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Come for the Market, Stay for the Art: The Kenosha Art Scene

8/14/2019 - Frederick Butzen

Arts & Culture
Art in Kenosha, WI
Art in Kenosha, WI
Art in Kenosha, WI
Art in Kenosha, WI
Art in Kenosha, WI

When I moved from Chicago to Kenosha in November 2017, I expected Kenosha to be a place that was quiet, comfortable, civilized, yet affordable. It has certainly proved to be all that; but in my 18 months here, I have been continually surprised by the depth and breadth of its cultural life.

In particular, I’ve found Kenosha to be a great place for classical music and the visual arts. I’ll be writing about classical music next month; today, I’d like to take you on a nickel tour of what Kenosha has to offer people who appreciate the visual arts.

If you’re driving up to Kenosha for the HarborMarket – and it is well worth the trip! – consider staying a little longer and checking out the local art scene. Nearly all venues are a few minutes’ walk or a short drive from the HarborMarket, so you can easily do both in one day. If you come for the market, you’ll be glad that you stayed for the art!

In this article, I’ll describe three art venues: the galleries of the Union Park Arts District; the Kenosha Public Museum; and the sculpture and murals to be seen around town. Then, at the end, I’ll have a few thoughts about just what sets Kenosha apart as a venue in which art is created and experienced.

Union Park Arts District

To begin our tour …the Union Park Arts District is, as its name suggests, an arts district that is centered on Union Park, which is located between 45th and 46th Streets and 7th and 8th Avenues.

Three galleries form the heart of the district, all located on Sheridan Road: Re:Vision Gallery, the Lemon Street Gallery & Artspace, and ArtWorks.

The District is a few minutes’ drive from the HarborMarket, or about a 20-minute walk (assuming you don’t have too much produce to carry). Just go west to Sheridan Road (which, BTW, is the same Sheridan Road that runs through Chicago’s North Side and the northern suburbs), then turn north until on the right side of the street you see the large mural of a blonde woman in a black-and-white striped dress (painted by Racine artist Prince Parise) – trust me, you can’t miss it. There’s usually plenty of parking on the side streets, and all three venues have parking in the rear.

If “appreciating the hell out of some art”, as my son George puts it, leaves you feeling peckish, you’ll be a short walk from the downtown district, where you can find a nunmber of cafes and restaurants, including the Union Park Tavern for dinner and adult beverages.

Re:Vision Gallery & Artist Studios

The Re:Vision Gallery, at the corner of 47thStreet and Sheridan Road, is a juried gallery that is owned by artist and teacher Marjorie Meyer. The gallery features work by artists from southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. The work offered in the gallery reflects Ms. Meyer’s tastes, which I would describe as eclectic and refined.

The ground floor features works by a number of artists who are affiliated with the gallery. The upstairs space is a gallery and reception area that, each month, presents the work of a single artist from the region.

When I visited Re:Vision, I found the space to be comfortable and welcoming, and Ms Meyer to be informative, friendly, and generous with her time. She introduced me to the work of quite a few local artists. Among those who particularly impressed me were watercolorist Carlotta Miller, ceramicist Alex Mandli, and sculptor/furniture maker Martin Antaramian.

My words cannot convey the experience of work of this quality. All I can say is: Go. See. Enjoy.

Lemon Street Gallery & Artspace

Lemon Street Gallery & Artspaceis at the corner of 46thStreet and Sheridan Road, a block north of Re:Vision. Unlike Re:Vision, Lemon Street is a collective of 80 local artists, under the guidance of executive director Beth Dary.

Lemon Street offers art classes to both youths and adults in a number of media, including stained glass, pottery, silk screen, and acrylic paint. Tuesday nights offer life drawing from live models.

The instructional space at the gallery features a wall mural by Racine artist Prince Parise; click on the link to see a 90-second video of the artist creating it.

The basement is the pottery workshop. In addition to classes in ceramics, the facilities are available for free to all experienced potters. The only cost is for the clay, at $3 per pound; this includes firing.

Most of the space in the gallery is devoted to displaying the members’ work. In touring the gallery, I was particularly struck by the stunning turned-wood vessels of Laura Marie Jameson.I also particularly enjoyed the paintings of Larry Lemm, and the witty collage/mixed media of Terry Evans.

I should add that despite the wide range of media and disciplines among the Lemon Street artists, one discipline is not represented: calligraphy. So, if you are a calligrapher who is looking for a venue that is receptive to your work, in an area where your discipline is both appreciated and under-represented – well, here’s your chance!

ArtWorks

The Kenosha ArtWorks, which is one block north of the Lemon Street Gallery, is a combination gallery and art shop that is managed by Chet Griffith. It offers classes, and does custom framing.

ArtWorks is also home to the Pencillarium, which is a shop devoted to the traditional wood-and-graphite pencil. For someone like myself, whose knowledge of pencils begins and ends with the #2 TiconderogasI used in grammar school, the variety of makes and models of pencils was astonishing.

If you are visiting ArtWorks, the entrance is around the back, by the shop’s parking area. I mention this because once, when I had a picture I wanted framed, I tried to find the entrance to the shop, and couldn’t.

