Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Valley Ridge Art Studio 2012

I headed out to the Southwest corner of the state of Wisconsin to one of the most beautiful and meaningful places on the planet for me:  the Valley Ridge Art Studio run by the marvelous Katherine Engen.  I have been attending Valley Ridge workshops since 2007 and this is the last year of the studio in its current configuration. Next year the studio will be for rent to artists and others but there will be no classes offered by Valley Ridge itself.  Instead, Katherine will be doing long distance classes in remote locations like New Orleans, New York and overseas. 

Packing is always a challenge for me and this trip I am taking four classes:  yikes!  I hope I have enough stuff stuffed in the van.

One of the things I like about Valley Ridge is that the students are treated so well.  Just look at the space above:  everyone gets there own table and the studio is well lit with natural light.  Ever wonder how artist get along in their assigned space?--here is how I filled mine.

My vacation this year involves a ten day stay to take four classes from the married couple, Andrea Matus de Meng and Michael de Meng.  Originally I was going to be going on my own but through a cancellation by another student and the offer of a free weekend of classes, Denice was able to come along.  Her time was freed up when our contractor decided to work on our bathrooms on Thursday, June 28th, and not work on Friday (I am sure there will be a blog on the bathroom changes coming soon).  So, after a half day of work, I loaded the van with all the stuff I need to take a Valley Ridge workshop, got Denice's car in my rear view mirror, and we drove the two and one-half hours it takes to get from Milwaukee to Muscoda, WI.

We arrived at the farm around 5 p.m. and immediately unloaded our clothes into our room in the 100 year farmhouse.  At the farmhouse we met my table mate for the run of the workshops, Kelley Clarke from Iowa.  Also there to greet us was Katherine and my first instructor, Andrea.  We then unloaded half the stuff I brought (or the needed ingredients to make Andrea's class projects) into the studio itself.

Then it was off to Mineral Point for dinner at Brewery Creek.  We also took a walking tour of Shake Rag Alley, another craft workshop destination in the area.  After a driving home and almost ruining the evening of a family of raccoons, we were off to bed in the farmhouse.  Animals are a constant around this place with a doe and fawn streaking past the studio windows one day or the two cows who escaped from the farm next door and came to visit one afternoon.

Pretty much each day has the same pattern.  I get up at 6 a.m. and make my breakfast in the farmhouse.  Then, it is off to the studio to work alone before the other students arrive. 

Workshops begin at 9:30 a.m. and run to 4:30 p.m. with a lunch break.  Then, after dinner (if you chose to eat), you can work late into the night in the studio as long as there is at least one other student. 

On Friday, June 29th, Denice and I took Andrea's class called Single Minded Binding.  In the morning, Andrea put us through an exercise to learn how to construct and sew a book. 

Here is the lunchroom.  Lunches at Valley Ridge are to die for and they are prepared by Chef Bonnie.  Katherine and Bonnie have put our a Valley Ridge cook book that gives it all away but all I want to do is eat.  In the afternoon, between some techniques, Andrea let us create our own books from materials that we brought.  My is called Crime and Punishment. 

Friday night we drove up the road to Castle Rock to eat.  The Castle Rock Friday night fish fry is a buffet with all the usual rural WI food which involves lots of fried stuff and things you would not normally find for dinner at home like herring. 

Saturday and Sunday, Andrea was teaching Transparental Guidance, a workshop in which we created a structure with layers that you can see depths and mysteries within.  It is constructed out of a wood block for the base on which the farthest collage is placed,

a second layer for interest made out of mat board and topped with a third layer that is a transparency and mica.  Because of the transparency of my stuff, I changed it up a little.  My first layer of maps and eyeball has a second layer of mica with a tree image on it and the third layer is the mat, acting as a frame.  It is called And Amongst His Many Gems. 

Saturday night we decided to drive to Fennimore and eat at The Silent Woman.  Evidently the silent woman is because the logo has her with no head.  There were twelve of us students so the restaurant led us through their many staircase, past the dioramas of old world Wisconsin, and upstairs to the Library.  While hot up there, the setting was great and so was the food. 

With all respect to her husband Michael's technique, Andrea ends her workshops with a critique of each student's work.  I love this and find it so valuable as an artist.  The other nice thing about this is that it draws the whole bonding experience of a workshop like this to a rousing conclusion. 

Denice's structure is called Royaltree.

Sunday night Denice and I, Kelley, Lynn, Katherine and Andrea headed over to the Tower Junction Bowling Alley on Highway 18 for pizza.  One thing you can say about hanging around Valley Ridge, the eating experience immerses you into the culture of rural Wisconsin.  After this, I had to say goodbye to Denice who had to drive home to deal with plumbers and other tool belted men. 

Monday, July 2nd, most of the students from the first weekend were gone but Kelley, Lynn and I talked Andrea into going junking in Cuba City, WI.  We left the farm at 10 a.m. and did not get back until 8:00 p.m. 

The two antique stores in Cuba City proved to be treasure troves of stuff for our group and each of us bought enough stuff so that putting it into Kelley's Honda CRV became an issue especially because Kelley bought a library card catalog that weighed in at 70 lbs. and took up most of the space in the van.  We lunched at Doolittle's in Cuba City, hit Menards and Wal-Mart for supplies, ate dinner at Subway and made it back to the farm. 

