Category: Featured Madison Artists

Alaura Megan Seidl is Making Art and Making Change

by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery

Alaura Megan Seidl

Alaura Megan Seidl is one fascinating and busy creator and community activist. Alaura is an artist, founder of ArtWrite Collective, and teaches at the University. She even found time to hike the Appalachian Trail.  Alaura has a lot to share, so let’s get right to it!

Alaura Megan SeidlI see that you are the founder of an intriguing cooperative called ArtWrite Collective. In one sentence, how would you describe ArtWrite Collective to the community?

The ArtWrite Collective is an emerging organization of LGBTQ folks, folks of color, and womyn who are cultivating a resilient community through art.

This initiative is already doing so much–ArtWrite can’t be fully captured in one sentence! Our strategies for cultivating a resilient community include: creative youth development, activist artist development, and public aesthetic diversification. We support artists who support our community through anti-oppression work; we collaborate with local organizations in order to celebrate our community and catalyze change. Keep an eye out for summer art shows and projects around Dane County, WI!

So one of your pleasures in life is finding objects. What are some of your favorite “keepers”?mirror2

I believe that art, writing, and creative expression should be accessible for everyone in our community. This means that everyone has access to creative education and materials for creation. Often, people assume that means we need expensive gouache or fancy easels, and that absolutely is not the case. Creativity surfaces when we move, in conversations with friends, or through experimentation with the everyday objects around us. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with finding traditionally domestic objects, objects that have been discarded, or objects with visible history—ultimately, I project my own identity and experiences onto those found objects by drawing self-portraits directly onto their surfaces with inexpensive permanent markers. Paper or canvas, for me, can be costly, intimidating, and truly boring—I prefer cardboard fresh out of the dumpster, cups no longer needed by friends, and plates that have been eaten off of by a stranger.

My favorite “keepers” have been antique or vintage mirrors. I don’t own a car, so, locating and hauling these heavy mirrors back to my studio entails a certain kind of physical labor; I once walked two miles with a mirror bigger than I am in order to get it to a private space for toiling. The physicality of the projects continue through the self-portrait-drawing process. I place myself in mundane or precarious positions and repeatedly trace the lines of my body that I see in the reflection. In this sense, I consider the mirror portraits to be performance pieces that explore ability, gender expression, and the boundaries between art/craft while implicating onlookers in my story.

I read that you will be teaching a new course at the UW entitled “Art + Social Justice.” Can you share a brief synopsis of what this class will be about?

Art 448 Lab 009: Art + Social Justice is a UW-Madison Art Department course in creative grassroots activism. Art + Social Justice is open to undergraduate or graduate students of any discipline and will explore counter storytelling as a tool for social change, develop students’ narrative aesthetic for anti-oppression work, and engage in community-based projects.

What piques your interest outside of the art world and finding objects?

I care about what type of society that young people are growing up in today. Dane County, WI has profound racial disparities that the public needs to critically and innovatively address with persistence—there are local groups who have taken leadership roles in shifting the culture of institutions and policies around us, and we need a larger wave of allies to acknowledge and immediately join that movement in order to see big change today and for the generations who will follow us. Research and personal experience also show that queer and trans* folks disproportionately experience food and housing insecurity, trauma, and other health disparities in our community and across the country. These experiences can’t be overlooked. My role in all of this starts with introspective reflection but manifests in community through youth partnerships. Through projects with the ArtWrite Collective, I’ve had the joy​ of collaborating with youth groups in order to celebrate the unique talents, experiences, and voices that make up our community but who may not always be heard. Individual voice and autonomy pique my interest. Waves of impassioned voices really get me going.

Alaura Megan Seidl You did something reminiscent of Cheryl Strayed, author of the book Wild, by hiking more than 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  What did you learn about yourself on this journey?

I’ve wanted to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail since high school but have had chronic back pain stemming from a wrestling injury that made me believe I could never do it. A series of fortunate upswings in my health and some serious financial planning ultimately allowed me to walk 1,019 miles of trail, see nearly twenty bears up close, and pee (a lot) in the woods for five months last year. Although a new injury ultimately took me off trail, the journey really allowed me to grow into my body. The body can be an especially funny thing for folks with chronic pain, for queer folks, and for womyn. For me, being inundated with feelings other than back pain (exhaustion, chafing, thirst, blisters) actually helped me refocus my emotional energy on my relationships and not on how much I may hurt—because in a lot of ways, we always hurt. I still struggle with chronic pain, but now I know that I can be sore at home on the couch or be sore at the foot of a stream, laughing with friends, checking out red spotted newts, and feeling ready for whatever may come. There’s a lot of privilege that comes along with that awakening, but I am forever grateful that the hike gave me the capacity to feel and exist beyond the physical limitations of myself.

Anything else you would like us to know about you or your work?

There is no way I could do anything of value without reciprocal and mutually beneficial partnerships. So many folks in our community are doing creative, thoughtful, and necessary work that I wouldn’t be able to name them all. Thank you to all of you doing the hard work in your intimate circles and out in public spaces. We need all of you.

You may contact Alaura by email at

Or visit her website:


Jessica M. Pankratz

by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery

Jessica M. PankratzJessica M. Pankratz is one of The Artery’s new artists. I actually saw Jessica’s work for the first time at a solo exhibition at Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse. I was so impressed that I wanted to learn more about her and her unique style of art. Find out how Jessica gets her creative juices flowing, and more, right here.

