April 17, 2010

West Racine features art of many different sorts

Don Vander Leest discusses his landscapes with West Racine Art Walk visitors

Art is where you find it. Saturday it was in West Racine, in some unusual places.

Various artists were ensconced in some of the retail stores -- The Red Bell, Nelson's Variety, Commitments, for example. But there also was artistry of a different sort at Larsen Bakery, Gethsemane Lutheran Church and the storefront that used to be Riley's Sweet Shop. All you had to do was join the shoppers wandering from store to store during the West Racine Art Walk to find it.

Here's some of what we saw (and none of it involved the news (or non-news) about the potential gas station / restaurant that may (or may not) locate at the corner of Washington and West Blvd.              

 Copy Cat music was graced by two artists: painter Don Vander Leest displayed prints and paintings inside, and guitarist Daniel Robinson played outside, entertaining shoppers walking by.Vander Leest said he's been painting  since he was in the third grade. As for selling: "The exchange of money just keeps me in paint and paper," he said with a smile. "The greatest satisfaction is when people find something that graces their house. That's what I love."

In The Red Bell, a store full of children's toys and crafts,  sat artist and teacher Nancy Justus, a former painter now working a new medium: fibre art. She was sitting in the entryway, sewing a large fabric piece, one she said would take her at least three weeks to complete. "I've been accused of being hyper-active. It's so satisfying when it's done," she laughed. She stopped long enough to display the piece to three-year-old Anna Johnson and her mother, right.

In Johnson's Home Furnishings store, well-known landscape and lighthouse painter Jean Thielen displayed a wall of photos, and talked to a steady stream of fans. But in the moments between visitors, she sat quietly sketching the beginnings of a new painting -- a commissioned portrait of a young boy adopted from Russia. Photos of the boy and his brother are behind Thielen.

Nelson's Variety Store had something different as well: Harold Solberg held forth at the lathe, turning small bowls and explaining his work methods to fascinated onlookers. One interesting tip: When he turns the inside of a bowl, Solberg's lathe rotates in reverse, so he gets a better look at what his turning chisels are accomplishing.

Larsen Bakery had an unadvertised special. Oh, there was a visiting artist in the store -- a jewelry maker alongside the display cases with tasty treats -- but I was more interested in what I glimpsed through their window, in the back room behind the bakery showroom. Working quietly and alone decorating a variety of beautiful cakes, was a young woman wearing a Muslim head scarf. She turned out to be Beth Sharid, 30, who grew up in Kuwait and Iraq, living through invasions by both Saddam Hussein and American troops.

She comes from a family big enough by current standards for an American TV show: eight brothers and four sisters. "Enough kids to take care of me in my old age," her father said. Beth came to Racine 10 years ago (following a brother who came to the U.S. to study engineering in 1995.) Her artistry crosses borders as well: She started drawing as a little girl, and later became a professional seamstress. At Larsen's for 18 months, she makes pastries and desserts -- and decorates special cakes.

And now for something else unexpected: In the former Riley's Sweet Shop -- now an Hispanic storefront church -- is a large scale model of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. The model will be there for awhile, so be sure to stop in.

And finally, art of yet another different sort, found deliciously in the kitchen of Gethsemane Lutheran Church, where the annual aebleskiver breakfast was under way. Wearing their Danish flag aprons, women of the church turned out hundreds of the spherical, apple slice pancakes -- and had trouble keeping up with the demand. Here, Trudy Rozzoni pokes the latest batch, telling them to hurry. Once the breakfast crowd was sated, the cooks moved on to meatballs for lunch.

Art can be so satisfying!


  1. Was a great time, all that was missing was the sweet smell of gas and gyros!

  2. concrete katie4/18/2010 9:26 AM

    Jerusalem! What a beautiful idea! I will definitely stop by. West Racine's Artwalk makes me wish we had our old Sixth Street Artwalk coming up. Racine has interesting artists at practice in various locations throughout Racine and a good artwalk is good for both artists and business. Bravo!

  3. Racine is all about art. I suppose art is good way to relieve stress when you are at home with nothing to do because you are unemployed. That is, if you still have a home.

  4. If you are unemployed, you should have a lot to do. You should either be finding a job or finding a way to better yourself so you can find a job. The last thing you should be doing is wasting time tearing down the city you hope to be employed in. Even if you hope to leave, you should build up the city so the chances of your home selling are higher.

    Stop being a self-destructive rube and start doing something with your life.

  5. Anon 5:46...
    A Standing Ovation to you!!! Well said.
    You can either look at the glass half full or half empty.

  6. What happens when your glass becomes fully empty? Should I thank the mayor?

  7. Until the depression is over, Racine needs more heart than art. To the victims of this toadish town's oligarchy, art is just a richie-poo toy.

  8. Calling the unemployed self-destructive rubes doesn't accomplish constructive goals. On the contrary, bullying the less-fortunate in the name of making them hunt for jobs which don't exist will only anger them. Given Racine's high unemployment rate and its oligarchy's sheer callousness toward the plight of the impoverished majority, a long hot summer is a distinct possibility. (Trust me, I survived the Detroit Urban Insurrections of 1967 and 1968. This wicked little company town could join the Motor City on a roster of strife-torn municipalities.)

  9. The above comment is merely a historian's opinion and should not be misinterpreted as a threat.

  10. Mr. Angry - it is a threat and you do it all the time. Maybe Dustin will track you down.

  11. Tim the Shrubber4/19/2010 4:13 PM