La Crosse Area Plein Air Artists began with
the happy marriage of art and gardens. On May 9 of 2003, the Holy Trinity Tulip
Walk included a new garden, one resplendent with 1200 tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other spring flowering bulbs. Only one year ago it was a lawn, but Dolores Marusarz, artist and gardener, was determined
to create the same beauty in her garden as she hopes she does on her canvases.
When Tess Burlingame, one of the organizers of the
Tulip Walk, asked Marusarz to have her garden in the walk, Marusarz seized the opportunity to ask if her artist friends could
set up their easels and paint during the walk. Burlingame immediately agreed,
thinking the activity would add to the pleasure of the hundreds of people touring the gardens.
It proved to be a hit; many people told Burlingame that they were thrilled to see both the flowers and the artists
painting pictures of them. That day marked the beginning of the La Crosse Area
Plein Air Artists, a group begun by Marusarz the day after the tulip walk, in response to both the delight of the artists
and onlookers in the garden, and the remarks made by the artists about getting together again to paint plein air.
The term plein air means to paint outdoors rather
than in a studio. The term came into use in the 1850s in France, where a group
of artists decided that they wanted to paint the effect of sunlight on objects rather than just the plain objects themselves. Their paintings came to life, and later were called impressionistic paintings. They are still very popular. Movements
for plein air artists are alive in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Connecticut, but none in the Midwest. The La Crosse group brings Wisconsin into the movement. Although
the La Crosse group is new, it has already been recognized by the Wisconsin Arts Board as a grass roots movement (free to
all those who wish to join) and is listed on Portal Wisconsin. The group has received
attention from television stations, newspapers, and radio programs. The
progress has been fast but has followed a plan made by Marusarz following the successful day of painting at the Tulip Walk.
She began by writing a list of the places in
La Crosse that would afford artists a beautiful view while also being accessible to the public. She found many such places, including Riverside Park, Pettibone Park,
Nelson Park, Goose Island, the Paul E. Stry Nature Preserve, and more. Next she
made the rounds of the governmental and private departments in charge of those places so she could learn the rules about using
those facilities. Everyone gave their gracious permission for the artists to
work in those places as long as there were no sales on public property. Since
one of the points of doing artwork in public is to educate and to inspire onlookers to join in with the artists, that was
no problem. Once Marusarz got the ball rolling, she asked the entire membership
of Eastbank Artists, La Crosse Society of Arts and Crafts, and other artists to join in the plein air paint outs, as they
are called. The membership of the Plein Air Artists is now 25 and growing.
They meet twice a month on weekends. Dates can be found on the Events page of this web site. The
public is urged to join the artists. All the materials they need are at each
meeting and are provided free.
In October 2003 the group will have its first showing
at the Main Street Gallery in Onalaska. The artists have decided to contribute
a portion of all sales to the ALS Foundation. Drawings that the public leaves
with the artists will also be sold, with all proceeds going to the charity. Susan
Snyder, an artist and writer in La Crosse, died several years ago from the disease.