I read that you started as an artist by writing poetry. Do you still write and have any of your poems been published?

Yes, I started writing poetry when I was 13 years old (about 22 years ago). I also started doodling cartoon characters all over my homework and notes back then. As far as if I still write, it’s rare these days. When I switched over to exploring visual art (3 years ago), the words stopped flowing out of me the way they once had. It was interesting to notice that switch in gears.

Yes, I have had poems published. When I went to school at UW-Eau Claire, there was a poetry and visual arts book called NOTA that got published every year. I had a few poems in the book for two different years. Also, one other time in a magazine/book called Poetry Motel in 2003. It’s funny, because they sent me a copy of the book that they said would have my poem in it, but it was the wrong issue so I never saw it actually published.

I also read that you are a self-taught artist. What advice would you offer to others who wish to share their creativity with the world?Jessica M. Pankratz

When I look back, there were so many times as a child, as a teenager and as an adult that I wanted to be an artist, but then would stop because I would give my power over to others to determine whether I was “good enough”. One day, after taking a good look at where this belief came from that “I wasn’t an artist” or “wasn’t good enough”, I realized that it wasn’t true. It was clearly a life changing experience, because I started seeing the world in a totally new way. It was as if I had just opened my eyes for the first time and everything was brighter, shinier and more colorful. From that moment forward, the “art” flowed out of me and wouldn’t stop:) So, I would say, realize your own power, play as much as you can when you create, let go, take risks, and listen to yourself because your art IS you, an extension of you and your unique expression. There is no right or wrong with art. That’s the beauty in it. Nobody can tell you that you did it wrong. Many people may try, but it’s your choice how you want to hear them.

Jessica M. PankratzMany of your pieces include the image of a Buddha. Is there a special meaning behind this?

I honestly can’t explain it. I feel drawn to these images like a magnet. Typically, the images I find are statues that I take photos of and then feel inspired to draw from a different angle or many angles. There may also be an underlying influence because of my spirituality/spiritual journey, but the “feeling” of being inspired is what is more present when I read this question.

Do you have a favorite place to give life to your beautiful art?

Thank you for the compliment:) Yes, I do almost all of my artwork at Mother Fool’s coffeehouse on Willy St. One of the owner’s actually made a silly ad for his Facebook page of me indicating that I “only feel creative at Mother Fool’s”. Ha ha. It was a cheesy but funny advertisement. Typically though, I feel inspired by something in the world and then feel like making the actual art at Mother Fool’s. Many people ask me to create bigger pieces, and the main reason I don’t, is because then I’d have to be holed up at home or in a studio. That doesn’t feel exciting to me:)

What are your goals for the future?Jessica M. Pankratz

Other than to create a website for my art work, I have to think about that. Right now, I feel like I’m nurturing my soul and that the next wave of artwork that’s going to come out is in a cocooning period.

See more about Jessica M. Pankratz!

Madison Artery

Deepa Sampath

by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery

Deepa Sampath adds beauty and color to the world with incredibly vibrant paintings. Deepa is quite versatile, working with a number of different mediums. Did you know you can paint with coffee powder? Deepa has done it, and find out what else this talented artist can do right here!

Deepa Sampath


Do you generally look at an object when drawing or painting?Deepa Sampath
I prefer looking at an object, especially when I sketch, because of the detailing. In the case of painting, like landscapes, I put them in my own way.

I read that you sketch or paint on just about any surface. Do you have a favorite? Is there a surface that is more challenging than others?
Yes, I love to paint on different surfaces. My favorites to paint on are wood, egg shell, and grip mats. The challenging surface is ‘egg shell,’ because it needs careful handling techniques starting with the cleaning procedures and then painting on them.

Deepa SampathYou use an excellent array of colors in your work. Have you ever done black and white?
So far, I haven’t tried painting with black and white, but I have an idea of doing it. I also do ‘coffee painting’, a technique I practiced using coffee powder. This type of painting has just the brown color.

Deepa SampathIf you could only choose one color, what would it be? What is the first word that comes to mind with that color?
If I had to choose one color, I would go for ‘green,’ which I feel is the most attractive among all colors. Thinking about the color green, the word that first comes to me is ‘leaf.’

What are your aspirations for the future?
I have exhibited my artworks in Megan’s Custom Framing store as a part of the MMoCA Gallery night for the past two years. In the future ­ I aspire to be featured in more art galleries displaying my unique style of paintings; look forward to being an art instructor, where I can inspire people who are really interested in learning new styles of painting; and planning to be part of future art fairs conducted across Wisconsin.

Deepa Sampath


Barb’s Fine Glass

Barb's Fine Glass

by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery

Barb’s Fine Glass turns ordinary items into extraordinary glass pieces. Barb uses an abundance of color and her pieces are playful. She is ready and willing to create your custom design(s). With the holidays just around the corner, now is the time to have Barb create some unique gifts. Learn more about this artist right here.

Barb's Fine GlassHow did you become a glass artist and how long have you been doing it?

I have been doing stained glass for about 8 years. I had wanted to learn the process for years prior but found myself needing a reason to get out of the house as a new stay-at-home mom after my second son was born. I took a class at MATC one night a week, and I was immediately hooked. After honing my skills for years making gifts for friends and family, I finally started to believe what others had been telling me – maybe I really could sell this stuff. After a few fairly successful art shows, I formed an LLC earlier this year.

