The 2009 Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards

The Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards seeks to elevate the status of Wisconsin’s visual art by honoring those whose contributions are substantial and in many cases often overlooked by people outside of our region. Award winners for 2009 included:

Joseph (Joe) Friebert painted in a manner evocative of Old Master techniques. He referred to this as “indirect painting”; he applied glazes and varnishes over canvas or board in order to allow light to reflect back through these multiple layers, providing a luminous effect.
Friebert was born in Buffalo but moved as an infant with his family to Milwaukee, where he remained his entire life. His father, a tailor and union organizer, instilled his youngest son with his Socialist beliefs. Thwarted by the Great Depression from his dream of becoming a doctor, Friebert went to pharmacy school at Marquette University. When he was reduced to part-time work, he decided to pursue a favorite hobby: art. He joined a sketch group, where he met artist Betsy Ritz, and they were married in 1937. Friebert subsequently earned degrees in art from Milwaukee State Teachers College and UW-Madison. After a short teaching stint at Layton School of Art, he joined the faculty of MSTW (now UWM) in 1946; he retired from a distinguished teaching career in 1976. In addition to land- and cityscapes, subjects he pursued throughout his career, Friebert was drawn to social issues: racial prejudice, poverty, and refugees. His work was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in the American Pavilion of the 1956 Venice Biennale.

Ray Gloeckler, best known for his wood block prints, is a Wisconsin artist whose university education began as a pharmacy major. His subjects are generally satirical commentaries based on the complexities of human nature. They are usually bold caricatures, which stylistically use bold patterns and linear contours in the depictions.
Ray grew up in Portage and enjoyed drawing as a child, receiving encouragement from family members but particularly from his aunts. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from UW, he taught arts education in several school districts before being hired by UW-Oshkosh. After several teaching stints in Michigan, he returned to Wisconsin to teach at UW-Madison from 1961-97. Over time, printmaking, particularly wood engraving, became his specialty. In addition to his well-established Wisconsin presence, he is both a nationally and internationally recognized artist; Gloeckler is one of three invited members in the British Society of Wood Engravers. Today, he continues to work in his home studio in Portage.

Gary John Gresl, best known for his complex 3-D assemblage constructions, creates stories, narratives, and personal reflections using, among other items, animal skulls, darts, antlers, shells, and curio cabinets. In short, anything one might find in a well-stocked antique store is something you might find appropriated in a Gresl sculpture. The stories, myths, and interpretations experienced by the viewer are essential to the dialogue the artist is striving to achieve. While considering 20th Century Art after 1910 as his artistic context, Gary feels a strong affinity with the arts of native peoples, Naives, and outsider art.
Beyond studio and gallery settings, Gary has made important contributions to the visual arts in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Visual Arts Lifetime Achievement Awards is his brainchild, and his dedication in convincing other arts organizations to partner speaks to its success. He has been a pivotal figure in Wisconsin Visual Artists (formerly WP&S), where, as State Board President, he oversaw the development of two additional regional chapters and established the WVA Endowment Fund. He has also chaired its statewide Biennial Exhibition and has served in many other board positions. Gary’s artwork has been in over 100 exhibitions, collected numerous awards in statewide-juried competitions, and earned him a 2008 Mary Nohl Fellowship Award.

Richard Lippold, a Milwaukee born sculptor, created open-aired constructions made from steel, aluminum, wire and plaster. Using an engineering and design background, his constructions were among the first in American sculpture to use polished, industrial materials. These constructions harnessed a kinetic quality by incorporating the space and light of the areas they occupy. As a contemporary of the first-generation postwar New York School of artists, his work shares the sensibilities of that era, emphasizing a dynamic break with traditional artist images and methodologies.
Richard was born in Milwaukee, graduated in 1937 from the Chicago Institute of Art, and initially worked as an industrial designer until 1941. He taught at Goddard College (VT), Trenton State College (NJ), and at Queens and Hunter College in New York City. His first one-man show, in 1947, was at the Willard Gallery in New York. As a working artist, examples of his international success are exemplified with commissioned work in Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Korea as well as exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in 1988. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of Art both hold his work.

