Holler Full of Arts, Driftless Wisconsin

 “There are many ways to die here in Kyrie Holler,” a good friend Mike, an ex-intelligence analyst from the army often says with a smirk when visiting. Mike would know, too. He once fell into the icy river in January, and another time, he accidentally set fire to my property, and he has broken handtools—an axe, a shovel. In his defense, not everyone has experience operating hand tools. Even the simplest handtool like a sledgehammer or post hole digger can befuddle the novice user. No one has died yet, and maybe coincidentally (fortuitously) my family has become friends with the local EMT. My partner, Sarah, and I own a cabin and ten acres along the Pecatonica river in southwestern Wisconsin, an area known as “Driftless.” Since we moved here, the property has become a sanctuary for veterans, mostly family friends like Mike, who come as a reprieve from their daily lives. For the last two years, my family hosted an artist workshop titled Labor Day Free Arts (LDFA). 

2017 LDFA artist and the chihuahua named Mia Cilantro. Photograph by Star.LDFA is an artist workshop and retreat for veterans and their families to create art while discussing service, art, and post-military family thoughts. The three-day retreat focuses on ceramics and printmaking. Organized by Madison veteran-artist, Yvette Pino and myself, this workshop is open to all ability levels. We chose mediums like paper clay and activities like printmaking on clay to make the workshop accessible to not only the novice artist but also to more experienced artists. The artwork created at this year’s and next year’s workshops will be exhibited in Madison, Wisconsin, in November 2018. 

Clay is simple and beautiful. After returning home from serving in Iraq in 2004 as a combat engineer in Operation Iraqi Freedom-1, I wanted the honesty that ceramics offered. I felt that greed was inexplicably tied to the War on Terror mess on which the United States was wasting trillions of dollars. I wanted no part of that.