arts & culture

Setting the Stage

The Fox Cities P.A.C. marks 10 years of entertainment and facilitating community collaborations

Once upon a time, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (P.A.C.) didn’t exist. For some of us, it’s hard to recall our community without it, while others remember it distinctly.

“When I first moved up here [to Appleton], I cried. The Fox Cities P.A.C. wasn’t even built yet and College Avenue was all under construction,” Shana Shallue, executive director of the Appleton Boychoir, remembers. “I was thinking, ‘What is in Appleton?’”

At first glance, the Fox Cities couldn’t hold an artistic candle to the cultural epicenters of Madison and Seattle where Shallue had lived previously. Since her reluctant arrival in 2001, Shallue has had a significant change of heart.

“We have a boy choir, girl choir and now we have the Performing Arts Center. It’s amazing that this small community has such a strong embedded love for the arts,” she says. “It’s a part of the community as a whole in every day life.”

It would be grossly inaccurate to say a vibrant performing arts community didn’t exist in the Valley before the Fox Cities P.A.C. did. But in many ways, the formation of a large-scale arts center has helped legitimize the long-standing arts population by encouraging various community collaborations.

Even before it hosted its debut performance in November 2002, the Fox Cities P.A.C. has represented the collaboration of a community. The $45 million facility was a dream realized through the private contributions of more than 2,700 local residents and businesses, such as Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (formerly Aid Association for Lutherans) and Kimberly-Clark Corporation, as well as 14 Fox Cities municipalities. The Center was imagined as long ago as the 1970s by arts groups and civic leaders who longed for a stage on which to present performing arts groups from within the Fox Cities and around the world.

Forming partnerships with these organizations has always been a cornerstone of the Fox Cities P.A.C.’s mission, says Executive Vice President Maria Van Laanen. For both the Fox Cities P.A.C. staff and its partnering organizations, the tenth anniversary season seemed like a natural time to reflect the center’s collaborative beginnings by showcasing the collective efforts of local arts groups.

“As part of our tenth anniversary season, we wanted to take every opportunity to highlight the incredible strengths of our community,” Van Laanen says. “We’re able to put them on stage as part of our Boldt Arts Alive! Series. We are truly partnering with these groups to help make this happen.”

In addition to providing the venue, the Fox Cities P.A.C. is able to assist arts groups with  multiple facets of putting on a production including backstage management, ticketing services and marketing. Subsidizing the cost of having these events at the Center helps make it more affordable for local groups.

One of the most significant collaborations taking place as part of the 2012/13 season has been in the works for years. The Makaroff Youth Ballet will be presenting “The Nutcracker” in conjunction with the Fox Valley Symphony and White Heron Chorale on December 8 and 9.

According to Makaroff Youth Ballet Executive Director Linda Drezdzon, the production will be the largest, “both literally and figuratively,” in the ballet’s history with a cast consisting of roughly 60 members, not including the Fox Valley Symphony or White Heron Chorale signers. While Makaroff Youth Ballet has presented smaller-scaled productions of “The Nutcracker,” Artistic Director Jeanette Makaroff has long dreamed of putting together a full production of the ballet on the community’s grandest stage.

“The wheels kept turning about getting ‘The Nutcracker’ at the P.A.C. and doing it properly with a symphony and chorus,” says Makaroff, who was determined to present a traditional rendition of the beloved ballet. “We have everything it takes in this community to do it right, be true to the art form and show the community what we can do.”

Makaroff Youth Ballet is raising significant funds in order to build scenery backdrops, set pieces and costumes for the production which will be used in future presentations of “The Nutcracker,” potentially taking place every three or four years. There are almost 100 costumes in the ballet and many of the Makaroff Youth Ballet’s current costumes, which are upwards of 30 years old, must be rebuilt. Money being raised by Makaroff Youth Ballet will also be used to build set pieces and multiple scenery drops that will fit the Center’s 103-foot-wide stage.

The Fox Cities P.A.C. is also raising money to fund two principal guest dancers, all marketing efforts and cover staff hours.

“It doesn’t get any bigger than this for us,” says Drezdzon, who believes this event to be the largest arts collaboration since the P.A.C. opened. The efforts of all performance groups are working to make this event a reality. 

“Really from the first budget proposal I took to the P.A.C., it has been a collaborative effort. The Fox Valley Symphony and White Heron Chorale all thought it was a great idea,” Makaroff says.

In addition to working on “The Nutcracker,” the White Heron Chorale will be joining the Appleton Boychoir and Lawrence Academy Girl Choir on stage in a celebration of choral music called “Spirited Songs,” another collaboration taking place during the 2012/13 season. All three choral groups were part of the Fox Cities P.A.C. opening so their reunion is especially anticipated.

“We’ve done collaborations with White Heron Chorale and Lawrence Academy Girl Choir, but the three groups have not worked together in 10 years so this is very unique and exciting,” Shallue says.

The groups want to focus on the connections within their organizations. Members of the White Heron Chorale have boys in the Boychoir and girls in the Girl Choir or have recommended students for the youth choirs. Shallue hopes to highlight these relationships with small ensembles during the event in an effort to show the community that choral involvement is possible throughout a performer’s life.

Successfully providing a venue for art collaborations is one accomplishment, among others, that the community can applaud during the Fox Cities P.A.C.’s tenth season.

“It’s a source of pride to say you’ve made it 10 years in a tough economy and they’re still able to present and do the things they were built to do,” Shallue says

Collaboration brings hope

National recording artist Justin Hines will perform as part of the 2012/13 Boldt Arts Alive! Series in a special collaboration between the Fox Cities P.A.C. and Celebrating Abilities, a project intended to increase awareness of the incredible abilities of individuals in our community, regardless of any apparent disability.

Celebrating Abilities has partnered with the Fox Cities P.A.C. for the past ten years in the presentation of their awards ceremony, the Abilities Awards, so to recognize their shared anniversary, both entities are working together to bring Hines to the Appleton stage.

Hines suffers from a joint dislocation condition that confines him to a wheelchair. Harriet Redman, executive director of the Fox Valley SIbling Support Network, says the accomplished singer-songwriter will be a great addition to the P.A.C.’s community-centered programming.

“It’s inspiring to those with disabilities to prove that incredible things are possible,” Redman says. “He’s a model of how important a community is to supporting people with disabilities. Everyone needs a community.”


Web Exclusive: Working the Scene (Some More)

After interviewing all of this month's creatives (plus Mr. Chisel) featured in "Working the Scene," we realized there was a lot more to each of their stories. Continue inspiration overload below...

Cory Chisel

Singer, songwriter and all around soul man Cory Chisel sees the Fox Cities through rose-colored glasses. Why wouldn’t the award-winning musician hold fondly the land where he cut his artistic teeth?

It’s not every day the Fox Valley sees one of their own perform at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas (March 14-17) or on the Late Show with David Letterman (June 4), so when it does happen there’s something a little more personal about it. Chisel’s humble beginnings playing the Appleton bar crowd might be where he gets his “it’s what you do, not where you are” philosophy of art.

“There’s a benefit in building a community rather than believing there’s somewhere else that’s magically better. That in itself is a creative experience. [The Fox Cities] has a lot of motivated people who are ready to view themselves as a community and make it cool.”

What was the music scene like in the Valley when you were establishing yourself?
When I was getting my foothold, the music scene wasn’t rampant or vibrant, but that’s what was kind of fun about it. We didn’t have a huge music scene to compete with. It was an open canvas to create things. We initially started to create something that we thought was missing, a trust-worthy place to go see music. We brought in friends from other cities too. We’ve always been trying to bend the road toward Appleton. It’s such a beautiful place and a place I care about. It wasn’t real vibrant, but there was a handful of bands, a lot of cover bands.

When people find out you’re from Appleton, do they know of it?
Mostly not. People think that it sounds like a pretty idealistic place, I mean just the name itself. Like the American flag is always blowing and it’s 72 degrees. It’s easy to live here. The quality of life here is why I’m interested in coming back. If I ever had children I’d want them to have the kind of upbringing I had where you didn’t have to worry about certain kinds of trouble on every corner.

What’s your current living situation? Is Appleton still home?
I lived in Appleton for 21 years and I’ve lived here part time for the last five or six. I still call it home, keep my P.O. box and Wisconsin driver’s license, but it’s just not logistically possible sometimes. We’re making an album on the West Coast and a lot of our business is bicoastal so you pretty much have to have a place that’s in New York or L.A. When a record comes out you have to focus your energy on the bigger cities mostly. There’s not much of the music industry infrastructure that focuses on the Midwest. Nashville is the closest. Whenever I’m done moving around I’d like to come back here. I’m still here often, all my family is here. I’m here more than I am anywhere else unless I’m working.

How do you see your Appleton roots influencing your career?

The biggest thing I see is in my work ethic. I’ve always had a strong work ethic being from Midwest. The biggest thing this town has given me is the sense that one must work hard. Most of the people I live around in this community work hard. I’ve noticed in a lot of other small towns they just don’t have that. If you’re going to make it as a musician you’re going to have to work. That was a value put in my brain growing up alongside paper mills. Hard work is expected. My family moved to Appleton to work hard to have a better life than they did. They came from up north near Canada in a mining town that shut down. They moved here for opportunity. My dad was a minister and the churches were closing because the mines were closing. They came here largely because of the Appleton Boychoir. We had these things here I could be apart of. I always felt lucky to live here.

Is it possible for musicians to “make it” without leaving the area?
A lot of people do. My initial idea of what I wanted to do musically never had a lot to do with any other city outside of maybe Oshkosh. That’s how we started for the first several yeas. We got in with a few different places that supported us every week and people could hop around and see us in different places throughout the week. We were making an honest living, maybe $100 a day, but for anyone working a job making $100 a day is pretty good especially when you’re 19 or 20-years-old. It can work. Here you can live off that pretty comfortably. I’ve always loved that. The older I get I don’t want to work to live. I want to live in a place where I can work and have a good life. People here value that too.

Do you have a tried-and-true approach to writing music?
It’s always different which is part of what makes it fun as a job. Sometimes songs come really quickly, sometimes with words and music at the same time. I usually don’t just sit down and write a song like that. Everyone has an internal monologue. My way of processing things is almost like you’re signing to yourself. If something’s a really intense experience there’s sort of a musical component to it. Very rarely do I think “I want to put a G chord with a C chord.” Usually there’s one line that seems profound and a series follows it. Its a difficult thing to explain. Not to contradict myself, I am in the habit of practicing everyday. I write a song pretty much everyday, more to keep the muscle of my creativity easily accessible. That’s an artist’s main job. If you don’t access your emotions and feelings in that same way you become dull.