What is the process for designing fine glass and where do you create your pieces?Barb's Fine Glass

Being new to the medium, I used designs I would find in commercially available pattern books. As my mind got more creative I would start to envision designs I couldn’t find available in print or online. I study existing patterns at times and take elements I like from them and incorporate my own ideas. It is rewarding to see my skills developing as far as gaining the ability to make my ideas and visions concrete on paper and ultimately in glass.

Approximately how long does it take to produce a piece?

I offer a wide range of sizes of pieces so suit any budget, so the time I dedicate can vary considerably. I have small items I can complete in  an hour and larger items that require more time developing a pattern can be extensively time consuming.

barb1What is your greatest satisfaction with being a glass artist?

To me, the greatest satisfaction is when a customer is happy. I had a customer see a piece from across the street at an art fair and be drawn to my booth and exclaim, “It’s perfect!” Custom orders are my specialty, so being able to create a one-of-a-kind unique piece is a special feeling. I am currently in production of a beautiful butterfly designed by a melanoma survivor incorporating the cancer support ribbon. (I think the design was originally made for a tattoo) It will be a surprise for her from her boyfriend. That one will be really be a gratifying one!

What do you like to do outside of being an artist?

My life is also filled with two sons that keep me busy and a part time job outside the home in healthcare. I am an avid kayaker and take to the waters in this beautiful city two to three times a week when weather (and time) permits. Kayaking is so much more than a means of exercise to me. It’s good for the mind, body and spirit.

What is your ultimate goal with Barb’s Fine Glass?Barb's Fine Art

My experience in selling art is in its infancy. I hope to build up a customer base via online sales and art shows enough to keep me busy doing something I’m so passionate about. I’m beginning to break into the niche of recreating company logos of local businesses in glass for display in reception areas or conference rooms. I’m excited to be getting some interest in that area.

Molly Bernier’s Whimsy House

by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery

Whimsy Pendants

Are you a lover of all things vintage? Do you strive to find that one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry or accessory? Then you need to check out Molly Bernier’s Whimsy House. Molly’s pieces are attractive, unique, and upcycled to boot. Whimsy never looked better, and find out how it all got started right here.

Check out Whimsy House’s Artery shop!

How did you become so crafty? 

I grew up with two crafty grandmothers.  One was artsy in that she liked to dabble in just about anything creative while the other was a talented quilter and cross-stitcher.  I remember being around them and loving that they were “makers.”  I loved “making” too.  I always favored art class to gym class 1 million fold!   Also, my mom is very gifted at decorating and making a beautiful home.  All of these ladies were influential to me and gave me the confidence to express myself both through Whimsy House and through my interior design business In Home Designs.  Creating is a way of life for me.  It’s very satisfying to my soul.


Do you design on paper first or just throw yourself into creating each piece? 

No paper!  No plans!  I prefer to just go for it and create on the fly.

Since your jewelry and accessories are upcycled, do you have a favorite place to pick up “supplies?”

Oh, the thrill of the hunt!  Finding my supplies is half the fun.  I scour flea markets and antique malls, garage sales and eBay.  I’m fortunate to have been creating Whimsy House accessories long enough now that many people have button jars or vintage jewelry that they pass on to me.  Nothing is better than a big jar of buttons as a gift!  Silly as it sounds to many, it’s seriously a joyful experience for me.

Why are you so inspired by vintage and do you decorate your home in that style?Pendants

Growing up with parents who loved antiques, I’ve had a life time of “antiquing” experiences which equals inspiration for me.  My mom and I owned an antiques and gift shop together in downtown Middleton for a while which was great fun.  This was years before Etsy and the awesome arts and crafts shows around today.  We searched high and low for quality handcrafted items to sell.  When we sold our shop and I started down the road of interior design, vintage style continued to inspire me.  Whimsy House was born when I took time off from interior design to be with my two young daughters, the second who was born premature and needed some extra attention.  Whimsy House became my stay-at-home-mommy creative outlet.  During this time we were also in temporary housing with very little extra space so I needed to create with supplies that didn’t take up much room.  Buttons!  We now live in an 1850’s stone house that my husband and I had gutted clean down to the 2’ thick stone walls.  It took five years to get it to the beautiful place it is now and we love it!  So yes, I definitely have a vintage inspired home.  Make that a vintage inspired life!

The cuffs are one thing that really caught my eye. Do you have a favorite when it comes to designing?

I enjoy designing my pendant necklaces best.  I love sorting through all the hundreds of buttons and piles of vintage jewelry that I have in search of the perfect combination to make something unique and new.  I sometimes ponder the past life of the buttons and supplies I use and wonder how they made it so far and into my hands.  I love making things that are one-of-a-kind, that are truly unique and as individual as my customers who wear them.1185464_10151649286243300_1591923313_n[1]

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Enjoying many of the same things I do today… my dear family and friends, cooking and eating, reading and creating.  I know my work will always revolve around one creative endeavor or another.  I would love to eek out some travel time but would guess life will still be revolving around our home and our girls (now 7 and 10) which make my heart sing every day.


Exploring the Yellow Rose Gallery

by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery

Yellow Rose Gallery

I had the pleasure of exploring the Yellow Rose Gallery for the first time, along with chatting up the owner, Miles Kristan. Aside from the impressive pieces of art on display, I’m really fond of the gallery’s layout. There are multiple rooms, so I felt like I was in an art “house.” The gallery is warm and inviting, and I look forward to checking out one of their events. The first photo you see here is a beautiful tribute, and it will become clear why after reading the interview.

