Pump House Art

This acrylic painting by Ellen Roles is part of her show of abstract paintings called “Explorations.” It will be at the Pump House through Nov. 4.

Visitors to the Kader Gallery in the Pump House Regional Arts Center can view a different kind of art exhibition. “It’s really interesting to see how visual artists respond to literary images,” said Toni Asher, the Pump House’s executive director.

She’s talking about the exhibit titled, “BANNED: Art Inspired by Banned Books.” A cooperative effort of the Pump House, the La Crosse Public Library and UW-L's Murphy Library, it was launched in conjunction with Banned Books Week, an awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read books.

Asher said the idea to do a show together came up when she was working with the library on other events they were planning. They then circulated the call to artists in Wisconsin and Minnesota. “It was for any medium except performance art,” Asher said, “and we got some very nice works.”

Pump House Art

This work by David Bass is part of the new Pump House Regional Arts Center exhibit, “BANNED: Art Inspired by Banned Books,” which opened this week.

Artists were asked to base their creations on a specific book. They could select whatever banned book they wanted from a list of the most controversial works. That kind of conversion — from prose to the visual — is not typical of art exhibits.

“It’s very unusual,” said Asher. “”We’re also going to frame the artists’ statements so the public will be able to see the thought processes behind the artwork. Also, we’ll have the books themselves here so that people can pick them up and browse through them.”

Of the 20 works on display most are two-dimensional. They include photography, prints, mixed media, a literary piece, collage, acrylics, oils and an acrylic and pencil. “We even have a quilt piece,” Asher said.

Artists who contributed works to “Banned” include David Bass, Lynne Burgess, Rick Lynn Carraway, Nancy Ellingson, Patricia Morse Gund, Lynn Hobart, Janet Mootz, Thomas Ojanpera, Christine Peterson, Christine Peterson, Sarah Piper, Sharon Sharp, Kathryn Smith and Andris Strazdins.

While the Kader Gallery hosts works inspired by banned books, the Front Gallery will showcase an entirely different form of art. Ellen Roles’ exhibit of abstract works is called “Explorations” and it deals with the basic elements of art — things like color, shape, texture and movement.

Roles, who grew up on a farm in St. Charles, Minnesota, has worked with watercolors for more than 35 years and she also teaches how to paint with watercolors. This show, however, is a bit of departure for her since all the paintings are acrylic.

Asked about the difference between acrylic and watercolor, Roles laughed and said: “It’s like living in the city versus living in the country. The process is totally, incredibly different in how you apply the paint. With watercolors you save the white (spaces) and work toward the dark.”

Because she’s been doing watercolors for so long Roles knows exactly what to expect with that medium.

“I know what’s going to happen when I mix two colors and what amount of water I need,” Roles said, “but with acrylics it’s much more experimental because I’m responding to what’s happening on the palette. The principles of art don’t change, but this is much more creative for me at this stage of my life.”

The impetus for this show was a demonstration of acrylics that Roles did last year at Artspire. “It got a good response so I thought ‘Why not show off the new acrylics at the Pump House?’” Roles said.

The show will have 15 to 20 paintings, and Roles’s goal is to entertain the viewer with displays of vibrancy and warmth. “I’m not trying to express my anger or make a political statement,” Roles said. “The aim is to make something that makes people happy.”

In addition to the two shows downstairs, an exhibit called “The Fest of Times” will be on display all September in the Balcony Gallery. It features historical photos and memorabilia from past La Crosse Oktoberfests.

In what has to be one of its busiest months ever, the Pump House has three other shows planned for September. The Heart of La Crosse is doing its annual fall comedy show. This year it’s called “La Crosse Makeover: Extreme Pothole Edition,” and there are shows remaining on Sept. 14-16 and 21-23.

Also, on Monday, Sept. 25, the Alternative Truth Project will be present “Alabama Story,” a true account of a librarian who was prosecuted during the Jim Crow era for protecting banned books. Finally, on Sept. 27 there’s going to be a Banned Books Cabaret in the upstairs theater. It will feature music, performance and “read outs” from banned books. Drinks will be available and the show will go from 7:30 until 9:30 p.m.


Randy Erickson, formerly the editor of the Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life and Coulee News, covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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