It's a Material World

Becker1999 / Flickr

Radio Chipstone series been exploring the connection we humans have with objects. But we really haven't considered our close relatives. The Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison is home to a population of Lemurs who seem to connect to objects in a way that's a bit familiar. The Lemurs were born in captivity and have never experienced living in their natural habitats.

Madison Hopps Museum

The Hops Museum in Madison just held its grand opening in May with its first exhibit on the Hess Family Cooperage and its contribution to Beer Making in Madison.

The exhibit is based on a book entitled Roll out the Barrels, written by Gary Hess, the grandson of the company’s founding father. The exhibition currently consists of photographs, acting as a storyboard for the interactive exhibit yet to come.

Richard Jones / Studio Paran

Richard Jones says that the art of blowing glass has changed some in the last 2000 years. But while there is new technology, like furnaces that heat to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a mouth-blown glass object still begins by retrieving the molten glass at the end of a metal rod. It’s a process called gathering.

For many years, Joel Huntley was living the dream. Huntley is a Master Potter and produced works in his ceramics studio in Columbus, Wisconsin. However, when the market turned...Huntley was forced to face reality and close his shop for good. In this edition of It's a Material World, contributor Gianofer Fields met Huntley in the Midwest Ceramics Studio in Madison Wisconsin where he was reintroduced to some old friends:

Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr

Some hardy souls bicycle in all weather, including the winter’s most frigid. The rest of us are just now getting our bicycles out of storage now that the weather is starting to warm up. And by high summer, there will be legions of riders on the paths and roads – commuting, riding for enjoyment, or even competing.

Imagined Reality / Flickr

In the past, Lake Effect's "It's a Material World" segment has looked at what happens to beloved objects when their owners passed away.

However, contributor Gianofer Fields is flipping that question on its head to find out what happens to a collector when her collection of objects has disappeared?

Fields' good friend and fellow Wisconsinite Jen Jeneric says she isn't much of a collector and the state of her precious collection of playing cards proves that point. 

"Probably about 20 years ago I went to Niagra Falls and I bought a set of playing cards there that was round and had pictures from Niagra Falls, and I loved those playing cards. And I started noticing other playing cards when I went out places, so I started collecting playing cards. I have probably twenty decks of playing cards, but I have no idea where they are," says Jeneric.

Jeneric says that doesn't mean she doesn't miss the pieces she hand-selected, but she also doesn't feel any anxiety over her lost collection.

"I don't feel like I need to know where they are. Knowing that I have them and that one day I'll see them again is really all I need."

Ed Schipul / Flickr

Many of us collect things - from stamps to movie ticket stubs, glassware to baseball cards - and our collections vary in intensity and size. For the past couple of weeks, material culture contributor Gianofer Fields has been exploring the lives of collectors and their connection with the objects they love. But she found herself wondering, what happens to a collection when the collector is gone?

The question was inspired by the collection that Wisconsinite Sam SanFallippo kept in the basement of his funeral home – a collection that Fields calls the best kept non-secret of Madison.

The basement of the Cress Funeral Home was home to hundreds of taxidermy specimens. You could find everything from stuffed sail fish to red eye squirrels driving a pink Cadillac on a freeway of love in the afterlife.

SanFallippo passed away last year. His funeral home was sold and the collection needed to find a new home. In this installment of it's a material world, Fields sets out to discover what happened to his collection.

Ostia / Flickr

There are three basic things that people need to survive food, shelter, and, clothing. How we choose to fulfill those needs gives others in our communities clues about who we are. But contributor Gianofer Fields says it's the stuff we don't need, the non essentials, that tell the bigger story. She paid a visit to the home of Madisonian and avid toy collector David Pouncey. 

"Once I had two or three of them, then you can't just have two or three. So then I just start looking around for them, and it just grows and sometimes it gets out of hand," says Pouncey.

Our Radio Chipstone series explores the place of objects in our lives - from the mundane to the remarkable.  So it's perhaps no surprise that producer Gianofer Fields found herself at an organization that is the repository for significant objects spanning the history of Wisconsin - the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Lee Grady, the senior reference archivist, gave Gianofer a tour to give us a sense of the scope of the Society's collection, and to take a closer look at an original Thomas Jefferson letter.

"It makes you feel more in the  see an image of a Thomas Jefferson letter or you see it quoted in a book, that's one thing. But to actually see the handwriting, see the letter that the person held in their hand...there is something special about that," says Grady.

The Wisconsin Historical Society's headquarters is located at 816 State St. in Madison, WI with hours available for the public to visit in both the library and archives.

Gianofer Fields

Art has always been a way for artists to express and expel deep emotions - think Picasso’s blue period.

Madison artist and schoolteacher JoAnn Jensen also puts her feelings in her pieces. But her medium isn’t canvas – rather her works are made from objects she finds.

Contributor Gianofer Fields wanted to know if these objects have their own story, if they can inspire emotions on their own - or if Jensen uses the object to her own devices.

"Sometimes when things get bleakest, that's the therapeutic version of art where you dive into your guts and yank 'em out and throw 'em around on a canvas or build something out of them. But even with that, there's an aspect of humor to the things that I do," says Jensen.

Anthony Gavin / Flickr

Contributor Gianofer Fields, host of Lake Effect's Radio Chipstone series, has begun a kind of series within a series she’s calling Curator’s Choice. She asks a curator at a museum or historical society to pick a favorite object from the collection and tell us a little story about it. This week we meet Joe Kaplan, Curator for the Division of Museums and Historic Sites at the Wisconsin Historical Society. His favorite thing is an object that promotes what many consider to be a vice….gambling.

"Where's 'one-armed bandit' phrase come from? Comes from the draw, arm, pull, on the side of the most common gaming machine - the slot machine. It takes your money, it robs you and you don't realize it's robbing you," says Kaplan.

© Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Every culture has rituals around death and mourning. During the Victorian Era it was something called Hair Wreaths. Women would collect the hair of loved ones in a little jar and turn them into mementos.

However, as women's worlds expanded it became a more specialized skill. Where the hair came from became less important, but somehow the wreaths still were considered objects that represented deceased family memories.

In our latest installment of Radio Chipstone, contributor Gianofer Fields continues her Curator’s Corner series with Virginia Terry Boyd - Professor Emerita in School of Human Ecology at UW Madison.

"If you sort of think about the idea of a mother who keeps a lock of her child's hair when they're born, that it is a part of them that she wants to keep as the beginning of life....that has a deep connection with her. And it also started in the tradition of men going to war and their beloved would give a lock of hair to take as a physical presence that would go with this person who was leaving. That then also led to when a person died, you kept a piece of hair that was a physical presence that became a part of you," says Boyd.

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.