Paint the Way
Who is Uncle Vinny? He is a muscled, grinning character Evansville artist and educator Jon Siau designed for Turoni’s Pizzery & Brewery and has been drawing for around 20 years.
“It’s cartoons,” says Siau, while sitting in Turoni’s Newburgh restaurant. “It’s for the restaurant and walls. It’s what a lot of people know me for.”
Siau also designed a large mural inside the front door of the restaurant, depicting “Wizard of Oz” characters dancing down a pizza-lined road leading to the three Evansville restaurants, with Uncle Vinny perched on a motorcycle on an adjacent wall.
But the 65-year-old retired North High School art teacher has won honors that extend far beyond his Evansville roots. He has done work for the U.S. Olympic committee, including a magazine that went worldwide, and completed artwork for celebrities such as Don Mattingly, Garth Brooks, and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.
And he has passed on his talents to his students, with more than 100 winning national art awards. One former student designed the interior of luxury jets for the late pop star Michael Jackson and the prince of the Southeast Asian country of Brunei. Another former student studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, served apprenticeships with Vera Wang and Victoria’s Secret, and now works for Polo Ralph Lauren.
Born and raised in Evansville, Siau attended Harper Elementary School, Harrison High School, and completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Evansville. He taught art at North High School from the fall of 1971 until the spring of 2013, when he retired for health reasons.
“It was hard for me to walk away,” says Siau. “It was a tearful decision.”
Siau’s awards include the 2002 Power of Art award presented by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (Washington D.C.) for outstanding work with students with disabilities. The award was presented at a formal banquet held at the National Gallery of Art.
In 2006, he was named recipient of the American Stars of Teaching program. The award is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Siau was selected from more than 60,000 teachers in the state of Indiana and the only art teacher in the nation to be chosen for the national honor.
“I don’t care about awards,” says Siau, who is single and lives on Evansville’s North Side. “I want to get back into the show scene.”
In addition to teaching, Siau coached boy’s track, girl’s golf and tennis, and boy’s and girl’s cross-country.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” said Siau. “I’ve led a very blessed life.”
When did your interest in art begin?
I’ve just always loved it. It’s the one thing I had confidence in. I love being able to sit down with a blank piece of paper and create.
What medium do you enjoy most?
Watercolors. I enjoy just sitting down and painting what I want to paint. I love to observe. I’m very visual.
What are the current projects you are working on?
I’m writing and illustrating a book. The subtitle will be “Life’s Lessons.” The book is about awkward moments and the things you learn along the way. Then after that, I’m going to write a song. I scored miserable on the tone pitch test as a child. The teacher asked me to pantomime instead of sing. My father said, ‘Son, don’t feel too bad. None of us has any musical talent.’ Someone in our family had all the music talent — I later learned through a relative who had done genealogical research that my family is related to Johann Sebastian Bach.
Why do you want to write a song and author a book?
It’s definitely the challenge part of it. And creating something outside my normal safety net of arts. The song and the book are painting with words.
Do you consider yourself a teacher or an artist?
I’m not teaching anymore. When I was a teacher, I was all in. I just loved it. You get to take the one thing you’re really good at, pass it on, and share it with young minds who really want to know. I didn’t have a job for 42 years. To me, I had a career. I got to work with great students, parents, and other teachers.
Have you seen students make positive changes as the result of being in art class?
I have seen some students change a lot. I’ve seen kids come into class shy with no confidence. Then they discover they can draw and it’s just amazing the transformation. We all need someone to believe in us. You need two people to believe in you — yourself and someone who believes you can do things.
Where would you like to be in a year?
I would like to be immersed in my artwork and my community. I believe in giving back. I’ve worked with every medium except computers. And I want to do plein air work (French term for painting outdoors) and sit there and talk to people. Art has soothed my troubled soul many times.
For more information about Jon Siau, visit jonsiau.com.
Ten years ago, tragedy struck the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans across the nation. August marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast. Out of the tragedy, a story of triumph began.
