Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Inspiration from the Museum of Wisconsin Art

One of the highlights of our recent trip was a visit to the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, Wisconsin. The Museum was not a planned destination; it just happened to be mentioned in a guidebook, and West Bend was on our route to Sheboygan, where we planned to visit the much more widely publicized Kohler Art Center.

I don't think of myself as much of a traditionalist, art-wise, nor have I ever been all that into realism, so I was looking forward to the inspiration I would find at the Kohler and this was just a side stop along the way, kind of like the Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb.

But the Wisconsin Art Museum, which is housed in what feels like a stately old home in downtown West Bend, was just irresistible for me. They had a lovely blend of new and old work,and their collection of Wisconsin artist Carl von Marr was simply spectacular.
Von Marr's work, as you can see, is very traditional, but I loved the color and the light; the strong contrasts and the movement. His portraits -- which seemed primarily of family members -- seemed very real and warm; the people were not beautiful but you had a sense that you knew them, or would like to. There was a huge image of a picnic in the trees on a sunny afternoon, filled with women and children gamboling on a dappled lawn, that was simply irresistible; this photograph really doesn't do it justice.

The impact of Von Marr's work on me was significant -- it really was drool-worthy -- and I found that several of the photographs I took later on in the trip had some of the light qualities found in his work -- perhaps because, like von Marr, I was responding to the Wisconsin light.

Whatever the reason, I found myself inspired to print one of my photos on canvas; added some gel medium (on the advice of Richard Nelson, proprietor of our local artshop, Oil and Water) and mounted it in a gold frame. (Yes, you already saw this image a day or two ago). And even though my gallery has already told me that it's "Not their sort of thing," and even though I know it doesn't hold a candle to the real von Marr's I saw, I am pleased with the results, and have hung it on my own wall.

Somewhere I hope Mr. von Marr is watching, and I hope also that he understands: Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery. And that, by the way, is a quote from Charles Caleb Colton, vicar of Kew; an obscure British cleric from the Regency period in England, one of my favorite time periods to read about. Who knew!

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