Rural Rembrandt Art Club Celebrates 70 Years.

Part 1: How a small set of oil paints created a club

It was 1945. The war had ended, and people were listening to Frank Sinatra on the radio and buying movie tickets to see National Velvet, as only about 5000 homes in America had television sets. The price of gas was fifteen cents a gallon. The first computer (ENIAC) ran it’s first set of calculations through the 1800 feet of floor space it covered. And Perry Spencer accidentally discovered that microwaves could heat food.

On Christmas Day in Wautoma, Wisconsin, Dorothy Spaulding gave her new husband, Ray, a set of oil paints. He painted a beautiful tree and encouraged his wife to try. They bravely hung their paintings in their ice cream store, the Place. Not only did they learn to take criticism, but they discovered other artists and would-be artists in the area.

In 1946 Bea and Al Kietzer, Nellie Daniels, Bill Boose, Alvin Ziegenhagen, Strong Smith ( a retired illustrator from New York), and the Spauldings met at the Kietzer home to form an art club. They were soon joined by Mrs. S. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. George Muzzy and Gertrude Perzentka, all of Wautoma.

In 1947 Strong Smith and Nellie Daniels suggested the name Rural Rembrandts and William Boose, a trapper from PoySippi; was named president of the club. As the membership grew, the club held meetings in local communities, including Redgranite and Poy Sippi until it became based in Wautoma. They followed Hoyles Rules of Order, and met every month but January, due to inclement weather.

The founders established a schedule that endures; a winter challenge “show and tell,” meetings to prepare for the Wrap and Annual Shows, the plein air picnic (originally Bill Boose’s corn roast), an annual field trip, a critique, and a Christmas party with a handmade ornament exchange. Each meeting includes a demonstration or a presentation on art.

In 1948, the club held their first art show in the gym of the County Normal School, now the Courthouse Annex Building. They donated their profits to the Polio Fund. The second show was held in the old Post Office Building, which became the Holt Jewelry Store. The show was inside and out on the sidewalk and was the first of what would become the longest running outdoor show in Wisconsin.

Please watch this space for more of the story of the founding of the Wisconsin
Rural Art Association in Wautoma.

Pat Spear, Rural Rembrandt Historian

Part 2: Rooted in the Wisconsin Idea

At the turn of the last century, the State of Wisconsin and University of Wisconsin believed government should be controlled by voters rather than businesses or lobbyists. Rather than being an ivory tower institution, UW should serve the state and the community, and go beyond the boundaries of the university with outreach and lifelong learning to empower people to govern themselves.

In 1936, as part of the outreach, the College of Agriculture installed an artist-in-residence, John Steuart Curry, who was recommended by Grant Wood, the painter of American Gothic. He was one of the big Three—Benton, Curry and Wood—of the Regional Art Movement of the 30s and 40s which emphasized local subject matter in art.

Curry began a grassroots movement to encourage art in rural communities.
He travelled with the farm agents and rural artists showed him their work and asked how to improve it. In 1940 the first University statewide show was held. All participants were to be rural farm or village people, lay artists, or non-professionals making their living through other occupations, and their work was to be original.

Local groups began to form, and, according to Rural Art in Wisconsin, the Rural Rembrandts of Wautoma was the first. It began with a small group of kindred spirits who met in farm kitchens, parlors and cafes to paint and talk about art.

In 1954, the Rembrandts, with the urging of Nellie Daniel and helped by Professor Schwalbach, joined with other clubs to form the Wisconsin Rural Artists Association. Ray Spaulding was the first president. “After several years of participating in the Regional and State Shows, our group sensed the need of a Statewide organization to serve the lone artist and those who had no access to instructions or materials at the local level. So, together with the late Beatrice Keitzer, and under the expert guidance of Prof. James Schwalbach, we met at the Wautoma Public Library, and drafted the articles of incorporation for the Wisconsin Rural Artist’s Association. We both have served as the group’s president through the years, and Dorothy has served several times on the Board of Directors.”—Ray and Dorothy Spaulding, Contour Notes Winter 1977

Part 3: Memorable Meetings of the Rural Rembrandt Art Club

The club had grown to 63 members by 1968. By 1976. the board had 11 members; including a committee chairman for programs, publicity, sunshine, reporters, historian, auditing and a librarian. Each meeting had a Hostess and a Co-Hostess and was governed by Hoyle’s Rules of Order.

As the club grew, it needed more space. In 1973 there were meetings at the REA and Trinity Lutheran Parish Hall in Wautoma, the Wild Rose art center, rural Wild Rose, Green Lake, Fran Hammerstrom’s in Plainfield, and in Redgranite. In the eighties they were held at the Senior Center in Wautoma, until a tornado damaged the building and they moved to Parkside Middle School and finally settled at the Wautoma Public Library.

