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Art collecting. The very phrase is a little intimidating. For some, it conjures up visions of fabulously wealthy people, sleek galleries with champagne receptions and disdain for anyone not in the know.
But building up a collection of artful things - whether craft or fine art - doesn't have to be off-putting or even expensive. While Madison may not have the range of galleries found in larger cities, it does have an array of places where you can nab treasures to adorn yourself and your home. From jewelry and ceramics to paintings and sculpture, here's a look at just some of the places in town where you can scratch your aesthetic itch.
And there's no better time to start looking than the twice-yearly Gallery Night, when venues citywide invite you in for a browse. The fall 2010 Gallery Night is Friday, Oct. 1 (see sidebar). For an extensive listing of local galleries, check the Gallery Night ad on the back page of this issue.
In terms of sheer numbers, the Regent and Monroe Street nexus has the greatest range of galleries. Grace Chosy Gallery (1825 Monroe St.) has been in business for more than 30 years and focuses on contemporary regional artists.
During October, the gallery will feature new work by Alberta Marana and Leslie DeMuth, both landscape painters who focus on northern climes. DeMuth, an oil painter from Lake Mills, focuses on southern Wisconsin, while Marana works in pastels and hails from Duluth.
Aside from the Chosy Gallery's temporary shows, you'll find a range of artist-made jewelry, prints, paintings and more. The gallery is heavy on well-respected local names, such as printmakers Jayne Reid Jackson and Ray Gloeckler and painters Helen Klebesadel and Randall Berndt.
Jackson's velvety mezzotints show her mastery of that print technique, and Gloeckler, a UW emeritus professor of printmaking, has a whimsical spirit. Berndt's paintings are colorful yet reveal a tension between humans and the natural world; humans are pulled by animalistic desires or forces outside their control.
Further down Monroe, in the same Knickerbocker Place shopping center that houses Bluephies, are Janus Galleries and Milward Farrell Fine Art (2701 Monroe St.). While Grace Chosy's inventory is strictly contemporary, Janus gives off an Old Masters vibe - even though plenty of its stock is contemporary as well.
Subject matter at Janus runs to the traditional: nudes, landscapes, seascapes and figurative paintings, with some sculpture mixed in. It's the kind of work you could picture in a formal living room or a wood-paneled study with immense leather couches. It's not the place for funky abstraction, jewelry or "gifty" items. Janus carries work from the 19th century to the present.
Appealing still-life oil paintings by Yu Qing Wang draw upon art-historical tradition. A single object like an eggplant, avocado or prawn is presented delicately, in a small format.
Milward Farrell is just a few steps away from Janus. It serves up a more eclectic brew of items in nearly every medium: glass, wood, ceramics, paintings, jewelry and more, in prices ranging from "gift" to "investment." Fans of glass sculpture should take note of the "Bobtanicals" by Bob Kliss of Kliszewski Glass. Kliss' colorful, mid-size pieces are not faithful to nature, but rather whimsical creations of his own.
Elsewhere on Monroe, macha teahouse + gallery (1934 Monroe St.) has, as its name suggests, evolved more into a place to sip fine teas and have a leisurely nosh, though the store does still stock contemporary art and jewelry. On a recent visit, I noticed small, colorful mosaics with appetizing themes, like a towering slice of red velvet cake or a piece of fruit.
Nearby, the corner of Regent and Allen has become a hangout for potheads - ceramics fans, that is. Fine Earth Studio & Gallery (2207 Regent St.) is both a gallery and a destination for classes. There are after-school offerings for kids and evening courses for adults. On Gallery Night, you can watch demonstrations of artists throwing pots on the potter's wheel.
About 20 artists are showcased in the gallery portion of Fine Earth. While ceramics are the forte, you'll also find quilts, jewelry and other items. Owner Sara Gordon says that Patty Wochinski's whimsical, frog-themed bowls and vases are popular. Young Harry Potter fans will be captivated by Brian Hahn's hand-turned magic wands made of woods like cherry, hickory and black walnut - some even have Swarovski crystals on their tips.
Kitty-corner from Fine Earth and next to the Regent Market Co-op is Higher Fire Clay Studio and Art Gallery (2132 Regent St.). Higher Fire also offers classes for kids and adults. Work for sale is wide-ranging but includes lots of Arts and Crafts-inspired tiles and whimsical animal themes. For Gallery Night, Higher Fire will spotlight the work of seven artists, including Briony Jean Foy, who makes bird sculptures as well as jewelry that combines fiber work and ceramics.
On Madison's east side, Absolutely Art (2322 Atwood Ave.) is a friendly, welcoming shop with many accessibly priced items.
Paintings by Phil Porter are colorful, spontaneous renderings of Madison scenes. An artist with cognitive disabilities, Porter was institutionalized as a child and young man. Now in his 60s, he has exhibited widely in local cafes, coffee shops and galleries over the past decade. He's a descendent of Lew Porter, architect of our state Capitol and other notable buildings, and Phil Porter says he enjoys painting his great-grandfather's buildings.
