• Bonnie Ohmstead: acrylic painter

    Dear Readers: mechanical drawing/graphic art, which the dictionary defines as “drawing, as of machinery, done with the aid of rulers, scales, compasses and so on,” doesn’t appear to have much in common with fine art, which is defined as “a type of art. . .that is concerned with the creation of beautiful things.” But today we’re going to meet Bonnie Ohmstead, a Rusk County resident whose work as a mechanical artist/graphic artist paved the way for her current work as a fine art painter, and has left its influence on her painting style, due to the detail required. A native of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Bonnie worked as a mechanical/graphic artist for Snap-on Tools Corp., where her main responsibility was creating precise pen and ink drawings of an array of tools for the company’s sales/dealer catalogs. After a number of years there, she became a free-lance artist for Snap-On and several other companies. When ...
    July 1, 2020 Bonnie Ohmstead: acrylic painter
  • Kitty Mitchell, jewelry designer

    Dear Readers: Appreciation for the natural beauty that surrounds us in Rusk County is a theme that runs through the work of many area artists, from painters and photographers to sculptors and carvers. Today in this column we’re going to meet Kitty Mitchell, a Rusk County resident who works with natural materials to create jewelry that reflects the colors and textures found in nature.  Although born in Eau Claire, Kitty lived on a farm in the Holcombe area during her growing up years, which helped develop her appreciation of natural beauty. After marriage, she and her husband, Steve, now a self-employed dairy nutritionist, moved to Rusk County and farmed in the Sheldon area where, relates Kitty, she devoted herself to rearing the couple’s four children and being a “working farm wife.” Kitty says that she’s been interested in crafting all her adult life, beginning with sewing for herself and all four of ...
    June 1, 2020 Kitty Mitchell, jewelry designer
  • Janelle Thompson, visual artist, illustrator and sculptor

    Dear Readers:  Writers, when casting around for ideas, often fall back on the useful advice to “write about what you know.” But how do visual artists find their inspiration? Today we’ll meet local artist and sculptor Janelle Thompson, who finds inspiration for her work in the beauty of nature, animals and in finding common ground among people with varying backgrounds and experiences. A lifelong resident of Ladysmith, Janelle, whose father was a printer, says she always had paper available and loved to draw from an early age, especially animals. Academically, Janelle reports she was initially most interested in biology and math. She credits two teachers for helping develop her artistic skills, but in very different ways. Ruth Whitmore taught her painting and drawing both in grade and high school, and John Cardinal was her high school drafting instructor. Once out of school, Janelle’s first job was working as a soil conservation technician ...
    May 1, 2020 Janelle Thompson, visual artist, illustrator and sculptor
  • Don and Georgie Anderson, Musicians

    Dear Readers:  Many of us are familiar with the song that begins “The hills are alive with the sound of music. . .” While that song refers to mountains in Austria, today we’re going to meet Don and Georgie Anderson, who for many years have made our own Blue Hills, and the rest of Rusk County, come alive with their music. Both the Andersons were born in Rusk County–Georgie in Ladysmith and Don in Hawkins–and both have been interested in music, particularly country and polka music, from early childhood.  Georgie relates that she taught herself to sing country music by listening to it on the radio. Her father bought her a guitar, which she taught herself to play, and by the time she was ten years old she was singing on the Barn Dance program on WLDY Radio in Ladysmith. Soon thereafter she began playing and singing with her sister, Sally, at ...
    April 1, 2020 Don and Georgie Anderson, Musicians
  • Nancy Wheeler—Weaver

    Dear Readers: The word “weave” is defined as interlacing threads, yarn, strands or strips of some material in order to form a fabric. The word is also used to describe the ability to combine many diverse elements into a complete piece, as when a writer weaves a variety of sub-plots into a satisfying, coherent book. In today’s column we’ll meet Nancy Wheeler, a master weaver both in the sense of creating beautiful fabric and in her ability to “weave” area artists and the community together in a way that benefits both. A California native, Nancy and her family moved to Ladysmith in 1988 where both she and her husband, Wayne, began teaching at Mt. Senario College. Nancy says she had done small weaving before coming to Wisconsin, but never on a loom. She relates that her weaving became a serious avocation when two unconnected events happened the same day. First, Nancy ...
    March 1, 2020 Nancy Wheeler—Weaver
  • Eileen Ziesler–writer, arts advocate