Dr. Peter C. Merrill, a noted art historian and scholar in the field of German-American Art, made significant contributions in the historical documentation of the Milwaukee art scene. His seminal work, German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee, exhaustively documented German-American artisans working locally in visual disciplines. These traditional art fields included portraiture, muralists, medallists, illustrators, and printmakers of various types, carvers, and designers. Cataloging about 1600 artists, this dictionary also provides historical information regarding the different time periods in which these artists crafted their work.
Peter taught as a professor of Language and Linguistics at Florida Atlantic University. His scholarship in German-American art includes over 40 published articles and three books. While these contributions have done much to advance the knowledge in this field, his source material collected over 30 years of research will undoubtedly prove invaluable to generations to come. Upon retiring in 1997, his archive was divided, according to local emphasis, to the University of Cincinnati, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

GEORGE RAAB 1866 – 1943
George Raab was accomplished in both two and three-dimensional media, working in the styles of Academic Realism, Impressionism, Pointillism, and Art Nouveau. His linoleum and wood block prints are typically geometrically abstract studies that simplified architectural and mechanical elements into basic shapes.
Born in Sheboygan in 1866, George began his art studies around 1890 in Milwaukee under Richard Lorenz and Robert Schade. From 1891-1896 he studied abroad but by 1900 he was back in Milwaukee exhibiting alongside such artists as Alexander Mueller and Louis Mayer. Together, these three who would be instrumental in forming the Society of Milwaukee Artists, which would later be known as Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors, and is now known as Wisconsin Visual Artists. George held several prominent positions in Milwaukee: teacher at the Milwaukee Art Students League and the State Normal School, curator of the Layton Art Gallery, member of the Milwaukee Art Commission and Milwaukee Art Association.
After moving to Illinois for a short period in the 1930s, he returned to Milwaukee in 1937 to open a studio on Holton Street. He passed away in 1943.

DON REITZ 1929 -
As one of the most influential ceramists of the 20th century, Don Reitz has pursued a life-long connection with his medium. After receiving his M.F.A from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 1962, Don accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and taught ceramics there from 1962 to 1988. His “re-invention” of the salt and wood firing technique created a new way to present his artistic gestures. Lively and innovative pieces, with a range of color and surface effect, have been the results of a lifetime of experimentation with the salt-firing technique. Don’s ceramic pieces are a balance between creative invention and expert technique.
In 2002, Don was awarded one of the highest honors in his field when the American Craft Council awarded him their Gold Medal. Don has lectured, exhibited, and led workshops across the world. His work is included in the collections of the Renwick Gallery and Smithsonian Institute as well as museums in Norway, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Born in 1912 in South Germantown, Wisconsin, James Schwalbach received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in art education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His advanced graduate work in art education and educational supervision was completed at UW-Madison from 1937-41. In 1945 James joined the faculty of the Department of Rural Sociology in the College of Agriculture at UW-Madison, later becoming Director of Extension programs which encouraged rural people to develop an interest in artwork. He also evaluated radio programs for the Wisconsin School of the Air. James founded and directed the Wisconsin Rural Art Program in 1945 and was its director until 1964. He worked closely with John Steuart Curry, and later, Aaron Bohrod, to establish the Wisconsin Regional Artists Association, which continues to exist today.
James Schwalbach was the creator and narrator of the “Let’s Draw” radio series of the Wisconsin School of the Air from 1936-1973. Between 1936-1946, he received several awards for the best educational program in national radio in both public and private sectors; in addition to narrating these programs, he wrote teachers’ manuals for them. Besides his radio work, James produced many block prints, however, by the 1950s, he switched from block printing to painting and serigraphy. In 1970 James and his wife, Mathilda, published, Screen Process Printing for the Textile Designer and Serigrapher. He died in Three Lakes, Wisconsin in 1984.

After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1910-1915, Gerrit Sinclair served in World War I in an ambulance corps and later recorded his experiences in a series of oil paintings. He taught in Minneapolis before arriving in Milwaukee in 1920 to become a member of the original faculty of the Layton School of Art. He was also a member of the Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors.
Sinclair’s paintings and drawings were executed in a lyrical, representational style, usually expressing a mood rather than a narrative. His paintings reveal a great sensitivity for color and atmosphere. His subject matter focused on cityscapes, industrial valleys, and working-class neighborhoods, captured from eye-level. A decade before the popularity of Regionalism, Sinclair’s strong interest in the community was reflected not only in his paintings, but also in his encouragement of students to return to their communities as artists and teachers. Joseph Friebert, Karl Priebe, Edmond Lewandowski, Burton Potterveld, Alfred Sessler, Gerhard Bakker and Fred Berman all studied under Sinclair, establishing him as a leading educator as well as an artist.

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