- Associated Press - Saturday, October 18, 2014

FORT ATKINSON, Wis. (AP) - History and art come together to reflect the words of the late Fort Atkinson poet Lorine Niedecker at Fort Atkinson High School in the first of multiple planned poetry projects within the School District of Fort Atkinson.

Niedecker - who has been described as “one of America’s best unknown poets” - spent much of her life on Blackhawk Island, west of Fort Atkinson.

A former Daily Union proofreader and hospital janitor, she wrote extensively about the area’s flora and fauna, her neighbors, family and travel.

She worked closely with her early mentor, Louis Zukofsky, founder of the Objectivist Movement, and was concerned with capturing the simple rhythms of American speech and the complexity implicit in life’s simplicity.

Niedecker, died in 1970 at age 67.

Known internationally, the late poet only recently has been more widely recognized within her home state, the Daily Jefferson County Union (https://bit.ly/1sVtGiq ) reported.

The art project at Fort Atkinson High School, sponsored by the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, was created to help the community get to know Niedecker and her work by connecting the downtown mural featuring her poetry to the schools throughout the district.

The mural on the southeast corner of the wall at the intersection of East Sherman Avenue and North Main Street was painted by local artist Jeremy Pinc in 2009.

It was the result of development of the first Lorine Niedecker Wisconsin Poetry Festival in 2009.

The sixth annual two-day festival is being held this weekend in Fort Atkinson and will include workshops, poetry readings, presentations and workshops at her Blackhawk Island residence.

“The Friends of Lorine Niedecker is trying to help the community get to know Lorine a little better, and get her out of the library and out of the museum and into people’s faces,” Angie Szabo, Fort Atkinson High School art teacher said.

Dwight Foster Public Library Assistant Director Amy Lutzke first approached Fort Atkinson school district superintendent Jeff Zaspel, who suggested starting the project at the high school, in February.

Zaspel reached out to high school art teachers Szabo and Andrea Goswitz who decided to put the project into their students’ hands by incorporating it in several classes.

Students first broke off into teams using different Niedecker poems for inspiration.

A digital arts class then took photos of places around the high school they thought would make interesting places for a mural.

From there, the class created digital samples of mural designs throughout the school, incorporating Niedecker’s poetry.

Szabo said her and Goswitz then took different elements of each student’s design, ultimately deciding on the poem that now can be seen in the high school. The poem reads:


to see the lake


the still sky


out for an easy


the dragonfly.

The poem then went to Szabo’s advanced sculpture class who decided it would be interesting to incorporate the unit they had just finished - stained glass. High school senior, Jourdyn Cluver, took the lead on the project from there, along with several of her classmates.

“And as art does, it just kind of developed from there,” Szabo added.

Cluver said she decided to place the poem installation on the front doors because she thought they were boring.

“I saw the front doors and they were so boring, and I?thought there’s got to be something I can do with that,” she said.

After really enjoying the stained glass unit in class, Cluver decided she would take the poem installation on as her final project.

The installation was, however, on a significantly larger scale than projects Cluver previously had taken on, which created a great learning experience.

“Doing something that was three feet by two feet was a lot bigger, so there were definitely challenges we had to overcome,” Cluver added.

The window design is made up of several elements, including stained glass, metal work and vinyl lettering donated by the Fort Arts Council.

The dragon flies created by Cluver and Kendra Riddle were made of stained glass, and the cattails were made of metal donated by Loeb-Lorman Metals Inc. of Fort Atkinson and bits of stained glass.

Fellow classmate Caroline Graves did a lot of the metal work incorporated in the installation.

“We thought of the metal aspect as a way to add something unique and different,” Cluver said. “Part of the reason I wanted to use metal was because it was something different and challenging.”

Walt Christensen, a Jefferson County Board supervisor and experienced welder, helped the girls get started on much of the metal work. From there, the pair were able to create much of the design themselves.

“Caroline was great with the welding … our shop teachers and Walt were so impressed because Caroline just jumped right in there,” Szabo said. “Walt showed us how to do the welds … and the girls got right in there. He didn’t weld a thing - just made sure a few spots were where they were supposed to be.”

“Walt let us do just about everything,” Cluver added.

Cluver said she actually is most proud of the metal work because it turned out even better than what she had envisioned.

“The metal turned out a lot more detailed, but I didn’t really know what to expect because I had never worked with metal before,” she added.

Besides creating the art, Szabo and the students took a trip to Lorinne’s home on Blackhawk Island to better understand her poetry.

“Seeing that and being down there, being that close to the water and seeing the things she writes about in her poems, it all starts to come together a little bit,” Szabo remarked. “You connect with it.”

“Once you do learn more about her and more about her life, the poetry does start to make more sense,” Lutzke added.

Cluver agreed, saying that learning about Niedeker and then reading her poems again was an eye-opening experience.

“To see what she was going through when she wrote this poem was cool,” she added.

Szabo said most of the students never had heard of Niedecker, except for the mural downtown, so the project itself was a good start to introducing the poet to the community.

“I?think everybody in Fort knows the mural downtown, but the students hadn’t read Lorinne’s poetry beyond those words and didn’t know a lot about her as an individual,” she said.

Szabo also noted that the project was a good experience for the students to make art for the public rather than for themselves, and to understand what it really is like to be an artist.

Cluver, who currently attends Madison Area Technical College for photography, always has been interested in art and this project reaffirmed her passion.

“Working with other artists in the community, I?felt like a part of them,” she added. “It was really cool to see so many people from the community come together for a common goal.”

The art piece took about two months to complete, and was up and finished when students returned to school in September.

“For a piece that big, that was pretty fast,” Szabo observed.

Besides the poem on the front doors, students created several paintings based on Niedecker’s work that will be placed around the school. A ceramic tree branch also will go above a set of lockers.

“We just wanted to get one poem on the wall somewhere that people had to see, but the fact that they (poems) have turned into these beautiful art installations just adds to it,” Lutzke said. “When we first came and saw examples of the ideas they had, we were blown away.

“It’s not just people that work or attend the school that see the mural, but it’s a large part of our community, as well as all the other people that come from the southern part of the state,” she added.

There now is something about the high school that is special and different, Szabo stated.

“When people walk into our school they will see that art is part of our school,” she said. “If they are coming for a game, they will see it’s not just the trophies in the case, but that art is part of what we do too. “There is more to our school than just one thing,” she concluded. “It is many different things that are important, and many different kids that we reach and work with.”


Information from: Daily Jefferson County Union, https://www.dailyunion.com

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