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From Cartoons to Clothing

Racine and Kenosha find art in everyday places

Aug. 23, 2016
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Suppose you develop an appetite for arts and an urge to step out this fall—where do you go? Though Racine and Kenosha tend to get written off as stops en route to Chicago, a look at their fall arts season forces a reassessment of their status within your cultural world.

Since 2011 the Kenosha Festival of Cartooning (Sept. 15-17) has brought together cartoon lovers and celebrated professionals for three days of doodling and discussion. “It began with a gallery exhibition of cartoons,” recounts founder Anne Morse Hambrock, “People liked it so much that they kept referring to it as ‘the first annual’—which is very easy for non-organizers to do.” This year’s event at the Kenosha Public Museum includes talks by “Non Sequitur” creator Wiley Miller, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes and Disney animator Eddie Pittman (Mulan, Tarzan, Phineas and Ferb) among others. Kids aged 8-18 will even have the opportunity to pick up some pro tips in a class from 10:30-noon on Saturday, Sept. 17. Tickets are $20 for non-members and space is limited, so register online ASAP.

The festival is preceded by an already-underway exhibition of cartoons at the Kenosha Public Museum. “Bending the Lines: Women of Cartooning” (through Oct. 2) features the unsung women of the history of cartooning; for instance, Ramona Fradon, an artist behind Aquaman, Plastic Man and the Super Friends. The frames of Fradon’s cartoons are packed with such information and dynamism that to read even one of her three-frame strips feels more like watching a short film than copping a cheap chuckle.

“There’s still another show at UW-Parkside,” says Morse Hambrock, “There’s been a lot of debate lately about the role of media in elections. ‘Editorial Cartoonists: Taming the Tigers’ will focus on the current election as a whole and will privilege no one figure.” The show also touches on issues of free speech. “There are cartoonists around the world who are going to jail for what American cartoonists get paid to do,” says Morse Hambrock. “Editorial Cartoonists: Taming the Tigers” runs Sept. 1-Oct. 14 in the UW-Parkside Galleries located in the Rita Tallent Picken Regional Center for Arts and Humanities.

Opening 22 days later and about 10 miles north of the university, the Racine Art Museum is producing two original shows on the artistic potential of clothing. “Exhibitions of clothing speak to people because clothes are something that everybody thinks about,” says Lena Vigna, RAM’s curator of exhibitions. “Obviously clothing has the function of covering the body, but it also has metaphorical and symbolic functions. What someone chooses to wear is a reflection of who they are as a person, even if they claim to not be interested in clothes. In that respect, clothing is as revealing as it is concealing.”

“RAM Collects: Contemporary Art to Wear” (Sept. 23-Dec. 30) draws works from the museum’s permanent collection, which, while chic and occasionally eccentric, most people might wear on a day-to-day basis. In Vigna’s words, these clothes “bridge the divide between ‘on the wall’ and ‘on the body.’” On the other hand, “Sensory Overload: Clothing and the Body” (Sept. 23-Dec. 30) collects works from around the country that push the conceptual envelope. “These works are technically wearable,” says Vigna, “but most people wouldn’t choose to wear wings of steel wire on an everyday basis.”

If the fall arts season in Racine and Kenosha reveals a unifying thread, it is the discovery of art as always already infused in our everyday lives. Clothing as a manifestation of identity and cartoons as an embodiment of the First Amendment. Vigna sums up a guiding ethos: “These communities have a history of blue-collar workers who created things with their hands. We want to encourage people to appreciate the process and products of that manufacturing.” 

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