Do you see reoccurring themes in your work?
Most of the time everything that’s immediate in my life is seeping into my work. Whether it’s just characters, your characteristics or those of someone else you’re being influenced by. It’s impossible to remove yourself from the process. I see mostly people in my songs. Even if you’re writing about politics or a crisis you’re trying to build these characters and you stuff them full with things that are true in your life.

What advice do you have for local bands looking to gain exposure?

I always have a very rose-colored view of Appleton because it’s treated me very well. I’m lucky enough that that people here are interested in what I’m doing. You just have to be able to stick it out. There will be a lot of hours where people don’t pay attention. Talent and ability is one thing, but patience is the real thing. What you’re doing is worth fighting for. We played for 10 years in Appleton, doing nothing but bars before we were signed to RCA Records. That’s like going to medical school. There’s this idea that we’ve gotten over the hump but we’re still slugging it out in other cities.

Where do you like to perform when you’re back in the Fox Cities?

There are two types of shows we really like to do; intimate ones at the Memorial Chapel and ones at the Fox Cities P.A.C. where we can invite as many people as we can to come see us play. A different type is like at Cena where we try to give people a very intimate experience. I love shows where it’s a mass group of people, but I also love seeing the faces of the people you’re playing for. There’s something you can experience in a smaller place that you just can’t in a larger one.

Rob Neilson

How did you get your artistic start?

I was born and raised in Detroit around steel and car parts. I didn’t really know exactly what art was. I wasn’t the kid going to galleries and art shows. My family just didn’t do that. But I made stuff. I would go find scrap steel and weld it together, whatever was available. I didn’t really realize that what I was making was sculpture until I got to college. I started seeing that that’s what I do, I make sculpture. Here I just thought I was making things. And I am. I’m still just making things. Now I just know what to call these things.

What brought you to Appleton?

After finishing my graduate studies at the University of North Carolina, I moved to L.A. and started doing large outdoor public art and making a living. I came to Appleton in 2003 after being offered job at Lawrence University. It was a personal and professional decision. I was at the point where I had done the business of making art and trying to make a living off that, working day jobs, doing advertising. I had been teaching adjunct out in L.A. and I found something very satisfying about exposing young people to the possibilities of art. At the same time I had two young sons getting to be school age. The schools in L.A. were not what one would hope for so I thought, yeah, Appleton, Wisconsin, Lawrence University. It sounds perfect.

Do you have an art piece of which you are particularly proud?

I have a real fond place in my heart for the duck. I did a six-foot tall two-headed rubber duck. It was very important to me that the duck actually be made of rubber so that when you pushed on it it would feel like a real rubber duck. The duck was a fun piece. It was probably the first large piece I built when I got here to Appleton. It was a response to the site where it was going. Originally I built it for the Navy Pier in Chicago, but here we are living in this new environment and there’s this river right here and I start thinking about rivers and the importance of rivers and the fact that Lawrence University is where it is because of that river, Appleton is where it is because of that river. Then also this aesthetic that I’m kind of wallowing in with my young children running around the house with all these little toys. I’m looking at those things and somehow this notion of the rubber duck comes up and I start thinking about rivers and Lake Michigan, where the Navy Pier is and how that idea of influence, not just commerce, not just goods and services go up and down these rivers, but it’s also culture, influence and language and the two heads is a reference that the culture is never a one-way proposition.

So your location impacts what you create?

I do notice a difference between what I create here as opposed to L.A. Some of it is just a sense of scale, like the duck for example. That piece is the size it is because that’s as big as I could make it and get it out of my garage when we were fabricating it. Some of it’s just practical, how much room I have to make things. I’ll move someplace and I won’t really realize it. For example these car hoods that I’m making into sculptures, in some way it’s a nod to my childhood in Detroit. It’s also influenced by the car culture of L.A. That's all I did there was commute. I was working two jobs and driving all over the freeways. Somehow that begins to permeate itself into my work and it’s both this sense of nostalgia, longing and missing that place but it’s filtered through this Midwestern manufacturing, blue-collar aesthetic that I come by naturally. I don’t think I would have been able to tap into that had I not come back to the Midwest.

What are the challenges of being in artist in the Fox Valley?

I would love if there were a vibrant community of galleries on College Avenue or somewhere in the area where we could go out and see four or five openings in an evening and see what everyone’s making. Getting the work seen and in front of gallery owners and those who buy art is a challenge here. I feel like a good deal of that is simply just awareness. I don’t think people know there is smart, contemporary art being made right here. That’s the biggest challenge.

What are the benefits?

One has space. I don’t mean just a big studio. I mean mental and visual, intellectual space that a place like Appleton provides in abundance. You need that intellectual space to think about what your work is, where it’s going and how it’s getting there. You need that aesthetic space. L.A. is sensory overload. It can be exciting and vibrant, but it can also be overwhelming.

Marc Golde

How did you get into music and recording?
I started as a musician around age five. Its just always been in my blood. When I was around nine, my neighbor gave me a gift of an old reel-to-reel tape deck and I’ve been recording ever since. It definitely comes from a musician background. I play all the rock-and-roll instruments: piano, organ, guitar, bass, drums and I sing. I had some lessons as a youngster, but most of it was studying myself. The same thing with recording, its just always been around. I always had a home recording studio, even as a little kid. It was my bedroom, then it went to the basement, then I overtook the first floor of the house. The reason I got into professional recording is because I wanted a cool studio to record in. The only way to do that was to start doing it for other people.

What brought you to Appleton?

I moved here when I was 18 from Merill, in 1987. I visited my sister down here a couple times. She took me out one night to watch bands. I think we saw 10 bands in one night. The Fox Valley just seemed like my size of L.A. I thought “Wow, there’s something going on down there and I don’t know what it is, but I need to be there. I decided as a teenager that once I turned 18 I was moving to the Valley and that’s it. By 9 a.m. on my eighteenth birthday I had my VW bus loaded up with all my instruments and I was on my way down. I remember coming down Highway 10 when I could finally see the skyline of the town, seeing it for the first time and thinking “Ok, we need to conquer this. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I’m going to own this someday.”

What’s the music scene like these days?

The scene comes and goes, but I don’t believe anybody should complain about it. Then do something about it. Create an environment. I believe whenever there’s a lack of something in the marketplace, it’s an opportunity for you to be the big fish. When bands complain about the scene, then there’s no competition. Go out there and be the next big thing. If you’re a big draw, nobody will turn you down. It doesn't matter how good or bad you are, if you can draw people you will be successful.

What plans do you have for the future?

I’ve got some plans in the next two years. I’m calling it the “Fox Valley Music Revolution.” I’m moving to a larger studio in 2012 where we will be able to have shows that we film cinematically in a dedicated video studio. I want to have events and things constantly. Like once a month we could have an event along with whatever theme it happens to be that would be open to the public. I want to broadcast these things. I’m going to set up a connection to the listener/audience where they can really see what’s going on in the Fox Valley. Let’s forget what they are going nationally and on the coasts. We are our own microcosm. We can do this and create something wonderful.

Do you have a favorite instrument?
Instruments are all tools. I don’t play as often as I used to. I just started going out and watching bands again. I didn’t for awhile because that’s what I do all day long so it’s not what I think of as relaxing. But I’ve been doing that and some research on what’s working and what isn’t working. I’m not comparing bands like who’s good and who’s bad. That’s completely irrelevant to me. Everybody's at some level it is what it is. But why is one band successful and one isn’t? What’s working here? That way I can coach people better in their careers.

So what makes a band successful?

The biggest thing out there is who connects with an audience better. It isn’t how good you are or the songs you pick. There have been wildly popular acts in the Fox Valley that play all originals, like Cool Waters Band and Cory Chisel. They’ve done it by not comprising the music side, but doing very well on the marketing side. There are other groups that play nothing but popular music and can’t get anywhere. There’s something else going on. Image or anti-image are extremely important. What are you giving the audience?

Have you seen big changes in the recording industry since you started?

It used to be where you had an album or record release and all the focus on your group would be right at that moment. So you’d release your CD, maybe get some press or radio. You have your release party and you get lots of attention for one month then it dies out. Now that we’re living in a download society with younger generations not really buying CDs anymore, bands are coming in and doing one song, maybe a video with it, then release that and in a month come in and record another song and video. All year long you’re getting attention and marketing yourself. It’s easier to afford and you’re staying in people’s consciousness. I’m developing ideas like that, how we reach an audience and keep them talking about you.

Julie Jilek

How did you get your artistic start?
I’m originally from Appleton and went to high school here. I took an art class my senior year and my teacher was over the moon about it and said I needed to go to art school. I wasn’t too keen on going to college at that point, but I applied and got in. I went to UW-Milwaukee for a while then came back to Appleton and took classes at UWFox Valley. That’s where I  really learned how to paint and fell in love with the medium. I went to Minnesota and got degree my there in 2005. It’s been a curvy road and it’s been interesting.

Has your career always been in art?

I bounced around with different jobs, all of which were somewhat creative. I started with framing at Foxleys here in Appleton. I did that for a couple months then I moved to Milwaukee and started working at a gallery there. I was working with more original art and learned about the business from an artist’s point of view. During that time I didn’t make too much artwork. Then I came back here again because I needed to recollect. I worked at the Richeson Gallery in Kimberly for about a year. I learned a ton while I was there, a whole different more traditional world of art like figure painting. It was a big opening of better opportunities for me. The last few years have been pretty explosive and very exciting.

When did you take the plunge of being a self-employed artist?

I stopped working at Richesons in September of 2010 so it’s been a year and half that I’ve been completely self-employed which is crazy. It’s a major challenge. It was terrifying to quit working and be self-employed. I always thought well I will get another job, but as time went on it worked out and now it would be really hard to go get a job like that. I don’t have a “typical” day, but I definitely have patterns. I try to paint every other day at least. But sometimes I go through phases where I will paint every day for a week and then sometimes a week goes by and I haven’t done much. Every day is dedicated to something: traveling to an opening, approaching galleries, etc. It’s constant. It’s waking up thinking about it, it’s going to bed thinking about it.

Your work is so diverse. Do you have a specialty?

I’ve been criticized for having this wide range of work. Galleries don’t like it if you have abstract work in one gallery and your figurative work at theirs. You become a brand when you sell your work regularly. When you’re all over the board they don’t know which Julie Jilek you are. It’s tricky, but I don’t feel like I’ve found exactly what I’m supposed to be known for as a painter yet. Until I figure that out, I’m going to keep trying everything. I’m stubborn and I’m gonna do what I want to do.

Where did the inspiration for your Plein Air Project come from?

