Drive to Madison by Phil Kucera
Thursday, May 31.
Madison is a long enough drive from up north. A little short of five hours. It’s Highway 51 from Hurley, across from Ironwood, Michigan where I live. Terry Daulton, our fearless leader departed from greater Mercer either ahead of, or behind me on the same road. I knew that Ann Singsaas would slip in from Stevens Point as our disparate caravan aimed itself at Madtown.
Five hours was time enough to think about the two days ahead, mounting an exhibition, then holding forth at a public reception on Farmers Market Saturday on the Square. Terry and I had worked as a team mounting exhibits in the past and I believe we’ve found our comfort zone. Ann was an unknown to me, other than the knowledge, through our little project, that she’s a crackerjack graphic artist who can make real things out of the garbage I send her. I trusted she would work out splendidly as the third link in a short chain that intended to capture the inhabitants of the Capital City with the Penokee exhibit.
Five hours gives one time to ruminate on possible pitfalls of mounting a show in the Wisconsin State Capital building. What issues lay before us? Will someone watch over our shoulder every minute telling us what we can, and can’t, do? Parking, offloading, restrictions, space limitations. A dozen concerns can keep a person awake on a long road. Finally, in Madison, a fine dinner with friends, chased by a classic Wisconsin micro brew or two to ease my worries a bit. Actually, easing them quite a bit.
Friday, June 1. Terry and I met outside the Capital at our preplanned time. We both found the unloading ramp, and right at 9am. A good start. We had eight hours, not counting lunch, to offload display fixtures and the work of 20 artists, and a miscellany of tools, spare parts and…my cell phone…which I never use…much to Terry’s consternation. At 8:59 on Thursday Terry was wondering if I had ever left Ironwood. My shin still has a lump from the kick I received.
It was an awesome, and humbling experience to be in the Capital, let alone mounting the exhibit in such a magnificent structure. If you’ve walked the halls you know what I mean. If you’ve never visited the Capital, right now, place it on your bucket list… at the very top. I won’t describe it, discover it yourself. But it is just like the Penokee Hills, awesome, humbling, magnificent.
And I won’t go into the details on our two days in town. But I will tell you about three memorable incidents. I noticed that throughout the morning not a person bothered us as we worked. Not a question on what we were doing. It seemed everyone in the Capital knew what we were about and thought it best to just leave us alone. Strangely, it felt to the three of us more like working on a project at home.
Late Friday morning we three met with Wisconsin Northern State Representative, Janet Bewley. A photo-op should be on her website in a day or two. Ms. Bewley was a delightful conversationalist and a gracious host for our Capital adventure. I hope you’ll all get a chance to meet her. It was a fine lunch at an Irish pub across the square, a Guinness Stout for me, the talk centering on the high quality of the artwork submitted, and the two big P’s, Penokees and Politics. One thing that Janet said struck me. I mentioned the feeling of being at home to Janet during lunch. Her answer? “Well, you do know, this is ‘the peoples house.’” Yes, it is.
Saturday, June 2. The third incident fortified the second. Picture the exhibition encircling the first floor rotunda. Noon Saturday with the Saturday crowds. Frank had driven up from Chicago, joining us to meet the public during the reception. We four were standing in conversation near the railing when, from the floor below, the words to the Civil Rights Movement anthem, We Shall Overcome, came to us in song. The rumble of visitor talk on four floors dropped a notch. The singular clear voice of a man simply dressed, head held high, filled the room to the heights of the dome. Voices softly joined the refrain. Following the last note of the last verse, silence. Then a hand in applause here, another joining there. He raised his fist, nodded, walked off. I’ll attest to the fact there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The peoples house.
Sunday, June 3. I assume most, if not all of the artists, will attend the Ashland opening. What you’ll see is what we saw walking through the mounted exhibit on Saturday; a uniformly high degree of artistic ability, a cohesiveness of thought, a moving statement on the Penokee Hills. And it all began on a rainy day just a few short months ago with a conversation at a park table in Mellen, in the heart of the Penokees. Working on any aspect of this project, we should all feel great pride, and a sense of accomplishment for what we’ve achieved, a story well told about the Iron Hills.