Gianofer Fields

Material Culturalist

Gianofer Fields is a freelance producer and reporter for NPR, BBC and Madison's WORT Community Radio. She says, “Once you seriously consider the objects you use to fill your emotional and functional needs, you will never see those things the same way ever again. From delightfully intriguing to dangerously obsessive, objects affect our daily lives. They creep into our subconscious. They say volumes about who we are or wish to be, without uttering a single word.”

Minnesota Historical Society /

Wisconsin was just 17 years old when the Civil War began. In 1861, every available man fit to serve was called to fight. Each man was issued two pairs of pants, two shirts, two pairs of underwear, and socks – all woolen. Each was given a tent, a blanket, and a bag for carrying enough food to last three days. And of course, each man had a rifle and ammunition.

All of this had to be carried on their backs, unless they were officers. So none of these men would have willingly carried anything else, unless it reminded them of home:

Dimmerswitch / Flickr

Physical maps are disappearing in the 21st century - replaced by GPS screens in cars, and Google maps on our computer screens and smart phones.

But a hundred years ago, paper maps were important for a number of reasons - including some you might not imagine.

On this installment of Chipstone Radio, contributor Gianofer Fields sat down with Lee Grady, the senior reference archivist at the Wisconsin Historical Society.  They looked at maps made by Sanborn Map Company - a company that still exists today.

Williamson Gateway Sculpture /

Milwaukee drivers are very familiar with highway headaches due to what seems to be constant construction projects in the city year-round. Madison residents can relate. Back in the spring of 2011 construction began on Williamson Street. Located on the East Side of Madison in the Marquette - Atwood Neighborhood, and known as Willy Street, it is a place where small businesses rule and works of art dot the landscape.

The Marquette – Atwood Neighborhood Association saw the demolition of the street as an opportunity to create something beautiful out of the rubble. They gave local artists permission to raise funds to build works of art for the community. What began as a huge pain in the neck for commuters was actually the beginning of a transformation that went beyond the road.

Radio Chipstone curator Gianofer Fields went to Madison to speak with metal artist Arika Koivunen and black smith Aaron Howard about their contribution to Willy Street - a giant metal tree made of recycled materials.

"All of a sudden here we are with murals, with poetry in the street, with historical markers on the horizon, with a gateway it's not just about this piece, it's really about an enlivening of Willy Street," says Koivunen.

Fields spoke with metal artist Arika Koivunen and black smith Aaron Howard in July of 2014, the tree was completed in August of the same year. For more information on the Willy Street project, visit the Willy Street blog, and visit the Williamson Gateway Sculpture facebook page for more photos and information about the tree's story from beginning to end.

abimercado / Flickr

Many people can recall a childhood memory of going outside to take advantage of a sunny, breezy day that was simply perfect to go fly a kite. Kite-flying seems like a quaint past-time, but these air acrobats have done some serious work in their day.  Supposedly, founding father Ben Franklin flew a kite and discovered electricity. Later, in the 18th and 19th Centuries the U.S. Weather Service used kites to raise instruments for atmospheric experiments. 

What does a kite have to do with The Niagara Falls? Well, it was a kite that carried the lead wire across the 800-foot chasm that allowed us to build the world's first railroad suspension bridge. And get this - in 1822 a schoolmaster named George Peacock used a pair of kites to pull a carriage at speeds up to twenty miles per hour. Go Fly a Kite…indeed.

Contributor Gianofer Fields explores the lofty history of kites with the help of Cait Dallas, Lead Interpreter at Old World Wisconsin’s German Farm site. While we often think of kites as playthings, Fields discovers through history that they were not always about fun and games.

Textile artist Laura Anderson Barbata's work is a cross between traditional textile artistry and activism. And according to Liese Pfeifer, Academic Curator at the Design Gallery for the School of Human Ecology Barbata, works with local artists to create wearable textiles which are often used in live performances.

Gianofer Fields

We often talk about objects from our past with a fondness, but what happens when the memories are negative?

Either you discard the thing or you build new memories – even if the object in question is a can of good old-fashioned...Spam?

Dominic Alves / Flickr

Crosses, Stars of David, the Egyptian ankh, Chinese characters - they're all symbols that are commonly worn by people who subscribe to their meanings.

In this edition of It’s a Material World, contributor Gianofer Fields explores what symbols as objects mean to the wearer. Madison's Catherine Dorl says there's one symbol she clings to - both literally and metaphorically: The Peace Symbol.

Independent filmmaker Guy Maddin says he had made a number of films long before the short lived Canadian Documentary Channel contacted him about a commissioned work.

The head of the network gave Maddin a challenging task - document his hometown Winnipeg, Manitoba and...make it interesting.

Material Culture contributor Gianofer Fields spoke with Maddin while he was in Madison for a presentation of the film, and inquired about how he recreated this place on film:

Gianofer Fields

Spring may be just around the corner but that's little comfort for those who are completely over this winter. Yes, we've spent our share of days cooped up at home waiting for the latest bout of bad weather to pass. At least we have things like radio, television, and shopping online to keep us from pulling out our hair. 

Madison Childrens Museum

As Wisconsinites, we're lucky to have access to some really stellar museums. Our state boasts nationally and internationally recognized institutions like the Milwaukee Art Museum, Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot and Madison's Chazen Museum of Art, while researchers travel far and wide to look at artifacts and materials like the Racine Art Museum's renowned collection of contemporary crafts and the Wisconsin Historical Society's vast Civil War holdings.

Alex Watson / Flickr

Gardening, scrap booking, knitting, wood-working, bird-watching, golf. We've all got hobbies - some we're prouder to admit to than others. But what do these activities - and the supplies required - signify about our lives? What does what we do in our leisure time say about who we are?

Gianofer Fields

Wisconsin is known for many things - cheese, beer, and the Forevertron. Dr. Evermor's Forevetron is the world's largest scrap metal sculpture - at 50 feet high, 120 feet wide and 300 tons, and it's located right in North Freedom, Wisconsin.  It looks like something that's from out of this world - but it's not just space this sculpture transcends.

Some public art is not meant to last – it’s created for temporary enjoyment. But other art and objects are created with more longevity in mind, and are preserved so that we may enjoy them and learn from them well into the future.

Gianofer Fields

It's a special dad who teaches his children life lessons that shape who they are and what they become. Take for example the Howard family of Stoughton, Wisconsin.

William Howard is a Master Goldsmith, and father to master Goldsmith Missy and master Blacksmith Aaron. William's been teaching his children his craft for as long as they can remember, as Missy explains:

"I made my very first ring when I was five years old, because my dad's a jeweler, so he had me come up to the shop and made a little silver ring with a little daisy with it."

Teresa Boardman / Flickr

Buying a home is part of many people's idea of the American dream, and for those who do it's likely the biggest purchase they'll ever make.

Your home is the biggest statement of who you are to the outside world so, how do you go about choosing which home reflects who you are? And when you're selling a home, how much of the "you" that's part of it stays behind?