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Fall Fresh Art Tour features more sites than ever

Mary Anne Wise (left) and Jody Slocum are co-founders of Cultural Cloth in Maiden Rock. The destination home décor and gift shop features vibrant textiles and handcrafted goods from 17 countries around the world. (Republican Eagle photo by Stacy Bengs)1 / 5
Cultural Cloth’s Mary Anne Wise said it’s fun to take things from the collection and put them on furniture or arrange them so people have a better understanding of what they do with it. (Republican-Eagle photo by Stacy Bengs)2 / 5
The embroidery work of Guatemalan artist Jose Sicay Tzina is part of Culutral Cloth’s collection. His work was even featured in the New York Times last year after an interior designer incorporated his flying bird design into a curtain panel. Cultural Cloth is one of 19 stops on this year’s Fresh Art Fall Tour running 10 a..m-5 p.m. Friday Oct. 2-Sunday Oct. 4. The Maiden Rock shop features handcrafted work from all around the world. (Republican-Eagle photo by Stacy Bengs)3 / 5
. Cultural Cloth is one of 19 stops on this year’s Fresh Art Fall Tour running 10 a..m-5 p.m. Friday Oct. 2-Sunday Oct. 4. The Maiden Rock shop features handcrafted work from all around the world. (Republican-Eagle photo by Stacy Bengs)4 / 5
Cultural Cloth is one of 19 stops on this year’s Fresh Art Fall Tour running 10 a..m-5 p.m. Friday Oct. 2-Sunday Oct. 4. The Maiden Rock shop features handcrafted work from all around the world. (Republican-Eagle photo by Stacy Bengs)5 / 5

Taking a drive along Wisconsin’s Great River Road and adjoining rural byways in the fall is a must for any autumn color enthusiast. Now add in access to the handful of curiously charming art studios along the way and you have an out-right must-do road trip.

That’s the idea behind the annual self-guided Fresh Art Fall Tour. For the 17th year in a row, the three-day festival has been held to not only promote the incredibly talented artists along the picture perfect drive but also to expose their world of art and creation to the public by where and how it is made.

Nineteen stops are included in this year’s tour stretching from Maiden Rock to Pepin and Durand in Pepin and Pierce counties.

The tour is and always has been held the first full weekend of October. This year’s event runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday Oct. 2 through Sunday Oct. 4.

The stories behind each stop are arguably just as intriguing as the artwork itself.

Take Cultural Cloth in Maiden Rock.

Co-founders Mary Anne Wise and Jody Slocum opened their doors in 2011 totally unsure of how their internationally rooted business would be received in a small Wisconsin village.

Slocum, who has been annually volunteering in Guatemala for a non-profit group since 1992, says she was always interested in textiles and, after seeing the extraordinary work done by the people there, has been involved ever since.

Wise joined Slocum for a Guatemalan trip in 2006 and says looking back “that was the trip that sort of launched this whole second career for me.”

The two women, who were already established full-time textile artists, decided to launch their business working with and helping talented women artisans from around the world by honing skills and design ideas to sell to a larger market— right in the heart of tiny Maiden Rock.

Wise said the big question for them was how do they create products that still retain the identity of the culture from where it came and help them co-create products for the export market.

“The key is to maintain the identity of the culture,” she said.

Today, Cultural Cloth represents 17 countries and has made an impact on those communities and group of artists themselves, the women said.

And the work being produced truly is worth a look. Wise and Slocum are not the only ones who think so.

In 2006 the women met Jose Sicay Tzina in Santiago, Guatemala, where he lives with his wife and five children.

Having only schooled through grade 4, he worked as a day laborer on a large coffee farm and had a small business as a machine embroiderer on the side.  Wise and Slocum said they were struck by the beautiful detailing of his small bird embroidered coin purses.

“There was something about his work that just stood out,” Wise said.

Working together they came up with products to apply his exquisite embroidery for the export market both in fabrics by the yard and for overnight satchel bags.

“It’s a collaboration,” Wise said. “I’m not telling him how to do his work. I suggest color waves. By looking at his samples if I can envision something like a curtain panel in one of my customer’s homes, then I know I’ve got a winner on my hands.”

Within almost no time, Wise said Tzina got it. He started creating flying bird designed curtain panels which an interior designer stumbled across at Cultural Cloth.