Kenosha ArtMarket

The Kenosha ArtMarket is an open-air art market held in Union Park on the third Sunday of each month, June through October. This month (August), it will be held on the 18th; then on September 15 and October 20. Arts, artisans, and musicians from throughout southeastern Wisconsin will be offering their work for you to enjoy and admire and, possibly, buy.

Second Saturdays

A number of galleries in downtown Kenosha, including those in the Union Park district, have special programs and receptions on the second Saturday of each month. These usually are evening receptions, where you can meet artists and enjoy free refreshments. Check the galleries’ web sites for more information.

The Kenosha Public Museum

A principal venue for art in Kenosha is the Kenosha Public Museum (KPM). The KPM could not be more conveniently located for HarborMarket patrons: it is literally a few steps to the east of the Market.

The KPM’s art exhibitsinclude both one-time events and annual, recurring shows. The current show is The Rivers: America's Waterways, featuring watercolors by artist Davon Andersen, which will be running through October 6.

The KPM has hosted two juried shows that I find particularly enjoyable: those of the Southport Quilters Guild, and the Transparent Watercolor Society of America. 

Southport Quilters Guild

The Southport Quilters Guildis an organization based in Kenosha (“Southport” being Kenosha’s original name). The Guild brings together quilters from throughout southeastern Wisconsin, to encourage each others’ work and promote the craft of quilting.

Each year, the Guild sponsors a juried competition. The Kenosha Public Museum has displayed the winning quilts during March of each year, as part of the celebration of National Quilting Day (the third Saturday in March), and will do so again in 2020.

To view the winning quilts from the 2019 show, click here.

Transparent Watercolor Society of America

From May through July, the Kenosha Public Museum hosts the annual juried exhibition of the Transparent Watercolor Society of America (TWSA).

Transparent watercolor is my favorite medium – one that is uniquely difficult, yet uniquely rewarding. The pigment is applied as a wash, which means that mistakes cannot be covered up: each brushstroke is as permanent as the stroke of a sculptor’s chisel. Yet because the pigment is translucent, it is “backlit” by light reflected from the paper on which it is applied. With it, an artist can create a painting as luminous as a stained-glass window.

Many of the artists who have excelled in this medium are American, including Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Andrew Wyeth. 

The TWSA was founded in 1976 to encourage work in this medium, and promote the artists who specialize in it. Its annual juried exhibition presents work by American and Canadian artists who are most accomplished in this medium.

The 2019 Exhibitionof 80 paintings (out of approximately 800 submissions) included some truly stunning work. Unfortunately, by the time you read this posting, it will have closed. However, the 2020 exhibition, which opens next June, will be worth marking on your calendar.

Public Art

Kenosha is enlivened by a great many works of public art. Some are planned art: sculptures and murals that have been commissioned by the city. Others are spontaneous: works commissioned by local businesses from local artisans.

The Kenosha Sculpture Walk

Kenosha offers a wealth of sculpture in its public parks. The largest collection is the Kenosha Sculpture Walkin Kenosha HarborPark, a short walk north of the HarborMarket.

As the name implies, the Sculpture Walk is a series of sculptures set along the south shore of Kenosha Harbor. You can walk along and enjoy one sculpture after another, while bicyclists and ships glide by to the north and streetcars clang past to the south. Some of the work is humorous, some is inspiring, all is interesting.

The work that I particularly enjoy is that of Kenosha sculptor Bruce A. Niemi. I encourage you to click on the link and enjoy the images of his work; however, like any sculpture, his work must be seen in person to be truly appreciated. When you visit the HarborMarket, take a few minutes and stroll down to the Sculpture Walk, and see some truly extraordinary work.

Murals and Signs

The downtown area features a number of interesting murals that celebrate Kenosha’s past. However, one I particularly like is the trompe l’oeil muralon the south wall of Captain Jim’s Yacht Sales, 5017 Sheridan Road – just south of the Re:Vision Gallery – which was painted by Kenosha artist Eric Houghton.

One craft that has almost disappeared from the urban scene is that of the hand-lettered sign – replaced, like so many of our crafts, by cheap, bland, computer-generated junk. My father was a signwriter by profession, so you can imagine my pleasure as I walk around downtown Kenosha and see the many Kenosha store facades graced by the work of Kenosha lettering artist Dean Tawwater.

If you visit the Union Park Art District, take a few minutes and stroll south and east to the Modern Apothecary, 4924 7thAvenue, where you can see Tawwater’s work both inside and outside the store. Also, you might want to stop in: their selection of essential oils and herbal remedies is as good as I’ve seen anywhere, and the store itself is a museum of old-time drugstores.

The Broad-Minded Small City

“You’ll never know what you’ll see unless you look.” – Frank Gill

Being a lifelong Chicagoan, I grew up with the work in the Art Institute of Chicago. Later, I had the opportunity to visit some of the major museums of Europe – the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Hermitage in Leningrad (as it was known then), the National Gallery of London. And, of course, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery in Washington, DC. These are wonderful museums, filled with great, life-enhancing works of art. But concentrating on the great institutions, on the great works, can also be narrowing: one acquires the attitude that if a piece is not blessed by a curator of a great institution, it is not truly a work of art.

