By Julie A. Jacob for RacinePostFor the Racine Art Museum and watercolor artists in Wisconsin, December is more than the season of holiday cheer, evergreens, and red bows. If it’s December, then it’s time for the opening of RAM’s annual Watercolor Wisconsin exhibit.
On Sunday afternoon, the Wustum campus of the Racine Art Museum hosted the opening reception for Watercolor Wisconsin 2009. This year’s exhibit, which runs until April 24, features 106 watercolor paintings and other artwork created by 87 Wisconsin artists. A panel of experts from outside the state selected the works from among 295 pieces submitted by 164 artists. About 25 percent of the pieces are from artists in the Racine area. Several of the painting in the exhibit received awards, and RAM will purchase three pieces for its permanent collection.
This year’s first-place award winner was a sculpture, instead of a painting. Dad Hitch-hiking to the Tavern, created by Russell Bohn, is a paper mache, watercolor, acrylic, and latex sculpture (at right). Second-place went to Francisco Mora for his watercolor painting, La Ultima y Nos Vamos, and third to Alice Rossman for her painting, Could Use a Broome. In addition, several artists received cash merit awards or awards of art supplies.
Watercolor Wisconsin has a long and distinguished history. The exhibit, now in its 43rd year, began as a joint project between the Wustum Museum and the Racine Junior League. The Junior League bowed out of the project after a few years, but Wustum continued sponsoring the annual competition and show.
Wisconsin is well known as a center of watercolor painting excellence, said Bruce W. Pepich, RAM’s executive director and curator of collections. That may be due to the state’s beauty –the forests, farms, rivers, and lakes – that inspire artists to paint outdoors. The sheer, soft colors of watercolor paints are ideal for conveying the shifting, ethereal beauty of nature. This year’s exhibit includes many pastoral Wisconsin scenes, including pictures of cows grazing in a field, gardens, trees, and the lakefront.
“Watercolors can very effectively communicate fog, most, and water scenes,” said Pepich.
Could Use a Broome
by Alice Rossman, 3rd Place Winner
by Alice Rossman, 3rd Place Winner
But although watercolor painting has its roots in landscape painting, it is used for a much broader range of subjects today. In addition, watercolor paints are often mixed with other materials, such as pencil, ink, and acrylic. Subjects in this year’s exhibit includes urban scenes, abstracts, and portraits.
Although the subjects and styles of each year’s entries vary widely, trends and themes emerge over the years. For example, noted Pepich, the entries one year included many still life paintings; in another year, many entries included purple in the palette. This year, the exhibit features many small paintings.
“The judges found a lot of small jewels,” said Pepich.
Another unique aspect of Watercolor Wisconsin is that the judges actually come to the museum to view the entries. For most exhibitions, judges look at online digital photos of the entries. For Watercolor Wisconsin, however, the judges come to the museum and spend a day looking at the entries. The judges this year were Steven Jones, the art gallery and collection curator at the College of Lake County in Grayslake and William Lieberman, director of Zolla/Lierberman Gallery in Chicago.
The Watercolor Wisconsin exhibit is free. Wustum Museum, 2519 Northwestern Ave., is open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information on the Racine Art Museum and Watercolor Wisconsin are online.