It began when I came back from a trip out to California. I wanted to spend one year seeing as much of Wisconsin as I can, because I’ve lived here for so long and hadn’t really done that. I thought I should paint at every state park, but then I found out there’s like 59. I was going to do it all in one summer, but it’s kind of financially strapping to do that. I’m about a third of the way through. I need to keep painting throughout the winter for my preview show in May. At the end of it I hope to make a book and have a traveling show. It’s really exciting to have these little day trips and see what these towns look like. When I started the project I just went into the park, took pictures and tried to find a spot that would make for a nice painting, but I didn’t want to have 50-some paintings that all looked a like. I’m trying to do research now before I go to find out what each park is known for then I try and capture that, so it’s a little more site-specific.

Do you feel like there is a supportive art community in the Valley?

There’s something special about it because there’s a lot of artists in this area, a lot of practicing artists. Everyday they work at their craft. I was really surprised when I moved back here because I knew of some artists, but it’s really a broad group of people. They’re all motivated. I feel there’s a sense of community here where everyone’s supportive of each other. I don’t feel the competition I did when I lived in Minnesota or Milwaukee. There’s new things happening, new galleries showing up. The Richeson has an incredible collection and you’d never know it. It’s in a warehouse. Of course The Trout Museum of Art and I love the Wild Apple Gallery in Menasha. That’s where I’ve shown the last couples years. The space is very streamlined.

What would make being an Appleton artist better?

You can’t make a living as an artist if you don’t have the support of the community. There’s multiple galleries in the area that have all been incredibly welcoming to me, but all depends on whether people go in and look at it. There has to be appreciation for the craft and the people making it.

Brady Ahrens

Can you describe what the local food movement is all about?
To me the local food movement means supporting local businesses that create a local product. I like to trace the product to its source. I try to consume and buy as little carbon calories on that item. Anything seasonal I can get in this tri-state area (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan) during the season, that’s what I support. There are a lot of boutique farms out there that are growing really good food, but the people that need good food can’t afford it. Traditionally I try to stay away from them. I’ve been at this for a while, so I’ve seen a lot of struggle and a lot of families not make it for what they grow. Those are the people I try to support. I don’t support farms that are doing the right thing, but their prices are astronomical. For me I’m sourcing really good food and bringing it to people’s mouths at an affordable price which is really hard to do in this industry, especially on a year round basis.

How did you first get into the local food movement?

I’ve been at Stone Cellar for seven years, four of those years I’ve been working the local food system, making connections and networks. I got started by going to farmers markets and networking with people, visiting farms, working with CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). That’s grown into relationships with specific farms so I can predict my menus through the summer. I had to get farms to believe in me by committing to their growing programs so they will grow/produce products for me.

Why is this movement so important to you?
When you consume food that’s purely grown, you feel good. It’s not pumped with hormones. People want good wholesome food that’s prepared right, so when they leave they feel good about what they ate. That’s my job as a chef to do the best that I can do to create healthy families and healthy communities.

Why do you think local food appreciation has taken off lately?

When people are more strapped financially, they really look at what they spend their dollars on. If you look coast to coast, people dont have $50 to spend on center of the plate. The trend with food now is how it used to be, post World War II. Everything that’s old is becoming new again. Farm direct takes work and time, but that’s what I try to do. My customers believe in me and this place. That’s why it’s working. When your customer trusts you they’ll come back. As the world progresses we as a community need to progress with it.

Is it hard to plan menus when you’re sourcing locally?

It can very stressful at times. When I order 20 pounds of local lamb and it doesn’t come in I have to think on the fly. It makes my mind very creative. I’m with the food. When I’m working with, say, lamb racks, I’m thinking where it came from and how I can present it best. It’s like my canvas, oils and colors.

Leslie Wilson & Christa Vogt

How did you two get into business together?
W: We were friends at Neenah Middle School. We went our separate ways in high school. I moved back to Neenah after college and ran into Christa who owned a vintage resale store in Menasha at the time. I went in there one day and we totally hit it off again. I was working in commercial design and we both were doing freelance stuff, residential on the side. We started talking about it one day. My contract was ending and she was ending the store. She loved being self-employed and I loved the idea of it.

V: We had dinner together one night. It was sort of like a trial dinner, I feel like.

W: It had been 12 years since we had really been friends, but we had that trust there which I think is really important going into a business partnership. So we tested it out before we decided to go all in. We went on a trip to New Orleans where we volunteered with Historic Green for a week. We figured if we can sleep in the same bed next to each other and get through this week, we’ll be alright. So we did. We didn’t get sick of each other.

How do your personal styles define your collective design aesthetic as Bell.Wether?
V: I’m definitely eclectic/vintage. I love old things and mixing things up, painting furniture and refinishing furniture. Taking things that were once old and crappy and making them so fantastic that somebody would die to have it. I’m a collector too: typewriters, old clocks, dishware, old cameras. I’ve always been a collector its in my blood. The smell of old stuff makes me happy. Through meeting with clients and doing trend research, my style is evolving from this crazy chaotic eclectic, museum-like space, to a very chic-eclectic look. Simplified, but still eclectic.

W: Ever since we’ve become business partners our styles have overlapped a bit. She was very museum and I was a little more clean-lined. I loved eclectic, but I have a little more clean, classic style. Basically if you could take Audrey Hepburn and make her into your house. It’s classic, but it’s timelessness. That’s really important in design. You’re not only creating something that’s for the now. Especially for residential, because you’re probably not going to redo that house for a good twenty years.

Where do you find design inspiration?
V: Thrift stores, antique stores and abandoned houses are great for inspiration.

W: We do a ton of thrifting. That’s the best part of our job, surprising our clients with Craigslist and thrift store gems. When you can put life into something old.

V: We will pick it out of the garbage. We are not above that. If its got great bones, done deal. It’s magic to take something you were going to throw away and make it into something that everybody wants.

W: Pinterest is amazing by the way.

Who would be your ideal client?
W: I really want someone with a ton of knick knacks and chickens all over and they’re really into country. I want them to call us.

C: We want a challenge. I want a hoarder of antiques and artifacts to call us. Then they would love us so much that they would write us into their will.

Any interesting projects coming up in the future?

V: We’re going to start up a little furniture company. One of the barns on my farm is going to be our studio. We cleaned it up this year and are making it a nice, heated workspace. We’ve been acquiring furniture for a year and this winter we will work on pieces, but really start it up in the spring probably with a big expo sale at my barn. We really want to get other artists involved at some point for some kind of art sale.

What do you wish people knew about Bell.Wether?

V: For people who are budget-conscious, they kind of keep us at arms length but once they see what we do they realize it’s so worth it. It really is a minimal cost to transform your living space, the space you’re in everyday and represents you.

W: We have all our own contractors that we deal with. The client doesn’t have to touch it. We take care of everything. A lot of people think we are “decorators” doing facelifts, but we’re moving plumbing and putting in new electrical. I was raised to be hands on and know how to do things. Also, that we aren’t there just to spend your money. We budget in our own lives and wouldn't spend $10,000 on a sofa so we don’t expect you to do that either. We want you to get the most bang for your buck.

Jeff & Robin Janson

How did Urban Evolutions come about?
R: My husband and I were both in youth ministry in the Valley, working with kids and those with disabilities. Definitely people fields. I got my degree in family counseling. We were trying to do good and make a difference, but our hobbies were highly creative — antiquing, we love to scavenge, find lost stuff in buildings and old architectural stuff that was left behind. We rescue it and make it into something cool. We were together five or six years and we decided to take a gamble and take our hobbies full-time and do the people stuff as volunteers. So we switched gears without having any business experience.

What makes doing business in Appleton beneficial?
R: The nice thing about Appleton is that it’s a safe place to experiment. There’s a great cost of living so you can live cheap if you need to. It’s a supportive community. Even if you fumble, people are gracious. I’m from California and at one point we considered moving back there. We went back for six months, but we felt like a dime a dozen. It seemed like there were a lot of people there like us trying to do similar things. Here we felt more special. There’s not the volume of people so you can stand out a bit easier and have space to do your thing. You’re not competing so much. For creatives you’re in a supportive place and you’re not in some major urban center where everyone is vying for the same attention.

J: We are centrally located between the east and west coast. It’s easier to ship furniture.

How did you get hooked with clients like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters?
J: I ran a classified ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1995. Someone who was looking for reclaimed flooring found me. One thing led to another and now we’ve done over 100 stores for them which includes flooring, doors, unique wall treatments. They will send me inspiration images and I find something out there that fits the specs.

Do clients usually tell you what they want and you execute it or do you create the product and sell it to them?

R: We’re pretty collaborative, but it’s 50/50. We’re getting smarter when it comes to focusing on our materials. Usually we’ll start there. We look at what we have a lot of, what’s unique, what have we seen used interestingly. Then we might just peddle that material to somebody and let them think about. Sometimes I turn materials into a design which the customer tweaks. Right now I’m doing a bed for Anthropologie. They approached me with a tear sheet of an old gate and said what can you do with it? I think we’ve been influenced by them and maybe we’ve influenced them a little.

Where do you get inspiration?

R: I get inspiration from European magazines. I want to find something that isn’t seen here. If I see it in an American magazine its probably made by somebody else here and that just frustrates me. I almost protect myself from looking at too many magazines. I tend to look outside the U.S. for inspiration. I don’t want to be everything to everybody. I want to have a unique perspective. Where Jeff is selling materials, so he could sell anything to anybody so he,s all about looking next door in the U.S.

How was the market changed since you started in the mid-90s?

R: It’s growing and changing here. The green movement used to be a style thing, driven by the shabby chic phase. Now it’s driven more by sustainable furnishing. People want a modern rustic look that tells a story. We’ve had to adapt, but both the green movement and style trends have been sweet spots for us. This year we haven’t really been growing, but next year we will quite a bit. We’ve been holding our own. Where the economy is dropping the green movement is growing.

There’s lots of local artists’ wares in your shop in addition to your own pieces. Is this a priority for you?
R: We always were doing a little of that. When the recession happened there were so many closet creatives that started doing stuff on the side to supplement incomes. We thought it was awesome we could be a resource for people to help promote what’s happening locally. That’s an awesome silver lining to what we do. If we can became a place for them to sell their wares it’s obviously doing a lot of good for the Valley.

David Jackson

How would you describe your photographic style?
My vision for my work is very conceptual, highly-produced, dynamic work that has a lot of depth. I want to create a world that people can look into and pick out new things every time. I want to retain viewer interest for more than three seconds.  I want to break out of that mold and make things that need to be on a national level. I don’t think you come to your style, your style comes to you. You can’t actually find it, it just happens. Enough things click that you know what you’re good at that you get recognized for what your good at. It’s up to you to seize that and capitalize on it.

