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‘Painting us Forward’

Posted 4:52 p.m. Monday, July 19, 2021

UWL Art Professor Jennifer Williams paints a portrait of Tami Plourde, co-owner and director of sales and marketing at Pearl Street Brewery. Williams visited some La Crosse business owners during the pandemic to put them on canvas to provide an insight into what people went through during the early days of the pandemic.

Professor’s images of pandemic despair, hope on display

The artwork of a UWL professor that depicts local faces of COVID-19 will be displayed during an upcoming exhibition at the Pump House.

Jennifer Williams’ "Painting us Forward" series began at the start of the pandemic as an artistic and empathic approach to connect with family, friends and community.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we all have a story to tell that reveals our experiences and vulnerabilities, and it’s this understanding that reinforces our human connections,” Williams explains.

UWL Art Professor Jennifer Williams’ "Painting us Forward" provides insight into what people went through during the pandemic. Some of her subjects and their businesses include: top, from left, Amy Werner, Trempealeau Hotel; Jen Barney, Meringue Bakery; Jesse Gongaware, Greengrass Café; Eva and Tim Ewers, Le Chateau; and Adrian Lipscombe, Uptowne Cafe. Bottom, from left, Nicole Elliot, The Damn Tasty; Adam Stevens and Stephanie Andresen Stevens, Brilliant Bodywork; Eva and Tim Ewers, Le Chateau; and Tammy Isensee and Paula Mashak, The Buzz.

Debuting at the Pump House, the project is comprised of paintings of the people closest to Williams and people she reached out to along the way, including local business owners, some of whom Williams had never met.

“The project seeks to communicate hope and resilience through visual storytelling, and in the initial phase exhibited here, women are featured prominently,” she notes. “As the work progresses my goal is to make it more inclusive and diverse.”

Williams says through this work she discovered that a significant number of local businesses are woman-owned.

“Noting this I took inspiration from Gloria Steinem, ‘I’ve been using my torch to light other people’s torches. Because the whole idea that there’s only one torch is part of the reason why we’re so f*cked up. Everybody needs a torch,’” Williams says.

Williams says there is light within each of the individuals in the paintings and as the work progresses, she’s seeking to bring this light forward in others.

“While acknowledging light as power has meaning for me, light reveals vulnerability too…an artist’s vulnerability to exhibit work that forges a new direction, a person’s vulnerability in the face of pandemic-related challenges and life experiences…all of these are laid bare when we look and listen, and out of this comes power,” she says.

The paintings are done primarily in oil from provided photographs or those taken by the artist, while some are painted from direct observation. The scale of the paintings, palette and varying expressive style allows for variety and relationships to develop within the body of work.

Proceeds from all sales of original paintings and prints, less material costs, will be reinvested in participating businesses’ or causes of choice. The project is funded in part by a Faculty Research Grant from UW-La Crosse.

To be considered as a project participant, please inquire at

Williams’ work will be displayed in the Pump House’s Kader Gallery, 119 King St., July 21-Sept. 11. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, with extended hours till 7 p.m. on Tuesdays; and noon-4 p.m. Saturdays. Get more details:

“Painting Us Forward”

Artist: UWL Art Professor Jennifer Williams

Kader Gallery, Pump House, 119 King St.

July 21-Sept. 11

9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, with extended hours till 7 p.m. on Tuesdays

Noon-4 p.m. Saturdays

The exhibition includes painted portraits of small business owners, accompanied by their own stories of the impact of COVID-19.


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