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Portfolio: "Within the Driftless"

Producing & documenting an art gallery show for the Driftless Historium

Painter Kathy Hofmann examines the morning light as it plays on a Driftless farm.

In 2019, I participated in the production an art exhibit for the Driftless Historium & Mount Horeb Area Historical Society. The art show was dubbed, “Within the Driftless” and was focused on the paintings by local landscape painter Kathy Hoffmann. My role was multifaceted in that I not only took the artist on long drives to study the southern Driftless Area, but I participated as an artist as well to document her process, design and eventually produced the marketing material and labels. As a finishing effort, I then then hung all of the artwork for the show itself.

"Within the Driftless" as displayed at the Driftless Historium.

My years of experience in hanging fine art shows in the galleries of the Carnegie Museum made the task of hanging this show an easy one. Each painting was precisely placed, along with its label. Hanging artwork is something that has become second nature to me, and I find the process somewhat meditative. There’s a certain sense of peace when you’re locked in a quiet gallery all alone with just the art, a tape measure, level, and a fine pencil.

One wall displayed metal prints of the artist at work.

One of the most enjoyable aspects for me was spending time outdoors with Kathy as we explored the local southern Driftless Area. Multiple sojourns across the countryside to study the way light played on the landscape, as well as conversations about art, fed my mind and soul. Her passion for the Hudson River School of painting, a mid-19th-century American art movement that focussed on romanticized themes of discovery, exploration, and settlement seemed ideal for this lovely agricultural land. I enjoyed the sharing of her unique vision of this familiar rural landscape.

A lone coyote makes its way to a misty stand of old oaks nestled in Driftless Area farmland.

An important part of this project was designing and producing the marketing materials that the museum would use for advertising this art exhibit. It gave me an opportunity to work with graphics and printers. Considering how many people showed up for opening night the mailers, and social media posts seemed to have worked. The show itself seemed to be enjoying positive reception by the public, and I began to hear from an assortment of folks concerning future projects. Alas the show had hardly been open when the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic struck, closing the doors of this show. Overnight it all went to dust. 

I particularly enjoyed spending time in Kathy’s art studio. Being around other artists is something I once enjoyed when I was employed in the Exhibits Department of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Since leaving that career behind in order to become a stay-at-home parent, each brief exposure to a creative environment seems very precious.

One of the paintings with a label. I hung every piece with precision.

Below is a collection of the paintings that were displayed for this art exhibit. Kathy's paintings truly captured the beauty of the southern Driftless Area. She chose this particular area to study because she actually lives, and is originally from, this rolling countryside. Coincidently, I had spent a lot of time in this area simply exploring it.

In fact this particular area also has significant meaning to myself in that I have had four separate cycles of spending time roving this landscape. The first was during an intense period I spent photographing a highly regarded Buddhist teacher. For two weeks I spent time in the presence of His Holiness, and would simply drive around these hills to decompress on my days off. Then there was this project with Kathy, which was followed by delving into the natural areas and connecting to environmental groups, and building an audience for my nature photography. In a strange coincidence of circumstances, I eventually became the mail carrier for this exact area for one year, which meant I was able to study the daily change to the landscape in an even more intimate way! 

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