How did you transition from a career in law enforcement to photography?

I first picked up a camera in 1999. I realized that law enforcement was sucking the life out of me and I needed to do something. During that time I was getting better at photography. In 2005 I knew I wanted to leave the job so at that time I started planning and left in late 2007. It took two and a half years of planning before I left the job. I planned a lot to make that decision. It wasn’t a shotgun decision. I developed a solid client base and got my name out there. Making transitions is a process that you make in any career all the time. Even now we’re making transitions, like going from wedding/senior photos to editorial/commercial advertising.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

I get to create work that I’m excited to create and I get paid for it. When I was young I was big into drawing. I always dreamed that the best job would be getting paid to draw. Now I’m getting paid to make awesome photos. It’s fulfilling now because I’ve come to a point where I’ve really defined my style and I can market myself to my vision and my work and get hired to create the work I want to create.

Who has influenced your career?
Zack Arias, an Atlanta-based editorial photographer has been my absolute mentor. I met him years ago and created a relationship with him early on via the internet. He’s been there to guide me through my horrible mistakes and called me out on my horrible mistakes and I listened. Like I used to suck. Really bad. When I teach my workshops I always do a segment before critique called “It’s Okay to Suck” where I go through all my past photos to show where I am now from where I started. It went from Zack being a mentor to being one of my best friends in the industry.

What were some of these “horrible mistakes?”

You make mistakes with clients. I did some things in the beginning that clients were miffed at. I shot one wedding where every photo was titled. I thought “I’ll tilt the camera and call it art.” But you learn from those mistakes. Learning the business side, I’ve let things slip that I shouldn’t have. It took hours, days and weeks of carrying the camera with me and annoying everyone around me, making mistakes but I learned from those mistakes and picked out the good things. I kept the good things and put them together to form my specific style today.

What makes for a great photographer?

The greatest strength of any photographer has nothing to do with camera or lights. It’s to be personable and keep that human element first. Be a person that can connect with another human being. If you can make an honest connection you can make great photos. Approaching people with a camera is like a cop going up to the drunk guy with a baton in one hand and cuffs in the other. Dude’s gonna shut down. You need to build relationships first. I’ve met all kinds of people in all areas of the creative world. Sometimes you cross people you are super into themselves. My mentor taught me to be a real person and be who you are, let that showcase. You be your own brand. Thats something I’ve always carried with me. To be a real dude. Let’s just make cool photos and have a PBR.

Brian Tellock

Why do you refer to yourself as an “attention deficit expressionist?”

I do so many different things. I do the fine arts, installation, backlit art and I blend websites for clients. Fine art is about expressing an emotion, it’s more a therapeutic release. Website creativity is more an ingenuity and matter of resourcefulness. Since I’m not formally trained in anything it gives me a unique way to [navigate] my way through things. I always wrote, took pictures, but I couldn’t focus on one thing. My interests were so spread out. In 2000 I started blending different disciplines together, like photography and painting. A lot of what I do is abstract. I developed my backlit series with LED lights which are layers of images on top of each other manipulated digitally and printed on acrylic substrate and this elaborate process of reverse lamination to have it UD coded.

How did you get started in all this?

I got really serious about art when my son was born, knowing that I wanted to be around for him and have flexibility. I started 3AM Design in Menasha were we did 3D architectural modeling and detailing, digital design and websites I needed to subsidize so I reentered the graphics world. I wanted to understand how websites work, that’s something I could get my head around. 3AM needed a website, so I figured out how to do it. It was almost a flukey accident. There’s so many tools available to anyone. If you have the time and patience you can figure anything out. I ended up selling 3AM Design, but the experience made me realize I can make [stuff] that’s valuable. All my work is done out of my house now.

How does Appleton’s creative community compare to other cities that you’ve lived in?

In Seattle, the creative community was a bunch of [jerks]. They had no sense of community. They didn't have to build anything, because it was already hyped up. The community was already there so no one had to work to facilitate it. There’s always been a creative community here. Even when I didn’t know any better back when I was a teenager, five hundred kids would show up to see a local punk band from Appleton or Green Bay. What’s really interesting about this area, is if Appleton was a suburb of Milwaukee or any big city it wouldn't be what it is. For whatever reason, Lawrence University might help this, there’s a very interesting community here. Even with restaurants. You don’t see this many great independent restaurants in a Midwest city this size. It helps to facilitate the diversity that makes this place great.

What could help make the Fox Cities a more habitable place for artists?

I think opening a public space for installations down by the river amidst the new developments would be amazing. The city sponsoring some kind of public art, that would be important. That’s important because it’s right in your face and the public can see it and appreciate it. We need more public art in general. If you want to exhibit your art, your options are limited. I think we need more opportunities for exhibition spaces, whether outdoors for public or inside somewhere. But it’s so hard because these buildings are a billion dollars even to rent one. The Rabbit Pop-Up Gallery was really exciting and cool. Everybody that wants to will come up with a way to make this happen. This community is strong enough that we can make it happen.

Tobin Campbell

How did you get into the hair business?
I started doing hair in 1996. I went to Gill Tech Hair Academy to get my hair colored because my niece wanted my hair blonde for her birthday. She was the first kid of our siblings, so whatever she wanted we did. The girl that did my hair that day I ended up dating and she told me to go to hair school and I said “Okay.” I went upstairs and signed up. We didn’t even date while I was in school. It didn’t last that long. I was actually going to bail at one point, but I stuck it out. I had no plan. I was working construction at the time so to be a constructor worker/hair dresser would be really weird.

Are you from Appleton?

I’m from here originally, but I moved to North Carolina for a little while. When I came back I started doing hair at a really small town salon. I was here and then got moved to Brillion. I went to a hair show and ran into Wayne Grund and started working for him too. He made me a platform artist so I could go and teach all over. I’ve gotten to hit some really cool cities and didn’t have to join the military to do it. I’ve been to the West Coast, Florida, Canada. I get to do Vegas a lot. All my training was mainly in Canada. They’re amazing hairdressers up there.

Who has influenced your career?
I had a great teacher at Gill Tech, Cheryl Timmer. Now she brings me in for classes to teach as a guest educator for students. I had some great bosses as I went from salon to salon in the area. I worked for a friend’s parent, Lorraine Ebert, at Heads of Time in Appleton and I worked for Marianne Kasten at Asante in Neenah. They taught me how to really love my staff. The better you take care of them the better they take care of you. I worked for Josif Wittnik for a long time. He taught me a lot. He made me a little mini right hand man. It helped me tweak Shear Chaos to how I want it.

How did Shear Chaos come to be?

We’ve been downtown here for two years. We were on the north side of Appleton with partners before we spun off on our own. We’re more downtown people. I love talking to strangers so if I have an hour open I just hang outside and meet people. I have no problems going up to anyone. People are crazy. We still have great clients that followed us from the north side, but we do have more downtown people which tend to be artsy.

Is the Midwest hopelessly out of touch when it comes to hair trends?

They always say the Midwest is a couple years behind in trends, but with the internet and YouTube I think the Midwest has pretty much caught up. We’re doing good. We have a lot of great hair dressers in this area that travel. I’m very tapped into what’s going on in Hollywood. I get to the West Coast a couple times a year and bring trends back. I think we get it. A lot of our clientele gets it.

What’s the secret to a great haircut?
We are all about customizing everybody. There’s only five haircuts in the world. It’s all about how you tweak it to keep up with the trend. We customize to highlight your great features. It makes you more outgoing. People will end up coming to you because it seems like you have the answer.

What’s the best part of your job?

The hug. We’re some of the last ones in a profession to touch people without a rubber glove. We touch their hair, shake their hand, hug when they leave. There’s no bubble. We can show appreciation through that hug, even if it’s a side hug. When they send us a friend then we know we made their day.

And just because it was too cute not to mention, Tobin’s wife and business partner, Jillian, tells the story of how they first met...

J: I was finishing up beauty school and he was in as a guest educator. I wasn’t in the class he was teaching, but I noticed him and thought he was cute and funny. I job shadowed at Salon CTI and realized he worked there. I introduced myself and said that I overheard him say he would come in and get a service if it would help finish our quota for graduation. He asked what I needed to do and I said I needed to do a manicure even though I was pretty much done with my quota already. I just said that because I would get to hold his hand. I booked him as my last appointment of the day because if I could get him to ask me out we could straight from school. And it worked. We started hanging out and I got a position at CTI. We’ve been together ever since. That was nine years ago.

Chad Brady

How did you end up in the Fox Valley?
I reconnected with someone who I knew 20 years ago. I was born in Maryland, but then moved to downtown Washington D.C. I worked in a nightclub in the late ‘80s early ‘90s. She would come in and we had mutual friends. She ended up here because her sister moved here after their mom married a guy from the Appleton area. Two years ago some friends tried getting me on Facebook and I reconnected with her. I was doing silk screen posters for a punk band tour and we did the whole tour together. I came back here with her and the first week I was here I met like three artists, a bunch of cool people. There was nothing keeping me in D.C. so I moved here. I had never been here before I moved. It become a joke with her family. Every time I’d walk in and they’d say “He’s still here?” They were making bets to see how long I stayed and I never left.

Do you have formal training as an artist?

I went to art school for a year and I think I went too soon. I’ve always adopted a way of if I’m going to learn something, I’d just learn it and do it. You can learn anything. At that time I was very rebellious, around 1980, and I moved to Baltimore and was in the big city not wanting anyone to tell me how to paint. I wanted to be an artist on my own. I started drawing on everything as a kid and it was a problem at that point. The teachers were yelling at me for drawing on the desks. It wasn’t until middle school when an art teacher thought maybe we should nurture this. Rather than discouraging me she got me into some special art classes. I would go to normal classes in the morning and go to a portfolio class in the afternoon.

How did you get into doing murals?

I was doing a mural for a coffee shop in D.C. One of the guys who worked there asked if I thought about doing this for a living. His friend owned a mural company and his assistant quit on him. In two days he was going to Boca Raton to do a mural in a private mansion. I said I’ll do it. We worked together for two years but it got to the point where I realized I could do this myself. And two artists working together like that is hard. I was doing layout and backgrounds. I’m looking at how he’s doing it and he’s looking how I’m doing it. I learned a lot of technique from the guy. 2001 is when it sparked for me that this could be a career. The great thing about murals is they advertise themselves. Almost every job I’ve gotten was a referral because they saw a mural I did. My first mural here was at Revolutions nightclub. I saw them going in and saw a giant wall. I walked in one day and offered a mural, 7x30.

How do you approach creating a mural?

