An Artist, An Influence: Tom Uttech

“Nibawiwin” by Tom Uttech. All images of Tom Uttech’s artwork courtesy of Edgewood Orchard Galleries.

As far as an artist who was inspirational to me, I would have to choose Tom Uttech. He taught at UW-Milwaukee when I was a student there. He has shown his work at Edgewood Orchard since its beginning, and I kept in touch with his work over 30 years. I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see a retrospective of his work, which is a deep introspective of nature in the north.

Many people know me just for the functional, decorative handbags that I make, but I started out as a painter and continue to paint when I can. I am influenced by the nature around me, and I paint from nature; but I also look for the order, the form, the narrative that nature gives us.

“Anishinabadakai” by Tom Uttech.

Tom Uttech’s work has a magical quality to it that I also feel when I am in the woods. One of the things that surprises me is that you can see new things in an artist’s work. I was unaware that Tom was a brilliant photographer until I saw his retrospective show. He had this huge glacial boulder that he had photographed, then a painting of that same boulder. I couldn’t believe the magic that was infused in the painting, it was the same magic that I felt when in Sweden where glacial boulders scattered around the fields were as big as houses. I stood before that painting for a long time.

I could go into more detail in words about Tom Uttech’s work, but the beauty of delving into an artist’s work is that it can mean so much on so many different levels to so many people without words. I am always amazed that sometimes people really “get” what I am saying in my work and other people need me to tell them more with words.

Mary Ellen Sisulak is the resident artist at Turtle Ridge Studio & Gallery, 11736 Mink River Road, Ellison Bay. For more information call 920.854.4839 or visit