A wide array of talented craft artisans are getting recognition thanks to Dubuque Museum of Art’s 2nd Craft Invitational, which opened at the museum on June 27.

The exhibition will be on display through Sunday, Oct. 11, and includes more than 70 works by 22 tri-state and regional craft-makers.

Carole Spelic, program director at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, Wis., was on the four-member committee that curated the exhibition. Galena, Ill., artists Delores Fortuna and Maureen Bardusk and artisan boot-maker Paul Opperman, of Dubuque, rounded out the group.


Spelic said the goal of the committee was to find artists working with traditional materials but who were presenting them in unexpected and innovative ways.

“Meeting this goal meant that the work under consideration was intrinsically beautiful from both the design and execution standpoints,” she said.

As an invitational exhibition, the artists were invited by the curatorial committee.

“It was a wide-ranging assortment,” Spelic said.

The pandemic put a halt to in-person committee meetings, including some planned visits to artists’ studios. Spelic said the final selections became entirely virtual.

The end result is a display of artists who work in ceramic, glass, wood, paper and metal.

Whether the finished piece is a throwback to simpler times, such as the wooden paddles by Kevin Kowaleski and Justin Mosling, of Germantown, Wis., or contemporary pieces made with traditional methods, such as the brass sculptures of Denison, Iowa’s Darlys Ewoldt, the exhibition is a stunning portrait of regional talent.

One of those artists is Asbury, Iowa-based potter Rich Robertson. His “Tea? — Not!” pieces are non-functional teapots that play with the sculpture and personality of teapots, without the constraints of worrying about functionality.

“Art does not have to produce anything as a machine might,” he said. “It just has to be. To me, that simplicity was very exciting. It offered the making of something that was so open and endless in possibilities. I could hardly resist, and art became my life.”

Papermaker and sculptural artist Julie McLaughlin, of Coralville, Iowa, said that growing up on a farm shaped her early ideas of working with her hands as an artist.

“We all learned quite early that if you wanted something, it was easier and more satisfying to create it yourself,” she said. “I was sewing, refinishing furniture, gardening and helping on the farm at a very early age. So, I’ve always worked with my hands.”

Gordon Browning, a self-taught woodturner from Viola, Wis., estimates he has put in 10,000 hours of practice. Learning before the age of the internet, Browning said books and VHS tapes were his teachers.

“I paid my dues,” he said. “I don’t know specifically what inspired me, but if you are a maker, you find a way to craft.”

Ali Kauss, a jewelry maker from Spring Green, Wis., said her path to creating her sterling silver pieces was done through a process of elimination.

“I grew up with a creative parent but never really saw myself as an artist,” she said. “In college, I slowly made my way to the metal-smithing studio. Creating jewelry immediately felt like home, and it was a way for me to communicate and connect to myself.”

As the tri-states continue to deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spelic said the museum has taken extraordinary measures to allow people to enjoy the museum in person.

“The museum has thoughtfully established protocols to allow the public to visit safely,” she said. “The staff has done a wonderful job with this exhibition, providing recordings of background information and narratives that are accessible via your phone. They really complement the artwork. I encourage people to attend the show in person.”