To commemorate the anniversary, three Mississippi Gulf Coast artists featured in the Journeys Art Exhibit, held from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, July 24 at the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana, 318 Main St., Ste. 101, share the story with the community. After the loss of their homes and studios, Lori K. Gordon, Julie Nelson, and Mary-Pat Forrest began to rebuild.
Today, the artists are displaying the progress they have achieved over the last decade through a documentary shown at the exhibit, which is free to the public. Also featured in the exhibit are ceramics, mixed media, and 2D paintings shaped by Hurricane Katrina.
“These three women’s experience was colored by Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath, as well as by the outpouring of support they received from fellow artists around the country,” says Anne Shoemaker McKim, executive director at the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana. “The opportunity for the Arts Council’s Bower-Suhrheinrich Foundation Gallery to host this exhibit is very exciting, as is the privilege of now being a part of their story.”
“Coming from my perspective as a full-time artist for them to go through that tragedy and begin again, it is truly remarkable,” says Emily Gartner, Evansville artist, who with the help of fellow Evansville artist Laura Spradley aided Gordon during her time of need.
For more information about the Journeys Art Exhibit, call 812-422-2111 or visit artswin.org.
For the last eight years, the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville has worked to encourage Evansville’s youth to serve the community by honoring those who lend a hand during the Eighth Annual Steak & Burger Youth of the Year Luncheon.
The luncheon honors youth who have gone above and beyond, whether it’s aiding the staff at the Boys & Girls Club or helping mentor others. Twenty youth were selected monthly throughout the year from both the Bellemeade Avenue club and the Fulton Square club, from which two youths of the year will be chosen to win the annual prize — a $250 scholarship from Pizza King and a reward from the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville.
“What is truly exciting about the event is, the overall joy and appreciation from the kids and the parents as well,” says Shanna Scheessele, resource development director at the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville. “It is an honor to see the kids being recognized for all their hard work and achievements.”
Community members have the opportunity to meet club members and families, as well as join other community leaders to support the Boys & Girls Club mission through this luncheon. The Eighth Annual Steak & Burger Youth of the Year Luncheon is held from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6 at the Springleaf Financial Services Boys & Girls Club Unit, 700 Bellemeade Ave. The event is $25 per person or you may sponsor a table from any of the available sponsorship levels.
For more information or reservations, contact Shanna Scheessele at 812-425-2311 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Vanderburgh Humane Society is encouraging pet owners to spend their Saturday, Sept. 12, walking their furry friends while raising money to help others. The Fido Walk is a 1-mile pledge walk, where guests can walk their own dog or walk a shelter dog. Visitors also can create a fundraising team with family and friends.
“It is one of the community’s only dog friendly events where residents can bring their animals,” says Amanda Coburn, special events and media coordinator. “It continues to raise money for VHS, which serves 10,000 animals each year for Vanderburgh and surrounding counties.”
This year the Fido Fun Fest is especially exciting, says Coburn. Along with the inflatables, food, vendors, and doggie and kiddie games, the event features new entertainment and the Fido 2K Fetch, where guests have a chance at winning $500. The Fido 2K Fetch is a game of fetch, where Fido, a dog, chooses the tennis ball with the lucky winner’s name. Then, don’t miss an action-packed performance by the Flying Houndz Frizbee Trick Dog Show, sponsored by the Pet Food Center, which is a choreographed production with thrilling tricks.
The Fido Walk and Fun Fest, sponsored by Romain Subaru, begins at noon on Saturday, Sept. 12 at the Vanderburgh Humane Society, 400 Millner Industrial Drive. The fun fest is free and lasts until 5 p.m. Those attending can register for the walk for $25 and the Fido 2K Fetch for $10 on vhslifesaver.org.
For more information about the Fido Walk and Fun Fest, call 812-426-2563, ext. 218 or visit vhslifesaver.org.
Carrie Preston, a native of Macon, Georgia, graduated from the University of Evansville in 1989, the year I graduated from Castle High School. By the time I was 16, I preferred the company of the University of Evansville Theatre Department crowd, slightly older than myself, and worldlier than the kids in provincial Newburgh, Indiana. Preston and I remained in touch during her time at the Juilliard School in New York City, and when we both lived in Los Angeles in the 90s. I worked in galleries and she worked in television. She has appeared on TV series such as “True Blood,” “The Good Wife,” “Happyish,” and more. These days, our annual visits are when she returns for the New Harmony Project each year in late spring.