Sara Licht's paintings are done in a cheerful, bright, deliberately simplified style. Laura Meddaugh has done a series of humorous paintings featuring chickens creating art in the style of famous artists (imagine a chicken working on a canvas of Warhol-style Peeps).
Absolutely Art also features many smaller items suitable for gift-giving, such as jewelry, yard art, handmade journals and funky found-object sculptures.
If you're strolling State Street, HyArt Gallery (just off State at 133 W. Johnson St.) is a worthwhile stop for well-made, modern, minimalist jewelry of fine materials. Owner and metalsmith Hiroko Yamada stocks her own pieces as well as the work of artists from around the U.S. Her clear sensibility and eye for good design make her shop a cut above most places offering artist-made jewelry.
You'll find rings, pendants, cufflinks and other items for personal adornment. Yamada also does custom work and jewelry repair.
Around the corner from HyArt is Fanny Garver Gallery (230 State St.), which has been in business since 1972. Fanny Garver's painting inventory is generally representational and fairly traditional. It carries the work of well-respected local painters like Georgene Pomplun, known for bucolic Dairyland scenes of barns, rolling fields and quaint houses and churches.
The gallery also has a selection of prints, art glass, jewelry and other media, spanning a wide variety of prices.
While I don't think of museum shops as galleries per se, the stores within the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (227 State St.) and Chazen Museum of Art (800 University Ave.) are great places to hunt for gifts that have the added benefit of supporting the museums' programming. The MMoCA shop has an especially good selection of artful jewelry and household goods.
If you're in MMoCA, you're not far from the James Watrous Gallery (201 State St.), run by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. While it's not a commercial, for-profit gallery, works in the Watrous' exhibitions are frequently for sale, with a portion of the proceeds helping to support the gallery.
Located on the third floor of the Overture Center, the Watrous focuses on art by Wisconsin's leading contemporary artists. It would make a refreshing place to scout for more cutting-edge art if the offerings at Madison's commercial galleries are too traditional for your taste.
For another off-the-beaten-path option, try the Steinhauer Trust Gallery (1207 Seminole Hwy.), located within the visitor center at the UW-Madison Arboretum. The show "Summer's End," featuring textiles by Illinois artist Barbara Schneider, runs through Oct. 30. While Schneider's nature themes are an obvious fit for the Arboretum, the work isn't expected or insipid. Some Asian-inflected pieces hang scroll-like from the wall. Others with delicate cutouts suggest leaves that have begun to decay.
In Middleton, the Bindley Collection (6771 University Ave.) is one of the area's largest galleries, and it's well worth a stop. Formerly located in Hilldale Mall, the shop offers textiles, photography, ceramics, jewelry, painting, sculpture and more.
Tiny, whimsical prints by Scott Westgard caught my eye. He marries a miniaturist's fine technique with a sense of the absurd (to wit, his studies of lint). Also of note is the work of Marcia Smith, a Madisonian who is both a painter and ceramicist. Some of her vases come in surprising colors and shapes, such as a flattened oval in matte blue ceramic with calligraphic detail.
Of course, this isn't a comprehensive look at Madison galleries and other spaces to see and buy art. And just a short drive from Madison, Spring Green, Paoli and other communities offer numerous collecting opportunities.
While art may seem like a luxury - especially in the current climate - it can also be a truly meaningful purchase in a world in which so many things are mass-produced and disposable. Looking back over the years, I've never regretted buying something I truly loved.
To plan out your purchases, try following the lead of some collectors I've talked to and mark an anniversary, birthday or other yearly milestone with a piece of art. Before you know it, you'll have an impressive collection of your own.
Walk and gawk
Just as summer's Art Fair on the Square offers you a great chance to see a lot of art in one fell swoop, so does the twice-annual Gallery Night. Both events are organized by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
While the fair concentrates its wares in one place, Gallery Night is a diffuse celebration of the arts scattered across the city. On Friday, Oct. 1, 65 venues will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Many will host demonstrations or meet-and-greets with artists.
With so much to see, it's easiest to just choose a section of town to focus on. Check out the map insert in this issue of Isthmus (the map can also be found at many local businesses and online). Choose your top picks for east, west or downtown, and get moving.
And if you can't see everything you want to, don't fret. Gallery Night is a terrific reminder that commercial galleries and nonprofit art spaces are here all year and eager for your patronage. Saving the Gallery Night map gives you an easy checklist of galleries to hit throughout the year.
Some of Friday's highlights include the unveiling of a public sculpture at the entrance of the UW Art Lofts; new prints by major national artists at Tandem Press, the UW's exceptional printmaking studio; and free admission to the Madison Children's Museum from 6 to 8 p.m.