Category Archives: Travel

A quick stop in Cameron

A heavily ornamented chest of drawers made in Norway and brought to Barron County by 19th century Norwegian immigrants.

In July, I spent two of the hottest days of the summer in the northwest part of the state.  My ultimate destination was the Stone Lake Area Historical Society, where I trained volunteers in scanning, photography, and cataloging to get them started on building a digital collection for Wisconsin Heritage Online. On the way to Stone Lake, I made a detour to the New Richmond Heritage Center to look at their decorative arts collection (items from that visit will be online soon). Between New Richmond and Stone Lake I stopped at the Pioneer Village Museum, operated by the Barron County Historical Society in Cameron.

An exhibition case of beadwork and other crafts made by Susie Cadotte, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe.

It was late in the afternoon by the time I got to Cameron, but museum director Caroline Olson met me at the gate and gave me a whirlwind tour of the museum complex–37 buildings including exhibit halls, a church, and several log dwellings and commercial buildings that have been moved to the site. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to do my usual full object documentation, but I took lots of snapshots of interesting artifacts, both Wisconsin-made and not.

Andrew Peterson of Poskin, Wisconsin built the Ebenezer Lutheran Church in 1908 as well as the pulpit, altar, altar rail and pews. The church and most of its interior fittings were moved to the museum in 1972.

This chair, in the style of a traditional Norwegian kubbestol, is considered the literal county seat of Barron County. The museum label tells the story of the chair's role in the establishment of the community of Barron as the seat of county government: "This chair is known as the County Seat because it was within its seat that in 1874, County Clerk Woodbury S. Grover packed the meager records of this young county and on a cold winter night walked from Rice Lake to Barron, depositing them with John Quaderer, who owned the Quaderer House Hotel."

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer


Midwest Antiques Forum

Earlier this month I headed to Lancaster, Ohio to participate in the first-ever Midwest Antiques Forum, a new annual event intended to “encourage and support scholarship of the understudied area of Midwestern decorative arts and material culture.” I was thrilled to represent Wisconsin in this important gathering of scholars, curators, collectors and dealers from throughout the region and beyond.

The forum was the brainchild of Midwest decorative arts power couple Hollie Davis and Andrew Richmond. Hollie is senior editor at and Andrew is  vice-president at Garth’s Auctions. Andrew also served as curator for the exhibition Equal in Goodness: Ohio Decorative Arts 1788-1860, on view at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio through June 5.

The exhibit emphasizes the wide variety and high level of craftsmanship of the material goods produced in Ohio from the earliest days of settlement through the mid-nineteenth century. The forum presentations widened this thesis to the Midwest as a whole, highlighting the surprising breadth and range of decorative arts to be found throughout the region.

Aside from getting to see so many amazing objects, the most exciting part of the weekend for me was the chance to be a part of a community of people dedicated to the decorative arts of the Midwest. I think it’s easy for many of us in this far-flung region to feel like we’re toiling away in our own separate corners of the world, so the opportunity to come together with like-minded people was truly inspiring.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Visit to Marshfield and Pittsville

I’ve worked on this project for more than four years and added over 1,000 artifacts to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, but it seems like I’ve still only scratched the surface of Wisconsin’s material past. I’m always happily surprised when I discover artifacts from a maker or manufacturer I haven’t documented before.

One of these happy occurrences came in Lake Geneva last fall at the annual statewide Local History and Historic Preservation Conference. Kim Krueger of the North Wood County Historical Society in Marshfield approached me after my presentation about Wisconsin Heritage Online. She was looking for a conservator who could help preserve a catalog from a local manufacturer. I couldn’t help much with the conservation question, but my ears perked up when I heard more about the catalog–it was from the Upham Manufacturing Company, a furniture producer in Marshfield around the turn of the 20th century. But the catalog wasn’t the only artifact from the company in the Society’s collections, Kim said. Their house museum, the Upham Mansion, still contains many of its original furnishings, including a large number of pieces made in the factory established by William Henry Upham.

I made plans to visit the Upham Mansion as soon as I could. At some point during the back-and-forth of planning emails, another serendipitous connection came up. A volunteer at the Upham Mansion, Chris Buchanan, is also the president of the Pittsville Area Historical Society, less than 20 miles south of Marshfield. Pittsville was once home to the Wisconsin Ceramics Corporation, better known as Pittsville Pottery, and the local historical society had recently received a donation of more than 100 works from the pottery assembled by a local collector. Did I want to add the pottery to the database too? Of course I did!

After spending two days in central Wisconsin last week, I now have lots of photos to process and should have the Upham furniture and Pittsville pottery–plus several other interesting artifacts–added to the database in the next several weeks.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Springtime in Portage

The Historic Indian Agency house was built by the United States government in 1832 for John Kinzie, the Indian Agent to the Ho Chunk Nation in Wisconsin. The house was restored by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in 1932.

This chest of drawers in the late neoclassical (Empire) style is said to have been made in Green Bay ca. 1825.

In late April, I headed up to Portage on a beautiful spring morning to visit the Historic Indian Agency House and meet with the site’s Executive Director, Destinee Udelhoven. I was there to photograph a single compelling artifact–a chest of drawers that, according to early Agency House records, was made in Green Bay around 1825. Although a more specific history is unknown, the use of an unusual wood type (tamarack) and the rough construction methods that lie behind the chest’s  fashionable facade certainly suggest that it could have been made in an early 19th-century settlement in the Great Lakes region. A full catalog entry with several photos will be online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database later this spring.

