2023 Artist Statements

Artist Statements

Evelyn Becker, Sun Prairie

As long as I can remember, I have loved color and mathematics. When I lost my sight 35 years ago, I thought I did not realize how much potential I still had.

I had thought of myself as a maker. I did needlepoint, counted cross stitch, and crewel embroidery. As a young family and strapped for money, I went to classes and learned to sew clothes for my two girls and eventually made two suits for my salesman husband (one plaid and the other gray). I went to school and learned how to ‘make’ computer programs.

One of the last colorful things that I sought was a huge Maple tree dressed in its Fall colors and thought how I would miss it. You do not lose those memories. I can still see that tree.

Color is still a large part of my life. Luckily, I have two daughters who have been able to associate new items by referring to my memories. This ability to understand color and how each relates has been highly beneficial.

I love blue. I have to work hard to purchase clothes which are not blue. So, after making several afghans for my family, I tried the first one which I submitted a few years ago. It was picked for display. Last year, I started and finished this blue afghan. At first, I used a Braille labeler to put descriptions on Ziploc plastic bags. My Braille skills are woeful and I have not been able to get past grade 1. Luckily, the Pen friend and its subsequent copies were invented. Now, I use the Pen Friend to label all my life. I have several friends who describe colors with many Q&A sessions to establish a continuity of understanding.

Crocheting has been a saving grace. I do not need to have 2 needles cross correctly, just one hook and my ability for mathematics. There is a lot of counting between color changes and increasing stitch count correctly. If I miss a stitch or combine one accidentally, I only need to tear out one small section.

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Richard Berkholtz, Madison

I make my own firestarters independently using adaptive equipment and natural materials. Over the last 7 years, I have developed my own process to design, manufacture, package, and sell my firestarters.

Before I lost my sight I enjoyed working with metal to make sculptures and creations for friends and family. I have always had a creative side, so after my accident, it was a natural progression into my art practice today. I make masks out of clay as well as vessels big and small.

I incorporate textures in my ceramic work and continue to investigate ways to add tactile design elements. I enjoy the works of art that I continue to create. My art and my business are important to me because they make other people smile. Family, friends, and the community are the most important things to me.

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Judi Cihowiak, Oshkosh

I have been knitting since I was about 10 or 11 years old. I am now 72. I was taught by my mother and have enjoyed every day of it.

There was a time when I was in my 30s that I thought I would really be lost if I couldn’t see to knit. I decided to start knitting by not looking at my work but knitting by feel. There are some stitches that you can knit that way, but laces are more difficult. I did knit both ways, looking at my work and by feel. I decided I could still knit if I couldn’t see but it might be more plain or simple work.

I do have vision in one eye, and I wear special glasses while I knit. I also have an overhead light that has three brightnesses. I may start to use a magnifying glass on a stand in the future. I’m always planning ahead. I also use either silver or dark colored knitting needles depending on the color of the yarn so there is contrasting color that makes it easier to see the yarn.

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Ellen Connor, Oregon

Ellen Connor originally began doing amateur photography over 30 years ago to document her kids’ childhoods. A few years ago, as her vision worsened, she began photographing birds and plants to enlarge on the computer to identify them. From there she developed a love for nature photography and especially nature color and pattern. She is grateful to WCBVI for the technology training that has allowed her to continue working and for the Birding by Ear classes that allowed her to continue enjoying birds in nature despite visual challenges.

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Jim Frome, Madison

I grew up in Black Earth. A blue ribbon trout stream winds through the edge of town. I became interested in trout fishing at a very young age. In high school, I became interested in fly fishing.

When I was a junior in high school, I had a brain injury that caused paralysis in my right hand. It was thought that therapy would improve the use of my hand. As a result, my family gave me a fly-tying kit and an instruction book. I soon became consumed with tying flies and became a proper fly fisher.

When I retired, I was introduced to the art of tying classic Atlantic salmon flies. A few years later a friend who is a world-class wood carver was visiting me. I was showing him some of my salmon flies and he suggested I try wood carving. When I started carving, I thought I wasn’t seeing as well as I should. I didn’t think much about the increased lighting and magnification I was needing; I just thought it was part of the aging process. Now I know better.

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Gerald Johnson, Medford

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Eli Santin, Madison

I like to say I create not with my mind, but with my heart. While this is physically impossible in real life, I consider it a compelling spiritual sentiment. Most of my best works are not pre-envisioned, but discovered as they are being created. An artist’s best tool is their subconscious. Tap into the id, and your pencil will fly.

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Zach Zdrale

I’ve always been drawn to the figure, and find inspiration in many sources including contemporary figurative realist painting, August Rodin, classical painting from the 19th Rubens, Velasquez … the list goes on.

I work from photos and life based on small sketches. These continue to develop as drawings until I feel I’ve hit the feeling I’m after. Then I draw with oil paint onto a prepared aluminum panel and begin building the image with layers of paint. I’ve found that using 18-inch long brushes when working makes it possible to get far enough back while painting to see the entire image — an accommodation for my very narrow visual field. Tight detail is more challenging now and I’ve rather than fight it, I’ve leaned into it using more expressive mark-making within the figure and intentionally distorting the form.

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