Chuck Stebelton: Artist in Residence in the Milwaukee River Greenway
May 30, 2022 | Topics: Articles
Artist Statement by Chuck Stebelton
I am a poet, occasional printer, and a Wisconsin Master Naturalist volunteer. I have lived within a few city blocks of the Milwaukee River Greenway in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee since 2005. I walk the river almost daily, in all seasons. These walks are tied to my writing practice, inextricably.
I like to orient my walks with certain natural and historical landmarks in mind. In turn these walks guide my writing practice. Kilbourn Reservoir, traces of the Milwaukee & Rock River Canal, former dam infrastructures, the Charles. B. Whitnall House, poet Carl Sandburg’s Cambridge Woods residence, Frederick Law Olmstead’s Riverside Park, the giant old Hackberry tree that commands the Riverside Park tree canopy, and the stately champion-sized Sycamores in Kern Park all stand out on the map of my walks.
Carl Sandburg’s residence holds a particularly meaningful association for me. While working as secretary to the first Socialist mayor of Milwaukee, Sandburg lived in the green and gray shingled house with black roof overlooking the Cambridge Woods section of the Milwaukee river. This was in the years before he came to fame as a poet of the Chicago renaissance. Over the years, I have enjoyed taking many visiting writers to see the house where he lived.
Frank Whitnall’s house at 1208 E. Locust on the west end of the Locust street bridge is famous locally for its mix of pre-Civil War architecture. This was the birthplace of Carl Sandburg’s contemporary and father of the Milwaukee County Parks System, conservationist and parks planner Charles B. Whitnall. I was delighted to discover another poetic association in the Historic Preservation Committee minutes:
“In our time, 1208 housed both W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas on their respective lecture tours…. Auden was fascinated, and asked for a guided tour. Thomas peed in the rose bushes and sat up all night drinking, despite my efforts to get him to bed in the freshly cleaned and prepared guest room.”
The historic Milwaukee & Rock River Canal site along Commerce Avenue always brings to mind the great Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker, her situation on Blackhawk Island on the Rock River and her Milwaukee years. Niedecker’s work has long been a guiding force for my own writing and relationship to place.
My writing takes the form of various print objects and ephemera. I have an ongoing project with my good friend the fine press printer Jordan Dunn and his Oxeye Press to produce a series under the working title The Earth and Its Atmosphere. The first section, An Apostle Island, appeared last year.
I recently established my own rather fugitive small press imprint, Ben Tinterstices Editions, for printing collaborative print objects and ephemera. Ben Tinterstices takes its name from the great 2nd Generation New York School poet Ted Berrigan’s “interstices // bent.” This year I am also working with my friend the letterpress printer Adam Beadel and his Team Nerd Press print shop in Walker’s Point to produce a series of poem objects, cards, broadsides and mail art pieces. The working title for this series is Ephemeral Pond.
I’m an avid birder, and always a novice botanizer. The river’s fauna and flora make their way into my writing as animating presences. As of mid-May, 2022 my birding life list contains 354 species. A list of birds I’m likely to see and hear on my walks in the Milwaukee River Greenway could easily reach fifty species on a spring day in migration.
I like poet Clark Coolidge’s notion that a list is the most advanced form of prosody.
Gallery of Works
Chuck Stebelton is author most recently of An Apostle Island (Oxeye Press, 2021). His previous poetry collections include The Platformist (Cultural Society, 2012) and Circulation Flowers (Tougher Disguises, 2005). He served as Literary Program Director at Woodland Pattern Book Center from 2005 to 2017. He has led workshops and field trips for non-profit arts organizations and conservancy groups at Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, Milwaukee Public Library, Woodland Pattern Book Center, Friends of Lorine Niedecker, and the Lynden Sculpture Garden. He is currently an ARTservancy artist-in-residence on the Milwaukee River Greenway and has held residencies at Lynden Sculpture Garden in 2011, 2014, and from 2018 to 2022 (ongoing).
Selected Print Objects, 2000 – 2022
A Nomenclature of Colors (Ben Tinterstices Editions)
A Patch of Green to Refresh the Eyes (Oxeye Press)
A Winter Robin, with Joanna Poehlmann (Partly Press)
Light This on Fire and Sell It, with Cathy Cunningham (Disappearing Books)
An Apostle Island, with Marsha McDonald (Marsha McDonald Art)
Ongoing (Team Nerd Press)
Selah, for Lisa Fishman (Oscar Presents)
After Clarence Ashley (UW-Stevens Point)
Keep (Portrait Society Gallery)
Morning Dub, with Sarah Gail Luther (Lynden Sculpture Garden)
A Southern Exposure (Lynden Sculpture Garden)
Asterisk (Number 13, Fewer & Further Press)
‘Tis (John Riepenhoff Experience)
Dry Fly Etymology, for Gaylord Schanilec (privately printed)
Trillium (privately printed)
Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (privately printed)
Aversions (privately printed)
Oubliette (privately printed)
P.S. (privately printed)
Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Woodland Pattern Book Center)
The Nineties (Answer Tag Home Press)
Fine Press and Small Press Books, 2005 – 2022
An Apostle Island (Oxeye Press)
The Platformist (Cultural Society)
A Maximal Object (Mitzvah Chaps)
Flags and Banners (Bronze Skull Press)
Circulation Flowers (Tougher Disguises)
Precious (Answer Tag Home Press)
To learn more about the Milwaukee River Greenway go to our Find-a-Park page.
This residency is sponsored by River Revitalization Foundation.
This is the latest in our series of featured artists, which is intended to showcase the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. To see a list of previously featured artists, click here. The work of the 2019-2020 ARTservancy artists in residence is currently being exhibited monthly at Gallery 224. To meet the other ARTservancy artists in residence, click here.
All images courtesy of the artist, except those with Chuck Stebelton, which were shot in the Greenway by Eddee Daniel. Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.