Jump Into The Pictures by jmgallen [WorldCat.org]
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Wisconsin in watercolor : the life and legend of folk artist Paul Seifert

by Joe Kapler

  eBook : Document : Biography  |  E-book edition

Jump Into The Pictures   (2019-07-28)


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by jmgallen


I once read that we do not look to Currier and Ives for photo-perfect representations of 19<sup>th</sup> Century America, we look to it for its Spirit.  The same can be said of the art of Paul Siefert found in “Wisconsin In Watercolor”.




Paul Seifert was a German immigrant who settled in Richland City (which no longer exists so do not look at your map) in the Driftless Area of Southeastern Wisconsin in 1867 where he worked as a gardener, taxidermist and artist.  It is as a self-taught itinerant artist that Siefert is best remembered.  From 1878 through 1915 he traveled from farm to farm creating watercolors of the lands, buildings, crops, animals and people of the land owners who paid him.




I am not familiar with the artistic terms but in my mind Seifert’s work can be described as semi-skilled.  The colors are vivid, the fields and rows are straight, the livestock are posing, the horses and their riders are strutting, the trees are nicely shaped, the bluffs, hills and roads are in their proper position and the clouds are daubed.  In the photographs of the same scenes the homes are hidden by vegetation, the trees are shaped by the sun and the wind, not the brush, the hills are asymmetrical and the colors are more muted.




The book is a pleasing combination of paintings and explanatory text.  The watercolors are presented, sometimes with cutouts of portions to highlight details or either recent color or older black and white photographs that show the similarities and contrasts between Siefert’s art and the actual landscape.  The texts relate the background of the properties and their occupants and details that identify the location or reveal something about rural life in southeastern Wisconsin late in the 19<sup>th</sup> century.  Inserted articles acquaint the reader with depicted properties, the people who called them home and the environment in which they lived their lives.




Siefert was not highly paid for his paintings and many were undoubtably lost over the years.  The specimens shown in this book have been found in many private and public collections in Wisconsin and across the country. We readers are fortunate that author Joe Kapler and the Wisconsin Historical Society Press assembled them in one volume. 




Why would I, or anyone, want to read this book or display it on our coffee table?  Speaking for myself, I like to study the pictures for snippets of life that cannot be conveyed by words alone.  Did the horses running in front of the carriage miss the path leading to the farm or are they going on?  How is it that the boy walking his dog and the chickens in the field pay no attention?  I am most intrigued by the girl in her white dress and hat, waiving at the carriage.  Is she giving a friendly greeting to a neighbor or running to the parents whom she has missed while they were away?  Just as Mary Poppins and Burt showed Jane and Michael how to jump into a sidewalk chalk drawing, Paul Seifert’s watercolors draw us out of the chairs and into the scenes he captured so long ago.  They enable us to enter the lives, the minds and hearts of these otherwise forgotten people.  Excuse me, I need to go back to that farm yard and road.  You just pick up “Wisconsin In Watercolor” and jump into another watercolor.




I did receive a free copy of this book without an obligation to write a review.


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