During my visit, I couldn’t resist snapping some photos of the site in its springtime glory–including a cat from the caretaker’s house who was patrolling the grounds.

Cat in front of the Agency House's split-rail fence.

The tri-lingual welcome sign on the front door of the Visitors Center.

Visit to Ten Chimneys (and introducing…Rebecca!)

Research assistant Rebecca Wangard measures a chair painted by rosemaling artist Per Lysne of Stoughton in the main room of the cottage at Ten Chimneys.

Howdy. As Emily Pfotenhauer introduced me in the previous entry, I’m her new part-time research assistant, supported by the Chipstone Foundation. I am recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in human geography and material culture studies. I also just finished applying to graduate schools for in the fall of 2010. With a background in human geography I am sure most of you are surprised by my interest in the decorative arts. Traditionally most people do not connect the decorative arts with geography, but in fact, the database project is very geographic in nature–as many of you know, there is a strong connection between an object and its geographical location.

In late January, Emily and I had the pleasure of photographing artifacts and collecting data at Ten Chimneys Foundation for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. Ten Chimneys is a National Historical Landmark in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, about 30 miles from Milwaukee and 60 miles from Madison. It’s a large estate including multiple buildings, decorative objects, and yes chimneys! It is traditionally praised for its theater programming and direct connection to its original and famous owners, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. It also notable for its beautifully preserved rooms in the main house as well the additional outbuildings with romanticized and nostalgic visions of Scandinavian themes and ideals.

The craftsmen whose work we documented at Ten Chimneys were Schomer Lichtner, who created almost prop-like pieces of painted furniture (a sofa and clock); Per Lysne, famous for his gorgeous Norwegian-style decorative painting (a kitchen cupboard and two three-legged chairs); and set designer Claggett Wilson (Biblical and Scandinavian inspired wall murals in the main house).

Photographing the Per Lysne chair in the Ten Chimneys cottage.

A major question I asked myself as we photographed and recorded the objects was: “What makes an object Wisconsin?”—is it made in Wisconsin; from a famous person from Wisconsin; materials from Wisconsin; or captures a Wisconsin idea or sentiment? These questions pose many puzzles about how objects are classified and viewed but nevertheless, I look forward to further research on Wisconsin focused objects.

As previously mentioned, I am a recent young graduate and have had elementary experience with the field of furniture and decorative objects, and this was my first “field” experience in direct contact with decorative objects within a formal museum setting. My first impressions were scattered–with joy of actually handling the objects to puzzlement as I learned that objects are often held down with “museum wax”!?!

I look forward to helping Emily push further with this project! Thank you to Keith D. MacKay, Director of Historic Preservation at Ten Chimneys, for graciously giving of his time and energy, and to the Chipstone Foundation for taking a “risk” on me.

–Posted by Rebecca Wangard.

Special exhibit booth at Wisconsin Antique Dealers Association show

The Wisconsin Antique Dealers Association generously invited me to present a special “Made in Wisconsin” exhibit booth at their winter show and sale in Waukesha. Rebecca Wangard (a part-time research assistant supported by the Chipstone Foundation) and I spent the first weekend in February at the Waukesha Expo Center, where we displayed an eclectic range of Wisconsin-made art and craft objects and shared information about the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database project.

Many thanks to WADA for this opportunity (and special thanks to show director Rick Kojis for coordinating the booth)! Thanks as well to all the WADA members who loaned items for the exhibit:  Ron and Debby Christman (R. Christman Antiques & Art), Steve Cypher (Sharron’s Antiques), Bob Markiewicz (Bob’s Antiques), Phillip R. Schauer (Pipsqueak & Me), Kathy Bruce (Willow Works), Pam Ewig, Scott Sieckman (Monches Farm), Jim Walter (Calamity House), and Judy Wucherer (Transition of Wales).

Local dealers and collectors loaned a wide range of Wisconsin-made art and craft objects for the booth, including work by Milwaukee metalworker Cyril Colnik, paintings by several important Wisconsin artists including F. W. Heine, a 1843 needlework sampler from Shullsburg, and a unique sofa collected in the southeast part of the state.

Many of the smaller items came from private collections, including decorated Milwaukee stoneware, coin silver from Milwaukee and Madison, and several pairs of delicate hand-knit stockings with elaborate beading made by a German immigrant girl in Menomonee Falls.

A tower of enameled tin breadboxes manufactured by Milwaukee's Geuder, Paeschke, and Frey was paired with a period catalog of the company's "Cream City Ware."

A striking cherry schrank or wardrobe collected in Germantown, Washington County, caught the eye of many visitors. I opened it up at least half a dozen times to show off its ingenious "knock-apart" construction.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Promotion at the Delafield Antique Show

I spent last weekend doing some intensive project promotion at the Delafield Antique Show. Ron and Debby Christman, the show’s organizers, had very generously offered me a booth space, where I set up a digital projector and my laptop to give live demos of the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database website. I had some fascinating conversations with dealers, collectors and other interested folks, most of whom were hearing about the project for the first time. The weekend yielded a number of exciting new leads that will make great additions to the database. In fact, I’m heading out this afternoon to photograph some ironwork in a nearby private collection.

Thank you to all who took the time to stop and talk. Enjoy the database, and keep an eye on the blog as this resource continues to grow this summer!

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.