Before the Rembrandts created a website and began to use email in 2007,
the club Secretary sent handwritten postcards to announce each meeting date, time, location and topic. The club originally met every month but January, due to inclement weather.

Once a month the board meets and as members gather the meeting begins. A business meeting is held, refreshments are served, members socialize, and a program follows. As the club predates the era of electronic media, the early programs were informational and aligned with the Club mission to educate and encourage the rural artist. Then, as now, the lectures and demos are open to the public.

In 1955, at a meeting to attract new members at Bea’s café, 25 people were given a crayon and told to make 4 strokes in a group “impressionistic painting. The trick was to start with a scribble and make something out of it. They titled the work Rembrandt’s Nightmare. And in 1965, as the meeting travelled to member’s homes, the year of programs featured Greek, Italian, English, and American art history, as a international tour of galleries. In 2003,the club invited the public to a paint-off in the demo room of the Courthouse and provided all the supplies.

Today at the first meeting in April, members present the art they’ve created over the winter for the “Winter Challenge.” In May, the club prepares for the Wisconsin Regional Art Show in early June, and in June they finalize plans for the Annual Show in July.

The club picnic is in August; a 70-year tradition that began in Bill Booses’ backyard with an annual corn roast. Over the years it’s migrated from members’ homes to local parks and an opportunity to paint plein air, or outdoors. Members toted cameras to get ideas for paintings, their art supplies, and a dish for the always delicious potluck. It was rained out only once, in Bird Creek State Park, by a microburst. For several years it’s been held in a cottage on the shores of Lake Butte de Morts, and is followed by a raffle of art supplies.

Each Fall the club organizes a field trip for inspiration. The original trip, to Eau Claire Dells in 1955, was called the Fall Tour. Early club members took a three-day tour of the Apostle Islands to Bayfield and Pictured Rocks State Park and pitched tents on the shores of Lake Superior. Members have travelled to museums in Wausau, Chicago, Milwaukee, Oshkosh and the Twin Cities and gone to the Red Mill in Waupaca and on a Chain o’ Lakes steamboat tour. Recently they’ve made blown glass ornaments in Milwaukee, and visited working artists’ studios on the annual Hidden Studios Tour.

In November officers are elected, and members bring their work to be critiqued by a professional artist, to get feedback and make improvements.

December is the Christmas party. At first it featured an art-based white elephant (often a painting) exchange, and then evolved to hanging original hand-made ornaments on a tree. In 1976, 45 members brought their ornaments to the REA in inclement weather only to find there was no tree, so they held up their ornaments and did a show-and-tell. Today members wrap and number their ornaments for a gift exchange and describe them as the gifts are opened.

For over seventy years the club has promoted the creative arts and provided education encouragement and opportunities to create and display art in the company of other artists.
The club always welcomes new members, and is hosting a two day anniversary celebration for the public at the World War II building in Wautoma in July. Artists are invited to enter the competition, and all the details are at ruralrembrandts.com.

Demos have been held on a wide variety of subjects:

Weaving, Pastels, Caricature, Jewelry making, Acrylic painting, Watercolor, Mixed media
Basketweaving, Stained glass, Woodcarving, Stone Carving, Oil Painting, Pottery
Encaustic painting, Mixed media, Photograpy, Framing, matting and display, Plein air painting
Design, Ukranian egg decorating

Part 4: Members to Remember

The original Rembrandt members were local people from all walks of life. As the club grew, people from the surrounding areas and nearby towns began to join, including summer people. Some of the members were prominent on state and local stages. They all had one thing in common; they loved art.

Edward Boerner was a well-known watercolorist who taught in the Milwaukee Public schools for 40 years. In 1957 he judged the annual show for a slab of bacon. After Bill Boose invited him to an annual corn roast, Boerner opened up his restored pioneer cabin at Holy Hill to the club on Sundays. He drove 50 miles to meetings when he was able. At one meeting he told the members to gather their best paintings to exhibit in Milwaukee. They did, and artwork from over seventy members were exhibited in the West Allis Library Exhibit in 1975. In an editorial, the Milwaukee Sentinel wrote “During his many years as an art instructor, lecturer, painter, Ed taught thousands how to SEE. To love art. That is the greatest gift he left to others.”

Strong Smith had been a cartoonist for the New York Times for many years
before he retired to Pine River to work in pastels and contribute to the club.

Bill Boose, of Poy Sippi, was an outdoorsman, sportsman and conservationist and artist. “My main trouble in painting is not what to paint but in finding time to get all the painting done I want to do. “Called the best painter in the group, he had a one man show at the Paine Center in Oshkosh, and was featured in the book Rural Art in Wisconsin. Ford bought 10 of his illustrations for their magazine, the Ford Times.

