The creativity and passion of both experienced and aspiring artists will be up for auction in Sturgeon Bay this month.
If you visited the Door County city over the summer, you likely noticed some eye-catching street art on display – clever and colorful sturgeon sculptures. People from around Northeast Wisconsin used their artistic talents to design pieces that will help raise funds to promote and beautify the community.
These original works of art will be looking for permanent homes during Sturgeon Bay’s upcoming Harvest Festival on Saturday, September 20th.
The sturgeon street art and auction – now in its 15th year – has become a cherished tradition in Sturgeon Bay. But perhaps the most interesting things about the sturgeon sculptures are the people and the stories connected to them.
The Artists Behind This Street Art With a Purpose
When you look at the list of people who’ve contributed to this year’s collection, you’ll find veteran artists, emerging talent and even high school cheerleaders.
There are people like Matt Stender, a sculptor from Casco, who has been participating since the early years of the program. In fact, a wood-carved sturgeon Stender created went for more than $21,000 at a previous auction – an all-time high for the fundraiser.
This year, Stender used metal to design a “Flying Fish,” which you can see at the intersection of Third Ave. and Michigan St.
One particular sturgeon in this year’s collection captures some recognizable symbols of Door County.
Freelance artist Justin Deprey, who specializes in award-winning air-brushed artwork, chose to cover his piece with the lighthouses you’ll find along the peninsula.
“My grandfather had a love for lighthouses which led me to loving them too,” he says.
“I’ve always liked the architecture and how unique each one can be. Using my airbrush for the piece including some hand cut stencils and a lot of taping techniques I was able to capture the detail of all 10 lighthouses on the sturgeon. The map of Door County followed the spine perfectly which worked out good giving me a chance to point out each location.”
Deprey says the Sturgeon Bay Visitor’s Center does an amazing job attracting tourists to the city. He adds that the sturgeon art auction – the community’s largest fundraiser of the year – also does a lot to raise awareness for local artists.
Another accomplished artist taking part this year is David Franke of Egg Harbor. Franke describes himself as a multi-media artist because just about anything could make it into his designs.
“I am currently working on sculptural assemblages using local stone, branches, bones, stainless steel, brass and glass. I have a conscious and sub-conscious need to tell a story with natural materials,” he explains.
According to Franke’s wife, Kathy, “He doesn’t paint a landscape, he creates from a landscape.”
Franke took another unique approach with his sturgeon sculpture. He carefully covered his piece in thousands and thousands of uplifting words and symbols.
“Spreading a message of peace, love and happiness through the written word to thousands of visitors was my inspiration for the design,” Franke says.
It took him about 40 hours of writing and drawing to complete the sturgeon, which is titled “Read All About It.” Franke counted every word along the way. He ended up with 4,731 words, 3,706 symbols within the words and 1,857 symbols on the bottom.
For others, the chance to participate in the street art project represents an opportunity for their work to go on public display.
Sturgeon Bay resident Shannon Rouisse has enjoyed painting as a hobby since she was a teenager, but up until now, very few people have seen what she creates.
“This is the first piece of art I have ever displayed in public,” Rouisse says. “I saw that there were available sturgeons on the Sturgeon Bay Door County Facebook page and decided I would like to paint one.
I think the project gives every level of artist a chance to express themselves, as well as open the public to the art that exists in Sturgeon Bay. It’s great to drive around town and see the sturgeons!”
While Rouisse may not be a professional – art is in her blood. She is the great-granddaughter of American artist Henry Welling Tomlinson.
In addition to the creative support of local artists, each sturgeon is sponsored by an area business.
For instance, Door County Traders sponsored a shiny sturgeon, which Chanda Holschbach and Cori Rosen made together. The two are co-workers at Packerland Veterinary Center in Green Bay.
“This year’s creation was inspired by Cori’s terrible soda habit,” Chanda jokes. The pair of friends used inside-out aluminum cans to make the silvery scales covering their sculpture.
“We benefit from these types of events because we have an excuse to spend hours exercising our passion and the community benefits, we believe, by increasing awareness and bringing people to the area,” she adds.
Yet another contributor who has a day job that’s not art-related is Stan Rittner of the U.S. Coast Guard. He designed a special sturgeon with a Coast Guard theme. It’s especially appropriate because this year the United States Congress recognized Sturgeon Bay as an Official Coast Guard City.
See the Sturgeon Art for Yourself!
There’s still time to see these one-of-a-kind works of art on display around Sturgeon Bay. But don’t wait too long. They’ll be moved for the auction during Harvest Fest on September 20th.
In the meantime – you can use this Walking Map (PDF), which lays out the locations of all the sturgeon art.
You’ll find 8-foot and 5-foot sturgeon sculptures as well as free-form pieces, which allowed the artists to design whatever they imagined.
Check Out a Photo Slideshow of the Sturgeon Street Art
Why You Should Consider Bidding on a Sturgeon
In addition to the 2014 sculptures, you’ll find stunning sturgeon from past years at the homes of art collectors and many local businesses in the city.
My own family came across a bottle-cap-covered sturgeon inside the famous Sonny’s Pizzeria this summer. We spent a good amount of time looking it over. The sculpture stood out from the rest of the decor while adding lots of character to the restaurant’s atmosphere.
These pieces of art don’t just fade away when next year’s project begins. Instead they can become recognizable landmarks in the community or interesting conversation pieces inside your business or even your home.
Above all – you’ll know you are supporting a good cause. The Sturgeon Bay Visitors Center uses funds from the art auction to help keep Sturgeon Bay beautiful and encourage others to spend time enjoying all the city has to offer.
The auction will take place during the city-wide Harvest Festival on Saturday, September 20th – outside the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center (36 S. Third Ave). All of the artwork will be on display in front of the visitor center office the week of the auction. The live bidding will start at about 5:30 and go until they all find homes and gardens. Be sure to come early to get your paddle and enjoy music, food and beverages!
If you can’t make it to Harvest Fest, you can still bid in the street art auction when you download and use this Absentee Bidding Form.
More About Sturgeon Bay’s Harvest Festival
Even if you don’t plan to bid on the sturgeon art – there is still a ton of fun and excitement for the whole family being planned during the 2014 Harvest Festival.
The event will include a classic car show as well as live bands and great food and beverages all day long. Plus, have fun checking out the unique vendors, shops and kids activities all over Sturgeon Bay’s downtown.
The party continues into the evening hours with music and dancing until 9 pm.
The belief that Door County goes dead when the summer ends is a terrible myth! Harvest Festival is just one of the many events and activities taking place this autumn.
Check out the Sturgeon Bay Fall Travel Guide for more about what’s happening this season!