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Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012

Portrait Society's Collaborative 'Winter Chapel'

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Portrait Society Gallery is getting ready to brighten this chilly season with its annual “Winter Chapel” installation, opening on Gallery Night, Jan. 20. This year features a free-standing room constructed by Keith Nelson and decorated by Paula Schulze.

How did you become involved with the “Winter Chapel” project?

Paula Schulze: I approached Debra (Portrait Society director Debra Brehmer) about doing something and we talked about the idea of a collaboration. She had seen Keith's work at The Green Gallery. She mentioned him, and I said that would be great. I like Keith, I love his work, and she had the idea of making a room within a room.

Keith Nelson: Debra had seen a piece I had at The Green Gallery West in June, which was an empty-box construction. She really liked it and threw out the idea of building a room in a similar way. Originally that's what I was going for, making it out of empty boxes similar to that piece. As I got into thinking out how this was going to work, making a constructed room became easier and more stable.

How did you come up with the interior design?

P.S.: I have been doing some drawings and prints based on Islamic geometries and I wanted to do something with that. A friend of mine sent me a link to an article on the BBC website about scientists who were looking at a specific type of Islamic pattern, and they were drawing parallels with that and quasi-crystalline structures. I thought that was interesting, so I made my templates based on that particular geometric structure because I liked the association with science.

The window, I was experimenting with that. I did a piece for IN:SITE Milwaukee a year ago in the fall; it's still up on the A.O. Smith office building on Hopkins. I was using 4-by-8-foot sheets for cutouts and I had one in the garage. If you go to the Alhambra, or look at any kind of Islamic architecture, they have wooden cutouts that are windows. And I thought, “I want to make something like that.” So I just did it, with my limited woodcut skills and my saber saws.

How do you define a winter chapel?

K.N.: My initial thinking was of it as some type of intimate space. It's pretty small—you could get four people in there comfortably, but I totally see one person sitting there. You want it to be a little bit of a warm place, and the intimacy adds to that warmth. Closeness.

P.S.: I was thinking there's not going to be a lot of color. That's very wintry, to have the silver, the whites, the gray, the pencil line. It will be very spare in a way. There won't be an overload of color. There will be plenty to look at, but it won't be like a tropical summer kind of thing.

Portrait Society Gallery is located at 207 E. Buffalo St., fifth floor.