    Dear Readers:  The familiar phrase “wears many hats” refers to somebody who is involved in many diverse activities or plays a variety of roles. Today we’ll meet Eileen Ziesler who, at least figuratively, wears many hats in her roles as writer, publisher, entrepreneur and arts advocate.  A native of Rusk County, Eileen met her husband, Tony, while she was attending college in Milwaukee, where the couple lived for a number of years. In 1978 they bought Eileen’s family farm from her grandfather and, with their three children, moved to Ladysmith. Eileen says she has always enjoyed poetry and the “musicality” of language. Specializing in early childhood education, she reports it was while reading stories and singing songs with her students that she became convinced the musical quality of language is as important as story line to young children and “hooks” their interest in books and reading. She relates that a large toad inspired ...
    February 1, 2020 Eileen Ziesler--writer, arts advocate
  • Ruth Meszaros –artist, art advocate

    Dear Readers: A person with diverse or widely varying interests or tastes is sometimes called eclectic. In today’s column we’ll focus on local artist and art advocate Ruth Meszaros, who could be called “egg-clectic” because of the nature of a major part of her artistic work. A New Jersey native, Ruth lived for a time in New York State, then attended the University of Chicago, where she majored in English Literature and met her husband, Paul. In 1973 Paul accepted a teaching position at Mt. Senario College, and the couple moved to Ladysmith. Although she didn’t major in art, Ruth says she has always liked to draw and that “doodling and drawing” have been her hobbies since she outgrew coloring books. She reports she began “serious doodling” in 1970, using a drafting pen and colored pencils to create geometric designs and patterns. Eventually, inspired by a Christmas display of decorated eggs at ...
    January 1, 2020 Ruth Meszaros –artist, art advocate
  • Karen Ek, Music educator; musician

    Dear Readers:  Many of us are familiar with “The Music Man,” a hit Broadway musical later made into a  popular movie. In today’s column we’re going to meet Karen Ek, who could be called The Music Lady for her work in music education and encouraging music participation and appreciation in Ladysmith and Rusk County. Born in Chippewa Falls, Karen attended the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, where she majored in Vocal Music Education. Upon graduating in 1964, she accepted a teaching position with the School District of Ladysmith, where she remained until her retirement in 2002. Karen recalls that when she began working in Ladysmith she was the only vocal music instructor and served as music supervisor for elementary students in two city schools. Over the years she taught music to children from kindergarten through high school in a variety of assignments, including teaching basic class piano to high school students and choral ...
    December 1, 2019 Karen Ek, Music educator; musician
  • Lucinda Miller – Writer

    Dear Readers:  Each of us has our own individual way of looking at the world and what we believe to be the purpose of our existence. Our personal world view may be rooted in religion, science, philosophy or something unique to ourselves. Today we’re going to meet Lucinda Miller, a rising young writer from Rusk County, who writes both from a faith-based perspective and also as one who has grown up with a deep understanding of and appreciation for the natural world. “Luci,” as she is called by family and friends, was born and still lives on a farm begun by her great-grandfather near Conrath. She attended Linden Christian Day School through sixth grade, then was home schooled from grades 7-12. Luci says she has always loved to read, and her interest in reading eventually led her to creative writing. She relates that when she was 18 she saw an advertisement ...
    November 1, 2019 Lucinda Miller – Writer
  • Mona Kochendorfer – folk artist