Lots of times I just jump right in. Sometimes do rough sketches before a detailed sketch for the client. But I’m not a perfectionist that will do sketch upon sketch. I like to keep it pretty spontaneous. Sometimes I think I’m doing it all wrong. You always question yourself.

What would make Appleton a better place for artists?

I’ve been talking about trying to get people to rent a group space. There’s tons of vacant buildings. I’d like to see more things like The Rabbit Pop-Up Gallery. Or evening starting an Appleton Art Association. That’s how art has always been done. The impressionists, the pop artists. They all painted together. They fed off each other, they did projects together. That could happen here, but I think it’d be nice to see things stirred up.

Christoph Wahl

How did your interest in organs originate?
My mother was an organist and I would accompany her to choir rehearsals and would watch my father on service calls from a very early age. I feel lucky to have had their guidance and to have grown up in a house where music and objects were things to be made, not just consumed. That said, Appleton is also an odd incubator for the interest. Two of my closest friends, Paul Weber and Dan Schwandt, were classmates of mine at Appleton West High School and are now professional organists who earned advance degrees and now teach or perform on the national level. It helped the teenage me to not be alone in my obsessions.

How did you get your start building them?

Through my father, mostly. I grew up watching him make things and "assisted" as I could. We did small jobs out of his garage workshop from when I was ten or so. I then started work in New Hampshire and the Boston area with various organbuilders, working mainly with a firm that removed old organs from closed churches and found new homes for them. It was a great education; I disassembled and documented 80 or so organs, met many organbuilders, and got to travel the country. As a teenager, no less! I am grateful that my parents gave me that freedom.

After high school I attended Lawrence University and studied art for three years and just barely left under my own power. I was a horrible student and the experience, while excellent, was not for me. I set to work as a craftsman, building organs, and set up our current shop with my father in the spring of 1999. Since that time Wahl Organbuilders has built over 20 new mechanical-action instruments of our own design.

How do you approach building a new organ? Restoring an existing one?

Our design process usually begins with a call from the potential client. We advertise in trade journals and our website has brought in some business, but most clients approach us first. We get most of our work via referrals from past clients and other friends. We also occasionally build smaller instruments on speculation, but the economy has been less friendly to this practice in the last few years.

After meeting with the client and listening to their needs we design an instrument for them and their space. Design-wise I hope that we are creating instruments that are not only properly fitting to the needs of a given client but also reflective of our age. Organs have been built for two millenia and it is easy to revert to old paths. I hope that we respect tradition and create a knowable object, but I also hope we contribute something that reflects who we and our clients are today.

Once a plan is agreed to we sign a contract and put the work in our queue. Our projects tend to the small side, but the lead time is still usually 9-14 months from contract signing to installation.

Who has influenced your career most?

I've been very lucky to have had many mentors in my life, but I would likely have to place the highest credit to my late boss, mentor, and friend Alan Miller Laufman. Alan was a clarifying force for me during my teenage years. He opened many doors for me professionally, instilled a love of the 19th century American organ that continues to inspire my current work, read me the complete Odyssey out loud, and left me with an abiding love of cats and the music of Johannes Brahms. What else, really, is there? Alan was a great force and left me with a deep personal and professional momentum that sustains me to this day.

Are there advantages of doing business in Appleton? Challenges?

Appleton is a great place to have our shop. As I said before there is an odd culture that seems to produce organ geeks galore, but as a businessman I have special praise for the educational institutions that keep the labor market vigorous and well-prepared for work. We have never advertised for workers; our employees have sought us out. And the inherent ingenuity and good work ethic of the Fox Valley is to be thanked for this.

THAT SAID- you're never a prophet in your own land. I would enjoy the chance to do more work in my home town some day. Contracts far afield are necessary and good, but I look forward to a chance to stay home for a while. I look forward to a chance to supply our voice to the valley.

Any projects hold a special place in your heart?

The next one.

Crystal Clear

Bergstrom-Mahler Museum’s focus on glass reflects their core strength

Walking into the Bergstrom Mahler Museum, visitors are instantly dazzled by a sculpture glittering in the entrance hall. The glass cube sparkles with a rainbow-colored internal fire while reflecting the sun, much like the waters of Lake Winnebago just beyond the museum’s walls. This jaw-dropping sculpture boasts a collaborative effort between paperweight artist Paul Stankard and glass sculptor Jon Kuhn.

The collaborative effort of these two contemporary glass artists seen in the sculpture reflects Bergstrom-Mahler’s proclamation this past October, that it would be narrowing its overall focus to artistic expressions solely in glass media.

Executive Director Jan Smith sees Bergstrom-Mahler’s glass concentration as a play on the museum’s strengths, stating, “it will allow the museum a distinct focus in an area where it has demonstrated expertise since its opening in 1959.”

Neenah’s Bergstrom-Mahler Museum was established due to a generous donation from Evangeline Bergstrom, collector of paperweights and proponent of paperweight arts. Her paperweight collection became the cornerstone of the museum’s world renown collection. The museum also houses an extensive display of German glassware donated from Ernst Mahler, Victorian glass baskets and contemporary glass sculpture.

Jennifer Bero, marketing and development director of Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, sees the museum's shift in focus as an organic evolution for the museum, stating, “Based on our four [permanent] collections, it is a natural expression for us to move to focus on all glass.”

The museum’s current temporary exhibition, “All that Glitters” (open until February 19) is reflective of this museum’s evolution. This spectacular show displays glassworks from some of the “kings” of contemporary glass, including artist Toland Sand who recently made a significant sculpture donation to the museum’s collection.

The museum intends to further enhance the glass experience through the incorporation of new technology in its galleries. Throughout the “All That Glitters” exhibition hall, televisions show video of artists such as Jon Kuhn and Christopher Ries constructing their dazzling works. These video installations deepen the visitor’s understanding of the intricacies of glass artistry. Watching a video of Ries’s sculpting process, in which he slowly shaves and sands down a large block of glass, shows how time-intensive Ries’s work truly is, as he may spend up to one year completing a single sculpture.

In addition to video installations the museum hopes to add “discovery stations,” smartphone applications and interactive experiences for visitors in the future. Smith sees these technological advances as telling a story of the artwork. “Museum objects have interesting stories,” Smith says. “It is the story behind the object that will enrich the visitor’s time spent here with new information that can define specific uses or tell a heartwarming story about how the work  came into the collection, or inspire them with the creative direction of the artist.”

In collaboration with the collection’s new focus on glass, Chelisa Behm, education and interpretation director for Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, assures that the museum will offer more glass-focused classes for children and adults. These classes will teach the foundations of glass arts, allowing students to construct glass pieces that will be fired in the museum’s own kiln. With classes such as glass fusing, special effects and kiln forming, students will learn the beauty and science behind glass artistry while creating their own glassworks.

Behm sees these classes as a way to connect the visitor to the art they see throughout the museum. “Kiln forming classes will be a perfect fit for what we have in the galleries,” she states. “Being able to make art like the things you see upstairs creates a deeper understanding of the techniques glass artists use.”

In addition to offering classes, Bergstrom-Mahler will be opening its doors to high school students in the area, inviting them to make their own glass pieces for a special Fox Valley Area High School Exhibition in March.

Bero hopes that this exhibition will open student’s eyes to the versatility of glass and allow them to experience something very different from their traditional art class. “Usually setting up a glass studio is cost prohibitive for a school,” Bero says. “These classes are going to be a unique experience for the area.”

In Bero’s opinion, a glass focus will allow the museum to keep growing stronger.

“The shift will help us in many ways, part for distinguishing ourselves in the community, part for focusing on our strengths in glass, growing our presence in the international media and capitalizing on staff expertise,” she says. “We have a lot of staff members who know a lot about glass, and with this new focus we can capitalize on their knowledge.”

For visitors, the museum will open your eyes to what glass can do, or what can be done in the medium. As Bero states, the museum offers, “a whole new way to experience glass.”

To read more about Bergstrom-Mahler’s most recent acquisition donated by artist Toland Sand as well as the upcoming “Kitchen Dreams” exhibit, visit us online at and click on Arts & Culture.


The 2012 Hot List

Long-time Fox Cities residents and newcomers alike can agree—our area offers a plethora of events, sights and sounds to keep us busy all year round. FOX CITIES Magazine’s annual Hot List of staff picks pays homage to those extra-special aspects of life in the Valley that we wouldn’t want to live without. 

Afghani Eats

At first glance, Queen Bee on College Avenue in Appleton may look like any midwestern diner in small town America, but a closer inspection might just yield some interesting (and international) results.

Every Thursday during the lunch hour, Queen Bee plates up authentic Afghani cuisine for diners who crave something a little less standard than egg salad on toast for their midday meal.

Owners Noor and Jennie Baha started offering the option one day a week in response to customer requests after they learned of Noor’s Afghani heritage. Jennie reiterates that contrary to popular belief, Afghani food doesn't exploit heat the way other Asian cuisines do.

“It’s not spicy food, just well-seasoned,” she says. “They use lots of tomato-based sauces and yogurt. Fans of Indian food should definitely give it a try because both use a lot of interesting spice combinations.”

For $10.55, adventurous eaters get a full array of Afghani dishes from the pre-planned menu including an appetizer, salad, basmati rice, a meat dish (typically beef or chicken), a vegetable and dessert. If you require some help navigating the menu, the friendly, yellow-clad staff is always willing to lend a hand.

“They’ve learned the words so they are really good at explaining everything to the customers,” Jennie says.

Lexicography Legacy

Atlas Coffee Mill owners Larry and Sue Bogenschutz had no idea what the attic of their late 19th century home would have in store for them. As it turns out, it was an enormous, corduroy-clad, 7,046-page Century Dictionary that would become one of Atlas’s most recognizable relics.

After becoming the historic home’s third owners in 1982, the Bogenschutzs discovered that their third-floor attic housed a museum’s worth of artifacts and memorabilia including postcards, letters and numerous books including a “Revised and Enlarged Edition" of the Century Dictionary dated 1914.

The dictionary struck a chord with Sue, who sees it as a connection to her late father’s past. Both he and the behemoth book share Chicago as their birthplace. Despite its girth of 9.25 inches wide and 12.25 inches long, Larry lugged the book through moves and more, finally finding a home for it at Atlas Coffee Mill near a window overlooking the Fox River.

“[The dictionary] became the ‘go-to book’ for family and guests alike, settling disputes about spelling, word usage and more,” Sue says. “Many who pass through our doors can be found pouring over the pages, looking for a new word for the day or finding an answer to an all important question.”

Scrabble junkies and Words with Friends addicts, you may have found your new hangout.

