Although Penny Stroening and Sharon Fuller work in different mediums—Stroening in watercolors and Fuller in photography—they both have a love of the natural world as evidenced in the images they create.

Those images will be on display the entire month of October in the art gallery at the Marie W. Heider Center for the Arts in West Salem. The two come from markedly different backgrounds—Fuller is a lifelong Coulee Region resident while Stroening grew up in New York City.

Following her marriage, Stroening and her husband decided they wanted to leave the crowded Northeast. They did extensive research on places to live and eventually settled on West Central Wisconsin. “It’s beautiful and it’s not flat,” Stroening said. That first summer they camped out a lot while looking for places for sale.

They finally found what they were looking for on a 40-acre plot of land outside of Blair. That was back in the 1970s, but they still live there today. Stroening, who is primarily self-taught, calls her show “Watercolors from the Edge” because, when it comes to art, she’s always felt like a bit of an outsider

“I never felt like I was at the center of things—I always felt like I was from the edge,” Stroening said.

Growing up in New York, she had the opportunity to visit museums and art galleries. She recalls seeing her first watercolors in an art gallery and saying to herself, “One day I’m going to do that.”

That day would come much later, however, as kids and family intervened.

“After my kids didn’t need me, I started buying books,” the self-taught Stroening said. “I learned mostly from books—I really am book-learned.”

Her love of travel provides inspiration for her art. “I’ll go someplace and see something that catches my eye, photograph it, bring it back home and make prints to use as reference material for my painting,” Stroening explained.

Favorite places for inspiration (outside of Western Wisconsin) include Lake Superior and California. Stroening’s art is being shown in more and more Coulee Region galleries and she said it has been especially gratifying to have some of those gallery owners reach out to ask if she’d be interested in showing her work with them. The Heider show will include 25 to 30 examples of her accomplished landscapes, lighthouses, seascapes, “rocks and people.”

“I’m drawn to the unusual, like an abandoned mine in the desert, a part of an old wooden building or leaning power lines along an isolated road,” Stroening said.

Like Stroening, Fuller delights in the unexpected and enjoys going out “hunting” with her camera.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always had a camera,” Fuller said. “I need to do it. I like to do it and it’s fun. In my younger days I studied commercial art at (Western Technical College) and mass communications at (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse) so an interest in visual communications has been there for a while. It’s a little stressful putting on an exhibit, but yet I’m excited to have people see what I see and spend many, many hours doing.”

A couple of years ago Fuller joined the La Crosse Camera Club. She says it has given her a chance to improve her skills while meeting new people who like to go out and take photographs all day. She’s also learned the value of going with the flow.

“I’ve gone out with different people and sometimes you’ll see something interesting that you didn’t even know you were interested in,” Fuller said.

Fuller’s show—which will be shown in the gallery’s cases—is called “This and That” because it includes a little bit of everything. Still, chances are it will be heavy on landscapes, sunsets and wildlife. “I also love the color blue and the colors of fall,” Fuller said.

She added that the way she exhibits her photographs is a little bit different. “Many of the prints I’ll have there will be metal prints,” Fuller said. “It’s a different type of texture and they’re printed on metal with a deeper kind of dye. The images seem to have more depth to them.”

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Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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