19th Century Wisconsin Watercolorist
review by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch
Wisconsin in Watercolor: The Life and Legend of Folk Artist Paul Seifert, by Joe Kapler, is a superb 2018 art book from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The extensive spread of the fascinating and beautiful Seifert paintings would be reason enough for a lover of art to search out this volume. Add in the wonderfully researched and written story of this illusive gentleman and his life’s work and you’ve a double treasure.
Kapler introduces Seifert as “A husband, father, gardener, taxidermist, painter and amateur archaeologist…”
And earlier in the text he notes, “A German immigrant, Seifert settled in Richland City in 1867 … He enjoyed painting and often took to the countryside with his sketchbook. He likely walked from one farm to the next, drawing neat homesteads set against wide skies and empty plains, and later sold the results of his work to the farm’s owners.”
And later, “Seifert periodically packed his canvas bag with paper and paints and set off in search of farmers willing to pay around $2.50 for a painting of their farmstead.”
As a painter, I am attracted to Paul Seifert’s works for their slightly precarious compositions in balanced colorations, framing a patterning record of each farm and its work. The paintings hold my eye in comfort but also pull me in to that value-driven place and its time. They are decorative history, valued social record, and they are high art.
During Seifert’s life, his artwork drew very little public attention. An interesting tidbit has it that the artist came under suspicion because he frequently purchased tubes of Green #2, a color prominent in his paintings. A local reporter suggested that Seifert might be a counterfeiter because of this color, downplaying any other reasonable use for it.
As a young man, I drew countless layouts of possible farmsteads, hoping someday they might come true. Seifert’s pictures take me back to that longing. And he adds aspects with his tilt of perspective, giving an easy aerial perspective that makes you feel the interlock of field and the march of work. I heartily recommend this fine book.
Wisconsin in Watercolor: The Life and Legend of Folk Artist Paul Seifert, by Joe Kapler, published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 816 State Street, Madison, WI 53706. ISBN: 978-0-87020-891-1