Person to Person: Communicating Identity
Through Wisconsin Folk Objects
Folk objects grounded in the distinctive customs of bygone tribal villages, ethnic neighborhoods, lumber camps, and farmsteads inspire artists to revive, replicate, and reinterpret old traditions. Seeking a sense of identity and valuing a connection to the past, people make and use folk objects as alternatives to mass production and the whims of fashion.
Some artists are inspired by their own memories of past experiences, including those of childhood and work. The objects they make may depict scenes that are exaggerated or romanticized, but they all speak to the artists' commemoration of aspects of their ethnic, geographic, and occupational identities.
Lavern Kammerude of Blanchardville, Wisconsin titled this painting "Dinner for the Threshing Crew". Kammerude liked to draw at a young age; horses were a favorite subject. He began painting in the early 1960s and found that many people were interested in his detailed scene paintings of a bygone era, so he started selling his works in the 1970s. Viewers responded warmly to the folksy scenes of rural farms, schools, churches, and countryside. They identified with the subject matter even though the way of life Kammerude portrayed was disappearing by the time he set brush to board.
Scene Painting, 1987
Created by Lavern Kammerude.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.201
Ivan Bambic in His Workshop
Shown here with his blacksmith whirligig. Source: Lewis Koch and the Cedarburg Cultural Center
Carved Fiddling Bear, early 20th century
Created by Matt Gavric. Gift of Milan Gavric.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1957.269
In 1980 Ivan "John" Bambic of Milwaukee began constructing whirligigs based on memories of his childhood in Slovenia. This mechanical animated sculpture features carved dancing bears and their keeper. Bambic's other whirligigs depict blacksmiths, butchers, and other laborers.
John Henkelman of Merrill, Wisconsin, spent his life as a logger, farmer, and mason. He took up woodcarving in his retirement and depicted scenes inspired by his logging experiences. This sculpture is titled "Load of Logs".
Assembler Eugene Milosch made this workplace model as a gift to commemorate the retirement of his co-worker Raymond Lopez. Both men worked at Louis Allis Company in Milwaukee and were members of IUE Local 1131. The union had a longstanding tradition in which members created plaques and models for retiring fellow members. Milosch mimicked each retiree's workstation, attempting to capture his career in a single material expression.
Joe Hrovat of West Allis, Wisconsin carved, painted, and assembled this scene, which depicts Robin Yount of the Milwaukee Brewers being tagged out at home plate by Chicago Cubs catcher Damon Berryhill. This actual event did not happen; the Brewers and the Cubs played in different leagues in 1988. Hrovat, a part-time usher at Milwaukee County Stadium, witnessed countless sporting events and used those experiences as inspiration for his extensive collection of carvings featuring Wisconsin and national figures.
Matt Gavric likely carved this group of bears in Serbia before his family immigrated to America and settled in Milwaukee. Gavric stayed behind but his family brought over several of his animal carvings. A third piece of the original set, depicting a Roma (Gypsy) man, was retained by the Gavric family and is the key to understanding the carvings.
Bears are significant in Roma culture. The Roma traditionally worked as musicians and performers, and some trained bears to entertain. It was not uncommon in Europe to see a Roma man lead a dancing bear through the streets and collect coins from amused audiences. Gavric may have seen bear trainers in Serbia and represented those scenes in his carvings.
Carved Dancing Bears, early 20th century
Created by Matt Gavric. Gift of Milan Gavric.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1957.268
Milwaukee Brewers Carving, 1988
Created by Joe Hrovat.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.233
Workplace Model by Eugene Milosch, 1991
Gift of International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers, Local 1131.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 2000.6.1a-d
Adolph Vandertie with Whittled Art, 1986
Green Bay, Wisconsin. Source: Wisconsin Folk Museum Collection
These basswood pieces of "hobo art" display a variety of whittling effects such as the ball-in-chain, ball-in-cage, anchor links, oval chain links, and decorative notching. Vandertie learned his skills as a young man in Green Bay's rail yards from Depression-era hobos who made scrap lumber carvings to sell for food or shelter. Vandertie continued to whittle in the hobo tradition although he did not share this way of life.
Whittling Demonstration Piece, ca. 1986
Created by Adolph Vandertie.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.299a-l