Pop Culture

Menasha natives and childhood friends Dave Talo and John Mathison have found new careers in a thing of their past: glass bottle soda.

After being laid off from his job as an aircraft mechanic, Talo took a leap of faith to pursue his own returnable bottling company. Mathison left his banking career to join forces with Talo and the pair founded Flavor 8 Bottling in New London in February 2011.

The twelfth returnable bottle company in the country, Flavor 8 soda is bottled on a vintage bottling line that has been painted sea foam green for good measure. Talo and Mathison are committed to upholding the impression most people have of old-fashioned glass bottle soda—that it’s just, well, better.

“We chose to use mixes without caffeine and sweeten the soda with real sugar,” Talo says. “Not to mention the returnable bottle method is eco-friendly and sustainable.”

Flavor 8 soda is available throughout the Fox Cities at Cedar Creek, Niemuths Southside Market and Flanagans in Appleton, Club Liquor in Menasha and Cellars Wine and Spirits in Neenah. The eight flavors (grape, orange, cherry, black cherry, lime, fruit punch, blue raspberry and cream soda) can be mixed and matched to your heart’s delight in cases of 24. A $10 deposit on your first purchase allows you to “rent” the bottles for a lifetime.

But the nostalgia of the product is something neither Talo nor Mathison could ever put a price on.

“You just get this smacky sense of yesterday and, man, it tastes good,” Mathison says.

In a Farro-way Land…

By far away we mean Europe, Italy specifically, the homeland of this tasty little grain known as farro that remains largely unused in the Fox Cities. Gordon Cole, owner of The Olive Cellar in Appleton, hopes to change all that. As Northeast Wisconsin’s only supplier of whole farro grain, he is well on his way.

“Farro has a nice nutty flavor to it,” he says. “It’s much healthier for you and has more fiber than other grains. Really it’s a tastier version of whole wheat, but people just don’t know about it.”

The unhybridized ancestor of modern wheat, this cereal grain has a hearty flavor that has been receiving rave reviews from culinary professionals on this side of the pond not only for its flavor, but also for its health potential. Farro is a good source of protein and vitamins A, B, C and E. Because of its low gluten levels and digestibility, farro can sometimes be eaten by those who are gluten-intolerant.

Cole suggests using farro instead of barely in soups and incorporating it into salads. The light brown grain also makes a great alternative to pasta and rice, and can also be prepared like risotto when it’s called “farrotto.”

Call of the Wild

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean we can’t be daydreaming of how to spend our summer days, when temperatures break 30 degrees and daylight extends past 4 p.m. 

This spring when the ice begins to thaw, why not trek to Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton to experience a brush with local wildlife? As if the name doesn’t say it all, Turtle Pond located in the Preserve's southeast corner just off the Nature Center, boasts one of the areas greatest assortment and sheer number of turtles that may just swim up to greet you. All you need to do is tempt them with a little food.

The Preserve's Executive Director Randy Tuma explains that for 50 cents visitors may purchase a cup of amphibian food pellets, scatter them on the water’s surface then let nature take its course.

“Once the pellets hit you’ll see the wildlife react,” he says. “Bullheads come up first and create the excitement and shortly after the turtles of the pond will make an appearance.”

From painted to snapping, the turtles will float to the surface for a piece of the action and it is truly a sight to see. A new floating dock installed this fall will bring visitors even closer to the action.

“Everyone can get involved, young or old,” Tuma says. “It’s a great family activity.”

E is for e-book Equality

Kindle users, your day has come. Until recently, e-book downloads from the 17 libraries that make up the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC) were available for almost every device except the Kindle. That all changed in late September when WPLC and Overdrive announced access to Kindle e-books for patrons with a valid library card. Kindle users and those running the Kindle application on their smartphones, personal or tablet computers may now access downloadable e-books from their library’s catalog or digital download page.

“With so many Kindle users out there, now that the service is available to them is a big deal,” says Joe Bongers, head of adult services at Menasha Public Library.

Bongers points out that just as with hard copies, e-books are limited to anywhere from one to five copies per library, so placing in-demand titles on hold is still advised. An email will alert you when the e-book is available and loans last either seven or 14 days, after which the e-book will simply be removed from your device—overdue fines begone! Neenah Public Library also offers several Kindles and Nooks preloaded with titles for a two-week checkout.

“With more than 5,000 titles available for download, there’s really something for everybody,” Bongers says. “We see this as just another way to connect people with books.”

Check with your library to learn more about e-reader informational workshops offered such as Neenah Public Library’s Tech Talk Tuesdays. Appleton Public Library Audiovisiual Librarian Diana Sandberg encourages patrons seeking e-reader help to schedule a demonstration of several library-owned devices.

Tableside Tequila

One of Appleton’s newest south of the border staples, Sangria’s Mexican Grill, is bringing a lot to the Fox Cities’ culinary table—quite literally in fact.

Widely celebrated for their gigantic menu featuring everything from burritos and tacos to elegant seafood and salads, Sangria’s is also making a name for themselves by offering the area’s first tableside margaritas.

“We love fine tequila. Here we cook and season with it, but our favorite is drinking it,”
says Shirley Gregory, Sangria’s co-owner along with Luis Vazquez and her daughter, Sarah Gregory. “Bringing margaritas to the table takes it from eating out to a dining experience.”

Servers arrive tableside with a tray loaded with all the makings for some serious margaritas including three categories of tequila—silver, anejo and reposado—along with a variety of liqueurs and fresh fruit. After a lesson in Mexican heritage and tequila, guests can custom design a blend all their own. With upwards of 30 varieties of tequila in house at any given time, there will be something to please any palate.

A combination of Southern elegance (Gregory is a Virginia native) and the warmth of a Mexican hacienda gives Sangria’s an inviting, homey feel. So much so that it may not be unusual for the staff to pull up a chair.

“When I see [the margaritas] at the table it makes me want to just sit down and join in,” Gregory says.

The Crown of Cars

Steve Pratt turned his lifelong love of vintage cars into his business’s means of mobile advertising, in the process marrying two of his biggest passions both of which happen to be on wheels. Pratt co-owns Cranked Bike Studio in Neenah along with Gina Vendola and Steve Scherck.

Cruise past the Cranked Studio located on Main Street and chances are good you’ll get a glimpse of the gleaming vintage Chrysler parked out front. Pratt purchased the 1962 Chrysler Imperial Crown 4-door (referred to as simply “The Crown) in an online auction that cost him $4,500 and a trip to Illinois.

But The Crown isn’t just another pretty grill. This beauty is a multitasker. In addition to transporting bikes to and from events as well as participating in car shows, The Crown serves as Cranked’s sole form of advertising in the mobile form. Pretty fitting if you ask us.

Not to mention that over the past two and a half years, The Crown, outfitted with graphics by WG Incorporated, has become a recognizable Neenah landmark.

“We’ve had so many people recognize our business by that car,” Pratt says. “If I’m giving someone directions to the shop they’ll say ‘Oh the place with the car in front.’” 

Extra Happy Hour(s)

Meaning “attention” in Polish, Uwagi has certainly garnered plenty of that in the Fox Cities. The free smartphone application offers users exclusive deals at bars and restaurants throughout the Valley, which can include anything from buy one, get one beverages to discounted dishes.

Users simply launch the app to see which bars and restaurants are currently running deals on the Uwagi network. Deals are redeemed by scanning a QR code or entering a code word provided by the bar owner.

Robert Millay, CEO of the Neenah-based multimedia advertising and marketing company, recognized a need for relevant targeted marketing after opening his restaurant, 5 Generations Sports Bar and Grill in Neenah. After two years of research and product development, Millay launched Uwagi which currently has 61 owners all of whom are Wisconsin residents.

“We’ve been doing it for six months and have tens of thousand of users already. Our goal is to go national with our company,” says Millay, who currently has markets throughout Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

But the smartphone application isn’t all Uwagi has to offer. Millay has plans for future technology involving vehicles and television.

“With technology, you could start a business from your basement and be successful if you have the right idea,” Millay says. “I don’t think there’s any reason you need to be in any other area but your home town. There aren’t restrictions with technology.”

Featuring the Fox

The Fox Cities may feel a little more like Hollywood come April. That’s when the independent film “Waterwalk” is set to debut in Appleton with a special premiere event the week of April 9, 2012 to coincide with the Fox Cities Book Festival.

“Waterwalk” is based on Steven Faulkner’s book “Waterwalk: A Passage of Ghosts,” which recounts his and his teenage son Justin’s incredible true story of retracing the historic route of French explorers Marquette and Joliet, up the Fox River, to the Wisconsin River and eventually the Mississippi.

The majority of “Waterwalk” was shot in 35 Wisconsin locations including Kimberly, Neenah, Menasha, Combined Locks, downtown Oshkosh, the town of Appleton and on the Fox River between Green Bay and the lower Appleton dam.

“The movie showcases Wisconsin scenery along the Fox River,” says Roger Rapoport the movie’s producer and co-screenwriter. “It will be very recognizable to a local audience.”

The movie, which began production in August 2010 and wrapped in September 2011, will be shown on roughly 200 screens with support from Marcus Theaters. Rapoport, who resides in Muskegon, Michigan, was continually impressed with the willingness of Fox Cities residents to help make the production a success.

“Wisconsin is just a dream place to work and fabulous place to shoot a movie,” he says.

Stay tuned to Waterwalk’s movie website,, for more details on Appleton’s premiere event this April.


Saporro Sushi in Buchanan offers diners all the benefits of a sushi buffet, with one added convenience—the perfectly rolled morsels of seaweed enshroud goodness are delivered by boat.

“It’s super fast if you need a quick lunch. We can have you in and out in 20 minutes,” says Crystal Schuster, head server at Saporro Sushi. “Kids love picking the plates off the boats as they pass.”

Plates are color-coded by price ranging from $.99 to $3.99 and contain usually two pieces of sushi such as California rolls, tuna, teriyaki chicken and shrimp tempura rolls, to name a few. They pass by diners seated around the oval moat complete with a current that opens in the middle. Owner Jonathan Li and chef Cindy Wang stand within so guests can witness the sushi wizardry taking place.

Diners are encouraged to pick what they like and request more of their favorites. At the end of your meal, the plates are simply added up to produce the bill.

“There’s really nothing like it around,” Schuster says. “Sitting at a sushi bar watching the chefs make the food is fun, but this offers another element.”

Night of the Living Vinyl 

Nostalgia is back in a big way. Sunday Night Vinyl at Fox River House in downtown Appleton embraces the sounds of today played by the means of yesteryear.

Sunday Night Vinyl started as a way for regular customer Luke Vannest to spend some time with his girlfriend at their favorite haunt on their night off. Previously Fox River House was dark on Sundays, but at Vannest’s prompting, bar owner Patti Coenen decided to open her doors for the cause.

