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Gift of memories

Commissioned portraits need not be of people or pets. I was recently contacted by good friends to create a gift for neighbors who were moving away, a portrait of their cherished family home as they were preparing to move elsewhere. A portrait is a reminder of a what a moment in time looked like, but it is also a reminder of what that person or place means to the viewer. In this case it is capturing 20 years of warm family memories from holiday gatherings to skinned knees to bedtime stories, now a moment in time ready to be hung on the wall of their new home.

"We wanted to let you know that the owners of Ardmore were thrilled with their print!!! She was in tears when we gave it to her. 😊 She had always wanted to have one done. To say the least, it was greatly appreciated they loved the details on the planters and the pillow. After 20 years of memories, they will cherish it for a long time."

– Desty

Thank you to Desty and Connie for the commission!


Painting 4471 N Prospect

I walk a lot - for exercise and sanity - long walks through my neighborhood in the mornings before work. There are certain homes that tend to draw my attention over and over, for various reasons. There's one I love, way up at the top of my walk at the northeast corner of Shorewood, Wisconsin - I've photographed this home over and over.

The house is so pretty - fresh white paint and dark trim - the graphic quality draws my eye. Add to that the fact that in the morning the sun blasts through the tree in front of the house to throw a cacophony of dappled light effects onto the house. The view is stunning, day after day, and I have often thought I'd like to try painting that scene. Over the last week I finally took on the task and above is the result.

The work is digital, I painted it using software on my tablet. I've moved to digital - originally for storage concerns. However, I've really grown to love working digitally, for many reasons. First of all, unlike traditional watercolor I can make endless changes and edits. Second of all, digital format offers a whole new realm of techniques to be learned and mastered - a whole new set of fun creative challenges (woot!). Also, I can take my tablet with me anywhere and as long as I have power to charge it, I can paint and paint and paint. And finally, there's the original reason for choosing digital - storage. After 10 years of seriously pursuing a painting career, I have an attic full of canvases in various states of done-ness and twice as much as that in art supplies. It's a problem. Digital fixes all of that.

Anyway - hoping to keep this going for years to come! 😀

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Leading the Charge for Migrant Workers Rights

OK! This is the 11th and final canvas for the "Portrait of Milwaukee Progress" installation. Again - this piece is in draft status - completed canvases will be available for view at the opening exhibition at MATC in August of 2021. Jesús Salas is unusual in this collection of canvasses as being the only subject who is still active in the community. I chose to focus on Mr Salas because of his decades of activism fighting for fair treatment of migrant workers in Wisconsin. For the portrait, I focused on an inspirational image of Mr Salas, fist raised and big smile, speaking at a rally in the 60s. Top left I featured a scene of migrant workers in the field, top right a scene of the famous protest march led by Mr Salas from Wautoma to Madison, and bottom left Mr Salas and his contemporaries at a press conference.

Jesús Salas

Jesús Salas, a Mexican-American and third generation migrant worker, has been involved in nearly every aspect of the agriculture and migrant worker movement in Wisconsin over the last half century. From founding Obreros Unidos to being CEO of United Migrant Opportunity Services , Salas has led protests, marches, and organizing efforts to secure rights and improve conditions for himself, his family, and the migrant community during the 1960s and 1970s. Salas was a founder of Obreros Unidos - the United Workers union. The group organized a march from Wautoma to Madison in 1966 to protest migrant worker conditions as well as walkouts against the produce company Libby’s, and also joined forces with Cesar Chavez’s national boycott of grapes to expand its impact in Wisconsin. Mr Salas also joined up with Fr James Groppi in the first protest march on the Allen-Bradley Co. on Aug. 13, 1968, advocating for equality in hiring practices. Salas went on to become the first Latino CEO of United Migrant Opportunity Services  in 1969, and fought for equal opportunity for Latino students at UW-Milwaukee. Still later, he taught bilingual skills for 20 years at Milwaukee Area Technical College, lectured at UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, and from 2003-2007 served on the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. Today, he volunteers for Voces de la Frontera and speaks about his work advocating for the rights of migrant workers.

