Questions & Authors: ‘Selected Artists of Door County’

“How true the old adage: ‘it’s all in the eye of the beholder.’ But if we are to appreciate art, we must try to understand what the artist wanted to achieve. The greater our understanding, the more we enjoy art.”

Throughout her new book Selected Artists of Door County, local art historian Virginia Jones Maher pays homage to Door County’s rich arts scene, and the past and present artists who have helped the peninsula become the cultural haven that it is.

Released in August with contributions from University of Kansas Professor Emeritus (and Pulse “Science Snippet” contributor) Paul Burton, the hardcover black-and-white arts book is an overview of 65 noteworthy local artists working in paint, sculpture, ceramics, metals, jewelry, fiber arts and photography.

The book and its authors are part of The Peninsula Bookman’s 3rd Annual Festival of Books and Authors on Saturday, Sept. 24. It is available for purchase at Miller Art Museum, Peninsula School of Art, The Hardy, Peninsula Bookman and directly from the author by emailing [email protected].

I sat down with Virginia to talk about what inspired the book, putting it together, and what she hopes to accomplish with this publication.


Alyssa Skiba (AS): Tell me about your background in the local arts community.

Virginia Maher (VM): My husband, Tom, and I moved up here in 2002 full time. I got involved with the art school [Peninsula School of Art] and I was teaching art history there, classes in the summer and did summer workshops. I did that for 12 years and then in 2008, I started the Madeline Tourtelot Archives, which is one of the original buildings on the school campus. Tom and I really put it together and the school had reacquired this property so there was a lot of art left in it from Madeline Tourtelot, the founder of the school, so we developed that. We got really interested in that and now I run that seasonally.


AS: What inspired you to write Selected Artists of Door County with Paul Burton?

VM: Paul Burton and I got together in 2014. He came to the archives and he was doing some research … on Madeline Tourtelot and he decided to write a book. I contributed because I had the art knowledge and knew about her art so I contributed to the book in that way and wrote three chapters. We decided we worked together so well that he said, what other project is there about art? He usually writes about local history. I said, well, in 1975 Madeline Tourtelot did a book call Resume I which was a paperback and then in 1982, Jim Legault wrote Resume II and since then there has been nothing like that so we originally had this in mind as Resume III but then we decided we were going to do a different format and make it a little more background information.


AS: What criteria did an artist have to meet to be included in the publication?

VM: Artists who live here seasonally or full time, artists who either have studios or sell art in a gallery, artists who exhibit their art and have made art within the last three years, and they had to be alive … I had a cross-generational approach because I wanted to do the “old masters” and I wanted to do the established artists who are known in Door County and they’re known around the country. They’re really established nationally in a lot of cases and then I wanted to do the young, emerging artists so I could show that there is a continuum here in Door County of the art and there’s been a continuum since the early 20th century. This has been a haven for artists.


AS: The book is published in black and white. What influenced that decision?

VM: Some of the work transfers just fine to black and white but a lot of paintings, the color is so important…when you take the color out of it, all the sudden you’re seeing the lines, the brushstrokes, you’re seeing the composition, you’re seeing all the things that make up a painting rather than being distracted by the color. It’s an interesting exercise. You start looking at the structure of the work, rather than the color.


AS: What is your goal with Selected Artists of Door County?

VM: I’m hoping that this book will inspire a lot of younger artists. I also think it would be a nice book for tourists. I think the tourists will come here and appreciate the art scene and go visit some of these artists. That’s really the way to learn more about art is to visit the artists in their studio. I wanted to show the Door County art scene and explain it and hope that people will appreciate the artists in Door County as much as I do.


Selected Artists of Door County, Virginia Jones Maher with contributions by Paul Burton, Stonehill Publishing, 2016.


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