Wise said designer Wendy Coggins knew it would be perfect for her client’s home. The completed design project even caught the eye of the New York Times, which featured the home in its Home and Garden section last year.

Front and center on the page were Tzina’s curtain panels.

“We could not be more proud of Jose,” Wise said.

An increase in production has allowed his children to stay in and graduate high school and even given his eldest daughter the chance to attend college.

His story is among handfuls of other people who have benefited by two women’s simple idea to showcase mastered artisan skills from around the world.

“I believe the future of crafts belongs to the developing world,” Wise said. “There is some amazing work that is being done. We see textiles all the time and are always looking.”

She adds customers also bring things back from remote corners of the world for them to look at. “I just love it,” she said.

The shop has been a stop on the Fresh Art tour for several years and passersby can find unique home goods from table runners to bed linens to felted booties to satchels and gifts — all with a story to be told.

“People will see things here that they won’t see anywhere else,” Wise notes. “We see the shop as a test kitchen - always cooking up products and testing their marketability here in the shop.”

For this year’s tour, Cultural Cloth will also have a special exhibit featuring Guatemalan folk art.

Along the route

In addition to Cultural Cloth’s array of work, Fresh Art Fall Tour riders can expect to see educational demonstrations and in some places hands-on opportunities at the art studios.

At the Day Dunlap Studio in rural Arkansaw participants can paint ready-made tiles to their own taste and Linda Day, a clay artist known for her whimsical work, will fire the tiles and return them to the budding artists.  

At the Little Plum Pottery in rural Pepin, master thrower Art Gannet will give instruction on wheel throwing and allow visitors to “try their hand at it.”

Raku firings will be ongoing, with Kaye Luetke at Flaming Fire Studio in rural Maiden Rock. Guests can glaze raku pieces and watch them go through the firing process.

Other artists on the tour who work in clay include Leah Werner, a clay sculptor, at her studio in rural Maiden Rock, and Kathy Steinke with hand-built clay sculpture and functional wares at the Little Plum Schoolhouse in rural Pepin. The schoolhouse also features plein air painter Matt Anderson, mixed media photographer Kay Geraghty and the photography of Dennis Steinke.

The Pepin Farm Pottery near Maiden Rock will again be unloading kilns with the work of Peter and Mary Deneen and Martha Winter. Peder Hegland with stoneware pottery and Paul and Denise Morris with functional hand-thrown pots are also at the Pepin Farm Pottery.

Pleasant Corner Schoolhouse in rural Stockholm will have an array of artists including clay artist Margy Balwierz, photographer Jay Olson-Goude, metal jewelry maker Mark Nuebel, painters Leslie Stewart and Bill Hoeser — and hear live entertainment by Maiden Rock based duo the Ditch Lilies.

At this year’s newest site Svedvik Arts longtime artist Soren Svedvik showcases the return to his creative work, exhibiting fine art photography as well as serigraph prints. Oil painting demos and woodwork will also be on site.

The Abode Gallery in Stockholm features Jill Van Sickle painting live.

Gail Pommerening will be working with her pastels and Mari Jackson with watercolors at Pommerening’s studio in rural Plum City

A mini art show will be at the Accola Gallery in Durand where Jean Accola will be demonstrating how to scale a painting up or down.

Demonstrations on spinning and weaving will take take place at the Hilsgen Family Farm near Maiden Rock and at Black Cat Farmstead — also home to Myklebust+Sears sculptural studio.  

Metal artist Cindy King will be demonstrating how to make a unique chair link using copper and metal wire at Leah Werner Ceramics in Maiden Rock.

Tom and Catherine Latané have been forging and producing metalwork for over 30 years at their shop in Pepin. He will be forging iron in his blacksmith shop during the art tour.

The Flaming Fire Studio in Maiden Rock features another demo when Sue Filbin’s shows her printmaking technique using leaves and grasses.

“It is  a great thing for the artists to have this annual event to have a chance to introduce their latest works to the visitors and art collectors,” says Accola, the co-coordinator and tour’s co-founder. “Some people are such 'regulars' that they are missed if they don't show up. The art tour gives the artists a deadline, something just about everyone needs, to finish works and get their studios in order.”

For a complete listing of all 19 stops on this year’s Fresh Art Fall Tour or for more information, visit

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

(651) 301-7880