Side note - I am not the only artist who has been impressed by the work of Jesús Salas. His portrait is also featured in an enormous mural called "Culture Work" on the South side of Butters-Fetting building on on the northwest corner of Mitchell and 1st Streets in Milwaukee. The mural was a community project created with the help of urban historian Michael Carriere and painted by Peck School of the Arts teacher Raoul Deal, Milwaukee high school students, and UW-Milwaukee students. When I first started researching Mr Salas I couldn't get past the idea that he looked familiar - turns out I'd seen his face many times before while we ate dinner at Transfer Pizzeria, located right across the street.

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Pioneer of LGBTQ Rights

I'm getting close to finished with the 11 canvasses for "Portrait of Milwaukee Progress" - commissioned by MATC. This piece, like the others, is still in draft status but will be completed in time for the opening exhibition in August of 2021. Eldon Murray made an enormous positive impact on the LGBTQ community in Milwaukee and across the US. Unlike many other gay people who lived during the time, his position in life allowed him to be open about who he was. From this place of safety, he was able to devote his life to helping others who were not as lucky. For this piece I focused on a photo of him from later in his life in the foreground and in the background depicted a Gay Pride Parade day in Milwaukee. In the midground I have layered in a portrait from when he was young and in the service on the right, and also an image of Eldon Murray dressed in drag (on the far left).

Eldon Eugene Murray, 1930-2007

Eldon Eugene Murray was proud to be a leader in the gay rights movement nationally and in Milwaukee. He grew up in born Vincennes, Indiana, moved to Chicago at 18 to start a career in finance and later served in Korean war. In 1955 he relocated to Milwaukee, and that's when he was able to really advance his career and became a successful stockbroker. Eldon has said that the Stonewall riots of 1969 were a turning point for him. "I was 39 years old and established in business," he says. "My clients didn't care as long as I made money for them. I could stand up and be openly Gay when few people could." Thus started his lifelong advocacy for gay rights and liberation. He was the host of the one of the first regularly broadcast gay radio programs, called “Gay Perspectives” in the early 1970s, helped establish the Brady Street Clinic and was an adviser in the early days of the Milwaukee AIDS Project, and he was involved in the Gay Liberation Front at a time when gay people never used their real names. He was one of the founders of the Gay People’s Union, the first major gay liberation organization in Milwaukee. In the 1980s, when AIDS hit Milwaukee, Eldon Murray wrote Murray wrote the grants for what would become the Milwaukee AIDS Project, known later as the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, which is still going strong today. In 1994, he founded SAGE Milwaukee (Senior Action in a Gay Environment), which was Wisconsin’s first organization devoted to issues surrounding aging in the community. Mr Murray received numerous awards and recognition for his efforts in the gay community both locally and nationally. His ability to stand up and be openly gay launched a remarkable string of projects that established a legacy still felt today. His integrity resonates and will live on in the countless lives he embraced. "All through history it has been those whose views and lives have been unorthodox who have had the most profound effect on their time. The world has relied on the genius of the individual, even when eccentric or deviant, to lead the way, but then it has said ‘Look at him. He’s just like me.’ Until recently, Black heroes were omitted from the history books, their accomplishments being ignored entirely. Blacks are busy putting [themselves] back into the pages of history. We must do the same thing ... We must remove the whitewash carefully so that the true picture will emerge and gays both historic and modern can take their rightful place." (Eldon E. Murray, GPU News, March 1973)

For more information:

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Anti Segregation Leader

Civil Rights Leader Won the Fight Against School Segregation

This week's progress on the MATC project, "Portrait of Milwaukee Progress" is a sketch of Lloyd Barbee. A contemporary of Father Groppi and Vel Philips, Mr Barbee was an inspirational lawyer who took the anti segregation case against Milwaukee Public Schools all the way to the US Supreme Court, and won. For this portrait I have combined three images - in the foreground a portrait of Mr Barbee, behind him in the midground is Barbee pictured with a row of anti school segregation protestors, and in the background a scene of children of the era being bussed to school. As with the other images, this one is draft status and the design is in flux, but I'm happy with the direction so far.