Yellow Rose Gallery's Tribute

A beautiful tribute to a friend.

When did the gallery open and what inspired you to do so?

It opened in March of 2014, and I had been wanting to open a gallery for a while for two reasons. One – it was an opportunity to help the many artists in town, and two – to honor my friend Jim (who passed away two years ago). There was an anti-war bus called the “Yellow Rose of Texas” that Jim drove across the country, which is where the name yellow rose comes from. So in a way, the gallery is to honor my friend Jim and the State of Texas.

Yellow Rose Gallery 2Do you host regular events here at the gallery?

Yes, at least one event each month. We have had as many as three events in a month.

Are you interested in a particular style of art from artists and do you have a personal favorite?

I’m a photographer, and photography is probably one of the easiest mediums to hang. The pieces are usually smaller and can be placed in different areas; however, I’m interested in having any type of medium here from prints to ceramics to 3-D objects.

I have to say that Ryan Robinson is one of my favorite artists to work with. He has done amazing things as an artist, and I’m really interested in what he is doing with Fat City Emporium.

Photography, Art, Ceramics, 3-D Objects

 How can artists get their work exhibited here and is there a fee involved?

Artists can apply at The fee ranges from $25-50 depending on the size of the art work.

Yellow Rose Gallery 4



sound sculpture piece by Enrique Rueda

Enrique Rueda Sculpts Sound

sound sculptures being playedThe space between art and music is filled

by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery

I was immediately intrigued when I discovered the artist I was going to interview creates sound sculptures. I wasn’t familiar with them other than what I had seen on The Artery’s website. I learned about Enrique Rueda’s passion for sound sculptures as I sat down with him in his studio. Enrique constructs striking wood sculptures that produce melodious sounds. I feel fortunate to have experienced a personal interaction with some of these beauties, and was able to create some pleasant sounds myself even though I haven’t played an instrument in years. I’m ready to see Enrique perform a live show, and I bet you will be too after reading this.

 View Enrique Rueda’s Artery Shop!

sound sculpture cello

You can purchase this gorgeous sound sculpture, “Amazon Cello” in a secure transaction via The Artery! Click on the image for more information.

Wood and strings with electronic pick up

Wood and strings with electronic pick up

Wood and strings with electronic pick up

sound sculptur

sound sculptur

How did you get started constructing sound sculptures?

Working on my Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Wisconsin, I met professor “Skip” Johnson, a well-known artist in the U.S. He inspired me to use skills I already had, making all types of traditional musical instruments, and apply them to making wood sculptures. Since I am also a musician, it was easy to figure out that I wanted those sculptures to produce interesting sounds. Little by little I started identifying my work with the ideas behind Sound Sculpture as an art form, and I have been doing that for the past 30 years. Every piece I create is unique, since I don’t like to repeat a design. It takes me about 2-3 months to fully finish a piece and be happy with the outcome.


sound1What exactly is a sound sculpture and where did they originate from?

Sound sculptures as an art form, fill the space between a sculpture and a musical instrument. They are more than a sculpture because in the hands of a musician, they are capable of producing interesting sounds. They differ from musical instruments, because they are unique like sculptures, and not objects with a standard shape, as musical instruments need to be. With this in mind, we can say that the origin of sound sculpture is parallel to human development. Sound sculpture actually started when the first human groups created devices to produce sound. For example, if we look at ancient African art, we will see many interesting objects that look like musical instruments, but have a very unique shape. They can be drums, harps or flutes, but they are all different. Many other cultures all over the world have created objects like that, that we can call sound sculptures.


sound3Do people typically buy them to use as an instrument or as an art display?

Because they are sold in a gallery setting, most collectors buy them as unique sculpture pieces. I do not mind that, but I work at making them good sound makers as well, in case a curious musician wants to try them.


What motivates you during the design process?

My motivation to make the sculptures comes from my curiosity about how they will sound and how they will be played. It is something very unique to musical instruments, that they need a talented human being to extract the sound and create music. Without that they will just be sculptures or copies of sculptures. The human interaction then becomes another element of the whole design that is very interesting to me and takes my pieces into the realm of performance art.


sound sculpture piece by Enrique RuedaDid you create any pieces that you actually play?

Yes, all of my pieces can be played and produce interesting sounds. I often perform with them in openings as well as record CDs that I later sell. This is something that is very important to me. My reward for creating them is to use them. I have a few friends in town that have purchased pieces from me, and they have specifically told me that I can borrow them whenever I want for a performance. I have taken them up on their offer many times.


Is it possible for an entire band to perform using sound sculptures?

Yes, it is! I have performed live with friends all using sound sculptures, sometimes in my own openings and other times in formal concerts. We performed with the name of “Artsemble” as one of the groups for the opening of the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison. We used all sound sculptures, made by me or other member of the group.


Do you still perform live and/or sell CD’s?

Yes, I perform often. I play a few traditional instruments and have two different bands with friends. One is Xtring Quartet (, we play traditional music from the Andean regions in Colombia. Also, with another band, Cuicani (, we play a variety of Latin American music, including Andean music from Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile


Has anyone ever asked you to create a sound sculpture that they designed? Do you take special requests?

Yes, I build pieces on customer’s request. Not from their own design, but rather a variation of design from something I made before.

