Driftless Area artists express their passions at weekend festival

Art fest puzzleman
William Waite, Prairie du Chien, was one of the most distinctive creators at the Driftless Area Art Festival in Soldiers Grove last weekend. He displayed, explained and sold his Wood “Brain-Teaser” Puzzles to the thousands of fest-goers who enjoyed a beautiful weekend surrounded by art in the park. (Photos by Correne Martin)
Art fest one-of-a-kind
The animated Larry Durfey, Holmen, described to those visiting his booth Saturday how he keeps busy in retirement with his unique form of photography, which involves a technique in which a chemical reaction produces one-of-a-kind pictures.
Art fest Finnegan
Oil painter Joan Finnegan, Lanesboro, Minn., talks about her craft with a few Driftless Area Art Festival guests Saturday.
Art fest kids
These kids got found their artistic style and Halloween spirit all at the same time with some pumpkin decorating.
Art fest natureframes
Michelle Workowski, whose booth adjoined her husband Ken’s, prepared some merchandise for sale in their space of natural wood home furnishings.
Art fest seller
Jamie Heiden, Holmen, who was named the People’s Choice Award Winner in 2010, 2011 and 2012, completes a sale with a customer. Heiden’s work is non-traditional photography, in which she combines layers of the same photograph to create a deeper-looking, more artistic finished product.

By Correne Martin

Thousands of people stepped into the whimsical village-like gallery of originality at the Driftless Area Art Festival last weekend at the Beauford T. Anderson Park in Soldiers Grove. Visitors were treated to two days of visual, culinary and performing arts, and the fall-like temperatures certainly added to the enjoyment for those taking advantage of the cultural opportunity. Artists chatted with people of all ages who attended with their friends and family. Many children and dogs took in the offerings as well.

Eighty-four visual artists hailed from all over the region, including communities like Wauzeka, Prairie du Chien, Bloomington, Viroqua, Blue Mounds, Trempealeau, Fairchild, Holmen, Arkansaw, Verona, Dodgeville, Bangor, Mineral Point and Hillpoint in Wisconsin; as well as Wabasha, Spring Grove, Winona and Lanesboro in Minnesota; and Decorah, Guttenberg and McGregor in Iowa.

Their tents showcased many varieties of artwork, such as oil paintings, watercolor paintings, photography, drawings, clay art, stoneware, glassware, pottery, stained-glass mosaics, jewelry, clothing, wool hats, scarves, quilts, art yarns, rustic furniture, wooden home furnishings, lathe-turned hollow vessels, painted gourds, fiber bowls, basketry, metalsmithing, ornamental ironwork, and even wood “brain-teaser” puzzles. Many additional art forms were simply indescribable. In general, about half of the hand-crafted items were considered functional pieces while the other half seemed created to simply add beauty to the world.

Everyone in attendance was handed a slip of paper on which they could vote for their favorite artist, who would earn the title of People’s Choice Award Winner. The Committee’s Choice Award was also given to a single artist whose booth display and body of work was judged to be exemplary in design and artistic merit. Both received a $100 cash prize and a ribbon as well as special recognition. The winners will be announced in the next issue of the Courier Press.

In addition to all the surreal visuals at the park, a handful of culinary artists sold organic and flavorful plates of fare such as chicken and pork wraps, fruity crepes, apple sandwiches, wood-fired pizza and berry-topped goodies, while others served up locally-grown coffee and regional wines and beers for the long lines of hungry strollers.

A number of performing artists strummed their instruments to the laid-back tone of the event, providing time to dance throughout the weekend too. Performers included River Ramblers, Patchouli, Big Blue Sky and String Ties.

A small group of stilt walkers dressed in Renaissance-inspired garb made their way through the grounds for additional entertainment. Many yellow-shirted volunteers and festival committee members also interacted with event-goers throughout the park. In the KidsArt tent, rows upon rows of paintings, drawings and pottery decorated the space, while youngsters tried their hand at coloring various types of canvasses and weaving threads on a loom.

By the end of the weekend, the artists left pleased about introducing their art form to thousands of new people, including many buyers of their works. Every year, organizers set their sights on bringing in more people, which in turn means more sales for the artists, more tourism dollars, and most importantly more awareness of how talented the artists of the Driftless Area are.

Last year, when 5,100 people attended the festival from 273 different zip codes and 20 states, artists’ sales topped $112,000. Since the inception of the festival in 2005, artists’ sales have totaled $537,000. Culinary vendors sold over $20,000 in food and beverages in 2012. According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the 2012 festival brought over $337,000 tourism dollars into the area.

This year’s figures will be released as soon as they are available.

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