While Charles Munch may not be a household name in Madison, his work is familiar from shows at the old Madison Art Center, the Wisconsin Academy Gallery, or from serving as the main image on the 2004 Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission Poster. (That painting, 'Wisconsin Fantasy,' is owned by Madison environmentalist and Community Car co-founder Sonya Newenhouse.)
The new Charles Munch: Dreaming in Color, Paintings 1971-2006 (Trails Books) has the punch of a lavish coffee-table book, reduced to a smaller and more portable (and affordable at $20) package.
Munch's style is a vivid combo of the dense Arts and Crafts style of illustration and the bold graphic outlines of Keith Haring, with an echo of Glen Baxter's dashy cartoon people. The scenarios, though, seem drawn from some long-lost volume of potent Jungian north woods fairy tales. 'Much of the appeal of his recent paintings is the tension between their colorful, accessible style and the enigma of Munch's intent,' writes co-author Jody Clowes in one of the two essays in the book. While the book won't overtly explain a viewer's relationship to Munch's paintings, it certainly should deepen it.
While Clowes' essay places Munch's work in a critical context, surveying his early realist painting, Richard Ely's essay provides a brief but tantalizing biography. Munch and his partner, Jane Furchgott, traveled around the U.S. and Europe in a minibus in the 1970s, painting all the while. He eventually ended up in an old house in Door County, attempting to establish an intentional community ' an offshoot of the Kerista Village commune in San Francisco. 'Leftover hippie idealism, I guess,' says Munch now, from his home outside of Lone Rock, Wis. The biographic material, while more than usually revealing for an art book of this kind, seems like fertile ground for a full-length memoir or even the basis for a novel.
Dreaming in Color was conceived as a companion to a 35-year retrospective exhibition of Munch's work at the Fairfield Art Center in Sturgeon Bay. He chose the paintings; Clowes and Ely winnowed from there ' it was their decision whether to talk about any particular image, says Munch, who otherwise acted as a project manager on the book.
It's somewhat more appealing as an artist to have the work reach people subconsciously ('I like it best when people absorb it like poetry') than have them read about it, Munch concedes, but 'some people are not open to being reached that way. People get access to art from all different directions. For some it's all about subject matter, for some it's about color, for some it has to do with knowing the artist.' He'd noticed that people are curious about how paintings come out of an artist's life, so he wanted to expose more of how an artist lives life and carries on a lifelong quest for 'whatever it is you're after as an artist.'
For him, one of the intriguing aspects of the project was going back to look at his very early paintings: 'They were more like history than memories. They felt almost like they had happened to someone else.' He hopes that people will be able to line up the events in the biography with changes happening in the painting at the same time.
He also hopes the book will inspire readers 'who are themselves trying to accomplish a life project ' either art or some other large goal ' something you carry on with through thick and thin because you care that much about it.'
Madison artist and art historian Melanie Herzog ventures into the history of photography with her new book, Milton Rogovin: The Making of a Social Documentary Photographer ( University of Washington Press).
Milton Rogovin, once dubbed 'Buffalo New York's Number One Communist' practiced social documentary photography after its Depression-era heyday, taking political chances in the unfriendly 1950s, when the activist style had fallen out of favor.
Herzog, who teaches at Edgewood College, became involved with the Rogovin story in a roundabout fashion through her first book, on the American/Mexican sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett. While in Mexico researching that volume, she interviewed Mark Rogovin, who had studied with Catlett, and is Milton Rogovin's son. He, in turn, recommended Herzog to his parents as someone who could help publish his father's autobiography.
'Mark handed me a three-ring binder that basically held the typed transcript of the handwritten autobiography. I said, 'I'm not an editor, I can't do this.' He said, 'Just come meet my parents.''
Herzog is interested in political artists and socially conscious art, and had been interested in Milton's photos for a long time.
'I went to Buffalo, met Milton and his wife, Anne, and fell completely in love with them.' She also came away from the meeting realizing that Rogovin's autobiography needed 'a historical framework that would contextualize his story.' Herzog ultimately wrote that part of the book, including large sections of Rogovin's memoirs. She hopes her voice as the historian and the voice of the artist are 'almost a dialogue.'
The body of work Rogovin produced, in travels from Mexico to Harlem, surveying the lives of steelworkers and miners and worshipers in storefront churches, is illuminating and at times startling ' but seldom depressing, for his eye seemed to find the light in all of his subjects. He himself liked to emphasize that he would ''find' photographs rather than 'make' them, meaning that he did not compose his photograph, but rather sought situations in which his subjects were able to present themselves in significant ways,' writes Herzog. The book is a fascinating combination of black-and-white plates, American and photographic history, and Rogovin's insights into a lifelong passion.
