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On our way home from the farmhouse, my mom and I drove through Phillips, WI.  For a while now I have been itching to see Fred Smith’s Concrete Park and it was right on our route home.  My mom loves roadside attractions too, so it didn’t even take that much convincing to get her to stop.

Fred Smith was a lumberjack and with two other men started the Rock Garden Taven in 1936 (which is coincidentally where my great-uncle Bill Fenzl used to drink).  Once Fred retired he managed the bar full time and started making sculptures of miners, horses, Indians, cowboys, and soldiers.  He used beer bottles from the tavern to adorn the statues, adding color and sparkle.  Throughout the park there were also placards with text.  The original paper that Smith had written on had deteriorated, but the caretakers of the park reproduced an imaged of the text exactly as it originally appeared but printed on a durable plastic.  On one side was a little paragraph about some of the sculptures and often some area history, and on the other side were images of Mr. Smith and co. taken around the park.  And usually when there was a sculptural placard there was often a nearby statue pointing to it!

I had been eager to visit this park for a really long time and it did not disappoint.  Unfortunately it was really muggy on the day we went, and it was raining a little so there were mosquitoes everywhere.  Other than the bugs, the experience was a total delight.  There’s something about folk/outsider art that is a lot more interesting to me than most stuff in museums.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why I love it, and I think it has to do with the truly unique vision artists like Fred Smith have.  They aren’t making art for critics or galleries, they are making art for themselves, their friends, and their community.  Sometimes folk artists are described as simple and uneducated, which might be true for some but I think that totally undervalues the contributions of unconventional artists.  I relate more to the aesthetic sensibilities of outsider art, and I find the pretensions of high art irritating.  Going to places like the Concrete Park is always super fun but I also get so many ideas for my own work (even though I know I’ll never create anything as amazing as a Concrete Park).

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At the end of the summer when I was finally moving back to Milwaukee from Northfield, it took forever to get everything packed and moved including tons of ceramics.  It was an incredibly stressful ordeal.  Fortunately some of the jars and baking dishes I made found their way into my parents’ farmhouse in northern Wisconsin.  They fit beautifully in the kitchen.

The house is heavenly, especially the kitchen.  It’s huge and open with lots of windows and really beautiful woodwork.  I am just really glad my stuff fit into such a beautiful space.

Gert Germeraad is a Swedish artist I quite like, who works mainly in ceramic sculptures.  I first encountered his work on access ceramics, which has images from his “Depicting Criminals” series.  The criminals in the series are actually people arrested by the gestapo during World War II, and their crimes (like “escape from work” and “illegal relations”) are part of the title of each piece.  What initially drew me into the work was Germeraad’s beautiful visual sensibility combined with the subtle approach to a challenging subject matter.  Much of his work focuses on portraiture and human expression.  From his website:

According to the American psychologist Paul Ekman, there are only a few ‘basic’ facial expressions which are worldwide the same, independent on culture.
These expressions are: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise and, although less clear, contempt.

Germeraad explores the universality of expressions in his series “Portrait of a Man”.  The piece is a series of busts of one man, each with one of the basic human facial expressions.  It is odd and true that one can identify and identify with the expressions.

Portrait of a man, 2004 - 2006, ceramic and pigments (water color painted after firing at 1200° C)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love a good series.  Germeraad really does a series well.  Repeated images are always really striking and add weight to the subject matter.  A single expressive portrait of a man could be interesting, beautiful, and moving.  But 9 portraits of the same man has a much greater effect.  You see progression, you see contrast.

Another series I love is based on physiognomy — the assessment of a person’s character or personality from their outer appearance, especially the face.  It was a popular school of thought in the middle ages, but was also revived in the 20th century.  Germeraad took physiognomic descriptions of different indicators and sculpted them into faces.  The expressions are blank, and the faces themselves are  normal yet somehow looking at them evokes an odd reaction in me.  The descriptions are pretty outlandish and it’s clear that you cannot infer the sum total of someone’s character by examining their face.  When I encounter these sculptures, I think about the absurdity of the descriptions but also the kinds of snap judgments I might make if I met these people.

For the junior art seminar (which I took as a senior), we had to create a blog on a theme.  My group’s theme was color, and Gert Germeraad was one of the artists I chose (the other was Misty Gamble).  Many ceramic artists look down on using non-ceramic, non-glaze methods of coloring pieces.  Ceramics can be sort of cultish, and using a non-ceramic process to color a piece is seen as sacrilegious in some circles.  Obviously Germeraad doesn’t subscribe to that.  After the piece is complete, he colors the work with watercolor.  I think this adds dimension and a tenderness to the pieces in a way that underglaze or glaze couldn’t.

For more information about Gert Germeraad and more images of his work, you can visit his website at www.gertgermeraad.eu.

It is no secret that I love science fiction.  I also love music, and I also love paper.  This video, animated by Eric Power, is a summary (ish) of the three original star wars movies set to the tune of “Tatooine” by Jeremy Messersmith.  I like it for several reasons:

  1. Messersmith is a Minneapolis-based musician, and while I am no longer in Minnesota I still have a terrible fondness for the place.
  2. It’s so nerdy.  The song is nerdy, the video is nerdy, it’s all nerdy.  But it’s the really sweet earnest kind of nerdy that I am such a sucker for.
  3. I love cut paper.

I hope you like it as much as I do. (Which is a lot)

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