Warren Dettman of Neshkoro retired from the Milwaukee Public Museum as a taxidermist and artist after 32 years. He collaborated with wildlife artist Owen J. Gromme on Birds of Wisconsin and his work could be seen in the museum’s 22-foot Horicon Marsh diorama.

Fran Hammerstrom was a Boston debutante, a wildlife biologist, and conservationist from rural Plainfield. Aldo Leopold of UW Madison awarded both Fran and her husband Frederick advanced degrees. They were named to the State Conservation Hall of Fame in 1966 for saving prairie chickens from extinction and received the National Wildlife Federation Award in 1980 for distinguished service to conservation. Fran wrote 12 books and appeared on numerous television and radio shows including What’s my Line and David Letterman. When Patti Smerling asked how much her speaking fees were, she said “the outrageous sum of $1000, but I’m one of us.”

Pearl Dopp was a distinguished Ripon College alumni, retired English teacher, and author of two books: From the Top of a Secret Tree and a collection of poetry, Filtered Sun. She was an active resident of Wild Rose, and helped organize the Pioneer Museum of Wild Rose and found the Wild Rose Library. She served on the State Board of the Wisconsin Federation of Women’s Clubs, and was presented the Local History Award of Merit in 1976 for writing two historical plays and for her work in the local society.

Emil Pearson began taking pictures on a Brownie box camera as a young man. After service in the U.S. Air Force photography squadron, he returned to Redgranite to care for his elderly parents. His photographs were printed in over 30 state and national publications, including Popular Photography, Life Magazine and Sports Afield and he won many awards. Dorothy Spaulding invited him to join the Rembrandts because, she said, his photographs were art. There he met a club guest, Ruth Mortensen, a news writer and photographer for the Oshkosh Northwestern. In 1962, at the age of 52, the lifelong bachelor married Ruth, who had five children.

Sylvia Fisher, a master of seven foreign languages, worked at the EAA’s International tent for 12 years. Patti Smerling, Joyce Nale, and Marabeth Esperes were active members of the WRAA Board.

One woman, Dorothy Spaulding, was the heart of the club. She and her husband Ray were both founders of the Rembrandts and of WRAA, the Wisconsin Rural Artist’s Association. She was vice-president and president of WRAA from 1967 to 1971, and received the John Steuart Curry Award for promoting the continuing education of art for non-professional artists of Wisconsin.

Longstanding members who knew Dorothy said she was very friendly and always had a smile on her face. She contributed her opinions in a gentle way. She had a great sense of humor and was fiercely independent; later, when she became disabled, she told family and friends she wanted to do things for herself, and if she needed help, she’d ask for it.

Today the club endures because of Dorothy’s heartfelt inspiration and the hundreds of unsung volunteers who have kept it going for 70 years.

Part 5: Infusing Northeastern Wisconsin with Local Color

When the Rural Rembrandt Art Club of Wautoma was founded, it was part of a broad UW initiative to foster the economic, social and intellectual sides of those who live in rural communities.Inspired by the Regionalists, they believed that “in the long run any genuine indigenous art movement is fed by people who live at the grass roots, who do the work of the world. “ The first Statewide exhibition of rural art stipulated that the entrants work must be created by rural, farm, lay artists, or non-professionals who made their living through other occupations and whose work was original.

Rural art was seen as different than Folk Art because rather than being anonymous, it was as characteristic of the artists as his or her handwriting.
Rural artists can also be primitive artists, for example, Grandma Moses.

Text box: What is Art

Curry found that the rural artist had a deep relationship with subject matter “…rural life is still enveloped in nature, despite the rapid extension of industrial techniques to the farm. One of his directives was ‘paint what is most alive to you.” “He was often amazed at the patient building of a painting by some rural artist, working alone day after day, as if the artist were growing with the picture and patiently expecting a harvest in the end.”

An early article about the Rembrandts in the Milwaukee Journal stated “…members are not overly anxious to produce works that sell. Their real enjoyment comes from seeing a piece of canvas or a chunk of wood come to life under their hands.”

The art club, which includes the word cooperation in its mission, was created to encourage individuals with artistic abilities to develop and share their knowledge and skills and give the community an opportunity to enjoy original art. The single rule was “no copying”.

(quote)“We learned that the first thing you need to have is thick skin when you show your work” --Dorothy Spaulding

From the first show in 1948 the club was civic-minded, donating all proceeds to the polio fund. In 1955 they created 25 posters for the Wisconsin Conservation Department for county fairs. That year they began buying a book in the name of each member who passed on and created a travelling art library for members and the community. By 1976 the library had 156 books and grew to include videos and DVDs.

Graphic: Dorothy Dix bookmark

In 1956 the club sponsored Diamond Jim Brady’s collection of carved ivory miniature presidential portraits in the U.S. Bank windows. Since then, they have exhibited in the Plainfield, Wild Rose and U.S. banks.

