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No piece of art is born fully realized and optimally lit on a gallery wall or in a museum exhibit. Art takes shape in myriad, messy ways in studios — be they dedicated workspaces, living rooms, out in nature or in the minds of artists.
"An artist's studio is a very vulnerable place, and I respect that. I always feel like I'm entering a very personalized space," says Amy Gilman, director of the Chazen Museum of Art and curator of the museum's current exhibit "In the Studio."
Bringing together more than 100 pieces from the museum's vast collection, "In the Studio" sheds light on the creative process, how artists see themselves and each other as well as the environments in which artists work. Gilman says the exhibit reflects "the thought, training, anxiety, failures — everything about how difficult and rewarding the process of making art is."
Since her appointment as museum director in September 2017, Gilman has gradually familiarized herself with the Chazen collection and met with many artists who are University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty members. "One of the privileges I have is to visit artists in their studios and talk to them about their work process and see work that's still being worked on," she says.
Gilman's studio tour resulted in the discovery of art professor Lisa Gralnick's paintings of the metalsmithing tools she uses in her studio in the Art Lofts Building on North Frances Street. "They are so stunning. I begged her to allow them in our show," Gilman says. "It's such a wonderful example of how talking to artists can reap incredible moments of serendipity."
In a description of the paintings, titled "Illuminations," Gralnick says she goes to her studio every day at 5 a.m. "and it is where I feel most at home and most alive. ... I am surrounded by the tools and machines and materials that have defined my life, and I know exactly who I am."
Elaine Scheer, who has taught in UW–Madison's art department since 1988, says Gilman visited her Art Lofts studio in March 2018. Scheer thanked her with a postcard-sized watercolor portrait of the two of them together. The painting is included in the exhibit.
Scheer paints in small formats in her studio, at home or when traveling. "I can visit my mom and do it at her kitchen table. I sometimes feel like the inside of your head is the real studio anyway," Scheer says.
"In the Studio" also includes work from former UW–Madison instructors such as Warrington Colescott, who taught at the university for 37 years ending in 1986 and did screen printing and satirical etchings in his farmhouse studio in Hollandale. Colescott died on Sept. 10, 2018, at the age of 97.
Gilman says a selection of drawings and paintings shows artists holding sketch pads or palettes and looking out at the viewer. "When you see it, you realize there is a consistency to how artists portray themselves," she says.
The exhibit "In the Studio" is open now until Aug. 11.
3 Artists Who Open Their Studios to Others
Studio Time for Potters
Almost as soon as Linda Leighton opened Higher Fire Clay Studio in the building she bought on Regent Street 20 years ago, she started renting studio space to other clay artists and offering classes to newbies. After all, it was more space than she needed to make her own ceramic tiles.
While the creations of about 30 potters and sculptors is sold in the front gallery, Leighton says a half dozen of these artists do their work in the Higher Fire studio. Another 30 or more pay an hourly fee to shape their clay and use a potter's wheel or the kiln. Many of the folks in the latter category are hobbyists and people taking Higher Fire's classes.
"I do my own work when I have the time," she says. "But as the sole proprietor, I run the gallery and the studio. So I repair equipment, make glazes and run to the store for toilet paper."
Leighton also teaches ceramics and clay hand building (anything not done on a potter's wheel). She finds her classes for children to be the most rewarding.
"When I see them 10 years later and they talk to me about how [the experience] stuck with them, I know we've had an impact on their creative lives," she says.
For more information, go to higherfireclaystudio.com.
Creative Fire Forged
Alisa Toninato, metal artist and owner of FeLion Studios (known for its cast iron skillets in the shape of U.S. states), felt it was necessary to open her doors to the public to facilitate her own art.
Culture shock hit Toninato upon graduating from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2005. She suddenly didn't have the equipment, materials or people around to help her continue
her foundry work.
"Pulling together an iron pour is a tremendous amount of work and absolutely requires multiple people to pull it off," she says. "Once you get to the point of having all of the equipment you need and all the materials in place to run it, you then realize that it just makes more sense to create as many pieces as you possibly can during the time you are pouring and running the furnace."
So she invites nonartisans to "public pours" or workshops. "Offering people the opportunity to try something they may have never ever had access to before is not only extremely rewarding to me personally, but it helps create an awareness for how sculpture, or casting metal, is done [and gives participants] a deeper appreciation for what it takes to make art," Toninato says.
Toninato says she benefits, too, from the ideas people bring to her studio. "It keeps the gears turning in my head for how to push my own knowledge of my craft."
She says the studio itself remains a source of inspiration. "My shop has its own vibe, it's safe for me. I love the smell and the lighting; I love that all of my materials and equipment are right there within reach. I can jam, be loud, stay late and just lose myself there. I think this has been one of my greatest blessings as a career-bound artist — to be able to keep a studio to continue my exploration."
For more information, go to felionstudios.com.
Ever look at a stained-glass church window and wonder how the artist learned to do that?
Well, the Vinery Stained Glass Studio near East Towne Mall — the window makers for St. Dennis Catholic Church, Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and All Saints Assisted Living Chapel in Madison — is one of the craft's largest teaching facilities in the country, according to owner Denny Berkery.
In addition to teaching stained-glass making, Vinery provides fused glass, glass mosaics and flame-working instruction for 125 students every week. "We also have a drop-in center where customers can come in anytime and create with art glass," Berkery says.
"I work with many art teachers throughout Wisconsin and have busloads of kids come in almost weekly," he adds. "One of my goals is to give back to my industry, which has supported me nicely over the years. I believe planting the seed through education in the schools will help this cause."
For more information, go to vineryglass.com.
Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.
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