When I was coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, too, there was a lively new art scene in Chicago, but it was a scene that was dominated by a few powerful personalities – Karl Wirsum, Ed Paschke, a few others. While they did interesting work (though it is not my cup of tea), artists whose work did not follow their lead found themselves shut out from the art establishment. I remember talking with a friend, an older artist who has since passed away, who did work in the populist vein of Thomas Hart Benton, and who was also a very successful commercial artist. He complained bitterly that while he could not get his fine art hung in an Ontario Street gallery, those same galleries would hang shows of crudely painted copies of his own commercial work! Again, such a scene can be narrowing: one acquires the attitude that if a piece is not blessed by a tastemaker of the art scene, it somehow is not truly a work of art.

Now, fast-forward a couple of decades, to when my younger daughter began to attend Coe College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Cedar Rapids has a favorite-son artist, whose most famous paintingI’m sure you’ve seen. This man was one of a school of regional artists who lived and worked in Cedar Rapids – most of whom were unknown to me. When I finally opened my eyes to look at their work, I found much there that was beautiful and well-crafted.

It is customary to think of the big city as broad-minded and the smaller city as parochial. But in my experience, the opposite can be true. What matters is not where you’re from or where you live, but whether your eyes are open and you’re willing to look, wherever you are.

So, Why Kenosha?

“The beautiful are those that please when seen.” (“Pulcra sunt quae visaplacent.”) – Thomas Aquinas

“If it sounds good, it is good.”– Duke Ellington

I asked Beth Dary, the executive directory of the Lemon Street Gallery, a difficult question: What sets Kenosha apart? In brief, she spoke of two facts. First, as a city with an industrial past, Kenosha has a strong tradition of artisanship – of skill in working with one’s hands.  And second, Kenosha has a tradition of strong ethnic communities – German, Slav, Italian, Hispanic, African – that worked side-by-side on the auto assembly lines. That spirit of strength within communities and cooperation between communities carries on.

So, what should you expect from “Kenosha art”? I’d say three things:

  • First, variety: a wide range of media, of styles, of aesthetics. There is no art czar here: a come-one-come-all spirit prevails.
  • Next, skill:the level of artisanship I see in local galleries ranges from good to superb. This is particularly true of work in wood and ceramics.
  • Finally, joie de vivre:I had thought about saying “humor” or “optimism”, but those words do not capture the sheer pleasure in being alive that so much of this work communicates. If you’re looking for angst, you’ve probably come to the wrong place.

To paraphrase Duke Ellington, if it looks good, it is good. Or to paraphrase Thomas Aquinas, a thing is beautiful if it pleases your eye. I hope that when you come to the HarborMarket, you’ll stay to look at the art being made here and being displayed here. And when you do come, trust your eyes. While this is not work that one would see at, say, the Venice Biennale, it rewards viewers who appreciate beautiful objects and superb artisanship. You’ll be glad you did.

For More Information

This concludes my nickel tour of the Kenosha art scene. I’m afraid I had time only to scratch the surface of the Kenosha art scene. I couldn’t go into performance art, for example, or the art departments at Carthage College or the University of Wisconsin Parkside; or the well-supported art education in Kenosha county public schools. Nor could I go into cartooning or other popular arts.

The following gives sources for more information on art in Kenosha.

For summaries of art-related events in Kenosha, look here:

  • The Event Calendar of the web site for the Kenosha Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • Downtown Kenosha offers information about events, businesses, and venues in downtown Kenosha – practically all of which are within walking distance of the HarborMarkett
  • Paradox Arts Magazine, which is edited by Chet Griffith of ArtWorks, offers interviews, musings, ads, and other information about the art scene in Kenosha and beyond. It’s not available online (yet), so you’ll have to go to a Kenosha art outlet to find a copy. The price is right (free) and it’s well worth going a bit out of your way to find a copy.

Other art-related businesses and organizations in Kenosha include the following, many of which are within walking distance of the HarborMarket:

  • The Kenosha Art Association offers art education and scholarship support to local students since 1950.
  • The Anderson Arts Center is a beautiful lakefront mansion that has been converted to a community center that sponsors exhibitions of art.
  • The H. F. Johnson Gallery of Art of Carthage College presents the work of artists throughout the region.
  • DeBerge’s Framing & Galleryoffering framing services, along with a gallery of art.
  • Kenosha’s iconic North Pier lighthouse is now a privately owned art studio and gallery. Visitors by invitation only; see the website for details; but all are invited to enjoy the murals that grace its exterior.
  • Pollard Gallery is a gallery founded the late Kenosha portrait artists George and Nan Pollard.
  • “The Rita” is center at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside, for the arts and humanities, including the visual arts.
  • The Buzz, which is affiliated with the restaurant Sazzy B, is a venue for original art, as well as serving some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. I warmly recommend the Basic Panini!
Frederick Butzen

Frederick Butzen

Community Blogger

Recently retired software engineer & technical writer. Essayist and amateur musician, lifelong Chicagoan and newly arrived Kenoshan, enjoying exploring life and culture north of the Cheddar Curtain.

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