You Can Go Home Again

A couple of years back, Denise and I were in Wisconsin visiting my mother and wound up with a couple of days free. We drove down to La Crosse, where we'd first met, spent some time visiting friends and generally depressurizing from family. We had a free afternoon, so decided to drop by my alma mater, Viterbo University, to see how things had changed.

Oh boy, had they. New buildings, new names on old buildings, they even renamed a street. The Fine Arts Center was mostly familiar, albeit with a new grand entrance. The third-floor art department was wholly familiar.

Including the department head.

Sherri Lissota and I were freshmen together, back in the dim distant past. She'd finished her degree elsewhere, but came back to Viterbo to teach. We had a lovely time catching up, including showing her pictures of my pottery (some of which she'd seen previously in an alumni art show) and Denise's paper and books.

One thing led to another, and now, two years later, we're coming back as visiting artists!

Desk and Table, a gallery exhibit of pottery, handmade paper and hand bound books, will be on display in the Viterbo University Gallery from January 31 through March 27. The opening reception will be 4-6 pm on Friday, February 2, and Denise and I will each give a short workshop on Tuesday, February 6. (See Find Us for details.)

The gallery is on the third floor of the Fine Arts Center, 929 Jackson Street, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

In conjunction with Desk and Table, I'm featured in the January 2024 Viterbo Alumni e-newsletter. A very nice and accurate article.

Encore Pattern of the Month:

Koalaty Checked

Since we're returning to Viterbo this month; Koala Hall is sadly no longer with us, razed to make room for the Varsity Athletics Center.

I wore a clip-on koala on my collar through four years of college. It's amazing what you can get away with in a liberal arts environment.

I didn't originate the idea; the wackily creative kids I hung out with in High School--think Glee scripted by Monty Python--started the fad, each naming his koala after his favorite artist. There was Leo (nardo da Vinci), Ludwig (von Beethoven), and my favorite, Rembrandt. I don't know what Rob and Mark did with their koalas in college. I started a weekly comic strip.

It was three panels, featured me perpetrating puns and Rembrandt doing sight gags and shout-outs to friends. It ran three years, got me a job as an editorial cartoonist at the diocesan weekly newspaper, and led to one unit of student housing being named "Koala Hall."

Like I said, only in a liberal arts setting.

I worked for the Viterbo College painting crew the summer after my sophomore year, spackling tack holes and repainting dorm rooms, as well as fixing up the motley collection of subdivided houses and apartment buildings the college maintained as supplemental student housing until they got around to knocking it down and building something on the lots.

We painters were a mixed lot of misfits, slackers and international students who didn't have a green card to get a real job. Like every summer house-painting crew since time immemorial, we quickly learned to always paint on the shady side of the house, especially in Wisconsin's hot, humid summers.

One morning, up on the ladder painting the second floor of 806 S. 9th Street, I painted Rembrandt on the right front panel. When I took a break, Godfried, next up the ladder, painted around the koala instead of over it. Then the sun came over the top of Murphy Center and we moved around to the shady side for the day.

The next morning I painted over the picture and was continuing to finish the third floor when "Hey! Pu' tha' bahk!" came word from Viterbo's Irish-American business manager, whose office overlooked our job site.

Far be it from me to argue with the man who signed my paycheck, so when I went back up to paint the window frames--as an art major, I was pretty much the only one trusted to paint trim--I took along a couple of artist's brushes and painted the street number on the left side of the façade, and a two-foot-high cartoon koala on the right. "Koala Hall" was born, much to the annoyance of our student newspaper's other cartoonist, Milktoast, who actually lived there. He got even, though...

Considering my long history with koalas, I was delighted when the Portland Zoo actually got a pair of them to go with the emus and wallabies in their Australian exhibit. I've never gotten a very good look at them, though. They spend most of the day curled up in the trees, snoozing, unlike their cousins in the San Diego Zoo. Those fellows once staged a daring daylight escape--into the eucalyptus trees right outside of their enclosure, proving that the leaves really are greener on the other side of the fence.

My koalas, wide-eyed or snoozing, can be found on tall mugs, tumblers, pilsners, plates, serving bowls, pastas and the occasional pie plate. I've even painted a few on teapots.

For koala tea, of course.

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