One instructor says the virtual classes, art in general, “helps keep people sane during turbulent times.”
For more than a generation, summertime in the Pecatonica Valley has meant art classes at the eclectic Grandview art center on a ridgetop just west of the town of Hollandale.
Immigrant farmer Nick Engelbert started crafting his menagerie of 40 concrete sculptures in the 1930s. An ardent supporter of the LaFollette-era Progressives, Engelbert once said, “ If a man can’t be happy on a little farm in Wisconsin, he hasn’t the makings of happiness in his soul.”
Since 1998, Grandview has been a happy place for anyone who wanted to learn to paint, throw a pot or turn bowling balls into yard art. The Kohler Foundation, which restored Engelbert’s home and sculptures in the 1990s, provides grants to bring artists for the summer classes, and for after-school art classes at Hollandale Elementary School.
“There is a magic about Grandview, I feel it, too,’’ said foundation director Marilyn Rolfsmeyer. “It’s the flurry of other creative people around you, and being taught by an artist that has heart and soul for what they’re teaching, which is all is part of that magic.”
So she was wondering how students would respond when the COVID pandemic forced Grandview classes online. She needn’t have worried. Every one of the 11 classes filled up in late July as people came to pick up supplies for the $5 art classes they will take via Zoom.
“I’m flabbergasted by the support, all 11 classes are nearly filled and we have the same income we’d have with 28 or 30 classes,’’ she said. “It’s a lot more adults taking classes, I think people are looking for something to do.”
Other regional art centers have also taken classes online, including River Arts. Inc. in Prairie du Sac. Helen Klebesadel, a professional watercolor artist based in Madison, just taught an online class in transforming painting to fabric prints at Shake Rag Alley Center in Mineral Point and will be bringing her own studio classes online in late August.
Klebesadel says making art helps keep people sane during turbulent times.
“This is exactly what people are looking for to help them cope with the anxiety of the pandemic and everything else that is going on,’’ said Klebesadel, who cited studies showing that creating art helps your mind get into a worry-free “flow state,’’ much like that achieved by meditation.
To that end, she started a Facebook group called Cabin Fever Creative Community in March, which has now grown to 6,000 members and allows professionals and hobbyists alike to share creative projects. It also breaks up a Facebook feed that can feel dominated by COVID and politics.
The first Grandview Zoom class focused on mosaics and was taught by Julie Olsen, an art teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Madison. She compared teaching art over Zoom to “ building the plane while we’re flying it. It’s been a real leap.”
Still, the class went smoothly, with 23 students ranging in age from kids to their grandmothers putting together mosaic creations using kits assembled by Olsen.
“It took me all day to put together the kits,’’ she said. “When you’re teaching on site, people get to dig in (to the glass supplies) and pick out what they like.”
Rolfsmeyer says while people aren’t making art this summer surrounded by Englebert’s whimsical sculptures of Snow White and the monkeys in the “family tree,’’ Grandview is still playing a role in bringing art to rural people
“Not all rural folks can afford to go to an art center to take classes,’’ she said. “Our participants are novices looking for things to do with their families. The bottom line is that people are doing something fun and creative that they might not do otherwise.”