Kerri Shannon

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Kerri Shannon of KShan Jewels is an artist and a lifelong student. She is continually improving her art skills, studying different techniques and mediums as well as becoming educated in the business side of the art world. Kerri is also a student of life. She learns from life’s most difficult lessons and moves forward with self-knowledge, resiliency, and an inspiring positive attitude.

Kerri is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend and a teacher. She’s quick to share her experience and knowledge with other artists and help others learn. She culls support and inspiration for her jewelry design from her teachers, other artists and especially from her close relationships with her family.

She’s a hometown Madisonian but is drawn to the lights and buzz of New York City. Like any true Italian, she likes to eat spaghetti for breakfast.

Her 3-d metal fabrication includes techniques such as riveting, soldering, texturizing, reticulation, Keum-boo, forging and more. You can see by the dozens of tools in her art studio that she is meticulous, driven and dedicated to her work. The gorgeous jewelry she makes speaks for itself. Read more about Kerri in part of my interview with her:

[box float=”right”] View more of Kerri Shannon’s work at her website:

Shop for Kerri’s jewelry on the Artery!


What advice would you give young artists?

I would advise young artists to get involved in local art groups. When you join the group, get on the committees, get on the board. You really get to know people well and the inner workings of non-profits. It’s fun! You get to know other artists and how you set up a show, and how you advertise and how you market. I was on the board at the Madison Art Guild. I was the secretary for 2 and a half years at the Art Guild. For 14 South Artists, I was co-chairman for the spring art shows. I also belong to (WAAC) Wisconsin Alliance of Artisan Crafts People. That’s another wonderful organization. And they have wonderful continuing education. All the groups do.

Also, I would advise that you should really try to get to a show before you apply to it to see if it’s the right venue for you. If you’re in the wrong venue, you’re not going to sell anything. See if it’s worth the effort and investment of your time and money.

Do you take your own photographs?

I have and my husband has taken some for the website. But for jurying purposes, I have them professionally photographed because it really makes the difference. You should get that done every 2 to 3 years.

DSC_0913How long have you been making art?

I’ve been involved in art my whole life. I used to do pen and pencil sketches and watercolors. And I also used to sketch all the time when I was a kid. In high school is when I really got into it. And I took some art classes in college. I graduated in occupational therapy. I specialized in pediatrics, so I still did a lot of the art and hands-on type things in my therapy. Then you have that time when you’re getting married and having kids. Then I didn’t start doing a lot of art again until the kids were a little older. Then I start with one thing, the stained glass, then it moved into the beading. And then the glass beads and the fusing. And then I dabbled in other things too. Those are just the things that I spent quite a bit of time learning the skills of how to do them.

It’s just amazing. You think you’re just making your art, right? There are so many other things you need to know. As you get involved more and more, you have to learn the business aspects of it, the marketing aspects of it and the social media aspects. So at times, I do this full time and sometimes part time. I did 12 shows a year a couple years ago and that was pretty much full time. But then I got injured, so that slowed me down a little bit.

How do your life experiences affect your art?

When you talk about life experience, like when you go on vacation and you see some breathtaking scenery or you’re in the city and you see some beautiful buildings, those things inspire me and get me excited. They make me think “OK what can I do with that?” How can I reinterpret that into a 3-dimensional object or a piece of metal? And the support of your family is a really important factor in doing something like this. And also other artists inspire me. Seeing other people’s work and seeing what trends are happening. It’s inspiring to have those bonds with artists. It gets you motivate and your creative juices flowing. It’s the same thing with great teachers. I’ve had some great teachers at Bead and Button in Milwaukee, people that have written books. And you learn so much because they all have different techniques and styles and they’ve been doing it for 40 years. It just opens your eyes to all the possibilities.

DSC_0848What do you think makes someone an artist?

I think an artist is someone who can look at some mundane an object, a leaf or whatever, and reinterpret it in a unique manner using whatever medium, paint, metal, even a poem, that other people can relate to. It’s someone who has an eye that looks at something in a unique way instead of mainstream. It’s just the way their brain works. That’s the difference between being a person who is an artist versus someone who just assembles jewelry. Anybody can go to Hobby Lobby and get the materials and instructions. That’s not an artist. That’s a person who enjoys doing crafts and someone who likes working with their hands. But that’s really not an artist unless they put some of their own style or perspective or interpretation into the work.

What have you observed about the Madison art scene or other Madison artists you have met?

Most of the artists I have met are very helpful toward each other, like giving advice on resources and what shows to do, where to buy materials, what clubs to belong to, marketing tools, photography, how to take credit cards, that kind of thing. I have learned so much from other artists. Madison is good in providing you great teachers and continuing education. They have a lot of really nice continuing education through UW and MATC.

Name 3 adjectives that describe your personality.

Energetic, creative and outgoing

What is your favorite beverage/food combination?

I could eat spaghetti every morning. I’m Italian. I love Italian food. I like spatini and spaghetti and if you pair that with a good wine. Also Ahi Tuna and white wine.

What makes you feel envy?

I try not to be envious of other people because everyone has their own issues. You think their lives are so much better is so much better than yours and then you find out that that’s not the case. My dad had a stroke several years and it just turned my life upside down. And I had to rethink things. So just be thankful for your health and your family and don’t take things for granted. Through life experiences, I have learned that you might see someone that has something you need or want, and then you find out that it’s all up here (points at her head). I try not to be envious because it’s kind of just a waste of energy.

What do you think your life will be like when you are 80 years old?