This year’s conference was held from May 20-31. The nonprofit organization provides a writer’s retreat each year in New Harmony, Indiana, to emerging and established writers to develop scripts for stage, television, and film.
Preston participates in the conference as an actor and director, and she sits on the organization’s board, which is based in Indianapolis. She and her husband Michael Emerson (“Lost,” “Person of Interest”) are donors. The board and staff work year-round to raise money and coordinate arrangements for the conference. A committee in Evansville plans the Annual Final Dinner and reading for the public on the final night, a fundraising event, as well as an opportunity for local residents to get a glimpse of the writer’s process, and engage with company members such as Emerson and Preston.
Preston and I spent some time discussing her ongoing interest in the New Harmony Project, which brings her back each year, over salted-caramel ice cream at Bliss Artisan, 518 S. Main St. in New Harmony.
Why is the New Harmony Project unique?
There are lots of script development programs, but our mission is specifically about finding scripts that celebrate and elevate the human experience. We’re looking for glass half-full plays, not works that are negative or violent. That’s not to say there aren’t sad, dramatic, or dark scenes, but we see the characters overcome it.
Why does New Harmony remain the location for this project?
New Harmony is the site of two former utopian societies, and the spirit of that has lasted and you can feel it here. People come here and get away from the pressures of living in the big cities where you get distracted and you can’t focus. What these writers are given is time and space to make mistakes, to learn about their scripts, and have a team of professional actors, directors, stage managers, and dramaturgs come together with the common goal, which is to help this writer find the best version of this script that they can in the two weeks that we give them. And most of the time they do.
How did your experience at the University of Evansville shape you?
Going to the University of Evansville was a turning point in my life. It was there I really learned how to act. From there I went to the NHP as an intern and that was my first time, right after I graduated from UE. I got to work with amazing professionals — writers I learned about in school. I got to interact with them and learn from them. They cared about what I had to say. I felt that was such a rewarding thing, so years later, I started coming as a professional and then they asked me to be on the board. I’m honored to be a part of it.
For more information about the New Harmony Project, call 317-464-1103 or visit newharmonyproject.org.
Pat Brentano’s passion for art and the environment is evident in her voice. The moment she begins speaking on the subject, it’s hard not to be entranced by the Evansville native as she describes her work.
“What I’m trying to do with my work is to communicate how important that understory and trees are for the birds, who can’t really speak for themselves,” says Brentano.
Brentano, who has been an artist all her life, currently lives in New Jersey with her husband Jon Bramnick, an attorney and New Jersey assemblyman. She completed her undergraduate studies in St. Louis and then went to Philadelphia for graduate school. Recently she was awarded the Richard Kane Conservation Award by the New Jersey Audubon Society. She was the 2011 Martha and Merritt DeJong Artist-In-Residence at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science and was a finalist in the Keep Evansville Beautiful Airport Gateway Project last year. Though the focus of her art has changed over the years, she says drawing remains at the root of all her works.
“I’m classically trained, which is something from the 1970s,” she explains. “I try to keep the work tied to skillful drawing and an understanding of the two-dimensional art.”
Nature always has been a part of her work, but it was six years ago when the message of her art changed. Brentano and her husband live in a New Jersey suburb named Indian Forest, which she says showcases beautiful, mature, native trees. Her neighbors down the street decided to clear out 21 of the trees to make room for a new house. The action angered her.
“That just tore my heart,” she says. “I’ve said in a few interviews that I wanted to kill them, but I decided to use it as an inspiration for a new series of work.”
The first work born from this reformation was a set of wood panels. She first took large pieces of wood and drew the destroyed trees on the 4-foot by 5-foot panels. Then she cut the trees away to symbolize they were now missing. She tries different ways to address the environmental crisis with her art, she says. Other commission works have centered around water, habitat, oxygen, climate change, and even the Gulf Oil Crisis.
