Posts Categorized: People

Making a Scene… Tanya Gertz / Luther Center Stage Series

This is the first of the 5 part series, Making a Scene – from our fall 2014 magazine.
Written/Interviews by Benji Nichols

CFLWe all know how great seeing a live performance can be, whether at a regional performing arts center, or your neighborhood tavern, but we don’t always think about the countless folks literally behind the scene, making those moments happen. Of course there are the performers, their support crew, audio and lighting techs, publicity folks, bartenders, door staff, and so many others. But what about the people who are at the helm of deciding who and what shows to bring to our region?

Inspire(d) caught up with five different leaders in the Driftless Region who are making amazing performances happen. From fine art, to rockabilly queens, to alcohol free rock and roll, and the Blues, these are the people who truly make it happen. Hats off to these fine folks and the amazing people that work with them to “make a scene” – say thanks the next time you see them (just look for the wizard behind the curtain – or more likely running around making it all happen!). Better yet, buy a ticket and go see the shows!

Tanya Gertz – Luther College Center Stage Series 

Tanya GertzThe Luther College Center Stage Series has anchored the touring performing arts in Northeast Iowa for decades. Since 2005, Tanya Gertz has been the Director of Campus Programming, rounding up staff to juggle hundreds of events moving through various spaces each year. The 2014-15 Center Stage Series kicks off September 13 with The Intergalactic Nemesis, and continues September 25 with the tap-sensation Rhythmic Circus. San Jose Taiko brings the beat October 4, and LA Theatre Works presents “In the Heat of the Night” October 24. A special primer concert with The Awful Purdies focusing on local food and farming will take place Sunday September 14 at Seed Savers exchange – the discussion after this show will be part of a theatrical production from the Working Group Theatre on the Center Stage Series this coming Spring entitled “All Recipes Are Home (April 11, 2015). There’s way more fun, Center Stage Series show info, and online tickets at: tickets.luther.edu

How’d you get into presenting events?

I have been presenting events in this big, whole-hearted way since I started at Luther. However, looking back, I should have seen the possibility long ago as I was often in leadership roles for special events at my high school and college. When I had very few funds in Chicago, I saw everything I could that was free and then all the theatre I could by volunteering anywhere that would take me!

Do you have a most “exciting” live moment?

A few years back, the dance company Diavolo was at Luther. They had this big ship-like set element and there was a moment a dancer intentionally flew off it and the entire audience gasped. It was pretty wonderful to experience that as a presenter – helping to create such a dramatic moment that everyone was connected.

If you could present one show with anyone in the world – past or present – who would it be, and why?

Oh, this question! I care first and foremost about the experience and gifts of each artist to our series. But if I had to choose, it would probably be some kind special gathering of great artists like Dolly Parton, Joshua Bell, Aretha Franklin, Martha Graham, and some young inspiring folks with them like Abigail Washburn and/or Time for Three (who have been here)! And, then once we’ve all had our hearts filled to the brim with great art and our faces lit up with joy, they would come out and greet the great people in our audience!

What are you excited about in the near future?

I am in love with the new series and the energy of it! I am very excited to have San Jose Taiko here andSan Jose Taiko offer not only the evening performance, but also a show for our local schools and multiple workshops in town and on campus. I love that they are the longest-running taiko group in the US, and that the artistic director is a woman. And, though it is next spring – I am unbelievably excited about our premiere of All Recipes Are Home… grown from the stories of the land, food, and farming in Iowa with the setting being at a Decorah family farm.

 

 

Let’s Goa to India!

Ward and Jacky Budweg – with fellow biker, Jeff Friedhof – Take Tires to the World Once Again

Intro and Interview by Aryn Henning Nichols

 

Ward and Jacky Budweg are some of the most inspiring people we here at Inspire(d) know. Not that they’d want us to say that out loud (whoops – just did!). But c’mon – after traveling the world for three years, they had to know they were going to inspire a few folks.

“Our trip really wasn’t all that different from any other exploration – it’s all about getting out there for new experiences, no matter where or what you do!” Jacky says with her trademark enthusiasm and positive attitude.

That said, a trip around the world – on bike, no less – IS pretty amazing. On June 24 of 2007, they left Decorah with their bikes, tent, an arsenal of (light) tools – and each other, of course – for an adventure of a lifetime. Starting in Germany, they biked all over the globe, planting feet in 46 countries and tires in 40. Just over three years later, on June 30 of 2010, they peddled home to the Driftless Region (with local friends meeting up to make the ride with them)…but even before that ride back into the valley, they were gearing up for their next adventure.

“When we were in South America, there was a cyclist who said, ‘You guys have to go to India. It’s like no place you will ever go.’ They said it was just so different culturally than even China or Vietnam or Cambodia or any other Asia country …so of course, we had to go,” Ward says.

Jacky jumps in, continuing the story in a “he said/she said” way that they’ve mastered after collecting a many, many tales. “We couldn’t fit India into our trip at that point – we would have only had like two weeks – so we said ‘Let’s make it its own trip!’”

