SOLDIERS GROVE - Artists, art lovers, school art programs, and the local economy all came away winners during the Driftless Area Art Festival held this past September in Soldiers Grove. The festival attracted about 5,600 art lovers from 21 states and 255 zip codes and the 78 artists sold over $140,000 worth of art.
Several awards for excellence were made. The 2017 Best of Show Award, sponsored by J Gallery Interior Design Studio, LaCrosse, went to Ray Bock, a woodworker who has lived for the last 25 years on a farm near Viroqua. After studying design and photography at the Illinois Institute of Technology and 10 years working in commercial photography, Ray left Chicago for his family farm, and focused on designing and making custom furniture. Experimenting with new designs and construction techniques resulted in architecturally inspired boxes in exotic and figured solid woods, which he has done since 2008.
The People’s Choice Award, sponsored by VIVA Gallery Artist Cooperative of Viroqua, is selected each year by festival attendees. The award went for a second year in a row to Ken and Michelle Workowski of Viola. They create beautiful home furnishings from natural materials such as wood and bark, like birch-bark frames, poplar-bark baskets, lamps, paper lampshades, antler chandeliers, brooms, cabinetry, willow chairs and other custom furniture.
The first of two Merit Awards sponsored by State Street Gallery of LaCrosse went to Kathleen Aaker of LaCrosse. Kathy is known for her contemporary handwoven wearables, woven with linen and wool mixed with silks or Tencel. She creates beautiful vests and scarves, along with table runners and wall hangings. Her colors and textures are exceptionally striking.
A second Merit Award went to Joe Schwarte of Gays Mills. A Chicago native, he designed his first piece of furniture in 1967 while in the Army, and under the GI Bill he studied at the American Academy of Art while he worked in the construction trades. He creates furniture that is functional, beautiful and sculptural, and his work is in homes from New York to Los Angeles, and has been shown in many publications.
A team of professional artists also spent several hours in the Youth Art tent and awarded blue ribbons, cash prizes and art supplies in various categories.
The Teen Art Gallery awarded ribbons and various prizes. In first place was Lane Buchner, a junior at DeSoto High School. She won a ribbon and a $75 prize for her acrylic piece, ‘Art Evolution.’ Lane’s parents are Meg and Joe Buchner, and her art teacher is Tim Stingl.
A second-place ribbon and $50 went to Abbie Pickett, a junior at North Crawford High School, for her acrylic painting, ‘Lichtenstein Portrait.’ Her parents are Jason and Shayla Pickett, and her teacher is Brandie Myhre.
A third-place ribbon and a $25 check went to Jacob Kindrai, a sophomore at Lancaster High School, for his horsehair ceramic vase, titled ‘Serendipity.’ Jacob’s teacher is Gloria Fuller.
Three blue ribbon winners were selected from over 350 pieces from 13 Driftless Area schools, exhibited in the KidsArt Gallery. There were three grade categories, K-3, 4-5, and 6-8. Third grader Vincent Ubersox of Winskill Elementary in Lancaster won a blue ribbon for his chalk pastel piece ‘Chalkman.’ Vincent is the son of Rod and Lorelei Ubersox and his art teacher is Heather Critchlow.
Sixth grader Autumn Jacks of Kickapoo Middle School won a blue ribbon for her acrylic painting, ‘Night and Day.’ Her parents are Tim and Bianca Jacks and her teacher is Heather Johnson.
Seventh grader Emma Krings, of Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School in Viroqua, won the blue ribbon for her watercolor painting, ‘Renaissance Breath of Life.’ Emma’s parents are Dan and Jean Krings and her teacher is Jenny Allen.
Each of the three blue ribbon winners will receive a check for $25 and a framed copy of the winning piece. And all three pieces will be sold at live auction next year, with the proceeds going to the art programs in the students’ schools.
The 2016 winning pieces were sold at live auction on Saturday evening of the 2017 Driftless Area Art Festival, raising a total of $1,025 for the art programs in Iowa-Grant Elementary in Livingston, Doudna Elementary in Richland Center, and St. Charles in Genoa. That brings to a total of $10,835 the funds raised for art programs since 2010.
The festival weekend itself was estimated to have had an economic impact for the area of about $420,000, including lodging, food and associated expenditures. Art is indeed good for everyone.
Major funding partners for the festival include Peoples State Bank, the Village of Soldiers Grove and its Community Development Corporation, and Wisconsin Public Radio. Other benefactors include Scenic Rivers Energy Cooperative, Organic Valley, Rooted Spoon Culinary, Sleepy Hollow Auto, Star Valley Flowers, and Vernon Communications Cooperative, along with other corporate and private sponsors. Complete lists, along with full details on the festival, can found at www.DriftlessAreaArtFestival.com.