In past years, the Sturgeon Bay Street Art Project has featured sails, lighthouses and free form art, but the most common and distinctive installations have been the sturgeons for which the city is named.
The project is entering its 16th year and this time around, it will be taking on new subject matter: benches. This year, artists have the opportunity to exhibit their creativity and enthusiasm on a bench that will be auctioned off after Harvest Festival in September. The new project is titled Benches by the Bay.
“We wanted to do something fresh,” said Paige Funkhouser of the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center (SBVC). “We’ve been doing the sturgeon on-and-off for years.”
The two-seater, Adirondack-style cedar benches were created by John Rosenthal and Glen Vander Velden. The two are technical education instructors from T.J. Walker Middle School and Southern Door, respectively.
The new project has led to some exciting ventures by participating artists. “The artists have been coming back and saying that the benches have been a really great canvas,” Funkhouser reported. Benches have been submitted with a variety of features, including treasure maps, underwater scenes, stone reliefs, and even glow-in-the-dark artwork.
“I grew up in Sturgeon Bay and was always interested in creating a sturgeon for the previous SBVC projects,” said Cassandra Raymond, one of this year’s featured artists. “This year they decided to use benches instead, which was even more exciting to me because it better suits my natural artistic aesthetic.”
Her bench, “Hometown Treasures,” depicts various locations in Sturgeon Bay that she photographed and then transferred to the bench using acrylic medium. The locations are ones that Raymond would recommend to tourists or that are of personal significance.
“I chose to represent downtown Sturgeon Bay, both east and west side. Having recently moved to Green Bay, I wanted to pay homage to the beautiful, classic town I grew up in.”
Nicole Herbst, an art teacher at Sturgeon Bay High School and another of the featured artists, says her work was inspired by her experiences with Impressionism.
“It was a way to see how I could be an artist without being perfect and I loved how the colors made me feel joyful about nature and my surroundings,” she said. “Monet did over 90 water lilies since he was in love with looking at them as he sat on his bench in his own garden…I found it fitting to place them on my bench to continue to express this type of beauty.”
The benches will be displayed around the city until mid-September, after which they will be auctioned off. People are welcome to sit on the benches for the duration of the installation.
Funkhouser believes the benches will be a hit at auction due to the fact that they are both beautiful and practical. Herbst agrees.
“We [the artists] can be creative with a functional item and I think more people can relate to this, especially to use in their gardens,” she enthused.
In addition to the Benches by the Bay, SBVC is presenting another project, “Sites in the City.” The center put out 25 canvases and asked local artists to depict what they love about Sturgeon Bay. The artwork was then photographed and put onto a banner. The banners adorn the city’s streetlamps. Compositions such as David Franke’s “Larry, Moe, and Curly: The Three Sturgeons” bring a pop of color to the city streets.
Raffle tickets are available for those interested in purchasing the original canvas artwork, and winners will be selected Aug. 15.
The continual success of the Street Art Project illustrates the community’s desire and respect for artwork.
“Public art is so important because it keeps people interested and inspired. A piece of art can change someone’s day or even their life,” Raymond stated.
“It is important since it is a way for us to connect as a community,” said Herbst when asked about the significance of public art. “It is exciting to see how we can impact others and share joy of the aspects of life that inspires us. It is a great way to feel closer as a small town, which makes Sturgeon Bay unique.”
Funkhouser raises another important point: the project brings art to the people of Sturgeon Bay, rather than the other way around.
“It’s inexpensive culture,” she stated. “People that wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford to go to a museum can go to Sturgeon Bay. It is making artwork accessible for everybody that lives [in] and visits the city.”