Rural Wisconsin Artists gives local creators an opportunity to show work

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Joanna O’Tigham was one of the artists spotlighted in the art exhibit at the Prairie Memorial Library on Nov. 12 sponsored by Rural Wisconsin Artists. (Steve Van Kooten/Courier Press)

Paintings, collages among displayed work on the library walls

By Steve Van Kooten


Inside the doors of the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library the hall, normally a vacuum of sound, was full of sound. There were layers: a computer in the corner played slow, string music underneath a series of conversations that crossed over one and other. In the middle of it all, a table with coffee and refreshments was like a watering hole as artists and onlookers commingled. They passed by paintings and collages on the walls, eager to take in what local artists had to offer.

The library hosted the art exhibit on Nov. 12 from 4-6 p.m., the first event pulled together by Rural Wisconsin Artists, a non-profit group aimed at providing support and resources for artists in Wisconsin who don’t have the same access as artists in urban/metropolitan areas.

“There are only so many connections in a rural area, so we want to connect artists with people in their own area but also people outside their own area,” Kim Mindham, Representative for Rural Wisconsin Artists (RWA) said. Mindham stated RWA had only started “about 8 months ago,” but it has been a labor of love. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, and this is the year.”

RWA has sought to fulfill its mission to promote local artists by providing supplies, exposure, promotion and connections. And while their first event showcased visual artists, Mindham stated their goal would involve artists of many disciplines, such as performance art as well.

One painting was perched over a bench. The mix of brown and beige acrylics against the white canvas was a picture of a woman, her features blended into landscape. The artist, Kelse Nablina, walked around with her dog and talked with anyone curious enough to walk into the exhibition. She said the piece had been used on a flyer once, but otherwise, she hadn’t exhibited it publicly before.

“That’s my masterpiece. If I’m going to show anything, it’s got to be better than that,” Nablina said. She only had one other piece in the show: a collage of painting on canvas, origami and found art. “I like to play with textures. I walk around and just pick things up. Kim was with me on a shopping trip, and I didn’t buy anything, but I picked up a lot of stuff.”

The piece had clippings for a magazine, layered paint and even a piece of an elevator. “It challenges that you can bring in other types of materials into an art piece.”

Another artist, Joanna O’Tigham, came from Vernon County with a bevy of work. Her paintings brought a diverse array of colors and textures to the walls.

“I’m really ready to start jumping into opportunities to start showing. It’s really new,” O’Tigham said. “I’m excited to have a new part of my life. I feel like I’m just poking my head out of the ground and looking around.” O’Tigham had one multi-media art piece shown in New Mexico previous to the library exhibit. She called the art world new and mysterious, yet she was eager to try her hand. “You don’t get feedback if you don’t put anything out there.”

The show gave each of the artists a chance to find new eyes, ears and avenues to wider audiences and, hopefully, new opportunities to succeed. Rural Wisconsin Artists has aspired to help those people navigate an industry that is always in flux.

“The game has changed in every area, so trying to figure that out with people, for people, is a goal as well,” Mindham said. RWA can make a connection that was previously inaccessible. For instance, an artist based in Crawford County might not have the time or resources to reach out in another county. “If we see a place, a gallery, outside their own area that would work, we’re approaching them [galleries] and saying, ‘You know, I have an artist that may be a good fit.’”

Mindham and O’Tigham both stated another goal was to inform people about the benefits of art, especially as school funding for art has been on the cutting block in many places. “The advantages to exposing yourself to art are vast,” Mindham said.

“Art is good for the brain; it’s good to make, it’s good to look at too,” O’Tigham stated.

Mindham saw RWA’s mission to help grow the art community as more than a way for artists to expand beyond their community; in fact, it could bring growth back to rural communities like Prairie du Chien so it can support its art community. “The ultimate goal: I’d love to see an art center where we could do lots more supporting of the arts and creating art.”

The pieces shown at the exhibit will continue to be displayed at the Memorial Public Library in Prairie du Chien through November.

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