Your mini Madison fine arts gift guide

Dane Arts has given a boost to some local visual artists whose work you can add to your own collection.
glass art piece with Madison skyline
Courtesy of Barbara Westfall
“A Place to Call Home,” a kiln-formed glass sculpture by Barbara Westfall

Dane Arts has given a boost to some local visual artists whose work you can add to your own collection.

For the first time in living memory, the holiday season will pass without staged performances of “A Christmas Carol,” “The Nutcracker” or any of the other big, traditional Christmas productions. That’s because the Overture Center for the Arts, like large venues everywhere, remains closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Like actors, dancers and musicians unable to perform, visual artists have also suffered from canceled exhibits and art fairs. These artists nevertheless continue to create and search for ways to connect with those who might appreciate their work.

Between April and August, as the shutdown wore on, the Dane County Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission, or Dane Arts, distributed more than $125,000 to 253 local artists across all disciplines.

Here are a few works by local visual artists who received grants and whose artwork is available for purchase — either as a gift for a loved one or simply out of love for the arts in our community.

Portraits of a Master

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“James” by Philip Salamone

Classically trained portrait painter Philip Salamone had to close his art studio, Atwood Atelier, due to COVID-19. “Before the pandemic, I had models in my studio and groups of painters and students multiple times per week, but all of that has been shut down,” he says. Salamone — who earned a fine arts degree at UW–Madison and is now a UW–Madison Continuing Studies instructor and a painter of murals on campus and at Epic Systems — is taking on portrait commissions but primarily working from photos and his imagination.“I miss painting people from life and I miss my friends that I would paint with,” he says. From 2006 to 2009, Salamone studied at the Grand Central Atelier and Art Students League in New York City, which, he says, “was very influential in how I think about drawing and painting. But it took many years after leaving school to figure out how to implement many of those concepts and to put some of those pieces together to find my voice.”;


tentatcles coming out of a painting

“Waiting for My Ship to Come In” by Robin Lauersdorf

Long inspired by the brain-bending perspective of Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, Madison artist Robin Lauersdorf draws exclusively in black-and-white with graphite pencils. So he considers an exhibit of his work concurrent with an Escher exhibit at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau in 2017 to be “the pinnacle of my career thus far.” But his 2017 and 2018 wins for best in show for graphics and drawing at the Art Fair on the Square were a thrill for the Madison resident, too. Lauersdorf has exhibited his artwork at the Art Fair and 25 other fairs since 1983. Lauersdorf sells minutely detailed pencil drawings of various university landmarks, including UW–Madison buildings, to accompany earned diplomas. But his Illustrating Illusions series depicts creatures — from dinosaurs and dolphins to superheroes and Star Wars LEGO figures — literally escaping the page.

Restless Artistry

sadie the dog

“Sadie,” a pet portrait, by Tamlyn Akins

Tamlyn Akins’ career as an artist started early with encouragement from her family. She received materials from her grandfather’s school supply company, found inspiration in her mother’s arts and crafts projects and learned from her father how to make an origami flapping bird. Akins’ arts training continued in the Chicago suburbs and at the California College of Arts and Crafts where she earned a bachelor’s in fine arts with an emphasis in drawing in 1980. Akins moved to Madison in 1983 and to the town of Vermont in 2001, where she now makes jewelry, origami boxes, origami ornaments and giclee prints of her colored pencil, watercolor and pastel paintings and notecards. She opens her home studio to visitors during the Mount Horeb Area Arts Association, or MHAAA, Spring Art Tour in June. To supplement her income, Akins does freelance grant writing for MHAAA as well as website and graphic design. Since freelance opportunities have slowed during the pandemic, she says, “I have more time for painting and drawing, which are my true loves.” But as a “restless artist,” she regularly switches mediums. Her commission work includes painting portraits of people’s pets. “I have tried most media at one time or another. Watercolor, drawing, jewelry and origami are where I’ve landed for the most part,” Akins says.

Alleviating Stress

person holding postcard that has flowers and butterflies

All proceeds from the sale of Ali Brooks’ print “Pleasure is the Point” go to Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity, or BOLD. (Courtesy of Ali Brooks)

In the best of times, clinical social work is stressful. But during a pandemic, the demand for help from mental health professionals is especially acute. As one who provides psychotherapy for couples and families, Ali Brooks has found the need to bolster herself creatively. “I began creating art as a way to maintain my own resiliency as a trauma therapist,” she says. “I strive to make art most days. It helps me to stay balanced and prevent burnout with the work I do.” Brooks makes prints and notecards from her acrylic, oil and watercolor paintings, many of which incorporate poetic affirmations that reflect what she imparts to clients. Currently, Brooks sees clients via telehealth sessions rather than in person and sells her art online and through Patreon instead of at art fairs. “I’m so grateful to be able to still have work and to provide therapy for people during these very stressful and isolating times,” she says. “I miss the face-to-face connection with my customers and seeing the look on people’s faces as they look through my art.”

