Aluminum Christmas Trees Again and Again

1959 Prototype Evergleam® packaging design
(from our collection) displayed in vitrine at
Wisconsin Historical Museum
"'Tis the Season" exhibition, December 2013
Little Evergleam's in vitrine with a few of our 
Season's Gleamings photographs in the background at
Wisconsin Historical Museum
"'Tis the Season" exhibition, December 2013
It's been nearly 10 years since our book Season's Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree (Melcher, NY, 2004) hit the streets. Our research into the history of the aluminum Christmas tree's manufacture in Manitowoc, Wisconsin culminated in that book. The trees were cheap and abundant at estate and rummage sales, thrift shops, and antiques stores 20 years ago. Folks in town generally thought they were hideous except for one man--Richard Thomsen. Our downtown gallery/storefront installation attracted media attention and helped Richard Thomsen find us. He loved the trees and knew their history. We gathered enough information to cobble together a history for Al Hoff's Thrift Score zine in 1997 and Metropolis magazine in 1998 with the mystic help of David Brown and Paul Lukas. For us, the trees transcended their status as holiday decor items instead working as a brilliant exercise in design making for a sublime viewing experience when displayed unadored en masse. Media interest escalated with each passing year peaking with the release of our book in 2004 and the national press coverage it generated from The New York Times to CBS Sunday Morning. When Joe Kapler, Curator of Domestic Life at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, expressed interest in the trees a few years ago, we enthusiastically handed him the mantle of aluminum tree historian. We even donated a prime prototype specimen (pictured above) from our collection. We watch with fascination as Joe enshrined the Manitowoc-made Evergleam in the official history of Wisconsin through various exhibitions. He recently assembled an exhibition titled 'Tis the Season (on view November 26, 2013-January 11, 2014) at the Wisconsin Hisorical Museum on the Square in Madison. Here's a sampling of the media documentation of the show posted in December 2013:

"Evergleam Trees on Display" by Mark Koehn and Susan Simon for WISC TV
"Aluminum Trees Back in Spotlight" video by Carrie Antlfinger for AP
"Wisconsin Museum Highlights Aluminum Trees" video by Rob Duns for WAOW TV
"Remember Aluminum Trees?" by Susan Bence for WUWM radio
"Wisconsin's Aluminum Christmas Tree Legacy" by Cathy Wurzer for WMPR radio 
by Meg Jones for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
by Lindsay Christian for The Cap Times


We Gotta Get Out of This Place?

"J. Shimon & J. Lindemann: We Go From Where We Know"
 "Nash Corn Crib" and "Concrete Tear Drops" surrounded by portraits and postcards
at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
October 13, 2013-February 23, 2014.
Photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center

In early December 2013, our projects (in various forms) were on view at six Wisconsin museums (e.g. John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Wisconsin Art, Racine Art Museum, Rahr-West Art Museum, and the Wisconsin Historical Museum). Can this work examining the idiosyncrasies of human existence in a specific place (Wisconsin) open dialogs and exchanges with other under represented places or are they destined to stay here? Portrait Society Gallery (MKE) brought our "Decay Utopia Decay" series to Art Basel Miami Beach to the Aqua satellite fair where its rurality was surrounded by the glamor and clamor of the international art world. Gallerist Debra Brehmer commented on the importance of bringing works with a seemingly finite audience in Milwaukee into the art fair arena with a diverse and international audience. Having worked for 30 years to produce a record of our time, we have managed to make our projects accessible at these various venues simultaneously this month. Our past anti-isolation tactics have included meeting with art people from New York to New Orleans to Los Angeles, mailing info and postcards describing our activities, exhibiting, and maintaining a website. Curators, writers, and artists have landed on our studio door step in Manitowoc and in time we ended up on national network television and in the Paris edition of the New York Times.
"Local" has gained cultural currency when it comes to food. T-shirt slogans remind us to shop the farmers market and support small businesses. Much like the philosophies espoused by Grant Wood and his artistic comrades in the 1930s, the local food movement looks to nearby sources for sustenance and inspiration. In the case of "Regionalist" artists (Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry et. al.), this meant focusing on the subject matter found in everyday life in the small towns and rural areas of America's heartland. We grew up in rural Wisconsin decades later in the 1960s-1970s, which is to say when local was a derogatory term. Who wanted locally made food or products when you could get futuristic Tang, Pop-Tarts, and Twinkies in modern cellophane and foil wrappers or posters of the Beatles by Richard Avedon to display instead of grandma's crafts?  "Local yokel" was used by small town people when referring to the rural indigenous folks in the outlying areas. Now it's the name of a holiday craft fair in Sheboygan. Back then local = provincial and naive. Rural folk were stereotyped as hicks on screen from Hee Haw to the Beverly Hillbillies. Is it even possible to be an isolated hayseed in the Information Age of the 21st century? Is a new regionalism or "Neo-Regionalism" based on information and exchange possible? People in remote areas read the same Twitter feed as their urban counterparts and hipsters in Brooklyn sport plaid flannel and burly beards looking like north woods lumberjacks. Yet. Yet. Seeking affordable work space, artists have long opted for the remote and the low rent, which today translates into living in caves and yurts or seeking endless artist residencies. Living like nomads or radicants, artists wisely avoid sinking roots while dipping their feet into the ever changing river as a means to open pathways to dialog, venues, and financial/moral support.

