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Linda Day Dunlap and Bruce Dunlap stand outside their joint studio near Arkansaw, Wis.

Country, color and chickens combine

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 ARKANSAW, Wis. - Their art is among most recognizable in the area: Think funky, retro and whimsical -- dogs in cars and roosters driving go carts.

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The creators of the eye-catching, humor-evoking pieces are Wisconsin-based husband and wife artisan duo painter Bruce Dunlap and clay potter Linda Day Dunlap.

Tucked back in the coulee region of Pepin County, their house is the work and play space. They live there, create art and feed their eight chickens.

Day bought the estate on Pottery Lane in 1988 from, believe it or not - a woman with pottery studio.

"I had started thinking about moving to the area," she recalled.

She had been living in the Twin Cities, where she worked as an artist, but always had a side job.

"A friend of mine, who is a potter, told me about the house and said it had a kiln. When I came and saw the place for the first time, I honestly felt like I already lived here."

She packed up her city life and quite literally headed to the hills.

"It was all a learning curve for me," she said of living alone in the country, "It was great though."

Day grew up in South Dakota, graduated from a Sioux Falls college in 1966, but never was able to take a clay class. She moved to the Twin Cities to study art at the University of Minnesota.

"I didn't know about clay until my first class at the university and it was an instant connection. From there I got really obsessed with it," she described.

Art comes naturally for Day. It always has. She recalls drawing cartoons on the cupboards or inside pages of books at age 5..

"I always had that, but that is not what I thought I was going to do," she adds. "I thought I would be teaching."

As she became more skilled with clay, she advanced to drawing and adding color on her pieces - and the combination has stuck with her to this day.

She is known for herunique clay shapes, color and characters.

"I get inspiration from animals ... all animals and birds," she said. "I like to put animals in human positions. When I moved here, I started doing that."

Her animal inspiration was the ticket to success, leading to her animal cartooning.

Day prefers hand-building over throwing on the wheel.

"I like rolling out a piece of clay, cutting it into interesting shapes then putting them together in almost a random way - not necessarily knowing the outcome. I want them to twist and be lively, because what I am drawing on them is lively."

The road of life can, sort of, take you places, she added. "Some days I think about how lucky I am to have landed here because of the art community, for meeting Bruce - like all the things that happen when you make one choice...like living out in the country."

Day and Dunlap were married in 1998 - a match made in a color-bursting heaven. He moved to Pottery Lane shortly after.

She had seen his work before meeting him, admitting that it was an attraction.

Dunlap's work reflects anything -- a childhood experience, an ad in a magazine and, most recently, chickens.

"Obviously we see things in the same way. We both like color and feed off one another ... and are inspired by one another's work and color combinations."

Just one look at their work confirms Day's statement.

Dunlap's work tells stories. Day's is more about patterns and color. But both share a knack for grouping colors and creating art that is hard not to like.

Having outgrown the original studio, they built a new larger, cleaner and brighter studio in 2000. It is divided to keep Day's clay dust away from Dunlap's fresh paint on canvas.

Their workspace doubles as an art gallery and has been a stop on the fall and spring Fresh Art Tours from the beginning. The tours allow the public to see work in progress and to talk shop.

In fact, Day was involved in the planning and creation of the Fresh Art Spring Tour. She now also is go-to person for the Stockholm Art Fair.

Upon moving to area 20-plus years ago, she was unaware and not even thinking of the art community, she rather stumbled across it.

Being an artist and moving to Pottery Lane may have been a dead giveaway - but the road name was "good because it was a quick introduction to other people."

Day's impact on the Great River Road's booming art community is just as recognizable as her own art.

Take the Stockholm Art Fair, now entering its 40th year. The juried show attracts more than a hundred artists - and thousands of visitors. The Stockholm Art Fair takes place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday July 20 at Village Park.

"I think art and life is a path and if it takes us somewhere else that's great," Day said. "I don't think there is a destination, but think I was destined to get this point - but it didn't happen overnight. I like what I do and I enjoy it a lot. I find its kind of therapy too. Just being out here is therapy. I could never stop doing this, because it is therapy. How cool is that to have?

To find more information about Day or Dunlap and to see their work, visit the websites www.lindadayclay.com and www.bruce-dunlap.com.

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Stacy Bengs-Silverberg
Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.
(651) 301-7880
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