Artists' Narratives Reflect Wisconsin's Unique Art
Friends' Newsletter Spring 2006 vol. 4 no. 1
After fourteen years of exploration and hard work, authors Ann Parker and Don Krug, have completed their book, Miracles of the Spirit: Folk, Art, and Stories from Wisconsin. The idea was born in 1991 when the authors met in graduate school and in the years to come they would travel the state, conducting over twenty-six interviews with Wisconsin artists. Wisconsin enjoys first place when it comes to outsider artists, self-taught artists, visionaries, or folk artists – followed by Kansas and California.
The criterion for artist selection was rather simple: artists who were not formally trained in their medium, who possessed a real passion for their work, and disregarded others’ opinions. Finding a good number by word of mouth, the authors discovered that most artists were not only willing, but excited to talk about their work. Each narrative reflects Parker and Krug's belief that, “It is important for people to talk about their art in their own words,” Parker said. “Every single one of them said something in the interviews that blew us out of the water – sometimes for hours.”
Featuring 30 color and 188 black-and-white photographs, the book is organized geographically into eastern, central, western and northern regions of the state. Each section offers a description of the land, lifestyle, and art that characterizes the opulence of Wisconsin’s cultural landscape. Ranging from urban areas to small towns and rural communities, '“Artists are jumping their own boundaries of what they thought they should and could be doing," said Parker. Many have lived through the Great Depression and come from cultural traditions that value working with your hands. Long winters, before T.V. and computers, were about making due with what you had – not wasting things.”
Speaking in their own words, these idiosyncratic artists challenge the assumptions that often arise out of their misrepresentation. “I’m not a big fan of establishing a hierarchy of value on art,” said Parker. “I see a real genuine value on every one of the artists in this book.” From front to back, Miracles of the Spirit, is just that – a release of energy from the human spirit that demonstrates the range of what people can do when left to their own imaginations.
Miracles of the Spirit: Folk, Art, and Stories from Wisconsin is available through the Univeristy of Mississippi Press.
Don Krug, Vancouver, British Columbia,
is an associate professor of curriculum studies at the University
of British Columbia. Ann Parker, Baraboo, Wisconsin, is an elementary
art teacher, artist, and photographer.
Jocelyne Bodden is a project assistant at the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.