I will still be energetic and still creative and making my art and selling it. Just being healthy, happy and busy with family, friends and occupied.

What is your favorite place you have ever traveled?

The Cinque Terre in Italy. It’s a grouping of five small villages on the northern shores of the Mediterranean. I loved the lifestyle, the holiday. There’s no cell phones, no TV. It’s just family, and food and sun. And you relax and you just enjoy the moment. It’s absolutely gorgeous. And the history and the building are kind of tucked up into the hill. It’s amazing.

Do you believe there is life on other planets?

I probably do deep down, but it’s not like in our life form. They obviously have a different life form because they have  different environment. There some kind of life form out there, but it’s not necessarily humanoid. There’s at least the possibility that there could be.

What is the most important lesson you have ever learned?

Like when you have an injury or somebody you love gets sick, you have to readjust your expectations. You have to reprioritize what’s important to you in order to negotiate the sadness, and then you have to get past that. Keeping an even keel is important. My art is very helpful in that.

Alisa Toninato

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Spending a couple hours with Alisa Toninato, owner of FeLion Studios in Madison, is pure delight. No story of hers is complete without grandiose hand gestures, captivating facial expressions and, if you’re lucky, a pretty darn good New York accent. I was giggling practically the whole time I was at her studio.

Besides being a total badass iron artist, she is also an inspiring entrepreneur. Her and her partner, Andrew, run the FeLion art studio as well as “Cook with Pride,” a commercial product line of state-shaped cast iron skillets. She forgoes conventional business wisdom and makes decisions based on her guts and intuition.

Alisa considers her mortality on almost a daily basis, always pays her rent on time, and loves to watch ferns grown.  She seems wise beyond her years and yet eternally youthful. Before art, her passion was horses, and she hopes to someday own some acreage and a couple horses in “her third life,” (which to her means when she’s 60). “That’s my only plan,” she says.

Read a part of her interview below, and be sure to check out her Kickstarter project (running July 1 – 30th).

[box float=”right”] Find out more about Alisa Toninato

Support the FeLion Kickstarter Project!

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[/box]I know you used Kickstarter to fund part of your “Made in America” work. What are your general thoughts on Kickstarter as a way to fund art projects?

I’m a huge fan of it. I feel like Kickstarter and crowd funding in general is pretty close to the new norm for anybody like a start-up, entrepreneur or artists. The convention to take out a loan isn’t realistic anymore. They have made it such a pain in the ass to take out a loan and jump through the hoops. And if you are a company that has an idea and it’s is growing really fast, you don’t have time to wait 2 years on a product development because things move so quickly.

The DIY scene is more than an underground now, and Kickstarter is the public platform for people to share their ideas and inspiration. And people on a human level really gravitate towards it.

I think it’s really saturated right now, but it’s amazing.

Why we’re launching the Kickstarter project is to help fund the new state in the commercial series. And that’s going to be New York. We’re working with a new manufacturer for that, Lodge Manufacturers. They’re down in Tennessee. They’re kind of the cast iron cookware company. That’s what they do. So they really have it down. They’re such an awesome company. They’re the only American company doing cast iron cookware.  So we’re hooking up with them. And to do minimum runs with them is really high. We couldn’t front that money. It’s a pretty giant chunk of change, which is why it’s stressful for me.  It’s kind of one of those things, we don’t really want to take out a loan / (slash) we can’t.

So the earlier ones were produced elsewhere?
So these ones: Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, were produced up at Kaukauna, WI. There’s a foundry called Roloff Manufacturing. They’re a little company; they’re really awesome. They do smaller runs and smaller pieces. They tend to take their time and like to invest in unique projects and things that are a little more high maintenance. So they’ve been really awesome and we’re going to stay with them. They’re our guys for those 3. And then everything’s moving on after that so we don’t bog them down.


Name 3 adjectives that describe your personality.
So my positive attributes are that I’m pretty passionate, and very tenacious and relatively fun. Relatively fun.  There’s sometimes when I’m all business. It’s like a work hard / play hard kind of thing. My negative: I’m very critical, stubborn and nervous. Yeah that’s not good.

What is your first memory?
Orange shag carpeting in my house.  I think I was 2. And my brother breaking a violin string. I have all these very visceral memories, like tangible, tactile memories of this house, maybe because I was crawling around so much. I remember my mom had a violin and my brother was pretending like he knows how to play and I’m laughing. And then the string broke and it coiled up, and I was terrified, like “You’re in so much trouble! We’re both in big trouble!”

Did you get in trouble?

No, my mom was like, “It’s OK. You can restring these.” My mom’s very cool. She’s amazing actually. She’s very intuitive.

What is the best gift (or one of the best gifts) you have ever received?

So I’m a big fan of experience gifts. Like people give you stuff that’s not tangible. My mom had given me season tickets for the orchestra in Milwaukee. It was the coolest! What a unique gift. I brought a different friend every time. I love Milwaukee.

What is your favorite plant or flower?
Ferns definitely. We have a whole bunch of them in the back yard and I love watching them grow, how they just unravel themselves. I want a whole yard of ferns.

What makes you sad?
I think in general, I can hardly watch movies. Movies are the most powerful things for me. Not that they ALL make me sad, but when there’s an injustice or a bullying movie.