How did growing up in Southern Indiana influence your art?
What really stayed with me … is this great connection I had to nature by living there. I was in Evansville, but then we could get to the country. You could go to the river and swim, you could go to the stripper pits and swim. You could go right out into the cornfields. And I did those things.
I grew up much more attached or integrated in those spaces. Where as you come out to the Northeast, it’s very congested. I live 35 to 40 minutes west of New York City. I’m in a suburb, but there’s no nature. You have to really travel to go find it, because it’s different.
Can you tell us about the project you did for the Keep Evansville Beautiful Airport Gateway project?
The piece for the Gateway Airport project was really like my habitat project. It was panels. It was called “Shadows of Generations” and it was about people who had been on that land. The layers and the light changes were supposed to represent that. They didn’t want birds, so I didn’t do my birds. But I would have liked to do that. Anyway, it was a good project to have and I tried.
Why do you feel art in general, including yours, can help make the public more conscious of nature?
I think art is a universal language. Everyone can understand and interpret it for themselves by using their eyes. For me that’s a huge way to communicate.
The problem is because it is not taught properly in elementary school, we lose the ability to think that way. I think it’s extremely important and should be incorporated in every discipline for children so they grow up being more sophisticated, visual people. It kind of connects all the senses. Art is a great way to communicate with everyone but because people have not been exposed to it, it’s very foreign. They don’t use that part of their brain really; they don’t really see it all. At least through art you can open that up a little bit, in many ways. That’s my hope.
I was a professor for many years. I taught painting and drawing at the University of Wisconsin in Kenosha and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and then at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. Education is important to me too. The lack of good art education is one of the root causes of the environmental crisis that we’re in now. That’s how I feel. If it were taught properly and it had the same weight as any other discipline, maybe those people wouldn’t have torn down those trees. Because they would have appreciated them for their beauty alone or they would have worked with them somehow. We wouldn’t just keep consuming and owning without respecting or sharing.
I just think art has real powers that haven’t been used in our education system in this country. It is considered a secondary discipline and it shouldn’t be. I think that’s the root cause of a lot of our problems. It’s just a shame that it’s been put aside and secondary. I’m big on education, that’s why I do my work. I want to educate and inspire, hopefully.
What was it like being named artist-in-residence in your hometown?
That was fabulous! I loved it. I stayed for two weeks and I taught a class at the museum. I had the show and I gave two talks. I gave a talk to the Nature Conservancy and then they invited me to come to Indianapolis and do a show there. I got two big commissions. Actually, if you go on my website, under commissions, you’ll see the big bird panel that’s in the Efroymson Conservation Center in downtown Indianapolis. That was really exciting.
It just really reminded me of home and my whole growing up experience. When I was a kid I took classes at the museum and did workshops that they did with the artists they brought in as visiting artists. It’s such a circle. It was very nostalgic, very cozy, very homey, and it was great.
For more information about Pat Brentano and her art, visit patbrentano.com.
Water has long inspired art, and, in its fourth year, the New Harmony Music Festival and School has channeled that inspiration with the theme “Rivers, Waterways, and Streams of Life.” Various performers like Mazz Swift and Michael Brown will perform music inspired by waterways, including the Mississippi River basin.
The festival and school is a weeklong event from July 5 to 12 presented by the New Harmony Artists Guild, a nonprofit charity catering to the arts. The event focuses on non-amplified concerts in the styles of classical chamber music, improvisational jazz, and traditional folk music.
“I believe diverse music can be presented on the same stage on the same evening with wonderful results for the listener,” says Christopher Layer, founder and director of the New Harmony Music Festival and School. “The festival school allows students from one musical discipline to delve into other musical disciplines in a sort of learning ‘safe space’ each day of the school.”
During the festival week, music students have the opportunity to study with the featured musicians and to perform publicly at the event. The music doesn’t end with the festival either; all concerts are recorded live, and audience members can enjoy the music as a free download on the music festival and school’s website.
For more information about New Harmony Music Festival and School, call 812-472-4321 or visit newharmonymusicfest.com.