At first Vannest would bring his own equipment, but eventually Coenen invested in turntables and mixers then let her staff and patrons run the show. The old-school musical events now occur year-round from 8 p.m. until bar close and feature various drink specials.

“It’s an eclectic group, the people that come in and the music that’s played,” Coenen says. “I have a younger group that adamantly collects vinyl records. It’s amazing how many new releases they get.”

Record lovers are encouraged to bring their favorites, new and old, for an “open mic” style evening of music sharing. Take your turn at the tables or just sit back and listen to the sets of others.

“It’s a fun interactive thing and it changes throughout the night,” Coenen says. “You hear the whole gamut of genres.”

Food Truck Phenomenon

The Fox Cities has been experiencing food truck fever since this past summer’s debut of both Kangaroostaurant and Grilled Tease, the Valley’s first two mobile munchie establishments.

Grilled Tease owner Tina Ferron has carved her niche in Neenah, offering residents custom built grilled cheese sandwiches in addition to tacos, wraps, burgers and soups as well as her own gourmet cupcake line, Sweetea Cakes. Kangaroostaurant owners Jay and Kelly Barnes have been serving the Fox Cities their elevated versions of classic comfort food to rave reviews. Both eateries prize locally sourced products whenever possible and aim to offer unexpected fare to the food truck crowd.

New to the scene this fall is Ben Gorges’ beef-mobile, Vaccabond. “Vacca” is Latin for “cow,” and this new word devised by Gorges himself means “a drifter who roams around and sells ridiculously delicious burgers.”

Gorges sees the success of Valley food trucks as indicative of the kind of business connection that many consumers crave.

“I love the vibe food trucks add to a community,” Gorges says. “It’s a totally different interaction with customers than a brick and mortar restaurant. Depending on social media keeps it really grassroots.”

Ferron agrees that the real draw of the food truck movement is the community it creates.

“[Food trucks] have a way of bringing people together,” she says. “It gives people a chance to socialize over food.”

A Dock of One’s Own

When the weather warms and the water calls, some Fox River rats may notice a couple new additions to the shores, if they haven’t already.

As a way to encourage use of our abundant waterways, the Fox River Navigational System Authority (FRNSA) installed two new floating docks on a trial basis this past July, one in Appleton and one in Little Chute.

“We’d been operating Appleton locks on the weekends over the summer, but there was not a lot of usage at that point,” says Harlan Kiesow, CEO at FRNSA. “There’s wasn’t a place to get out of the boat when you’re going through the system.”

The commercial quality docks are intended for principle use by boaters, but kayakers and canoers are encouraged to partake as well. The 40-foot-long dock in Little Chute is located at the base of Mill Street and the 100-foot-long dock in Appleton is situated upstream of the Old Oneida Street bridge.

“We looked at creating destinations so folks can not only go through the systems, but also stop and see what communities have to offer,” says Bob Stark, administrative assistant at FRNSA, who points out the downtown Trolley stops near the Appleton dock for easy College Avenue access during the summer.

Stark is pleased with the use the docks have already seen and hopes to see more area residents take advantage of them this summer for “fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking or just plain relaxation.”

Appleton Roots

In February 2010, four Appleton area residents with a passion for the past formed what would eventually become the Appleton Historical Society. Appleton native Mark Moderson, who sits on the board of directors, approached several people he knew with an interest in Appleton history and discovered the desire for a formal group to preserve the city’s history and make it accessible to the public.

“I knew of the Outagamie County Historical Society, but I thought it would be nice to have things going on month to month with interested people,” Moderson says.

The group meets on the third Wednesday of every month (expect December) at 7 p.m. in Atlas Coffee Mill. At the January 18 meeting, Chloe Siamof, a senior at Appleton West High School and founder of Appleton West History Club, will discuss the history of the school. On December 3 and again on March 3, 2012, the Society will host a History Fair to coincide with the Downtown Appleton Indoor Farmer’s Market. Community members are invited to set up their own Appleton collections for others to view.

Stop by the main floor of the Zuleke Building on College Avenue to view a sampling of the Appleton Historical Society’s collection in the lobby display case.

Coffee Four Ways

At Seth’s Coffee in Little Chute, coffee lovers can take their pick from an array of four different brewing methods: the popular pour-over bar, traditional French press, the Chemex coffee-maker or siphon brew. Each method has its place, as well as its advantages. Possibly the least known of the four brewing methods is the siphon brew.

Maybe it does look like a device that would go unnoticed in the background of a “Breaking Bad” episode, but at a coffee shop it kind of sticks out. A lower glass globe is attached to a stand that sits hovering above a butane gas burner that when lit, brings the water to a boil. Working like a French press, the grounds in the brew chamber above are fully immersed in the water, and as it cools, the globe creates a vacuum effect to suck the coffee through the filter.

“It’s a full immersion brew, so there’s lots of flavor, but the coffee runs through a cloth filter instead of a metal filter. Cloth filters let more flavor through than paper, but not as much sediment as a metal filter,” owner Seth Lenz explains. “The result is an incredibly clean cup with lots of flavor.”

While the contraption may look intimidating at first, one sip of the delicate coffee it produces will have you swooning (and craving more of that natural caffeine buzz).


Ice, Ice Baby

Shake the winter blues by exploring the wide world of ice sports

Picture a winter landscape in Wisconsin. Though poets love to describe snow with words like “blanketed” and “crisp,” Wisconsin winter veterans know that phrases like “gray,” “salty” and “unceremoniously dumped” are more appropriate.

This winter you don’t have to be Mr. Freeze to get enjoyment out of the ice. Frozen water offers a number of opportunities to get up and go this season.

So in the words of the immortal Mr. Freeze, “Let’s kick some ice!”

Skating is the first stop on our winter sports tour. Even the littlest grade-schooler longs to skid her sneakers across the ice, however, Valley Figure Skating Club members will tell you that skating is a serious sport. 

Amy Brolsma, a figure skater who has competed on the national level and has been coaching for the club since 1994, says that the sport provides a unique opportunity for younger skaters. Not only because of the athletic skills they gain, but also the increased confidence and work ethic they pick up along the way.
“It's infectious, it's unique and anybody can do it,” Brolsma says.

Ice skaters can start out with private lessons or join group lessons once they’ve been trained through Basic Skills Level 5 (which can be done through the ice centers in Neenah and Appleton). People of all ages and skill levels are invited to try this unique sport.

"It's really never too late to start learning and never too early,” Brolsma says.

Across the icy pond we come to curling. Curling is a sport where teams take turns sliding stones across the ice toward a circular target. It’s a sport that Bob Kriewaldt, president of the Appleton Curling Club, vouches for as being fun, fascinating and incredibly social—something many of us miss during the dark months of winter.

An intense level of strategy goes into the sweeping motion that alters the path of the rock, Kriewaldt says. More advanced players soon learn that you must adjust your strategy as the ice conditions slowly change.

“Some people refer to it as chess on ice,” Kriewaldt says.

There are leagues suitable for all ages and skill levels. Newcomers may be pleasantly surprised to learn that shivering is not required for participation in the sport as the Appleton Curling Club plays indoors in a heated stadium with top quality equipment.

If curling seems up your alley, the club will be hosting two five-week “Learn To Curl” leagues this winter for people who want to try the sport. The first begins on January 10 and the second session begins February 14, just in time for Valentine’s Day date night.

Looking for more speed and thrills when it comes to winter activities? Ice boating, a sport sure to make your heart race, may be the answer. At least, that’s what Stuart Taylor says who ice boats in his free time in addition to being the president of the board of the Fox Valley Sailing School based in Neenah.

Many iceboats are fairly small skeleton structures made just long enough to hold up the rigging and accommodate a single passenger lying on his or her back. They have three runners, one in front and two in back, and are steered with one’s feet.

Taylor first graduated to iceboating as a way to continue sailing through the winter months. He doesn’t get to go often, but the times he does are full of novelty and a mighty rush.

“There's always a thrill and a sort of apprehension the first time you get on your boat,” he says. “Once you settle in and try to make your boat go, the sensation changes from anxiety or apprehension to excitement and the quietness of flying across the ice.”

And speaking of speed and gliding, where in the area can you connect with a group of people who love skiing as much as they love having fun? The Sly Fox Ski Club is an organization with over 150 members that brings skiers together in the greater Fox Valley area.

Though many of the members are dedicated, seasoned slope-riders, the group is fun for people of all levels as club President Deb Bramschreiber can attest, as she was somewhat of a novice when she began.

"I was not a good skier, I was basically a beginner," Bramschreiber says.

The club embarks on weekend ski trips during the winter to Michigan and Northern Wisconsin and every couple of years they go to slightly more exotic locations like Colorado or even Austria. Bramschreiber fondly remembers one year where she was skiing in Switzerland and stopped halfway down the mountain for fondue.

“It's always more fun to have a group of people to ski with than it is to ski by yourself,” Bramschreiber says.

At this point you’d probably think we’d leave the frozen landscape, having exhausted all possible options for entertainment. However, this is where we come to one of most exciting and, frankly, bizarre winter sports: snowkiting.
Imagine you’re driving along the highway when you see someone skimming along the frozen lake on a pair of skis or a snowboard. You look up to see that he is being pulled by a gigantic, brightly colored kite that hovers 75 feet above him.
No, it’s not the result of some skiing/hang-gliding mixup. It’s called snowkiting, and ever since Mark Scheffler discovered it on his vacation to Door County, he’s taken it upon himself to spread the word.

“I’ve kind of taken it upon myself to be a bit of an evangelist,” says Scheffler, who works as the Senior Portfolio Manager and Founder of Appleton Group Wealth Management, LLC.

The kites range anywhere from four to 16 meters in length. Smaller kites are used in harder winds while gentler breezes call for bigger kites. The kite is attached to a bar by four lines which is attached to another line with a loop and then tied to a belt or climbing harness warn by the kiter. Scheffler and his co-kiters will generally use Lake Winnebago to sate their kiting needs.

By and large, Scheffler says the sport is not very dangerous. He and the other members of the New Kiters Club have had no accidents resulting in anything more serious than a lost pair of snow pants. However, kiters do have to look out for holes cut in the ice by ice fishers and sturgeon spearers as well as low flying planes.
Though snowkiting equipment is pricey, with an average kite costing around $800 to$1,000, Scheffler says it’s worth it. He says the sensation of gliding along is amazing.
“It’s like being touched by the breath of god, pushing you along,” Scheffler says.
No matter what your winter itch might be, there are a number of opportunities to scratch it in the Fox Cities this winter. Hibernating on the couch may still be an option, but it’s definitely no longer the only one.



