Small Works that Pack a Big Punch

BIG Little Art Show at Peninsula School of Art

The fact that nearly 250 people turned out for the Peninsula School of Art’s BIG Little Art Show in November, not exactly the height of the season in Door County, says several things about the school’s place in the county’s cultural life.

For some artists, it has been a place to learn entirely new skills or pick up where they stopped in high school or college. For others, it is an opportunity to get graduate-level instruction in short workshops that fit into busy lives. For many, it is a valued exhibition venue where they drop in to learn or get inspired. And for children, and their parents, the family art days are a real pleasure – even if educational.

The BIG Little show displayed 262 works of art by 116 artists, more than 25 of the artists from Door County. The works could be a maximum of 12 inches in any dimension and each artist could submit up to three. 

For Lynn Wilson of Jacksonport, the size limit wasn’t a problem. She does hand stitching, often small landscapes, typically up to four inches wide. She recently took a drawing class at the school.

“Drawing makes you think in a different way from stitching,” said Wilson, who moved back to Jacksonport just before COVID-19 after a career in clothing and outerware that took her to New England, Land’s End, and Utah’s Sundance catalog.

Mary Kay Braza, who has pieces in the show, had the opposite problem. She had been painting big – 4 x 3 feet. Now, with the experience of the BIG Little Show, she is thinking of going small, under 12 inches this winter.

“After painting really big, it was really challenging to paint small,” she said.

As she was facing retirement from her career as an attorney she took a watercolor class at a community center in the Milwaukee area. For more advanced art instruction she’d have to enroll in an art school and she didn’t want that commitment, she said. When she and her husband moved to Egg Harbor, she found a solution at PenArt where she found a supportive environment and lots of inspiration in the gallery’s high-level work.

“It’s been great for me with its range of classes and workshops that run for three or four days,” she said. “I got so excited that I joined the board to become part of that community.”

Joslyn Villalpando, who finished her first year running the Woodwalk Gallery with her husband, Matt, managed to get three small woven pieces of twine and lavender done for the show. She loves the family days when she can take her children to get involved in art programs.

“The content is really great, how they connect it to specific artist’s work, and they are super organized,” she said.

She moved to Door County from Chicago, which has a few places of its own to see art. 

“But PenArt is so accessible and easy – we love it,” she said.

When Barb Schriner-Schmitt of Sturgeon Bay was teaching art at Gibraltar, she encouraged her students to take part in any class they could at PenArt.

“They try to involve the community as much as possible,” she said. “In the past, before COVID, they would have metal-sculpture casting at night with sparks flying to get kids and their families really excited,” she said. “They are just trying to make art accessible.”

Her entry in the show, “Eagle Eye II,” done with wood and heat, is a technique known as “pyrography,” which means to draw on wood or other materials with special tools that burn, creating an effect that looks like pen and ink. She took it up after her father died and left many board feet of beautiful wood he had worked with.

“I enjoy drawing and this became a way to honor him,” she said. “I was doing it myself and learning as I went; it was quite popular in the 90s.”

She said the technique is also known as “tarsia,” which is a decorative mosaic of inlaid wood or sometimes ivory.

“It is a technique used in northern Africa where they used wood grains and wood tones to lay down geometric designs, because representation work was not accepted,” she said – something she learned years after she did a Peace Corps stint in Tunisia.

Brian Bosworth, a retired economic development consultant, started taking courses at PenArt 10 or 15 years ago and joined the board shortly before Adam Erickson became the school’s executive director this spring.

“A class a summer, and some summers two classes,” he said. “That’s where I have learned to paint. The art school has been a really important part of living in the region – I think it occupies an important leading position in the cultural life of northeastern Wisconsin.”

Bosworth, who agreed to chair the school’s new fundraising and development committee, wants to increase the number of individual donors by four or five times – similar to Crooked Tree Arts Center in Traverse City, Michigan, that has 4,000-5,000 donors, versus the approximate 400 PenArt donors.