There are quite a few places you can go in downtown Madison to see 2-D and 3-D artwork from local artists. You’ll find everything from photography to sculpture from amateurs, students, and professionals. What isn’t as common is finding a place with curated pieces handpicked by a designer to fit into a space and a theme. Designer Linda Snyder did just that when she was hired by the Hilton Monona Terrace to reimagine their lobby and restaurant spaces.
The process of finding the right artwork started with Linda contacting Madison-based artist Brian Kluge. Brian had just the piece in mind when Linda told him about the water theme she was going for. “[It’s] related to an ongoing project that I’ve been doing prior to the Hilton project,” says Brian. On display are over 50 unique clay buoys. Some are shaped like bobbers, others like eggplants. They’re tall, they’re short. They’re fat, they’re thin. Bright, faded colors create an aged look, giving a utilitarian quality to them.
“I see those as referencing both weights and buoys,” says Brian. “Oftentimes in the projects I’m working on I try and find dualities, particularly contrasting dualities, that are simultaneously referenced. I like the open-ended reading that can give to the objects.”
Linda made Brian’s work a central piece in the hotel’s restaurant, but she needed more. Brian directed her to some of his peers as well as to Abel Contemporary Gallery, where Linda met Theresa Abel, artist and owner. “Right away she was attracted to Eric Thomas Wolever’s work,” says Theresa. “And he had these boat themes that ended up being reproduced in the lobby.”
His pieces really are different. “Eric definitely uses abstract shapes to convey his concepts,” says Theresa. With an array of blues and splashes of orange and greens over a white background, the idea of a boat is created through purposeful use of lines. The more it’s looked at, the more obscure the image becomes.
A painting by Deb Gottschalk also caught Linda’s eye. It’s of a bare tree in the water, presented in such a way that an onlooker might believe the painting could be displayed upside down, though the distortion from the water makes the aspect easy to accept. “She just has this beautiful, very detailed style that creates something dreamy,” says Theresa. “Her work becomes abstracted and contemporary when she really just focuses in on the water and the sky, but the method she uses is very traditional.” That method being oil paintings on panels.
Another dreamy piece discovered at the gallery belongs to Barry Roal Carlsen. He’s quite well known for his oil paintings, but the piece of his in the Hilton uses lithography on a black background. The result is a really clear image of a boat with ghost or godlike hands in the background tying a monkey-fist knot.
The last artist Linda found at Abel is local printmaker John S. Miller. “There were a number of pieces that were made specifically for the Hilton by John S. Miller,” says Theresa. “He did these beautiful pieces that are very stylized wave imagery.” His pieces in the Hilton look as though a diorama in a shadowbox has been flattened, each depicting very identifiable segments and features of some of Wisconsin’s most-traveled waterways.
With the exception of Eric Thomas Wolever, these pieces are arranged around a fireplace as they might be in an artist’s studio space or a collector’s home—leaning up against the wall as opposed to hung. Something often lost on those admiring different works of art is that a piece doesn’t inherently speak for itself. Rather, it speaks to the space in which it’s displayed, though it says quite a bit more to the individual taking the time to appreciate it. The curation and presentation are very much part of the creative process, and something that adds to the collective voice of all the presented artwork.
Bringing us to Meghan Sullivan, one of Brian’s peers from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Her ceramic forget-me-not piece is thoughtfully assembled on half of the wall behind the front desk in the lobby. “It’s about the idea of memory and the loss of memory,” says Meghan. “If you look at the piece, the flowers go from blue, and then they start changing into a greyish color, and then they become white. … It’s about the passage of time and how that will change how we perceive the past.” The piece really defines the space it takes up. Each individually sculpted flower fits into an arrangement Meghan determined, the final composition essential to the work’s completion.
“They were looking for artists from the region that were working around concepts of the lakes and waters of the area,” says Emily Arthur, artist of the egret piece on the ceiling in the restaurant. With dark blue walls and a white ceiling, the room gets a near-horizon sun’s orange from Emily’s piece. The process of getting the piece to look just right paid off in capturing the vibrancy in color. “I drew the egrets from observation in a zoology collection and then transferred the drawing into a screen print. So the original artwork is a screen print with dyed paper, and then that screen print, which is 22 by 30 inches, was scanned and made into a high-resolution fabric piece, which is what you see on the ceiling.”
With the pictures in this article, you might get a sense of the layout, but if you’re in the downtown area right now, take a walk over to the Hilton Monona Terrace. If not, make it a stop the next time you’re downtown. These Wisconsin artists and their works deserve an interactive audience. Emily says, “I hope people will get a chance to see it.” And my hope is this article will encourage people to do just that.
Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
To learn more about designer/curator Linda Snyder’s process, check out her exclusive at homeelementsandconcepts.com .
To learn more about the entire remodel, pick up a copy of Home Elements & Concepts , available in many of the same locations as Madison Essentials .