Our senses were first enticed by the lovely scent of fresh, natural flowers as we approached Lois Ehlert’s apartment in a beautiful old downtown building on an otherwise blustery day.
Ehlert welcomed me and Megan Yanz so Megan could photograph her remarkable collection of folk art while I learned more about Ehlert’s newest publication for children, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life (a limited quantity of copies signed by the author are available to buy online). With the feature exhibition Uncommon Folk: Traditions in American Art now on view at the Art Museum, the timing was perfect to visit Ehlert’s cozy, artful and welcoming home.
Lois Ehlert’s many devoted fans will find The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life a necessary addition to their family library—it is illustrated with original sketches, handwritten verses and collage materials from her most recognizable books, mingled with art project suggestions and personal family photos sharing the story of her lifelong journey as an artist. She explained her vision for The Scraps Book to me during our recent visit:
“I really wrote it for [aspiring young artists] who are in a classroom, wanting to hurry up so they can draw a little bit or something and wondering: when I grow up, how am I going to make a living? But it’s interesting, because big people like it, too! … It’s interesting to make books by creating both the words and the art. I put a lot of stuff in there for the kids to find.”
Ehlert counts herself fortunate to have been brought up by parents who were entirely supportive of her artistic interests as a child and her desire to become a working artist as an adult. She admits that “you have to be pretty tolerant as a parent” to accept the messiness inherent in the creation of young children’s artworks. Although, she notes that kids who are engrossed in art can be relatively self-sufficient for a time:
“You’ll notice at the workshop [in the Kohl’s Art Generation Studio] at Art in Bloom, that it is not a noisy room. [The kids] are busy working, they are focused. When they visit [me], my grandnieces… will race to get to my drawing table. They’ll sit quietly or they’ll hum songs. They have a nice time working by themselves.”
The author reflects that while growing up, “I didn’t know how I was going to [make a living as an artist], but I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It’s interesting, in Beaver Dam, there isn’t a museum or very much art in a way, but there is the natural world.” Nature was an important part of her life growing up and a clear inspiration to her as an artist. She tended vegetable gardens with her parents as a child and she and a friend kept a community garden plot when she was an adult living in a Milwaukee apartment.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this blog, when we go into more detail about Ehlert’s inspiring gallery-like home, studio, and personal art collection. But in the meantime…
Bring the whole family to the Kohl’s Art Generation Studio this weekend, March 29 and 30, during Art in Bloom (which goes from Thursday, March 27 to Sunday, March 30). In the Studio, make art projects like the one pictured here, inspired by Lois Ehlert’s The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life and the exhibition Uncommon Folk: Traditions in American Art. The Studio will be open from 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturday and Sunday, and Lois Ehlert will be present and signing books from 1 PM to 4 PM each day. Join us!
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