Lit From Within

two brightly colored paintings

“Nonlinear Time 1” (left) and “Nonlinear Time 2” by Ray Zovar

In his studio in McFarland, Ray Zovar creates illuminated sculptural paintings using waterborne mediums — inks, dyes, watercolors and acrylic paints — he seals under a clear epoxy resin. “The resin gives my work richness,” he says, further describing his style as “abstract expressionism.” “I get a creative inspiration and I will work on several pieces relating to that inspiration,” Zovar says. Because Zovar’s work, which includes mosaics, is labor-intensive and displayed in large formats, he attends well-established art fairs attended by art buyers with a particular eye. He had set up his booth at such a show in Florida when local health officials shut it down because of the coronavirus, resulting in no sales and an expensive round trip. That was his last show since the start of the pandemic.

Birds of a Feather

Earrings by Teresa Faris

Courtesy of Teresa Faris

Madison east-sider Teresa Faris teaches metalsmithing and jewelry making at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater where she is a professor and head of the metals program. She has exhibited her own work at the Chazen Museum of Art and in museums in Chicago, China, France, Belgium and Norway. Faris’ latest jewelry series is titled “Collaboration With a Bird.” The bird — an umbrella cockatoo named Charmin whom she’s lived with for 27 years — prompted Faris to contemplate how the displacement and assimilation of animals can transform them. Faris sees similarities between her feathered friend’s repetitive behavior and her own at her workbench. Faris hopes her cockatoo experiences “the same soothing aftereffects” from keeping a routine. “Jewelry lifts the spirits,” Faris says, “and it is an honor that I do not take for granted that I am able to make something that helps someone to feel better [and be] more confident or more connected to a culture.”;

DANG! Helps Local Artists

Last April, when the pandemic eliminated opportunities for local artists to connect directly with audiences, the Dane County Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission, or Dane Arts, offered $15,000 to creatives to help make up for some of their lost income. Within two days, the demand for financial help exceeded the available funds. An anonymous donor added another $7,500 to the pool to assist the more than 90 artists who initially applied.

In mid-May, with the support of Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, more than $100,000 from the federal coronavirus relief funds for Wisconsin was added to the Dane Arts Need Grant program, or DANG! The program provided about $500 to 253 artists, totaling $125,250.

Initially, local artists — musicians, theater actors, dancers, comedians, painters, sculptors and others — received $250 to purchase equipment that helped them get their art and performances online, according to Dane Arts Director Mark Fraire.

But with the additional funding from the county, Fraire says the individual grants were increased to $500 “to offset income lost to COVID-19, plain and simple.” He says the money went to recipients who could demonstrate they had made a partial living from their art over the previous three years.

“When the pandemic hit, all of my commission art sales, art fairs and tours came to an abrupt halt,” says Barbara Westfall, a full-time artist who saw sales of her colorful, high-end, kiln-formed glass to health care facilities put on hold. “I was in shock, as with most independent businesses, watching art sales dry up overnight. I applied for federal, state and county assistance during the four months I was out of work. The Dane Arts grant was one of the blessings that came at the perfect time. Thanks to Mark Fraire understanding the economic disaster artists in Dane County were experiencing, he had the foresight to act.”

The grant applications were reviewed by a five-member panel that included two Dane Arts commissioners, a county supervisor and two local artists.

“Of course the money is not anywhere near enough support, but I wanted to make sure artists knew Dane Arts cared about their needs,” Fraire says.

10 More Madison Visual Artists (and DANG! Recipients)

Nuria Vega Moffat
fantasy makeup artist,

Selia Salzsieder
photographer, illustrator and collage artist,

Angelica Contreras
painter and collage artist,

Rodrigo Carapia
painter and muralist,

Victor Castro
abstract sculptor,

Emily Leach
photographer and videographer,

Maria Amalia
paper and pigments artist,

Richie Morales

Xiaoyue Pu
photographer, @xiaoyuepu_photography

Adriana Barrios
photographer and printmaker,

Joel Patenaude is a former associate editor of Madison Magazine.