Under the direction of A Madison artists, several Rembrandts stood on ladders in the sun to paint a mural that covered the entire south wall of the Wautoma Public library.

After club member Emma Rennhard of rural Neshkoro passed away in 1982, all but 40 of her 400 paintings were auctioned off. Irma Chipman framed and catalogued the remainder for a rotating show for hospitals, care centers, and libraries.

The two main art shows the club sponsors are the statewide WRAP show and the Rural Rembrandt Annual show. The club also continues the tradition of rotating paintings in the Wautoma Performing Arts Center twice a year. They have continued to fund for Memorial Awards begun by the Founders

In addition to the demonstrations at the meetings and workshops which are open to the public, members give talks to local groups and have tutored children and taught afterschool programs. They have held discussion panels on painting held by members in Mashfield, Coloma and Neilsville.

Dorothy Spaulding began a tradition of donations to the community when she and Ray gave two sugar maples to the Waushara Courthouse grounds.
When the PAC display area was constructed, the club donated the lights,
And when the Senior Center was ravaged by a tornado, the club donated to the reconstruction. In 1968 the club created a fund for scholarships in the arts, and it continues today. In recent years members donated to the Waushara County Food Panty. The club donated an Emma Reinhard painting to the Waushara County Historical Society, which now houses a collection of over 100 works of Rembrandt art

Members are spread across Northeastern Wisconsin, and over the years the club has displayed art in the Berlin, Green Lake, Wild Rose, Wautoma and Wisconsin Rapids Libraries. Club members have work in the permanent collection of the Evergreen in Oshkosh and have exhibited in Wautoma Community, Wild Rose and Berlin Hospitals. Often they are enlisted for local projects like the cover of the Waushara County Map.

In addition to the annual AugustFest in Wautoma, members exhibit and sell art in local art fairs in PoySippi, Green Lake, Scarecrow Fest and as well as demonstrate in White River Marketplace in Neshkoro. The club has a collection of notecards by members, now available on the website, and an anniversary collection will be available at the 70th anniversary celebration in July.

Retirees are the fastest growing segment of emerging artists, and many have discovered a second vocation in the club. Seventy years after the founding, some things are changed and some have stayed the same. Photography once required experience in composition, lighting and developing, and now can be done digitally with cameras, cell phones and tablets. Art instruction is available to everyone on the internet and social media venues like Youtube and Facebook. But only because the Argus printed 70 years of Rembrandt articles, and because former members carefully assembled those articles in seven scrapbooks, can we tell the story of the club today.

Part 6 Headline: Highlights of the Annual Show

The Rural Rembrandt Art club was founded in 1946, named in 1947, and held its first annual show at the old Waushara County Normal School with the proceeds going to polio victims in 1948. In 1952 the club held its first outdoor show at the old post office and until 2007, when wind blew the easels over, the annual show was the longest running outdoor art show in Wisconsin.

In 1954 the club went all out with the help of the City Council. They closed two blocks of Main street for three days to display 200 pieces of art outdoors and turned Wautoma into the Streets of Paris. They gave the businesses French names, and members painted Paris street backgrounds. There were booths, a band concert, street dancing, parades, fireworks, a queen contest and a fancy dress ball. One local store sold berets. Nearly four thousand visitors came.

“The Rembrandts quietly accomplished mountains of work in the mechanics of setting up the show and keeping it going for three days. The costume ball Saturday night would have been little or nothing without the active participation of members from this club. Theirs was a team play carried out to the letter.” R.Gus, ‘Shara Pinions 1954 Waushara Argus

In 1956, member Mrs. RW Martindale appeared on Green Bay TV to say that Wisconsin led all 48 states in work done with rural art groups and that the Wautoma group was “one of the peppiest of them all.” That year the group invited President Eisenhower, a “Sunday Painter” to exhibit in the show and received a letter of regret from the White House.

After two shows attracted thousands in ‘57 and ‘58, the club scaled back and moved the show to a single day on the Courthouse Lawn. In 1966 the show was held on the Wild Rose Library lawn as part of a Welsh heritage celebration, and in 1967 it was in RedGranite City Park. In 1980, the club exhibited in two buildings of the Waushara County Fair Ground; one held current member’s artwork and one was an exhibit of the artwork of members who had passed on.

This year, for the club’s 70th Anniversary, the Annual show will be a two day show, featuring a critique and awards Saturday and a program Sunday afternoon featuring Marjo Gard Ewell of the University Place program The Wisconsin Idea and the Visual Arts as well as the club founders’ descendants. The event will feature a historical exhibit of artwork and artifacts and activities for children.The event will be held Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22, from 10 a.m.-3p.m. at the World War II Memorial on the intersection of Highways 21 and 22 in Wautoma.