Story and Photo by Ellen C. Warren
Theres a flourishing subculture in Riverwest which is outside the radar of many of its inhabitants. This bunch doesnt actually recognize itself as a group, but the members are quite likely to recognize each others faces and, even more likely, to recognize each others dogs. For that matter, theyre more likely to know the dogs names than the names of their human companions. These are the dog walkers of Riverwest. They can be found during most of the daylight hours and beyond along the rivers trails and fields in any sort of weather.
Our Neighbor Spotlight this month shines on a couple of dog walkers whod be known by the group as Darby and Alexs moms. Although theres a great deal more to Marianne Herrmann and Wendy Basels lives, the two Australian Shepherds are clearly included whenever they say our family, and their walks together are a very satisfying and intrinsic part of their relationship.
Still, it wasnt dogs that brought Wendy and Marianne into each others company in the beginning. It was art. They met at the Elsewhere Art Show, the alternative to the Lakefront Art Festival for a couple years in the early 90s, where they each had a booth.
Wendy, a native of Omro, Wisconsin, grew up on a dairy farm. (Yes, we all love cheese, she quips, even the dogs!) Her grandparents, each on their second marriage, had left Milwaukee to farm in Omro where they combined families and added a few more kids to equal thirteen. Wendys dad was one of the youngest and remained on the farm until his death in 2005. Her mom passed two years earlier.
In the last years of study for the Commercial Art degree that she acquired at UW Oshkosh, Wendys interest shifted to pottery. She threw herself into that world, keeping a studio in Oshkosh and firing her pots in the kiln she kept in the barn at the farm in Omro. Her dads long hours as a farmer provided her with his assistance in tending the kiln. She sold her wares at shows around the state. I used to sort of make my living traveling, doing art shows, she explains. So, thats how Wendy wound up at the Elsewhere.
Mariannes earliest memories are of life in Columbus, Ohio. Her mother moved there shortly before Marianne was born, and she spent her first seven years there before the family returned to the Milwaukee area. Shes remained in Milwaukee, living on the East Side until 1983, when she bought the house on Burleigh where she and Wendy have lived together for the last fifteen years.
Herself a prolific artist, Marianne began with watercolors. She later branched off into stained glass after attending classes with her upstairs tenant, Lisa, who became her partner in the stained glass studio in their basement. She sold her art at shows. She also held a full-time job as a medical health benefits claims supervisor.
So now weve reached the summer of 1992 and find Marianne and Lisas booth a few spaces away from Wendys. Wendys pottery was so beautiful to Marianne and Lisa that they took turns going over to her booth to make a purchase. The chatting continued through the day and when Marianne learned that Wendy didnt have a place in town she offered her a spare bedroom. Soon to follow was an amusing pizza date at the formerly infamous Al Calderone Club (which they used to call the whatsa matta you?). And thats all she wrote. It was, in Mariannes words, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Wendys move into the house on Burleigh was delayed a little while by the reality that the Riverwest Art Walk was impending and Marianne had to clear the front areas of the house for her yearly participation. Her house was part of the Art Walk for nine years.
Although they no longer show their work from their home it is still a house filled with art. After Wendy moved in she began doing stained glass with Marianne. The luminous Tiffany style pieces adorn the windows, the walls are decorated with rich watercolors and a few elegant pieces of pottery are on view.
Wendy presently works in a bindery. She had to give up throwing pots due to a back that was hurt by years of baling hay. Marianne went on to get her Masters Degree in Social Work. Ambitiously, she attended graduate school at UWM full-time while continuing to work fulltime. I told my family and friends, See you in two years! she says with a laugh. Shes now a social worker at St. Josephs Hospital in Inpatient Rehabilitation.
Their newest artistic endeavors are in creating glycerin soaps and milk carton candles. Both products bear resemblance to the stained glass work they share, but with the addition of soothing textures and exuberant scents. During the summer months they sell their Studio 609 soaps and candles at the East Side Market and Cathedral Square Market as well as a couple of other fairs.
They are surrounded by good neighbors, (Ellie, from across the street delivers freshly baked lemon bars as the interview ends) and plenty of art galleries, and theyre near the river. Were so close to everything! exclaims Marianne. This Riverwest family is very content to be living here.
In the spirit of Valentines Day, here are a few of Marianne and Wendys suggestions for staying happily together for many years:
Wendy: Its like driving. If two cars make a mistake theres an accident. It takes both making a mistake. If one compensates or corrects the move, theres no crash.
Marianne: See the fun in things. Were so often saying, Were just having too much fun!
Wise lines: Pick your fights! Keep a sense of humor! Make space for each other. Lie in bed and eat chocolate!
And, of course: You gotta have Alex and Darby!
Riverwest Currents online edition – February, 2007