And getting yelled at. it doesn’t really happen that often, but when it does, I’m just crushed. I’m like “What did I do wrong? I just try to do good all the time.”  And that’s why it’s great to work for yourself. If you screw up you already know, you don’t need anyone yelling at you. Self-criticism is hard enough.

a-helmetsHow often do you think about your mortality?
Every day. Seriously. I’m such a hyperchondriac. I was getting all these headaches, and started thinking, “What if it might be a blood clot.” Andrew, my boyfriend said “I think that half your body would go limp.” And when they say that, I start really paying attention to half my body and think there’s something tingling. I might be losing feeling. It’s probably not healthy how much I think about it. I think I even dream about how I’m going to die. It’s always a car accident or a bridge went out. Or like propane bottles exploding. These are internal fears.

Were you voted “most likely to X” in high school?
Actually it was “artist.” I was like, “How did they know that?” because I didn’t do a lot of art in high school. My last two years were my inaugural years of getting into a visual arts practice. Because I was riding horses all up to that point. My whole family thought I was going to be an equine vet.

What is something in your home you can’t live without?
I think I could live without a lot of things. The one thing that came to mind is my computer, which has all of my visual history. It’s almost like a sketchbook at this point. Everyone asks “Why don’t you just back it up?” Well, because I don’t back up very diligently. If that got lost, I would be devastated but of course I could keep living.

What rule do you always follow no matter what?
I always pay rent on time. I freak out if I don’t have my finances in order. I have an amazing credit score.

If you could have any job in the world (other than being an artist), what would it be?
I would probably be working with horses. I’d probably just be mucking stalls. Taking horses out. Riding them. You know, the good life. Horses were my first passion. They taught me a  lot of things about intuition. I think that was my first lesson in listening without language. So it was a really powerful connection for me. Or a musician.

Do you have plans to buy a horse?
We (meaning my partner Andrew and I) both would love to live in the countryside on some acreage and property. It would be like a live/work situation. I think eventually, I would totally have 2 horses. But that’s an investment. You really need to have a lifestyle where you can be at home a lot. We travel a lot now. So I think it will be my third life. Are you on your second one now or just your first? My first one still. I’m just 30. But I think that it’s going to go until 40 and then something’s going to change. And I’ll have a second career, and when I’m 60 I’ll get my horses. That’s my only plan.

About Art & Madison:

furnaceHow long have you been making art?
My background was an artist working with very non-sellable artworks. Very installation-based, ephemeral, kinetic. I was way different back in the day. I was way more interested in these crazy weird stuff — that didn’t sell. And as I evolved and getting into the iron scene, it was kind of a natural step away from building performative sculptures. Iron work is kind of a dance. You work with a lot of people. It’s a spectacle. Building your own crew and your own furnaces is very close to what I was already doing before. And when I went into foundry work and developed this product line out of it, it just sort of took its own spin. I was open to different opportunities. I didn’t have any plans. I didn’t have a straightforward, conventional entrance into the business world. So I moved forward using my guts and intuition as a guide. There’s a negative connotation into not having a business plan.  Some people see that kind of flakey or very lucky. And there is a lot of luck involved, but I think it has to do with being very honest and open and aware of opportunities when they come and being ready to pounce on them.

What have you observed about the Madison art scene or other Madison artists you have met?
I’ve been here for 3 years. Moving to Madison was really foreign to me. I’ve traveled a lot, but Madison was so radically different than Milwaukee. It was really hard to swallow it right away. My impression wasn’t very fair.

I think Madison really needs someone to initiate conversation about art. Somebody to hold the public’s hand and show them this is who is here doing stuff. Because my first impression of Madison was that there is no buzz, like where is the scene? It’s been 3 years, and I’m just now starting to meet people. I’m realizing that there are artists, there are amazing people, they’re just buried. They’re in their own studio or their basements. It just doesn’t have the same accessibility as Milwaukee did.

I think it comes down to Madison’s real estate for holding studio spaces that are affordable and conducive to art just isn’t happening right now. I think there are a lot of squatters who have money in the buildings that are really awesome for that but they’re just waiting for them to flip on the market or something. Madison doesn’t have the industrial spaces to host really open spaces and cultivate that community. There aren’t even really a lot of galleries here. There’s no place for artists to convene. There’s no conversation happening because there’s no space for that to happen.

I really revered in Milwaukee because there was a lot of cross pollination from the dance world, performance, film, music, art. It would create these visible hot spots. There was a lot of public access to it. I don’t know what the solution would be for Madison.

What are your views on Sector 67 and your experience with the DIY scene here?
Sector 67: They are my heroes. They are the best thing to happen to me in the Madison scene. That community is extremely unique and prolific. It hosts technicians, engineers, artists, programmers, software people. All of that comes together there because they have that community space. There’s sort of this energy there like you have an idea, you do it, and you move it off the table for the next person to come along. You’re almost pushed by the momentum of that space to finish stuff. It’s such a good thing. There’s so much camaraderie and so many varieties of intellect there. Everyone has the interest to share their experience with you. When I built the map, I used their facility to build that last 28 states. They master new things really quickly. They’re hackers and makers. They’re big movers and shakers in town.

How did you get to be on the Martha Stewart show and what was it like?
I had an Etsy site a long time ago. And they found me through Etsy. They wanted to do a cast iron show and they had emailed me and wanted me to ship the piece out like 7 days later. I was like, uh, “Maybe a picture?” Do you realize it’s 600 pounds and it’s 10 feet by 7 feet and breaks down to into like a trillion pieces? And they were like, “Yeah, so?” At first I told them I couldn’t make that 6-day turnaround. It was all on us to get it out there. They were not able to foot the bill for guests on the show.

