Cedarburg — The air was frigid, the snow was falling and the wind was brutal. But that didn’t stop Pamela Ruschman and Lynn Rix from doing what they do best that fateful winter day in 2015.
Instead, the dynamic duo braved the elements on Lake Michigan to paint the scenery.
“I just remember we were out there on the lake painting in blizzard conditions and we saw this ominous cloud coming,” Ruschman recalled. “We both looked at each other and nodded and painted on.”
The result is a painting Ruschman speaks of among the most fondly of any of the work she’s done.
“Every painting tells a story,” she said. “The interesting thing about that one is it includes ice crystals. You just don’t get that in a studio painting.”
The pair, who live within a couple miles of each other in Mequon, picked up winter painting together in 2010, and have since produced dozens of unique pieces throughout the brisk winter months. Yet both cite that day as one of their most memorable painting together thus far.
“I just remember us looking at each other like what are we doing?” said Rix. “We knew we were crazy to be there, but we also knew if one of us blew away the other would be there to rescue each other.”
Painting the Winter Muse
Fifty-five of their pieces will be featured in the upcoming “Painting the Winter Muse” exhibition at the Cedarburg Art Museum.
Starting with an opening reception Saturday, Jan. 28, the exhibit will run through mid-March.
“This is a story of two artists who really embrace everything about the winter season,” said museum curator Mary Chemotti, “but it’s also a story of friendship. These two painters truly enjoy each other’s companionship and simultaneously paint the subtleties of the beauty in nature.”
From the shores of Lake Michigan to the country roads along the north shore, Ruschman said they consider no spot off limits and no temperature too cold to paint.
“There’s this saying that there are no bad weather days, there are only bad clothing choices,” she joked, as she shared she would be layering up and heading to a local farm to paint the next day in a high of 19 degrees.
It’s really become a lifestyle for her, and you can hear the enthusiasm in her voice as she talks about the back hallway of her home where all her supplies are stored.
“Lots and lots of layers are key,” she said. “But also having things like warm, winter boots with cleats is a must.”
“Winter really is the season I couldn’t live without,” Rix added. “It’s funny, we both dress up like the kid in the Christmas Story when we go out.”
The art of friendship
For both of them, winter painting has become much more than an admittedly unconventional hobby. It’s become a way to express themselves while enjoying the company of a great friend.
“We started at a time when I desperately needed to get out and rebuild my life,” Ruschman said. “So it started as a shared passion for painting outside and has really evolved into a wonderful friendship.”
Rix said Ruschman has become one of her best friends through the years, something that may not have happened if not for their mutual appreciation for the art of painting in the elements.
“If not for (Pam), I can’t say I would always get out there as often or as frequently as I want to,” she said. “But we encourage each other, we coach each other, and she has honestly become one of my closest friends.”
Rix started painting outside in France more than 20 years ago, and said there was no turning back after she and Ruschman first painted together in a beautiful snowstorm a few days after Christmas in 2010.
“That was my first winter painting excursion and I was hooked,” she recalled. “I just remember the beautiful sunny day and the beautiful snowfall and thinking I want to be out there doing it as often as possible.”
The two stay in touch during the other seasons, but see each other to paint as often as two or three times a week in the winter.
“It’s funny; in the summer we rarely see each other,” Ruschman said. “But when it comes down to it we’re both Wisconsin girls and winter is a time we love.”
Not to mention the unique experiences they have shared.
“We find something new every time, but honestly there are times when we just lose ourselves in the experience of it all,” she said. “It’s like painting on the moon.”
Rug Hooking show also opens
Friendship is a common theme of the art featured in Cedarburg this spring.
In addition to the “Winter Muse” exhibit, the Cedarburg Art Museum will feature “The Art and Craft of Rug Hooking,” which opens at the same time.
Featuring the works of a group of eight rug hooking enthusiasts who call themselves the Thrum Chums, the rug hooking exhibition will showcase both traditional and contemporary pieces.
Both new exhibitions will be open to the public through March 19, during the regular museum hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Cedarburg Art Museum, W63 N675 Washington Ave.
For more information about either of the exhibits, call 262-377-6123 or visit www.cedarburgartmuseum.org.