They’ve been planning India ever since – for more than three years now. It was in their minds in all the things they did once they “re-entered’ the US. They got flexible jobs. Tracked their spending. Got things ready. But it wasn’t just for India – India’s just the next trip.

“We know we’re going to travel like this as long as we’re able,” Jacky says.

They’re leaving March 3 and will be back stateside June 12. Friend and fellow biker/Decorah resident Jeff Friedhof will be joining them on the India adventure. Three and a half months is a little more doable than three years for the high school mathematics teacher.

“I’m taking a sabbatical to do this trip,” he says. “As an educator, I really feel it’s important to experience the world. And when you get a chance to travel like this, to a place like India, with world-travelers like Ward and Jacky, you take it. You have to go.”

Much like the world-tour, they’ve got a rough outline of where they’re going, but things are left pretty loose on purpose.

“As we were planning our [world] trip it was not where, but HOW we would do the experience. How many museums. How many miles a day. How much money. To what level are we going to take it?” Ward says.

The “plan” is this: They’ll land in New Delhi and go south along the coast to Goa, take a train back to New Delhi and bike the northern part of India, then bike to Nepal and back. They look forward to whatever’s going to happen, to happen.

“When you travel like this, you never know what little town you will go through, who will stop you, what you’ll get to experience,” Jacky says. “It’s the best way to do it.”

You can follow along on the peddling fun at Ward and Jacky’s blog fromthebenchesoftheworld.com.

What was the most surprising thing about your trip around the world?

Jacky: For me, it seriously was this: when we left, I was really scared, worried about riding along back roads, people pulling over and stopping us and what might happen. What happened was people did stop us, but they asked us if we wanted water. They gave us food. What I feared the most turned into one of the greatest comforts: People are good.

 

Ward: People’s willingness to take us in – afford us what they have. Even with the language barrier, they gave us everything they could. Really everyone was just so willing to give. One guy even drove past us, then turned his car around, came back, and got out. He walked over to us and gave us a bag full of something. He said, with a little English, “These are Korean donuts. You’ve never had these before.” And he was right. We hadn’t.

What was the most inspiring?

Jacky: Well, it’s the same as the first answer, really. And just like Ward said – what I found inspiring were the people with nothing that just want to give everything.

Why travel by bike?

Jacky: To be honest, I’m traveling by bike until I can’t anymore. I’m traveling by bike ‘til I’m 90. It opens all kinds of doors. Sure, the part where you go slow, can take pictures, stop and smell the roses – that part is great. But the best part is that it opens the doors for people to ask, ‘What are you doing? Where are you going?’ It starts conversations and then we get to know the locals. And on a trip like this, you want to get to know the locals. You trust the locals.

 

Ward: I agree with Jacky that you are more open to have people approach you and ask questions. But for me, as we traveled I soon learned that you do not end up in towns or cities that necessarily are looking to see travelers coming through their communities.   Your reception is not the same as if in a tourist city. There seemed to be a more genuine expression of their culture and how we should look at their town. By bike you are not always on the tourist route and that is what I like.

What do you think were the five most important things to have along (besides your bike and tent and each other, of course)?

 

  1. Piece of plastic. This is to sit on, make food on, cover your bags in a downpour, make a windbreak, put water in to bathe.
  2. Duct tape.  No explanation needed
  3. Tools. For bike repair and fixing other stuff for other people.
  4. Air pump. So many flat tires
  5. Salt and pepper and hot sauce. Rice and Pasta actually can be good with those.

 

Additional useful things: cutting board, paper and pen, sunscreen, and a stove to boil water and cook (“But if it breaks,” Jacky says, “Just use an empty tuna can, coil cardboard into it, and then fill it with wax! Ward’s mom taught him that. She was his Den Mother.”)

 

Useful “non-things”: Coded back-ups on personal and financial information and code words for dangerous or tense times. For Ward and Jacky: Danger = Birke; “Shut your mouth, I’ve got this!” = Mora

What do you say to people who say “I could never do that!”?

 

Jacky: Anytime you want to do a trip – any exploration – overseas, in the US, even in Iowa – it’s great! What we did was a trip we wanted to do, but it doesn’t make it any different from that six-month trip you took, or that two-week trip you’re planning. It’s all good. It’s all about getting out and experiencing something new.

 

Ward: Our trip was not a competition where there are people more fit and talented that could have accomplished the same thing. Our trip was a goal of experiencing the world on its terms. We had to adjust our terms as how we would engage all of the cultural nuances. It was hard for me to always be as the Argentineans and the Spaniards. Time moves pretty slow. The toilets of the world also are not for everyone. Not taking a shower for five days would be tough for a lot of people as well. Also the daily food of rice and pasta and pasta and rice would have a lot of people not join the adventure. But as Jacky also said everyone experiences things differently and it is your trip and your experience – we should all embrace that.