    Dear Readers: “Folk art” has been defined as “art originating among the common people of a nation or region . . . reflecting their traditional culture” and is usually both useful and decorative. In today’s column we’ll meet artist and teacher Mona Kochendorfer, an accomplished folk painter and interpreter of ethnic painting styles, particularly those of Norway, the Netherlands and Bavaria. Born and raised in Spring Valley, Wisconsin, Mona and her husband, Larry, moved to Amacoy Lake, near Bruce, in 1992. Mona attended the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education. She attended graduate school at River Falls, Eau Claire, and Stout. Mona’s teaching career began in 1957; she has been an art supervisor and teacher, a reading specialist in Wisconsin public schools, and an art instructor for Wisconsin Technical Colleges. She also gave private piano and organ lessons for many years. Her ...
    October 1, 2019 Mona Kochendorfer – folk artist
  • Bryce Coggins: writer; local historian

    Dear Readers: People with total recall of names, dates, places, events and experiences, even long past, are said to have photographic memories. In today’s column we’ll meet Bryce Coggins, a local farmer and writer who uses his skill with words, remarkable memory and love for our area to present an entertaining and accurate picture of life in rural Rusk County as he has experienced it for almost a century. Born on a farm in Rusk County in 1926, Bryce says, playfully, that he was the “middle” child in a family of ten children. He attended Cloverland grade school and Tony High School and has many happy recollections of his school years. In 1950 he bought his own farm, close to the one owned by his parents, and moved into it the next year, with his wife, Pat. Bryce and Pat subsequently had six children, and one of their daughters and her ...
    September 1, 2019 Bryce Coggins: writer; local historian
  • Betty Morris, visual artist

    Dear Readers:  Besides being artists, what do Vincent van Gogh, Grandma Moses and Henri Rousseau have in common?  The answer may surprise you:  they are all self-taught. A little “digging” shows a significant number of visual artists, musicians and photographers have carved out highly successful careers with little or no formal training.  Instead, they’ve acquired the necessary knowledge and skills through their own intelligence,  initiative and determination. Today we’re going to meet Betty Morris, a local self-taught visual artist who, through her own efforts, has become a successful portrait artist, muralist, and popularizer of an old art form called ‘’Silent Companions’’ or ‘’Dummy Boards.’’ An Illinois native, Betty and her late husband, Chuck, were married in 1950 and had four children. In 1993 Chuck retired due to health problems. The couple then moved to Rusk County, where they restored a hundred year old farmhouse which had been in Betty’s family for ...
    August 1, 2019 Betty Morris, visual artist
  • Audrey Riphenburg, writer

    Dear Readers: What makes a writer write? A painter paint? What makes anyone, amateur or professional, in any of the arts do what he or she does? The answers, of course, are many and varied, but among the most basic certainly must be that the person loves the chosen art form. In our column today, we’ll meet Audrey Riphenburg, a Ladysmith resident, writer and world traveler who writes out of sheer enjoyment. She has authored several books and without setting out to, has become an unofficial chronicler of life in Rusk County.  A Rusk native, Audrey was born on a small farm in what she terms “rural Ladysmith” and, except for a few years teaching in St. Croix, has always lived in this county. After earning an education degree from UWEC Eau Claire, she taught middle grade students for several years, primarily history and English. In 1962 Audrey married Al Riphenburg ...
    July 1, 2019 Audrey Riphenburg, writer
  • Introduction

    Dear Readers: What does the term “the arts” bring to your mind? Painting? Writing? Music? Dance? Woodworking or fiber arts? Pottery? Sculpture? Photography? The arts include all these forms of expression and many more, and in this column we’ll get to meet some of the artists working right here in Rusk County. Many artists introduced here will be members of the Rusk Area Arts Alliance. Usually shortened to RAAA and pronounced like a cheer, this non-profit organization was established in 2006. Its purpose is to promote and encourage the arts, and local artists, give artists a venue for meeting and sharing ideas, and make the arts a viable, important, enriching and fun part of our county and community. Artists featured in this column will not be chosen by its writer, but will be suggested by a RAAA selection committee. Headquartered at Toad House, 711 Lake Avenue West, in Ladysmith, the Rusk ...
    June 24, 2019