Lloyd Barbee, 1925-2002

Lloyd Barbee was a lawyer and noted civil rights leader of the 1960s, fighting to end segregation in Milwaukee. In 1963, working for the NAACP, he challenged the Milwaukee Public Schools to integrate. Barbee organized civil rights activists into the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC), which organized boycotts of the schools and blocked buses, aiming to bring attention to the problem. In 1964 Barbee ran for Wisconsin State Assembly (MKE 6th District) and won. From 1965 to 1977 he was the only African-American in the state legislature, introducing a State Fair Housing bill, and working for fair employment, gay rights, women’s rights, prison reform, legalization of drugs and prostitution, disarming police officers, and taxation of churches. The school boycotts did not sway Milwaukee’s school board, so in 1965 Barbee filed a federal lawsuit Amos et al. v. Board of School Directors of the City of Milwaukee. The case ground on for years, but in 1976, federal judge John Reynolds ruled in favor of Barbee: “I have concluded that segregation exists in the Milwaukee public schools and that this segregation was intentionally created and maintained by the defendants.” MPS appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, but that court supported Judge Reynold’s judgment and Barbee’s case. In 1979 MPS agreed to change its policies and began making progress toward integrating its schools.

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First African-American Voter in Wisconsin

Fighting for freedom and voting rights

Ezekiel Gillespie is the focus of this week's work on the MATC project, "Portrait of Milwaukee Progress". I chose to include Mr Gillespie as his life was particularly extraordinary. Though born to slavery, he fought his whole life for what he knew was right for himself and for his community, taking the fight for Black Suffrage all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. I was only able to find a couple existing images of Mr Gillespie - the one I chose to inspire this portrait showed particular strength in his posture, and I changed the direction of his gaze to peer directly and unflinchingly at the viewer. Directly behind the portrait I inserted a grouping of African-American soldiers of the Civil War, looking worn but powerful. These men fought for the America of Abraham Lincoln's vision, which included the right for African-American men to vote. (The Women's Suffrage movement was to come later). Behind the soldiers is depicted a voting day scene - men of color standing in line, casting votes for the first time. This was a momentous day. This work is still in draft status, but the sketch is starting to come together. I will be adding more drama to the darks and lights and the colorization is likely to change somewhat as well.

Ezekiel Gillespie, 1818-1892

Ezekiel Gillespie was an African-American civil rights leader who won a landmark case securing voting rights for African-American men in Wisconsin. Gillespie was born a slave in Mississippi (or Tennessee), probably the son of an African-American slave and her white slave owner. As a young man he purchased his own freedom for $800. He traveled to Indiana, and soon moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he found success selling groceries at the corner of Mason and Main, and then worked as a railroad porter. He quickly became a leader in the African-American community, an activist fighting for equal rights. He operated a local branch of the Underground Railroad and facilitated the founding of Wisconsin’s first African-American church. In 1865, Gillespie attempted to vote. He was denied a ballot, so he sued the Board of Elections. Gillespie v. Palmer went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The justices of the court sided with Gillespie, in his argument that Wisconsin voters had voted in favor of male African American suffrage in an 1849 referendum. He was the first African-American voter in Wisconsin. 

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Wisconsin's First Bonafide Female Doctor

Perseverance, Dedication and Leadership

Continuing progress on the MATC portrait project this week, I have a draft in progress of Dr Laura Ross Wolcott. An inspiring woman who, through her perseverance, led the way for female doctors in Wisconsin and was an active proponent of the suffragette movement. I was only able to locate a single photo of her, which was in profile. I used that to inspire the foreground image, and in the background I incorporated three other images which relate to her life. The background is a group of female students observing surgical techniques in theater. In the mid ground is a combination of two images from suffragette protests. I imagined what Dr Wolcott would look like straight on, depicted on the woman on the left holding the "Votes For Women" poster.