"J. Shimon & J. Lindemann: We Go From Where We Know"
"Nash Corn Crib" and "Concrete Tear Drops" surrounded by portraits and postcards
at the the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
October 13, 2013-February 23, 2014
Photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center
Art galleries increasingly indulge in cultural colonization in the 21st century with the most extreme example being the Gagosian Gallery franchising to London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, and Geneva; and the Guggenheim Museum with its expansions to Abu Dhabi, Berlin, Bilbao, and Las Vegas. Can artists, curators and art historians care about human existence (outside the spectacle and the lime light) in the remote hamlets around the world as meaningful subject or theme? It was with this question in mind that we conceived of our exhibition "We Go From Where We Know" examining our native Wisconsin and the specific mental space we have found here. Free to leave this frigid northern place on the 44th parallel, we chose to stay and look more closely--to make art about it and to teach. Our resulting research-driven installation at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (on view October 13, 2013-February 23, 2014) contains photographs, paintings, found objects, and works made of concrete--Wisconsin's medium of choice based on the numerous artist environments scattered about the state. We posted "found" vintage Wisconsin postcards on a blog not so much as an act of Wisconsin boosterism, but in an attempt to deconstruct the complex cultural messages contained in them and illicit a response using everyday social media. We wonder where it will go.

Portrait Society Gallery (MKE)
 Aqua Art Fair installation at Art Basel Miami Beach
J. Shimon & J. Lindemann "Decay Utopia Decay" series cyanotype
displayed on back wall, December 4-8, 2013


The World of Paul (1912-2013 )

Paul J. Hefti playing his Casio keyboard in his La Crosse living room, 2002
We visited Paul Hefti once at Meadow Wood Assisted Living after he left his lifetime home at 515 Adams Street in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 2004. His sculpture garden made of pop bottle whirligigs and red brick house were razed by city order. Still, he managed to transplant the atmosphere to the bland institutional environment of the nursing home. He gave us a tour using a nifty black walker and it was much like those he'd given us at his house. He highlighted recent sculptural works hung about the place peppering his commentary with limericks and giggles. We'd attempted visiting him at his house in the summer of 2004 after we'd completed work on our film and book project documenting him and three other older Wisconsin men titled, One Million Years is Three Seconds. It happened to be the last morning he lived at his old house. The soil was still damp from his watering his geraniums for the last time on that hot summer day. We met his neighbor and friend Susan about then and she kept us posted on how Paul was doing via an annual holiday card. He lived to be a hundred and had commented to us even way back when he was 90 that "Boy, that time goes fast. It seems like I just started." His art like all of life was ephemeral.

 One Million Years is Three Seconds 
Paul Hefti excerpt (2008)