Most people on their way to or from Door County probably have not stopped in Kewaunee, even if they’ve opted to take the Highway 42 “scenic route,” other than briefly to re-fuel. They are missing out, it should be noted, by not visiting Barnsite and the Kewaunee Academy of Fine Art.
In August 2001, Norma Bell and Dick Bell established Barnsite, a fine art gallery, school, and purveyor of fine art supplies, with the mission of advocating for the arts nationally and locally. Then, in 2005, they founded the Kewaunee Academy of Fine Art, a school devoted to re-establishing the high standards of traditional craft in drawing and painting. The academy provides the highest level of instruction in classical drawing methods for students wishing to pursue careers as professional artists and fine art instructors.
Circuitous paths led Norma and Dick to Kewaunee. They were married for 17 years, divorced for 20, then reunited six years ago. They have lived together and individually on both coasts and in several Midwestern locations. A graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art, Norma has worked as a professional artist for over 30 years, first as an art director and designer in retail advertising for traditional department stores and then as creative director for a large retail chain in the San Francisco Bay area. Dick graduated from the University of Washington and The Principia College in Illinois; he describes the handful of art history courses he took as “the most important and beneficial” in his education. He spent his career selling and managing sales of large printing equipment, living in at least a dozen U.S. locations as well as Beijing, China and Lyons, France, and visiting fine art museums around the world.
“Our decision to purchase the ‘Barn’ was spontaneous,” notes Norma, although, “I’d long had a desire to have a studio and an art school of some type.” Six years ago, each living on opposite coasts, they met for a visit in Green Bay and saw the barn in a real estate guide. Neither “had ever been in a barn before we looked at this one,” says Dick. Nor did they have any family or ties in Wisconsin, but they continue to be delighted with their decision to settle here.
Barnsite opened with a 5,200 square foot facility comprising the lower level of a turn-of-the-century dairy barn. An additional 4,500 square feet of the barn has since been restored and converted to house Barnsite’s expanding activities. For those who love old barns, the structure housing Barnsite is itself a work of art: great care was taken during the conversion to maintain the barn’s architectural and historical integrity.
The educational component of Barnsite’s mission is achieved by inviting nationally and internationally renowned artists to bring their experiences and expertise to students in short-term workshops. These workshops are grounded in the principle that artists should learn, practice, and develop their skills in the great classical European tradition, which posits study of the human figure as a major part of painters’ and sculptors’ development.
Barnsite’s spacious gallery houses a diverse and dynamic collection from regionally and nationally known artists. Norma explains that, “We represent about 12 painters – primarily oil – and sculptors in the Representational manner. We are constantly looking, though, for living Master painters and future Master painters to represent. Our exhibitions change about every four weeks and feature two to four of our artists.” This year the gallery will host the Alla Prima International Exhibit and “Paint Out,” including domestic and international painters. Visitors in June and early July will also see the fourth annual “Barns & Farms” national juried exhibition, one of only two national exhibitions held in Wisconsin each year.
Sharing the Barnsite space, the Kewaunee Academy of Fine Art is an Accredited Atelier, with 18 students ranging in age from 17 to over 60. The word “atelier” is a French term for studio or workshop, but has been used since the 1600s to describe a place where art students apprentice under a Master Artist. Ten years ago, there were only a handful of ateliers in the world, art instruction techniques having turned away in the past century from traditional methods. Today, however, due to increasing demand for classical training, over a dozen academies and 50 ateliers may be found, primarily in the U.S. and in Florence, Italy. In the Midwest, there are two ateliers in Minneapolis and one in Chicago.
And now, the Midwest has the Kewaunee Academy of Fine Art (KAFA). Dick proudly says, “Imagine! We are in a tiny town, 200 miles from any major city, and have basically filled our classes and increased our capacity twice since we opened the academy less than two years ago.”
Like the Barnsite workshops, KAFA is dedicated to the study of realistic representation in the European tradition. The KAFA, however, offers students a long-term, concentrated, personalized program, accepting students who aspire to work as artists on a professional level. Artistic Director Craig Blietz, a still-life and portrait painter well known to Door County residents and visitors, states that, “We have assembled a cohesive and balanced faculty of people who are not only talented artists but effective teachers, each of whom bring their own strengths and teaching style to the artistic process. Witnessing the progress and performance of our students over the past year, we know we are fulfilling our mission of enabling students to gain the knowledge they’ll need to achieve their goals as representational artists.”
The overall objective of the academy is to provide an atmosphere in which students “learn to see” through the development of skills and knowledge in the visual arts. Blietz explains, “Our objective is to provide our students with a thorough training in representational drawing and direct painting. We achieve this through undertaking a logical progression of exercises taken from the great training institutions that date as far back as and before the Renaissance. Along the way, we make sure that students’ individual needs and objectives are respected and monitored.”
While artists of all skill levels are encouraged to apply, enrollment is limited. Accepted students meet several times per week with a highly skilled professional painter/educator and are expected to commit to additional hours of individual work. Each May/June, at the end of the academy year, a student/faculty exhibit is a held.
Workshops feature Master-level instructors and are geared for full-time art students or serious beginners. Call or visit the Barnsite website for faculty biographies, costs, and further information.
Figure Drawing, Painting, and Modeling Co-op
9:00 – 12:00 every Saturday. No instructor, though live models. Open to all skill levels.
“Portrait in Clay” with Bren Sibilsky. 9:00 – 4:00 Friday-Sunday, June 16-18.
“Stone Carving” with Mary and Ken Davidson. 9:00 – 2:30 Friday-Sunday, July 21-23.
“Bronze Casting” with Mary and Ken Davidson. 9:00 – 2:30, Monday-Saturday, July 24-29.
“Master Workshop in Oils” with Chinese Master Jove Wang. 9:00 – 4:00, Monday-Friday, June 26-30 and July 3-7. 15-student maximum.
“Plein Air” with Ann Templeton. 9:00 – 4:00, Wednesday-Friday, August 9-11.
“Plein Air” with Ken De Waard. 9:00 – 4:00, Friday-Sunday, August 18-20.
“Oil” with Diane Rath. 9:00 – 4:00, Wednesday-Friday, October 4-6.
Kewaunee Academy of Fine Art Summer Intensive. 9:00 – 5:00, Monday-Friday, July 24-28, and/or 9:00 – 5:00 Monday-Friday, July 31-August 4. 10-student maximum.
“Barns & Farms” 2006 National Juried Exhibition
From June 11 through July 4, 2006, Barnsite will feature its fourth annual “Barns & Farms” exhibition. Established in direct support of the Smithsonian Barn Again! national traveling exhibition, located in Kewaunee in 2003, “Barns & Farms” received in its first three years nearly 2,000 entries from 36 states.
The exhibition seeks to remind visitors that the farm represents tradition, a strong work ethic, independence, annual renewal, large families with continued close ties, gratitude, and honesty, and that these ideals, as well as the historic landscape itself, are threatened by the practices of modern agriculture. Modern practices are also eliminating thousands of unique barns and farmhouses, the roots of many American architectural styles and in some cases landmark buildings.
Contact Information and Directions
Barnsite is open daily 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Barnsite and the KAFA are located at 109 Duvall Street, one block east of its intersection with Highway 42 (1/4 mile north of the bridge in Kewaunee).
Norma Bell, Owner
Barnsite Art Studio & Gallery and Kewaunee Academy of Fine Art
Phone: (920) 388-4391