Dr Laura Ross Wolcott, 1834-1915

Dr Laura Ross Wolcott was the first bonafide female doctor in Wisconsin and an important leader of the woman suffrage movement in Milwaukee. Born in Maine, she came to Milwaukee in 1857, opened a private practice, and later became a consultant at several of the city’s hospitals and at the Industrial School for Girls. In the 1860s, she applied for admission to the Milwaukee County Medical Society, but a decision was delayed, allegedly because they hoped she would “quietly withdraw her application.” At that time there was a deep skepticism of women doctors. Many people thought females could not be "real doctors" and were quacks. A disgruntled colleague even went so far as to submit her obituary to the local papers while she was still alive, hoping her patients would abandon her. While she awaited the Medical Society's decision, Dr Ross served as a commissioner to the 1867 World’s Fair in Paris and also took classes in medicine at the Sorbonne. She finally gained admission to the Medical Society in 1869, with help from the surgeon general of the Civil War and leading doctor in Wisconsin, Erastus B Wolcott. Laura and Erastus soon married and she continued work in her large private practice, garnering respect and stature in the community. It was said that Laura Ross Wolcott "fervently believed that women MDs would gain only if all women profited from activism for social justice, equity, and human dignity." She fought for the admission of women to medical positions and training, and she became an active leader in the suffragette movement. She organized the first women’s suffrage convention in Milwaukee in 1867, where Susan B. Anthony was a speaker. In 1869, she helped to organize a convention for women’s rights and was a founder of the Wisconsin Women’s Suffrage Association, serving as its president in 1882.  She lived her life as a model for women in medicine.

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Accepted into show

"Congratulations! Your artwork, America, has been accepted into in the 41st Annual SECURA Fine Arts Exhibition at the Trout Museum of Art, from June 5 – August 15, 2021. You were 1 of 117 accepted artists from the total 354 applicants. We are very proud of the artwork for the exhibition this year. It is a true reflection of the artistic talent Wisconsin has to offer."

Yahoo! See y'all in Appleton this summer! 😀

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Father Fighting for Fair Housing

Civil Rights Leader, Catholic Priest

This week for the MATC Portrait of Milwaukee project, I have been focusing on Father James Groppi. Fr Groppi was a contemporary of Vel Philips and they worked together to advance the cause of fair housing for Milwaukee's black citizens. For the portrait I focused on showing the famous 200 nights of marching, drawing on a few photos. The far background is a shot of Father Groppi and a group of young people marching across the 16th St Viaduct, the mid-ground image is of Groppi being arrested with another protester, and the foreground is from a photo of Fr Groppi from this era, intent in expression, giving the feel of an interview.

Father James Groppi, 1930-1985

James Groppi was born in the Bay View neighborhood on the south side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Italian immigrant parents. James Groppi attended St. Lawrence Seminary (1950–1952) in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin. According to writer Frank Aukofer, “It was during his seminary years that Father Groppi began developing an empathy with the Black poor. He worked summers at a youth center in Milwaukee’s inner core. It was there that he saw the social suffering and ostracism that Negroes lived with every day”. Groppi became active in the cause of civil rights for Africans-Americans, participating in the 1963 March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 on behalf of the Voting Rights Act. In his capacity as NAACP advisor in Milwaukee, Groppi mounted a lengthy demonstration against the city of Milwaukee on behalf of fair housing. Along with Vel Philips, he led marches protesting for fair housing for 200 consecutive nights across the 16th Street Viaduct, to be received every night by angry white citizens on the other side of the bridge throwing rocks and bottles at them. The viaduct spanned the half-mile wide Menomonee Valley, and this was considered to be a symbolic divide between the black north side and the white south side. Throughout this period, Fr Groppi received both physical and moral support from human rights activists like Dick Gregory and Martin Luther King, Jr. Though Groppi was denigrated and arrested on numerous occasions for standing firm in his beliefs, he was instrumental in dramatizing the segregated housing situation in Milwaukee. These efforts led to enactment of Vel Philips' open-housing law being passed in the city. Father Groppi continued fighting for human rights, marching for the rights of those on welfare, Native American rights, and to end the war in Vietnam. Father Groppi later left the priesthood to marry Margaret Rozga, who was to become an English professor at UW-Waukesha. The couple had a family of three, and Father Groppi worked as a Milwaukee bus driver. After his passing in 1985, the city renamed the 16th Street bridge in his honor, calling it the "James E. Groppi Unity Bridge".

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