Hanging At Haynie's
Situated at the convergence of four unique neighborhoods (Culver, Blackford’s Grove, Goosetown, and Wheeler), Haynie’s Corner Art District, blends diverse businesses with cultural attractions. First Fridays is a new monthly event that highlights indoor and outdoor art exhibits and artists around Haynie’s Corner, named after the drug store that operated there for years.
“We’re shooting for Haynie’s Corner to be the place for art in Evansville,” says Cole Cartwright, First Fridays events chair. “With First Fridays, we’re looking to bring people to the art district where they can have fun and see art on a regular basis.”
Thanks to the hard work of the Haynie’s Corner Art District Association, First Fridays combine all corners from the creative crowd. Chefs, musicians, artists, and performers bring their talents to local business owners who open their doors to Haynie’s Corner visitors.
“It’s a concept that’s popular in other big cities,” says Mary Allen, president of Haynie’s Corner Art District Association and owner of Soap Solutions, 44 Washington Ave. “We wanted to promote the arts, and we wanted to show off the corner and how it’s developing.”
The Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana is one of the many partners in this project. According to Anne McKim, the executive director at the Arts Council, “We have provided the backhand administrative support matching artists with a venue based on space needs and style of works.”
With 18 locations and counting scattered throughout the art district from Penny Lane Coffeehouse on S.E. Second Street to Kirby’s Private Dining along Parrett Street, local artists including Emily Gartner of Evansville, who makes surface design photography, display their work at participating businesses.
“Creative people have been waiting a long time to showcase their talents,” says Gartner whose work is displayed at Penny Lane. “We’ve been wanting to show we can stand up to the bigger cities — to show we can do it, too, and do it better.”
The Art District Association is moving toward a formal 501(c)3 status, according to Cartwright. The association focuses on developing the economic and cultural growth of the district and achieves those goals through art, education, and events like First Fridays.
“We don’t want to just help our pockets; we want to help the neighborhood,” says Cartwright. “Although this is a project that is coming to fruition now, it’s been something in the works for a long time. We owe a lot of praise to the Haynie’s Corner Advisory Committee, and they have kept the ball rolling with city development here.”
In the last two years, the corner has seen an influx of new, local businesses like the restaurant Sauced, 1113 Parrett St. The Bokeh Lounge, 1007 Parrett St., recently finished its expansion and Haynie’s Corner Pub, 1114 Parrett St., reopened its doors after a two-year renovation. The district also is excited to welcome the Dapper Pig, 1112 Parrett St., to the corner in the summer.
“Now there are more people in this area to work together,” says Allen. “There are people invested in the area, so we’re hoping to bring people down to Haynie’s. It takes people starting businesses to bring people down here, and it’s risky.”
For more information about Haynie’s Corner First Fridays, visit downtownevv.com to view the social calendar.
Yvette Walts is the kind of person who greets a new acquaintance with a hug instead of a handshake. So imagine the petite, peppy blonde’s surprise when she found herself depicted as the villain of “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition,” a Lifetime TV reality show featuring infamous “Dance Moms” star Abby Lee Miller.
“It was a big shock to my system,” says Walts, a teacher and choreographer with Evansville’s THR!VE Dance Company. Walts, a former dancer and elite-level gymnast, appeared on the show in 2012 with her daughter, Hadley, after a competition director recommended the duo to Lifetime producers who were casting a new show. Out of 2,000 mother-daughter pairs who applied, 12 — including the Waltses — were chosen to film in Los Angeles. In addition to Yvette and Hadley’s roles on “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition,” they also were featured in several episodes of “Dance Moms” in 2013 and 2014.
Although Walts gained national fame on TV, and former THR!VE dancers have gone on to performance careers with the likes of Cirque du Soleil, the Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders, and Odyssey Dance Theatre, her current focus is right here at home in Evansville. She’s currently busy developing the company’s new recreational program for dancers ages 2 to 18, increasing THR!VE’s community presence through outreach performances, and traveling with the competitive dance team.
Walts lives on the North Side with her husband, Mark, a Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana employee in Princeton, Indiana, and their daughter Hadley, now 14, an accomplished dancer and golfer at North High School.
