July 30th 2017
2:30 PM – 6:30 PM
Summerfest Grounds Main Gate – German Fest
If you’ve never been to Milwaukee, I can tell you after living here 9 months I know that these people love their festivals. Like capital “L” Love. The summer is simply a parade of fests, with every weekend another celebration and an excuse to spend a day getting sunglasses tan lines while eating and wandering your way through a maze of tents and live music.
Most of them showcase the cultures of the people here: Italian, German, Polish, Irish, Mexican, Indian, just to name a few. And while I haven’t had much of a chance yet to explore them, I had a feeling German Fest might be a good one to try painting at. Even outside the gate, I could clearly see how Milwaukee not only love fests, they know how to do one right. At once I was surrounded by accordion melodies, green felt hats, salty soft pretzels, and Dachshunds in lederhosen.
It was a hike getting down to the fair grounds, and I’d hoped to find a spot that was centered on the main gate, not in the way, and in the shade. I chose a spot right next to a lamp post where people would walk past but I wouldn’t add another obstacle. While adding extra sunblock I kept looking over my shoulder at the looming arches of the highway, whose shadows were still a couple hours away from me. As long as I’m kept fairly busy then I’ll last in the hot sun until then.
And I didn’t have to wait either. Not a minute after I put my sign up someone was already asking for a brush. So yes, I finally got to give the very first brushstroke away. And it wasn’t just one stroke either; this young artist gave me the whole sky top to bottom. I already knew this was going to be a good day.
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About half an hour and 4 or 5 takers in I had the skeleton of the gate half finished, floating there on the sky behind it. But then security staff from the fairgrounds asked me to move across the street. I had hoped by not blocking people’s path I would be ok, especially being outside the grounds, but apparently even the area in front of the gate is included in the event and I wasn’t associated with the fest so I couldn’t be there loitering. Disappointed but not about to argue, I lugged everything across the street after snapping a picture of the gate in case I really couldn’t see it well over there under the highway. Sure I wasn’t center stage anymore, but my new corner was luxuriously shaded and still full of people going to and from the parking lots. If this was going to be my corner then I might as well own it.
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As usual I had a whole range of people take the brush. What was extra fun this time with the families was that many of them had everyone participate – the kids going first and then telling their parents to, even suggesting what to paint and how to paint it. Not only do I get to meet future artists but also future art teachers!
Some other highlights: A father and his two sons added a TARDIS from Doctor Who, a dragon that breathes fire AND poison, and a fun-sized tornado heading through the gate. The sky has some of the classics: a beaming sun and a happy cloud, a sweeping rainbow, a lofty hot air balloon. A family wrapped in a heart head into the gates together front and center. There’s also a duck pond that sprung up in the bottom right corner, where a little black bug came for a drink later on in the day.
There were lots of other things specific to German Fest. A couple girls with their dad all added what they got there that day: a purple snowcone, a salted pretzel and a frothy mug of beer. Someone added a green felt hat to another’s stick man. On the right a black wiener dog wears a yellow ribbon from winning third place in the Dachshund Derby earlier that afternoon. A blue car on the Sky Ride rolls by on its cable along the top. A couple of rubber ducks stand guard like bookends on the gate, one sporting the black, red and gold.
All these things in the painting are so wonderful, but what really makes this something bigger are all the people in the painting. Lately I’ve begun to get discouraged and stressed trying to find a place to put these all on exhibit. And it was a day like today that reminded me of what the true success and meaning of City Self-Portrait is measured by. Even if I never find a home for these or a place to showcase them, it’s about the actual creation of these works of art, all the people it connects, all that could come from a simple invitation. And when I tell you I’m doing this for fun, that’s exactly it, and when you do something just for fun, you always walk away with so much more, let me tell ya.
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As the day continued I soon started to share my street corner. Someone came along to sell chilled water and soda. And there was someone else, a kind man named Bill, and while he didn’t end up painting we did have a lovely chat. He was there doing a personal project of his, too, which he’s been doing for 10 years. Before then, he went through a dark part of his life, and he started his path of healing by helping others. So I invite you to visit his website – whether you need encouragement in dark times or not, whether you are religious or not – because the world just needs more of this love and connection: NeedEncouragement.com
There was also someone else I met that I can already tell you I will never forget. It was later in the day; I essentially had to finish the rows of flagged lampposts and head home for dinner when another family stopped to watch. And so after a moment I turned and asked if any of them would like to paint a little. A boy on his father’s shoulders said yes right away. Since kids almost always want to dive right in, that didn’t surprise me. But while his dad came over and knelt so his son could be level with the canvas, his mother was amazed and said that he had never shown any interest at all in art before. He took a brush with purpose and mixed deep blues and greens together right in the center of the gate’s arch. When his parents asked what it was, he thought for a minute and proudly called it a “colorful thing”. As they turned to continue on to the parking lots, his mother asked if he would like it if she bought him some paints, and he gave the same quiet but sure “yes” as before.
So I will say to you, reader, what I have begun to tell everyone who contributes: keep on painting.
Special thanks to: