Artists to Watch 2019

Art authorities share their picks of local creators to keep an eye on this year

Nikki Hessel

executive director, Future Neenah

Recommendation: Stephanie Harvey,

“I have had the pleasure of working with Stephanie on several occasions, and continue to be genuinely inspired by the evolution of her art. Her unabashed use of bright color, mixed media, and bold feminist themes feel like an actual breath of fresh air. She has found her own unique way of both vulnerably and beautifully confronting questions of gender roles, while fostering a real passion for community beautification. She’s intelligent, understands the spirit of true collaboration, and we certainly are lucky to have a gem like her in the Fox Cities.”

From Stephanie: “Although I do not completely confine myself to the stereotypical mother and wife, I feel a nagging pressure to demonstrate my femininity. The inspiration for my current body of artwork comes from these gender expectations and the connotations that penetrate them. I just started dabbling in embroidery in the spring of 2018. Embroidery brings me the ability to express my wild feminist agenda through colors and textures. I enjoy this ‘lady-like’ activity as many women before me have (including my grandmothers) but by choice, not expectation. My fiber art is an homage to the powerful women I’ve come from.”


Lynn Zetzman

director, Aylward Gallery UW-Fox Valley a campus of UW-Oshkosh

Recommendation: Phyllis Dintenfass,

“Phyllis is internationally recognized as an artist designer who creates with beads. She has been honing her practice for decades. Phyllis’s art has been featured in five books highlighting the best of the best in this field. Yearly, various trade journals publish patterns for crafters that she has originated and shared. Phyllis has been a generous teacher of multiple beading techniques, leading several workshops over the years. She is a Fox Valley hidden gem. In a recent conversation, a young woman told me her spirit animal was a peacock – she needs an introduction to Phyllis and her work, as do others with a passion for personal adornment.”

From Phyllis: “People have adorned themselves throughout history. My chosen medium is beads, using a variety of off-loom techniques to create wearable art. The myriad choices of colors, finishes, sizes and shapes provide me with a broad palette to create pieces that can stand alone and also enhance the outfit of the wearer. My designs and finished pieces have been in galleries in the U.S. and Japan, and have been published in bead magazines and books here and in Europe. I enjoy collaborating with other artists and welcome custom requests.”

Christina Turner

president, The Trout Museum of Art

Recommendation: The Sundog Letters, P.O. Box 1514, Appleton, WI 54912

“The Sundog Letters is an anonymous artist collaborative dedicated to exploring connection through study, empathy and generosity. It works like this: you send them a handwritten letter telling them what’s on your mind and they send you a piece of art they made. I received an exquisite, handmade Muse Journal. This group brings mystery, beauty and love to the community. While speculation has arisen, no one really knows who is involved and to what extent. This is the second year of the project. Their next show will open in the summer of 2019. Write your letter [to the address above] and see what happens next.”

From The Sundog Letters: “We make art for people we love and we love people who write us. We hope the whole world will write us letters. We collaborate, creating pieces to converse with the overarching themes of the letters. We want to strike out the word stranger – convinced there is really no such thing. We are fascinated by the enigmatic joy of human connection and spend each day in pursuit of the magic that allows one to feel when someone else is looking, finish another’s sentence, and pick up to hear the right voice exactly when one needs to hear it.”

Beth A. Zinsli

curator and assistant professor of art history, Lawrence University

Recommendation: Kayla Bauer,

“The byline of Kayla Bauer’s website says it best: ‘Photographer, Thrifter, and Lover of Cute.’ Scrolling through her site – or, better yet, her Instagram – is much like the experience of thrift-store shopping itself. The quaintly charming shares space with the oddly adorable and the vaguely unsettling, and each is given equal consideration in her universe of ‘cute.’ Kayla playfully experiments with different photo formats, too. She prints tiny blue-toned cyanotype portraits of her vintage Barbie and Ken dolls and her ‘Precious Portraits’ series was captured with an Instax instant camera. That series documents various friends posed wearing a rhinestone tiara as well as portraits of thrifted stuffed animals and porcelain figurines – all of which are, of course, quite cute.”

From Kayla: “My work focuses on a variety of subjects relating to natural processes, childhood nostalgia and Americana. The work operates as a way for me to collect and memorialize the ephemeral. I am influenced by collections of objects and the memories and emotions attached to them. The photograph as an object itself to be collected also inspires me to photograph particular subjects. Archives, collections and shopping at thrift stores provide inspiration and materials for my creative process. Photography is my focus, but I also create drawings, textile pieces and found-object sculptures.”


Lee Mothes

artist/owner, Oceans and Dreams art studio

Recommendation: Cristian Andersson,

“I’ve seen his progress over the last four years or so, and he has a passion and depth in his work that is rare. Cristian’s work has a poetic undertone, a mystery about it that draws me in. I appreciate this since I’m more of a literalist, and seek to express more mystery. His work is also intense – I especially admire his ghostly ‘The White Series’ that he has been working on recently. His Scriptorium project last year was provocative and an inspiration! Such dedication to an idea has helped me with a recent writing project of my own.”

From Cristian: “It seems, at times, that the collective memory fails us. I do not believe it is due to apathy that we neglect lessons of the past, but it is rather because of the overabundance of information that we have become immediately reactionary to new circumstances. My work is a demonstration of how much we are constantly having to consider, as shown in the installation piece Scriptorium, and how much we may forget, as illustrated in paintings from my White Series. Above all, however, I want to make work that demonstrates that we are presented with choices on a daily basis, and that we cannot neglect the humanity in ourselves or others due to a collective forgetting.”

Jan Mirenda Smith

executive director, Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass

Recommendation: Michael O. Meilahn,

“Michael O. Meilahn’s art has always been conceptual and he has mixed media with glass, including the use of neon, to make a sophisticated sculptural statement. His work has evolved to present a discussion on agriculture through cast bronze and blown glass sculptures of corn and complex highly interactive mixed media installations that include video related to farming. He has used the pop culture iconic image of a large ear of corn to tell the story of evolution, selective breeding and survival of the fittest. These thought-provoking works have been included in many exhibitions around the country.”

From Miachael: “The challenge and process of blowing glass is irresistible, but I prefer the boundless adventure of the abstract and conceptual. My work has evolved into mixed media and installation with overtones of pop art. An ear of corn is my iconic image of choice. The glass and bronze series are meant to be a visual study about evolution, genetic modification, branding and survival of the fittest. Suspended glass, the roll of the dice and audio/video all are indicative of my aesthetic narrative.”

John Adams

curator, Feather and Bone Gallery at The Draw

Recommendation: Christian Leon, @crl_art on Instagram

“Christian is a 20-year-old Appleton artist/skateboarder, he creates work that is instantly iconic drawing from bold colors of the ‘90s, elements of comics and, of course, skate culture. What I like most about his work is its seemingly simple design mixed with quotes and words that fit nicely within the piece, almost like graphic design. Christian has been a part of many shows at The Draw, has been an artist at the Menasha Library and shows in Kaukauna. Christian is quiet, but speaks loudly within his art. I can’t wait to see what he has to show us all next!”

From Christian: “The moment I wake up, I begin to think, ‘What can I do today?’ From the moment I get up or pick up my skateboard, to the moment I put it back down, and everything in between, I am visualizing the world from a broad perspective. The way I absorb ideas puts me into a place where Iʼd rather listen than to speak. I am listening to those who influence me, nature, the streets that raised me, and to all other inhabitants of this world. The drive to create is like my personal drug. No matter what positive or negative experiences I go through I will always create as a result. Art is life and it saved my life.”

Alexander Schultz

executive director, Sculpture Valley

Recommendation: Ryan Eick, @ryaneick on Instagram

“Dark, foreboding, haunting.’ Not exactly the descriptors an emerging artist wants elicited to describe their body of work, yet words quite welcomed by Ryan Eick. I became aware of Ryan’s deeply emotional subject matter while curating the current Houdini Tower installation which features two of Ryan’s ‘landscapes.’ I found it quite challenging to select pieces that would adhere to the public’s affinity for ‘eye-candy’ art. Drawing on personal experiences of loss and an hallucinatory side-effect of sleep apnea, Ryan’s paintings don’t feel like paintings at all, but rather like you’re peering though a foggy window into a troubled dreamscape. Once you bear witness to an intangible, but somehow significant moment in this artist’s life journey, you’ll find it hard to turn away.”

From Ryan: “When I paint, the process is quite intuitive. Everything begins with visual curiosity— an impulsive desire to not only look, but to see. Rarely do preconceived ideas dictate the reference material I choose. Rather, ideas develop from working and responding to what creeps in during the process. My recent work has become a meditation on impermanence, a theme that has worked its way into my paintings after a series of losses in recent years. I find inspiration in photography, music, trashy horror films and painters such as Edwin Dickinson, Victor Man, Cecily Brown and Michael Borremans among others.”

Karen Hertz-Sumnicht

art consultant/owner, Avenue Art and Company

Recommendation: Sherri Thomas,

“As the owner of Avenue Art and Company and also as a painter, I would like to recommend artist Sherri Thomas. She is a quiet, humble person with a fire to paint in oil and primarily landscapes. In the few years that we have represented Sherri, I have seen her boldly participate as a plein air painter not only regionally, but nationally as well. She continues to enter and win juried art festivals and shows. It is one thing to quietly paint, but it is quite another to step up and put your work out there with other quality painters.”

From Sherri: “I paint a variety of subjects in oil, but the landscape is my greatest love and I’ve found the best way to paint it is to go outside and work. This type of painting is called ‘plein air’ where the unpredictability of nature is captured with a paintbrush. Photographs are helpful resources, but nothing beats being totally immersed with the subject; to see complex color, feel the heat or cold, wind, rain, fight off bugs and wear lots of sunscreen. However, I have my limits, and you’ll find me working in the studio when snow is on the ground.

Meet the artists!

See work by our 2019 Artists to Watch on display at The Draw from January 18 – February 8. Meet the creators at the opening reception on Friday, January 18 from 6-9 p.m. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar will be available. The Draw is located at 800 S Lawe Street in Appleton. Parking is available across the bridge in the south parking lot.

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