It’s hard to imagine you portrayed as a villain.
That’s the magic of Hollywood: They can take Positive Polly and make her look really bad, and market her so they can sell more commercials. … I was the only dance teacher who had a child in the competition. To some moms, especially really insecure moms, it was an unfair advantage. I was such an easy target for people to feel uneasy about. Everyone was there for their child to win $100,000, and we all knew there was only going to be one winner.
(During the audition in New York), Hadley and I both had to take a psych evaluation. I just thought they were doing it to see if we could withstand the pressure of the show. I didn’t realize they were analyzing our character. When we got to L.A., I saw some papers, and my name was on one of them. Beside my name, it said “professional, perfectionist.” On another mom’s, it said “emotional mom.” They’re so brilliant, these producers — they want characters who don’t match. They’ve got it down to a science.
What do you wish the casual viewer knew about reality TV?
There was not one time someone handed me a piece of paper and said, ‘Memorize this.’ It’s not scripted, but it’s set up. … They keep everyone separated off camera, and all electronics are confiscated upon arrival. They don’t want you to be able to call back home and let steam off. They’re brilliant through the whole process. What people don’t see is that as intense as it is, we as characters and cast members were treated really, really well. It was an experience we’ll never forget.
What do you wish those viewers knew about you?
I think how I came across on TV is completely opposite of what I live in real life, as someone who looks at the glass at half full. It looked like I was vindictive toward children when children are truly my life and livelihood. … My job is to help build them, not break them.
Both on television and to your dancers here in Evansville, you’re known for your motivational sayings such as “You gotta risk it to get the biscuit!” Where did those originate?
I love to read motivational things, and I love to inspire kids, so I always say fun stuff like, “You’re not stressed out, you’re blessed out!” Sometimes I’ll make them up myself, and other times I read them. You know, “Go the extra mile because it’s never crowded.” Most people today do just enough so they don’t get fired. So most employers pay you just enough so you won’t quit. Why is America like that? Nothing in life is free, so I think: Are you being all that you can be? Then all that goodness will come back to you.
You’re traveling extensively with THR!VE right now, and you stay busy teaching, choreographing, and even judging competitions. Where do you find calm and inspiration?
Now that is a class I’m looking to take. (laughs) That is the million-dollar question. I’m still looking! I do love to work out — Molly (Adams, my THR!VE business partner and fellow choreographer) and I meet at the gym at least four times a week. That’s where I find my zen. I just think I need to keep leading by example and keep in good physical shape. I don’t mean appearance-wise; I mean a healthy heart and being able to keep up with the kids in the studio.
What do you hope to instill in your dancers?
I’m not asking you to be the best dancer; I’m just asking you to be the best dancer you can be. I’m going to teach you how to set goals and strive for excellence in all you do.
I think dance is so valuable and important. There’s so much more than just performing. … That does not sell commercials, but I was born and raised here, and that’s how I can help the community.
For more information about THR!VE Dance Company, visit thrivedanceevansville.com.
Run for Research
After losing their son Sean to medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, Craig and Katie Witsoe of Evansville started the St. Jude Give Hope Run in their son’s memory. The run is in its fifth year and people of all ages are encouraged to participate in or attend the 5K run/walk to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Thanks to the St. Jude Give Hope Run committee, the event will be held 8 a.m. April 25 at Burdette Park. A short kid’s dash for children under the age of 12 also will take place that day. Food and refreshments are provided with the help of the run’s sponsors; some of the sponsors in the past include Buffalo Wild Wings and Starbucks. Last year’s efforts raised $111,000 and this year’s goal is to collect $150,000.
Tammy Featherstone, a member of the St. Jude Run committee whose son Sam died in 2013 of medulloblastoma, says 1,500 people showed up to the event last year.
“This event isn’t just for people who run,” says Featherstone. “We encourage anyone who is interested in helping St. Jude to come out that day. People walk the course, or they can enjoy the different booths from our sponsors.”
The event costs $25 for adults and $15 for children.
For more information about the St.Jude Give Hope Run, call 317-587-0925 or visit givehoperun.org.