Monday, June 29, 2015

John Wilde’s Art Featured at Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, by Steve Ehle

Shirley and John Wilde shown in 2006 at the Cooksville Commons. (Photo by Steve Ehle)
John Wilde was a good neighbor and fine friend to many in the Cooksville area, as well as in Evansville.  Those who knew him no doubt saw a quiet, unassuming man with a gentle wit and an appreciation for all things natural and beautiful.
            But those who may have known him better, those who knew his past accomplishments as a respected professor at UW-Madison and as an internationally known artist who was a part of the so-called “magic realist” movement in art circles, would understand why one of Wisconsin’s foremost museum galleries is now featuring many of his finest and least seen artwork.
            From June 13 to September 6, the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) in West Bend is devoting considerable space and time to a special Wilde exhibit. “Wilde’s Wildes: A Very Private Collection” includes approximately 80 paintings and drawings, most of which had hung or had been stored in John and Shirley Wilde’s Cooksville area home.

The cover of the catalog published for the "Wilde's Wildes" exhibit show available for viewing at the
 Museum of Wisconsin Art.
The exhibit includes some of John’s early works as a student at UW-Madison and follows his personal art history to just a couple years before his death. Many of the sketches and paintings depict John himself, as well as Shirley. And, of course, there are framed pieces of their beloved Corgies – Banjo, Bugs, Beans and Bryn.
            John died in 2006. Shirley, his wife of 46 years, died earlier this year. Since Shirley’s death, their respective children gathered most of the artwork that their parents retained in their home for themselves and provided the collection to the MOWA for this unique exhibit.
            John and his first wife, Helen, lived in Evansville from the early 1950s to the mid-sixties. Helen died in 1966. John and Shirley married in 1969 and lived in their Cooksville area home until their deaths. John, Helen and Shirley are buried next to each other in the Cooksville Cemetery. Between them, they had five children.  Both John and Shirley served on the Board of the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc. until their deaths.
             In the foreword to a 66-page full-color exhibit catalogue compiled and written by exhibit curator Graeme Reid, MOWA’s Executive Director/CEO, Laurie Winters writes:
            Wildes’s Wildes: A Very Private Collection celebrates the private collection of John Wilde (1919-2006), one of the leading artists of the American Surrealism movement. Over seven decades, Wilde created a collection of the own paintings and drawings, works that easily could have found homes in museums or private collections but that he retained instead for his own enjoyment. Wilde’s Wildes recreates the artist’s collection, which includes paintings and drawings from every decade and phase of his long career as well as some of his earliest works in the late 1930s.”
            At the June 18 exhibit opening, curator Reid took attendees through the second floor gallery devoted to John’s works and explained how the exhibit was compiled and provided an anecdotal narrative to John’s life and work. Later, Reid made a formal expanded presentation for those gathered for the opening. Reid has been invited to repeat his Wilde slide presentation program at a venue in Evansville. An announcement will be made later this summer regarding time and place for this event.
            For more information on the Wilde exhibit at MOWA, visit the museum’s website at The Wilde’s Wildes: A Very Private Collection catalogue is available for purchase from the MOWA Shop at a cost of $58 and can be ordered online, or it can be downloaded free of charge from MOWA’s website.
A John Wilde painting of Steve Ehle and his dog Davey painted in 2004.
Six of John’s works are on permanent display at UW-Madison’s Chazen Museum, and his painting “15 Cooksvillians” (1996) has been donated to the Chasen. His large 1997 hand-colored print “15 Cooksvillians” hangs in many Cooksville area homes, as do John’s portraits of local friends Steve Ehle, Michael Saternus, and Bill and Joyce Wartmann.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Cooksville’s Artists and Artisans, Part Two: Leila Dow, by Larry Reed

The Village of Cooksville had a reputation for being a “cultured little burg” in the 19th century and on into the 20th.  Although the village’s popular “Opera House” (the second floor of Van Patten’s Meat Market) burned down in 1893, other venues for local and traveling performers remained. The Lyceum Auditorium, used mainly as a private schoolroom for higher learning on the second floor of the Van Vleck Farm Implement Factor, was available for various entertainments. So were the Schoolhouse, the Masonic Lodge’s meeting room above the General Store, and the basement parlor room of the 1879 Cooksville Congregational Church.

Some of Cooksville’s artisans were material artists, creating pottery, paintings and weavings. Several wrote poetry and short stories, and some were talented musicians performing in homes and churches in the village and in nearby communities.

One of Cooksville’s talented early painters was Leila Aileen Dow (1864-1930).

Leila Dow (1864-1930), date unknown
Dow Farm west of Cooksville, c.1873
Leila was one of the daughters of the prominent farmer John Thayer Dow (1831-1917), who lived in the historic Lovejoy-Dow House just west of the village and whose Dow’s Grove was a popular picnic area on the south side of the Badfish Creek. Dow farmed there from 1854 to 1882, and his diaries are detailed evidence of the daily activities of his family. (Another one of the talented Dow
Myrtle Helene Dow, c.1895
daughters, Myrtle Helene Dow, went on to become an actress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she married, and in London; however, there is no record of any of her performances in Cooksville or elsewhere.)

Leila Dow graduated from Madison’s Central High School and studied art at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at the Art Institute of Chicago.  She taught art (china painting and oil painting) in Evansville and Madison schools, as well as in her studio in Madison, where she lived most of her life. In1894, she won art prizes at the Dane County Fair, and she was a busy “Teacher of drawing and painting,” according to her business card.

She spent many summers at Susan Porter’s home in Cooksville, where she painted landscapes and garden flowers in and around the village in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of her works were inspired by the gardens of Ralph Lorenzo Warner (1875-1941) and Miss Porter (1859-1939), who was her life-long friend.  One of her paintings is of the Cooksville Mill and Dam on the Badfish Creek.
 “Cooksville Mill,” by Leila Dow
(She gifted the painting to the James Roherty family that had worked on the Dow farm); others are of wooded and hilly landscapes and flowers such as squash blossoms and bright peonies. Her works were exhibited in Madison and Milwaukee.

“Squash Blossoms” by Leila Dow

“Peonies” by Leila Dow

“Landscape” by Leila Dow
Leila painted in a quick, impressionistic style with bright colors and loose brush strokes in oil or in her flowing watercolors, capturing an immediate impression of delicate light and color emanating from her natural subjects.  Several of her works, water colors and oil paintings—landscapes and flowers— remain in Cooksville; undoubtedly, others are in the Madison area. It is possible that Leila may have known one of America’s most important Impressionist painters, Theodore Robinson (1852-1896), a native of nearby Evansville, Wisconsin, who spent much of his short life with the famous French Impressionist painters in France. (One of Robinson’s paintings was recently offered at auction in New York City for $700,000-$900,000.)

Importantly, Leila was one of the original organizers and charter members of the Madison Art Guild, which was begun about 1914.  Her obituary said she was an “artist, club leader”… with a “ready wit.”  After Leila died in Madison, many of her art works were sold to benefit the Art Guild. Her paintings remain as evidence of her artistic talents.

[The second in a series of stories about the artists and artisans of the Village of Cooksville.]