RAA Artist Profile September 2016

Anne Kingsbury –
Ways of Connecting

text by Elizabeth Vogt
photo by John Ruebartsch   


This seems impossible, marveling at the scripted façade of the Woodland Pattern Book Center while driving down Locust Street. The precisely arranged texts and natural patterns ask for time to take in their entire field of phrases, leaves, and grasses. We stop and read, the words conjuring histories and visions: Mahn-a-waukke, honey locust, Pierce, St. Casimir. A dose of splendor and provocation, and we head inside to meet Anne Kingsbury, Executive Director.

Woodland Pattern’s collection of small press poetry for sale is one of the largest in the nation, and the store is one of the oldest literary centers in the country. Fresh, contemporary works and verse are on display beside established literary giants. Entering, a spell of deep perceptions is cast, packaged with a respectful offer to join in—a sense that also echoes to read right—here. Now.

Sitting amidst sunlit, densely packed bookshelves, we begin with Anne’s own history. Originally from the small-town place of Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, Anne Kingsbury moved to Milwaukee in 1974 to teach at UWM. While there, her exploration of mixed media led her to intriguing materials combinations such as combining crochet with clay and leather into quilts. These were probes into “ways of connecting,” she explains, orchestrating textures and surfaces.

Anne and her husband, Karl Gartung, founded Woodland Pattern in 1979 to present and make accessible works of contemporary writers and small presses ‘taking chances’. Plenty of physical hard labor was required to create a venue for thoughts; they ripped up floors and scraped the patina of fish-fry grease from ceilings.  Poetry was central to the mission, as was offering a ‘chamber experience’. Today, the center offers interaction with authors and works that is live, tactile, and intimate in ways that digital media cannot be.

Surrounded by writers and language, Kingsbury’s own work had to be influenced. “I’m not a writer,” Anne claims, “But I like to make a sentence or two”. Producing ‘very low-relief’ mixed media quilts led to beaded handwriting. Axioms, to-do lists, figures, and fairy-tale like details in her pieces are produced manually, the tiny beads like molecules she has personally assembled.


Anne’s intense hybrid work may correlate on a larger scale to Woodland Pattern’s ‘ways of connecting’ with communities. Consider their offerings this fall: Ojibwe language workshops, readings of Sister Carrie (with sneak peeks into the Florentine Opera Company’s performance),   new/improvised music, and photographic collection exhibits.  “What a privilege,” Anne exclaims. “I’m so glad that I’m here!”


As ‘everyone is local somewhere’, Woodland Pattern is a Riverwest node in an endless web of connections. For youth, they host an annual Inter-Arts Summer Poetry Camp featuring guest artists, field trips, meals, and book gift certificates. They connect internationally, such as in the series organized by Alan Ginsberg bringing Chinese and US poets together to read works and then explore Wisconsin together. There were Digital Writing performances with Stephanie Strickland of New York, a Wisconsin Poetry Recitation Challenge with Poet Laureate Kim Blaeser, and LocuStLed, a nonstop stream of messages from a vintage LED window sign.

Anne Kingsbury

Yes, we are all connected—but how? Woodland Pattern offers us deep, rich connections that provoke, enrich, and bring us forth. As Anne Kingsbury says, “Day by day becomes ever after”.


Stop by at 720 E. Locust Street, or http://www.woodlandpattern.org.