Postcards open a window on our own state
At first glance, it might seem odd that The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan might put out a call asking people from around the country to submit Wisconsin postcards for its current show, "Wisconsin Confidential: An Exhibition without Borders," which runs through Feb. 3.
But, think about it – Badger State postcards would more likely be sent from the state than to it.
The call for postcards that, in the words of the center's press release, "best represented the Wisconsin that most people never see," brought a huge response, and more than 600 postcards, from such far-flung locales as London and Bangladesh.
"This open-call exhibition was created to complement the current residency of renowned Wisconsin photography duo John Shimon and Julie Lindemann," says Andrea Avery, Connecting Communities Coordinator at the arts center.
"While in-residence at the Arts Center, the pair has been exploring the sense of identity that comes from inhabiting a single place over a long period of time and sharing their lifelong love of the state in an exhibition titled 'The Wisconsin Project' in October 2013.
"The Wisconsin Project is also a blog they run, that examines Wisconsin through postcard views made and found. Their project really inspired the idea of having others share their postcards and stories about Wisconsin."
The result of asking for examples from abroad has the benefit of giving us a different perspective than if Wisconsinites had selected the images to represent the state. The submissions covered a wide variety of image types. According to Avery, cards ranged from weird and wacky to nostalgic and beautiful, and they were submitted by an equally diverse group, including postcard collectors and artists.
Among the cards on display are cityscapes, local mascots, local lore, oddball attractions and the unbelievable, like the image of two men in hats grasping the leg of a third man, trying to pull him out of a giant fish.
"Almost all have stories on the backs of them, it was hard to choose which stories to share, since they were all really great," she says.
"The ones I chose really expressed different perspectives from people who live here and ones who have fond memories and just passed through. We had over 600 entries, almost all were included except ones that didn't follow guidelines, such as size requirements. Some of the others were vintage postcards, which were doubles, or maybe not relevant because they didn't include a story with them."
But, she says, she does have some favorites among them.
"I have to admit I do have some favorites. It was really exciting to come in to work and see dozens of postcards flooding in everyday from coast to coast and landing on my desk. I loved reading people's stories, or seeing the ones people created," says Avery.
"There are two handmade postcards by Madeline Martin, one is hand stitched and the other is depicting a mother with a child on her back, the story on the back talks about local farmers who now call Wisconsin their home. There are some great ones depicting the mystical Hodag, Milwaukee legends and old resorts.
"But my very favorite is from Chrisanne Robertson. It's a simple vintage photograph and on the back hand written it says, 'This Place, like a sister to me. She, Wisconsin where I lay my head on her late-harvest mown field and I look up at the stars, and the crickets sing, and my soul does too.' This to me really embodied the project, the simplicity and beauty of one person's experience in a place, and she shared it so beautifully."
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