By Kremena Spengler
NEW ULM - "Brush Strokes from the Past," the art show that opened at the Brown County Historical Society on April 17, promises to familiarize viewers with works rarely shown to the public before.
Pam Krzmarzick adjusts the lighting above several of the paintings in the “Brushstrokes from the Past” exhibition at the Brown County Historical Society Museum in New Ulm.
The show, which takes up the second floor of the museum, features about 55 pieces of art from private individuals and institutions, and about 30 pieces of art from the Brown County Historical Society's own collection.
Organized in three sections, it ranges from more familiar "old masters" such as Anton Gag, Wanda Gag or Alexander Schwendinger; to professional artists like Steve Kramer or Lloyd Marti; to "hobbyists" like Carl Pfaender or Otis Stelljes.
The artists include nationally renowned figures and "trailblazers" - for example, Lowell Bobleter, whose prints and etchings, by 1940, were included among the "16 Best Prints" produced in the United States and Britain twelve times (some of his works, actually in oil, are on loan from the Minnesota State Historical Society); or Shirley Wallner, the first woman to work in the art department at Brown and Bigelow Printing in St. Paul, as a book illustrator.
The exhibition highlights a variety of connections: displaying, side by side, generations of artists from the same family, or students beside their teachers.
The art pieces represent a variety of mediums: water colors, oils, pencil drawings, prints, sculptures, pottery, tile...
Thanks to a grant from the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, the exhibition will be accompanied by a color catalog including reproductions of the works and information about the artists.
In addition to museum employees, the show has been created by volunteers, notably, Ian Laird who among other tasks designed its logo.
The show will remain on display until April 2010.
One of the show's curators, Sue Ullery, walked us through the gallery space, highlighting its organization and pointing out and sharing tidbits about artists along the way.
The center section is taken up by the "professionals" - those who, usually after formal training, made a career out of art.
This section includes Lowell Bobleter, Bill Bockus, Paul Klammer, Steven Kramer, Paul Lehman, Lloyd Marti, Thomas Olson and Shirley Wallner.
An art educator, painter and etcher, Bobleter, grandson of renowned military and civic leader Gen. Joseph Bobleter, served as Executive Director of the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art, professor of art at Hamline University and superintendent of fine arts at the Minnesota State Fair.
In 1940 he was named one of 12 outstanding American printers. His etchings are included in permanent collections of the U.S. Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institute, the New York Public Library, the National Gallery of Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, to just name some.
Bockus, a colorful personage who bicycled through Europe, spent a year as an interpreter in Panama during the building of the canal and served in the Pacific during WWII with the Marines, ended up teaching art in California. His prints evidence exposure to an Asian aesthetics; he also developed a unique technique of layering sculpt metal onto wooden plates, to create deeply embossed, dimensional surfaces.
Klammer, who came to New Ulm to work as a photographer at Meyer's Studio, used watercolor as his favored medium, although he created pencil drawings and dabbled in oils.
Kramer, who received instruction from another featured artist, Marti, at New Ulm High School, was widely exhibited in the Midwest and West. He worked in watercolor, acrylics, mixed media, stone carving and clay.
Marti's own first love was photography. Some of his photographs - of the liberation of the Ohrdruf forced labor camp in Weimar, Germany - are in the collection of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. He painted watercolors as a "form of relaxation." Many young people in New Ulm attribute their artistic educations to him.
Lehman became a portrait artist and instructor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago.
Olson, who first worked in graphic arts, relocated to Seattle, specializing in scenes of the Pacific Northwest.
Wallner's first full-color project was My Baby Book in 1962. She went on to illustrate some 22 children's books.
Walking on, the "old masters'" wing off of the center section represents 19th and early 20th century artists: Joseph Biebl, Anton Gag, Flavia Gag, Wanda Gag, Christian Heller, Alexander Schwendinger, his father Ignatz and his brother Theodore.
These artists are too interesting to be done justice on a single page.
Some connections, however, are interesting to point out.
Biebl, whose sister married Anton Gag, enjoyed drawing, sketching and painting scenery and buildings. He and several of his unmarried siblings lived together on the family farm. The Anton Gag children, including Wanda and Flavia, were intrigued by the Biebls' creativity and imagination. Some of Wanda's best-known lithographs were inspired by her visits to the Biebl farm.
Heller partnered with Anton Gag to beautify public spaces and private homes, including Turner Hall; and both Heller and Anton Gag partnered with Alexander Schwendinger to paint beautiful murals at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. The three men also collaborated on a series of panoramic murals depicting scenes from the Dakota War of 1862.
The east wing of the exhibition is dedicated to artists who Ullery loosely terms "hobbyists," since many of them actually sold their art; and all were serious about it.
Mabel Durbahn, Catherine Nierengarten, Beatrice Olson, Carl Pfaender, Friedrich Sallet, Frederick Schapekahm, Harriet Schroeck Otis Stelljes, Vinnie Stewart, Virginia Strate, Benjamin Wiltscheck Lenore Windland, Joey Yost, Christian Ahlness, Marie Ahlness, Dorothy Hein, Peter Koehler, June Lueck, Gwenn Peters, Josephine Pfaender, Lorraine Schultz display amazingly diverse talents and tastes.
A small sampling:
A watercolor, charcoal and oil artist, Durbahn was especially known for her exquisitely painted ceramic and china dishware.
Nierengarten, a unique, "flamboyant" soul, painted her children, pets, rural scenes, roadsides, architecture.
Beatrice Olson made pottery, created Norwegian rosemaling and painted oils and pastels.
Carl Pfaender, nursery operator by trade, worked in many mediums, including pencil sketches, painting and sculpting.
Sallet is represented by wood duck decoys; Schapekahm by landscapes of rivers, lakes and fields populated by wildlife...
The discoveries to be made by visiting the exhibition are plentiful and surprising...