 

 

 

Aryn Henning Nichols loves hearing stories about world travels. In her lifetime, she hopes to visit many more countries than her current seven. Better get “planning”!

Go Ahead: Have a Cow

By Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the Oct/Nov issue of Inspire(d) Magazine, updated Aug. 2014

Have you spotted the new cow mural on the Oneota Cow-op? (The puns have been udderly ridiculous here in Decorah…) Her name is Irene and she was painted by Waukon artist Valerie Miller. We got to interview her back in 2010, so here’s a little #tbt!

ValerieMillerworking

“How now?” probably wouldn’t be the question artist Valerie Miller asks the Brown Cow, if given the chance. More likely it would be, “Could you please hold still?”

You see, Valerie paints cows – brown and every kind in between. She carefully captures their expressive eyes, subtle body language, and sometimes not-so-subtle attitudes and pairs them with bright, barren backgrounds in a pop-art-meets-the-farm sort of style.

So, of course, it makes perfect sense that she and her husband, artist and furniture designer Josh Miller (J.L.Miller Company), would call Waukon home. For Valerie, home again.

Although it was Josh’s idea to move back to the area to start their gallery,  (Steel Cow), in Northeast Iowa, Valerie was equally excited – and not just for of the abundance of cows.

“It is nice here – it is a beautiful, quaint, small, Midwestern area that has more subjects than I can ever paint – plus it’s home,” she says. “It feels good to be surrounded by friends and family.”

After pondering various locales to plant roots, and a 3-day trial run in Montana, coming back to Waukon was – to quote Goldilocks – just right.

“There isn’t the quantity or variety of the big cultural activities here you find in larger cities such as museums, art galleries, theater, etc. but on the other hand we are in the middle of the country and it is easy to go anywhere from here. People like to talk about others, but at the same time if something important is being spread, it spreads quickly and we are proven time and time again we have an enormous support system here in Northeast Iowa. It is cold, but we get to wear our favorite sweaters and scarves,” she says, going on. “For me, a huge pro is being able to see my family on a daily and weekly basis – oh and there are a lot of cows.”

(Have we mentioned she likes cows?)

Valerie’s history in Northeast Iowa is long – she and Josh even set up their studio and business in the building Valerie’s great-great-grandfather built as a furniture store way back in 1925. Plus, it is where her passions were first fostered.

ecow mural 20082

“I have always been interested in art and painting,” she says. “Ever since I was a little girl I was enamored with animals and I dreamed of being a painter.”

It’s safe to say Valerie Miller is officially a painter. Through talent, hard work, and business savvy, the little girl’s dream has become a grown-up reality.

“I am very fortunate that I am able to share my artwork with others and I hope it can help them lighten their day and bring smiles to their faces through the images I paint.”

QUEENIEMiniMooCanvasPrintWinArtMany of those images are of Queenie, Valerie’s favorite cow. So what makes her so special?

“First of all, she is beautiful! I have painted her over and over again – so many times in fact that I keep having to give my paintings of her different names of so I don’t have 20 paintings named Queenie,” Valerie says. “I also like what she represents – she is –was –from a small local family farm and was the matriarch of their herd. She kept her head high – for a cow anyway – and did a fantastic job leading all the cows in her herd in their daily activities.”

Despite branching out in animal varieties (dogs and other pets in the past, plus a horse may have been spotted on a wet studio canvas recently), Valerie doesn’t paint people. And no matter what, cows will continue to hold top billing.

“I feel like I still have thousands of cows left in me to paint,” she says.

The upcoming Northeast Iowa Studio Tour running from October 3–5 (2014) is a great chance to check out Valerie and Josh’s work and gallery at 15 Allamakee Street in Downtown Waukon.

“If any of you readers do get a chance to go on the Studio Tour – you should. We would love to see you in Waukon, of course, but all the artists have been working very hard throughout the year and this is an important weekend for the participants,” Valerie says. “A must-see stop is Nate and Hallie Evans from Allamakee Wood-Fired Pottery. They make amazing pottery, Nate is now offering glass pieces – which are brand-new and pretty cool – and their place has a special feeling all it’s own.”

The Millers are grateful to have friends like the Evans right here in the region, and that activities like the Northeast Iowa Studio Tour happen, along with many other arts initiatives.

“When I was a kid, there wasn’t as many art things as there are now and this is great for everyone,” Valerie says. “The more art, the better our lives.”

———–

Aryn Henning Nichols used to be a bit afraid of cows when she was little, but she’s since recovered. I mean…who’s ever heard of a human-eating cow? That’s right: No one.

Did you know? Supporting other artists is important to the Miller duo, as well as supporting the environment. They are part of an alliance of businesses that collectively give 1% of their annual sales to support a fitting natural environment organization, such as Seed Savers Exchange, which received support this year. And YOU can support their endeavors by “Having a Cow.” Learn more at steelcow.com