Get up and go!

For those looking for less formal winter entertainment, Jones Park in Appleton boasts both a hockey and skating rink to get the blood pumping in the coldest months. The rink comes with a warming house where you can stop in to get hot chocolate and popcorn.
The parks in Neenah and Menasha also have opportunities for snowy fun with both having opportunities for ice skating, hockey, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and sledding at several parks during the winter months.

Indoor ice skaters can also use the Tri-County Ice Center in Neenah which offers public skate Monday through Friday from 12–2 p.m., Thursday evenings 6–7 p.m., Saturday 2 –3: 30 p.m and Sunday 3–4:30 p.m. Appleton Family Ice Center offers public skating Monday through Friday 11 a.m.–1 p.m. and Sunday 3–5 p.m. These centers also offer a wide variety of programming from basic ice skating skills, hockey leagues for all ages and even host social events like birthday parties.


Lighting Up the Season

Dazzling events for LED enthusiasts

The holiday season ushers in a plethora of festive decor from holly wreaths to candy canes and bows galore. One of the most popular holiday decorations, however, are lights that embellish and create a magical atmosphere. During the months of November and December, the Fox Cities becomes aglow with luminous displays designed to captivate young and old.

Visit some of FOX CITIES Magazine’s favorite brilliant spectacles this season for a guaranteed enchanting evening.

Parade of Lights

On November 22, make sure you are in downtown Appleton to “Light Up the Season” with Wisconsin’s largest nighttime parade featuring local bands, floats and lots of lights! Each year, nearly 70,000 spectators line up along the one-mile parade route to watch participants illuminate the night. FOX CITIES Magazine recommends the flame-spewing, heart-and-body warming, full-throttle display from Fox Valley Ballooning ensured to keep the night bright.

Greg Otis, Appleton Downtown, Inc. ambassador coordinator, beams when asked about this year’s spectacular, stating, "We are extremely proud of our Parade. The committee works tirelessly throughout the year to make it a memorable event.”

If you’re still looking for bright entertainment after the parade, stick around for the Annual City of Appleton Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony that includes performances by the Appleton Boychoir and a community sing-along.

Otis welcomes spectators new and old to the Parade, stating, “We feel it is the 'benchmark parade' of the valley and want everyone to come enjoy themselves."

Old-School Wonderment

Another annual holiday favorite for Fox Citians is the Hearthstone Historic House’s Victorian Christmas, when the almost-25 year-old museum welcomes visitors to celebrate Christmastime old-school. These Victorian Christmas tours are a Fox Valley tradition, hearkening back to the late-nineteenth century, when the Rodgers Family would welcome Valley residents into the hydroelectric-powered home for a holiday open-house.

One hundred thirty years later, the house is an Appleton staple, creating dazzling Christmastime displays while remembering the first Christmases in the house. Tricia Adams, Hearthstone’s executive director, can’t contain her excitement for this year’s Christmas spectacular themed Winter Wonderland. Her enthusiasm erupted during an interview with FOX CITIES Magazine in late September where she exclaimed, "Oh, the heck with Halloween! Let's just do Christmas!"

What has visitors coming back time and again is the historic Victorian-era lighting. The 1800s-era lights give the home a candle-lit feel, completely changing visitor perspective from day to night. The Victorian lighting, as Adams reflects, makes the house pretty dim some days. “We’re constantly thinking we didn’t turn a light on or we’re bumping into things,” she says.

The Hearthstone's unique Victorian lighting encourages visitors to drop by the Hearthstone again and again and Adams looks forward to seeing many faces new and old. “I really just love the visitors coming in," she says. "I love hearing them say, 'Ooh this is so different from last year,' and I really love surprising them.”

Natural Illumination

This LED spectacular isn’t all candy canes and reindeer. The 15th annual WPS Garden of Lights showcases the Green Bay Botanical Garden (GBBG) illuminated with more than 250,000 lights. These are crafted into flowers, butterflies and botanical themes that transform the garden “from its colorful flower and plant oasis into a vibrant light show,” beams Aubrey Brennan, marketing and sales manager at GBBG.

The Garden invites sightseers to take a stroll through a 60-foot caterpillar or take a horse-drawn wagon ride through an enchanted icicle forest. 

The Garden of Lights also claims the area’s tallest and brightest tree, ensuring that Santa won’t get lost on his way to Green Bay. This year, the Garden has added a brilliant feature, the Weather Walk, in which visitors meander through a thunderstorm, witness a dazzling setting sun and are awestruck by an enormous rainbow. New attractions like the Weather Walk ensure, as Brennan states, “Each year there is something new to discover.”

Dancing with The Paine

Ever wanted to be transported to a magical land where citizens break out in song and dance, and the world is populated by sweets? The Paine Art Center and Gardens conjures such magic by transforming into a real-life fairy tale. Its historic rooms become scenes from the iconic ballet The Nutcracker, no golden ticket required.

Nutcracker in the Castle will be celebrating its fifth season and this year The Paine is upping the ante by offering candle-light tours of the enchanting display. The mansion will turn into a wonderland lit only by historic lighting and glowing Christmas trees (over seventy in all!), inviting visitors to wander the settings holding one of two hundred LED candles.    

Aaron Sherer, executive director at The Paine, was inspired to  create the candlelight tours because at nighttime the Nutcracker Castle becomes even more magical and, as he says, “candle-light tours will make the experience even more mesmerizing.”
Sherer ensures a breathtaking experience for The Paine's visitors, stating, "It is very common to hear people vocally gasp as they enter a doorway or round a corner. The candles will make it even more breathtaking. I expect to hear a lot of gasping this year!"

— FC

From Heart to Hand

Do-it-yourself holiday gift ideas for creative givers

During the holiday season, we often focus on getting—getting the right wrapping paper, the perfect gift, the prettiest ornaments—but we all know it is giving that provides the greatest satisfaction.

Nothing feels better than watching a friend, relative or even a secret Santa recipient rip off the wrapping paper to find a gift created especially for them. Whether it’s a pair of knitted socks or a decorated photograph, a gift made by your own two hands is sure to melt any heart.

That’s why FOX CITIES Magazine, through tireless research, has found a number of places right here in the Valley that allow you to make gifts yourself, suitable for any budget. Sure to please even the savviest shopper, these shops and studios make it possible to give something truly meaningful this holiday season.

Blooming Beads

Beads and bracelets aren’t the only things available at the Glass Onion Bead Co., located on West College Avenue in Appleton. The staff offers first-class help to crafters and even hosts an open bead night every Wednesday where people can come in, learn the basics and work on projects.

Owner Debbie Austin also helps customers out by matching gifts to an outfit. Ox-bone and wood beads are suggested for a more casual look, while glass, crystal or pearl are suggested for dressier ensembles.

Bracelets, necklaces and earrings can cost as low as $5-$10 depending on the materials. The store also offers handmade metal jewelry and hand-spun, Appleton-made yarn that comes from the fur of Angora rabbits for $35.

Austin knows firsthand the joys of creating handmade gifs. For years she’s been giving the gift of glass to her family members who are all too happy to receive it.

"I have five sisters and I make them jewelry for all their birthdays and Christmases," she says.

Skeins & Smiles

Making things bigger and faster can often be a downfall in our fast-paced society, says Phyllis Gillespie, owner of Iris Fine Yarns in Appleton. That's why she encourages holiday shoppers to slow down, sit back and make something straight from the heart.

From hats to scarves, wool to cashmere, books to knitting needles, Iris Fine Yarns has everything you need to pursue a knitting venture. A scarf or cowl is easy to make in about eight hours of knitting and costs about $9. A more involved project, such as wrist-warmers, may cost about $16-$20 and take 12 hours of work.

Other projects include baby booties, children's sweaters, mittens, socks and almost anything imaginable. Gillespie is more than willing to help knitters understand a hard pattern or assist with the finishing work in more complicated undertakings.

For ambitious artists, Gillespie suggests tackling the Kid Mohair, a fine fiber made from the hairs of a baby goat that costs $90 for one skein. Though pricy, it's well worth the money. Feather light and cloud soft, this fiber can be woven in complex designs to make shawls and scarves that Gillespie assures will never go out of style.

Art on Fire

Functionality reigns supreme at The Fire, a walk-in, do-it-yourself art studio located on College Avenue in Appleton. Offering easy-to-make projects such as mosaics, glass fusing and pottery, this is a wonderful place to make home warming or hostess gifts. For between $12 and $30, you can make a key hook decorated with a mosaic, stylish painted dishes and other lovely wall hangings and sculptures with which to adorn your home.

The Fire is also kid-friendly, especially when it comes to the paint-your-own pottery section. A child's handprint on a mug or plate is sure to warm the heart of any grandparent. Mugs cost about $16, paint included, while dinner plates are $20.

For those looking for something a little flashier, the silver art clay is for you. In its working state, it looks and responds much like clay and can be molded into many shapes. After it’s fired it becomes 99.9 percent silver and can be formed into necklace pendents or even earrings. It's $34.99 for seven grams and can be personalized with a child's fingerprint or initials from a rubber stamp.

From Page to Pendant

High-end shoppers looking for something truly unique should head to The Gift Itself in Green Bay which offers "Draw-Lery," a process that immortalizes your child's drawings into beautiful jewelry.

After the artist drops off or emails a drawing, co-owner Michelle Zjala Winters goes to work. Using her metalwork skills, she uses sterling as the jewelry’s base and accents it with copper, gold, or even gemstones, to make a 3D rendition of the drawing that can be worn as jewelry.

Zjala Winters began this art form when she was inspired by her nephew Andrew’s drawings and wanted to give his mother a special gift. Soon Zjala Winters started offering the option to her customers.

"It's a very touching gift," she said. "It makes a lot of people cry happy tears."

Pieces range from $225 to $250, but gift givers attest the price is well worth the resulting jewelry that cannot be replicated and gives their child’s self-esteem a major boost.

— FC


Handmade Heaven

Assemblage Studio, De Pere
Classes throughout November allow attendees to build pyramid gift boxes, angel tree toppers and mitten garlands. Browse the studio for even more creative collage inspiration.

Bergstrom Mahler Museum, Neenah
Drop by Art Activity Days (Nov 12 & Dec 3) at the museum and create ornaments, cards and glass-like presents just ripe for the gifting.

Wilmar Chocolates, Appleton 
Customize candy bars at Wilmar’s “Build Your Own Bar” station for a sweet holiday treat. Choose from dozens of crunchy, fruity, nutty or spicy additions to create a one-of-a-kind chocolaty treasure.

— FC

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