curator Noni Gadsden, “art and craft are one and the same.”

This exhibit of about 70 quilts, sewn by the poor descendents of plantation slaves in southwest Alabama, is in place until Jan. 4, 2004, and it has been acclaimed by The New York Times as “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.”

These are quilts that break all the rules of tradition, yet create a dynamic harmony of composition, color and emotion. There are no neat and symmetrical patterns. Materials are modest, such as faded work clothes and mattress ticking.

Gadsden believes the exhibit is a particularly good match for Wisconsin because it has “a huge population of quilt makers.” One of the quilts, from 1935 and estimated value $50,000, has become a part of the museum’s permanent collection.

For more about the exhibit, go to www.mam.org or call (414) 224-3200. Tickets contains a time and date for admission; they cost $14 for adults who are not museum members. To order, go to the museum or call (866) 626-1323.

The exhibit’s gift shop has contemporary quilts made by Gee’s Bend women for sale; prices are about $1,000 to $5,000. Licensed reproductions of quilts in the exhibit are sold as $100 to $500 rugs.

Other merchandise includes the products of Wisconsin quilt makers, unusual quilt materials, quilt books and jewelry.

Go to the museum’s Internet site for a summary of events associated with the exhibit. They include a lunch and book signing at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 5 with Ellen Kort, the state’s poet laureate. Cost is $35.

The poet will talk about the stories she uncovered while doing research about quilts and quilt makers for her book “Wisconsin Quilts: Stories in the Stitches.”

The Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau has a list of lodging and exhibit packages at (800) 554-1448 and www.milwaukee.org.