But it was an opportunity and I said “We have to make this happen.” It costs you money to say no. We’re going, we’re figuring it out.

It was so off the hook. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Then when we went back the second time, in Fall as an American Made honoree, that they covered EVERY expense. It was quite amazing !

Click here to listen to Alisa talk about the Martha Stewart Show

Heylon Wolter

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Heylon Wolter is your quintessential “starving artist” but certainly not for a lack of talent or ambition. Heylon, 26, currently has 4 jobs and is so busy working to pay the bills, he doesn’t have any spare time to promote his art or find the kind of work he is really passionate about. Heylon is a dedicated comic artist who sacrificed a lot to put himself through art school, including having no choice but to live out of his car and couch surf for a semester. Although he says he would rather be poor and doing something he loves than miserable and making a ton of money, Heylon is the kind of guy who really deserves to make it big in the comic world. The graphic novel he is working on with a friend – Apricity – could be the thing that launches his career to the next level.

Heylon was named by his father after Van Halen (Heylon doesn’t know if he was trying to be extra eccentric or if his dad was just a bad speller). He is interested in his pirate ancestry and loves the smell of homemade cookies. Read more from our interview with Heylon and check out his website for more amazing comic art!

[box float=”right”] How to contact Heylon Wolter:


Why did you move from Janesville to Madison?
I moved up to Madison to get an education. And to get out of the house. My mom was always saying, “I know you’re good art and everything, but you should find a backup. So IT was my backup, but I found out that I’d rather be poor doing art than be miserable doing something that will pay well. I was homeless for a semester. I did have a place at my parents’ in Janesville, but I wouldn’t have been able to go to school and drive back every day. So I lived in my car in Madison during the week and went back on the weekends. It paid off because I graduated. It took an extra year to get through school but I got through it. It was a big sacrifice but it was worth it.

comic0When did you get into comic art?
My mom always supported our creativity. Whenever we had a drawing she was interested in it. My brother was actually the one who got me into comic books. Gen 13 and X-Men were the titles that we really got into. It’s always been a big part of my life.  I’ve always drawn. Always. And I always got my comics at Kryptonite (Kryptonite Kollectibles in Janesville.) And I ended up getting a job there.

What is your favorite place in the world?
New Orleans. Because that’s where my ancestry knowledge kind of starts. My great great great grandfather was a pirate who sailed under Laffitte. He was from Italy. He was kicked out of Italy and was sent to the same island as Napolean. From there he became a pirate and he came to America. And here’s the badass part, during the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson offered to pardon all pirates who would help end the war because they didn’t have a large enough Navy. They helped to defend America. My grandmother was the one who found out originally. And from then it’s been kind of a teamwork thing, discovering new information.

apricity-comicWhat was the first tape/record/CD you remember buying?
I don’t want to talk about the first album because it’s kind of embarrassing. (Badgering from me) It was the “Batman Forever” soundtrack. It was a tape and I think I was 8 or 10.

What is your favorite smell?
My all-time favorite smell my girlfriend can definitely tell you – is homemade cookies. I’m a sucker for home baked cookies.

What makes you angry?
My biggest pet peeve is people saying they are going to be somewhere and then just blow it off like it’s no big deal.

If you had to choose one, would you rather be rich while you are alive or famous after you die?
Leave a legacy. I always want to leave a legacy. I want to inspire people to do more. That was the one thing with comic books to me, they were always inspirational and inspired me to draw. The context of being famous   –  whether it’s comic books or not – I don’t really care. One of my favorite musicians had said that he doesn’t necessarily want to inspire other musicians. I mean it’s fine if he does. But he thinks it would be really cool if his song is playing in a kitchen and some chef made up some this brand new phenomenal recipe. So the flow of inspiration, getting people to challenge themselves and find that spark within themselves to do more.

comic-3What would your 15-year-old self think of you?
He’d think I’m awesome. My skill set has totally evolved. I remember looking at comic books when I was that age and thinking “God I wish I could draw like that” and now I can. And the only thing I’m not doing is the comic book itself. And I would be doing that if I wasn’t so worried about where my next rent check is coming from.

What kind of shampoo do you use?
My girlfriend works at a salon, so whatever she buys me. It’s Redken actually.

Have you noticed a difference in your hair since you started using fancy shampoo?
Yes actually.

Name one of your guilty pleasures besides using Redken shampoo:
It’s that I’m a gamer. I play a lot of games, I know a lot about games. It’s just kind of something I fell into. A lot of professionals look down on gamers.

What rule do you enjoy breaking?
I don’t know…all of them. If there is a rule I always question “why.” I had a discussion the other day with someone about traffic laws and he was like “This rule is dumb,” and I was like, “Well that actually makes a lot of sense.” So I’m perfectly fine following that law.

What is your favorite pair of shoes you have ever owned?
It’s a brand called Magnum. They are like police shoes. The ones that I got in high school were my first pair of combat boots and they lasted me four years. And they were stealth. That was the name they were. And when I was a kid, I always love sneaking around. So I’d sneak around my house and everything, and the boots were really stealthy. They were quiet and lightweight. Actually in high school I ran the mile in them when I forgot my tennis shoes once.

What makes someone an artist?
It’s hard to say what makes someone an artist. I guess it’s like the difference between an artist and a designer. A designer serves a purpose. An artist questions a purpose.