Rogovin, who will turn 97 this month, is doing pretty well, although 'his mind is not as sharp as it was,' says Herzog. 'He's gratified that people are recognizing his work, but he's not giving in-depth interviews.'
Melanie Herzog will talk about her book and Rogovin's photos at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative on Dec. 9.
An update on Madison young-adult author E. E. Charlton-Trujillo, whose first novel, Prizefighter en Mi Casa, won the Delacorte Dell Yearling contest for best first middle-grade novel and was published in August (Book News, March 2005). It recently picked up another award, the Parents' Choice Silver Honor: 'Deftly written,' says the prize board. 'e. E. Charlton-Trujillo gives life and sadness, hope and despair to a Mexican family living in a small town in south Texas.'
Most important to Charlton-Trujillo, 'the kids are reading it.' It's not the usual 'pop girls lit,' but a realistic look at tough, resilient figures. Charlton-Trujillo's second novel, Feels Like Home, will be published in April. It centers on the strained relationship between a brother and sister, and whether it can be mended. S.E. Hinton's classic young-adult novel The Outsiders is 'almost like a character itself in the novel,' says Charlton-Trujillo. That book was dear to her when she was young, and it's 'timeless, the themes still carry over. I hope this book does justice to her work.' Next up, Charlton-Trujillo is off to Pennsylvania to work on her third novel in the Intense Novel Mentor Program (sponsored by the children's magazine Highlights), led by National Book Award winner Carolyn Coman.
The Banta Award, given yearly by the Wisconsin Library Association for 'the highest literary achievement by a Wisconsin author,' this year went to UW-Madison professor Sean Carroll for his Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom. Carroll, a professor of genetics and molecular biology, addresses 'evo devo' (not an '80s band, but shorthand for evolutionary development) in terms the lay person can grasp without the nods of condescension that sometimes sneak into such 'pop' science works.
The committee also singled out 10 more Wisconsin authors for outstanding achievement for books published in 2005: Dean Bakopoulos of Madison for his novel Please Don't Come Back From the Moon (Harcourt); David Harris Ebenbach, formerly of Madison, for his short-story collection Between Camelots (Pittsburgh); John Hildebrand of Eau Claire for his A Northern Front: New and Selected Essays (Borealis Books); Harvey Kaye of Green Bay for his history Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (Hill & Wang); Sandra Kring of Brantwood for her novel Carry Me Home (Delta); Laurie Lawlor of Walworth County for her natural history This Tender Place: The Story of a Wetland Year (U. Wisconsin Press); Michael Perry of New Auburn for his essays Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets, and Gatemouth's Gator (Perennial); Richard Schickel of Madison for his biography of Elia Kazan (Harper Collins); Michael Schumacher of Kenosha for Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald (Bloomsbury); and Susan Vreeland of Racine for her collection of short fiction Life Studies (Viking).
For those with a passion for prairies, the UW-Arboretum has produced its own guidebook, Prairie Plants, by UW Herbarium curator Theodore Cochrane. The impetus for the book came from the inadequacy of the other standard guidebooks, many of which are incomplete or arranged by color instead of by plant classification, which makes them difficult to use for teaching. Three hundred and sixty native and introduced species are found in the Arb's famed restored prairies. In addition to stating where these plants are commonly found (sandy soils, wood edges, et al.), the text also specifically states where each species is found in the Arboretum (Greene Prairie, West Knoll, et al.). A companion volume is the much shorter Spring Woodland Wildflowers by Andrew Hipp. Both are found at the wellspring of nature books that is the Arboretum Bookstore in the visitor center, open 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and 12:30-4 p.m. weekends. There will be a reception and book signing at the Arboretum Visitor Center Dec. 16 from 1 to 3 p.m.
The University of Wisconsin Press has two local titles generating considerable buzz ' Stuart Levitan's Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Vol. 1, and Bill Lueders' Cry Rape. Levitan will appear with Randall Davidson in a 'Wisconsin Regional History Event' to discuss Madison and Davidson's history of WHA radio, 9XM Talking, at Barnes & Noble West on Jan. 16.
Another local UW Press author, William Tishler, will talk about his history of Peninsula State Park, Door County's Emerald Treasure, at the University Book Store-Hilldale on Dec. 11.
Acquisitions editor Raphael Kadushin notes that the Press' travel titles are also doing well this season, including The Ice Cave by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (a 'best book of 2006' pick by Library Journal) and Mr. Ding's Chicken Feet: On a Slow Boat from Shanghai to Texas by Gillian Kendall (a New York Times pick in its holiday gift giving guide).