At the farm we met Andrea's husband, Michael de Meng. 

Having flown in from doing a workshop in California, he spent the night looking at all our junk and unpacking his.  Michael always sells art to his students and it did not take long for me grab a paint brush for my de Meng universe at home.

We entertained ourselves by having everyone lay out what they bought in Cuba City for a game of show and tell.  My finds are displayed here from the 50 ceramic doll parts at the top down to the stuff at the bottom of the picture all for around $300 (and I was not even the top buyer in the group). 

Tuesday, the 3rd of July, I worked in the studio in the morning.  For lunch and more junking, we headed to Fenimore where we visited the Thrift Shop and ate lunch at an all you can eat taco bar.  Yes, we bought more junk.

Then it was back to the studio for some art face time and then Michael, Andrea, Katherine, Kelley, Lynn and I drove to Brewery Creek in Mineral Point for another fine meal.  Back on the farm, Kelley and I worked in the studio until 11:00 p.m. under a full moon.

On the Fourth of July, it was time to go to the Church of de Meng.  I brought three heads with me to this workshop so that I had choices.

This whole project started with making a jaw so it can move.  At the last minute, I decided that the fortune teller box I wanted the marionette on was going to be saved for the master class.  Instead, I would use the tall necked manikin head for the puppet making.

Then the Dremel came out and the altering began.  This is the hardest part:  actually committing to a project and making a decision that means you cannot go back. 

Because this class began on the Fourth of July, we all had a special evening event that began with a picnic in Katherine's house on the property.  Katherine has a beautiful home, decorated with all types of art, and featuring a balcony that hangs out over the stream that run down in the valley past her house. 

Michael and Andrea have started a social media group called Art Abandonment and the assignment for the month of July was to hang art on a tree.  The group made art to hang on a tree in Boscobel, WI, when we all went there in the evening to attend the fireworks display.  Here is what I made to abandon. 

Most of us agreed that the fireworks in Boscobel were some of the best for a small town--quite a few in the display plus it was all set to music.  Pretty cool.  Andrea also promised to abandon a special piece of art when the group reached 5,000 members so she was working on that piece during Michael's workshop.

Thursday, July 5th, was day two of the workshop and I worked all day and even skipped the wine and cheese reception that Katherine hosts in the lunch room.

That night the whole crew went to dinner at Tower Junction Bowling Alley where we had pizza and held a bowling tournament for the second year in a row with the de Mengians. 

Then it was back to the workshop where I worked with Cris Smith until 1:30 a.m. in the morning.  Sometimes when the muse moves you, you just keep on truckin'. 

Friday, July 6th, meant it was time to finish the project.  Then comes one of the most fun and valuable things about taking a Michael de Meng workshop:  the critique.  Michael always lets his students know when it is time to stop working by playing the theme song from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  That is not the only funny thing that will happen during the critique as the humor flies fast and furious.  But Michael is a patient and polite instructor who always finds value in everything that is done during his critiques. It is also the final time for all of us to see what everyone else is placing on the table as their effort for the three days. 

My piece is called Woman with Piercings and Issues.  Here are pictures of the finished product taken at home after the workshop:

Its Friday so that means its Fish Fry at Castle Rock Inn night. 

Saturday, July 7th, is the first day of master class called Trash to Treasure which means you can make whatever you want and Michael will hang around offering to teach what is needed and demo cool stuff that maybe does not get taught in a regular class.  Of course, because I always get up early, I was already working when the others arrived.  For this session, I decided to return to the fortune teller concept.  Unfortunately, I got so immersed in making art I forgot to take any process photos. 

Saturday night found us eating pizza and participating in the Bowling Tournament at Tower Junction.

When I bowled in leagues, my average was 165 but this night my high score was 122 which is or is not gae, not that there is anything wrong with that. 

The master class feels short to me but because I had been working on my form even at home before I came, I make a great deal of progress.  Normally Michael teaches painting in layers using washes upon washes, but early on Sunday he drifted by after I had put one coat of iridescent bronze on my head and we both agreed that I should just stop right there. 

Later at the critique, Michael suggested that this might be a color I would like to work with in a series of pieces, and I am thinking of taking his advice.

The leave taking at any workshop is hard but here, after eleven days, it was especially hard because we all knew that this is the last year of Valley Ridge sponsored workshops on the site.  Despite a satisfactory stay, that made for a long ride home.

When I got home I decided that this piece needed a lot of work.  I painted it more, added a frame of bulbs to the edge, and put a sign on top.  One step left that I have not yet done is that I would like to fill the drawer with fortunes.  The piece is called Por Fortuna and here are some pictures I took at home after the workshop:


  1. Wow. I'm a brand new reader of your blog and I'm really loving your artwork!

  2. Another great post! I've been dying to get out to Valley Ridge, but with all the kiddos, this is proving to be a problem. However, all is not lost, because reading your blog makes me feel like I was there. I take Michael classes because he is such a gifted teacher. He is genuinely interested in each student. Denise's piece came out beautifully as well. Well done, and glad that u posted and I could share your experience!