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MAKING PERSONAL CONNECTIONS

Geographic Identity

Many folk objects are natural expressions of rituals and customs common to particular groups or locales. They serve the practical, social, and communal needs of everyday life. In doing so, they communicate the position of the individual maker and user within his or her ethnic, occupational, or geographic community. Immigrants brought many of these objects to Wisconsin and passed their traditions of manufacture and use on to later generations.

Some object makers identify themselves with their geographic locations by using local materials in their works. The choice of materials not only reflects the natural resources of the region, but also what the maker deems significant.


Burl Bowls

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Harry Nohr with a Burl Sample and a Finished Bowl

Source: Western Publishing Company, Inc.

Conservationist Harry Nohr of Mineral Point, Wisconsin began making burl bowls in 1960 and soon his bowls were known nationally. Nohr utilized almost every native Wisconsin hardwood, but his most interesting bowls came from burls, large, rounded outgrowths on the trunks and branches of trees. Nohr was particularly fond of these works and noted:

Trees are a lot like people. A tree is a lot prettier if it had to struggle to grow.

Through his burl bowls, each of which took one to two years to create, Nohr communicated the natural essence of the wood. He described the bowls as instant heirlooms, "They're treasures, they are so beautiful they will be passed on from generation to generation among a family's most prized possessions." Nohr wanted others to appreciate nature and to maintain the strong connection between his work and Wisconsin's natural environment.

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Maple Burl Bowl by Harry Nohr, 1970-1976

Gift of Laura Nohr.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1985.109.10

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Red Elm Burl Bowl by Harry Nohr, 1970-1976

Gift of Laura Nohr (1985.109.4)


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Bertha Blackdeer Weaving a Basket, Oneida, Wisconsin, 1994

Source: Lewis Koch, Wisconsin Folk Museum Woodland Indian Traditional Artist Documentation Project

Baskets

Native American basket makers mark identity through the local materials they use. Birch bark and sweet grass are among the natural resources that typify regional basketry. Ho-Chunk people in Wisconsin traditionally make baskets from thin strips of black ash wood, which is both supple and strong.

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Black Ash Kettle Basket, ca. 1986

By Ho-Chunk artist Ruth Cloud. This kettle-style type of basket traditionally was used for gathering and storage.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.118

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Bertha Blackdeer's tools and materials: a pocket knife, scissors, and strips of black ash

Source: Lewis Koch, Wisconsin Folk Museum Woodland Indian Traditional Artist Documentation Project

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Split Black Ash Basket, ca. 1995

By Ho-Chunk artist Bertha Blackdeer.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.110


Copper Work

During the Great Depression, students at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin hammered out these pieces of copper while working in a craft program to earn part of their room and board. The Northland College Craft Shop chose to use local copper to evoke a sense of northern Wisconsin.

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Northland College Copper Bowl, 1938

Gift of Delores Hendersin.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1988.72.1

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Northland College Letter Opener, 1938

Gift of Delores Hendersin.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1988.72.5

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