Exploring Multiple Ways to See

By: Amy Beck, marketing and communications manager on October 27th, 2021

For wood sculptor Dan “Sully” Sullivan, seeing means perceiving the world via an altered perspective.

Sullivan, who as a child was diagnosed with a form of macular degeneration, creates waterfowl sculpture from vintage wood and will be featured in two Woodson Art Museum programs on Saturday, November 6.

As an artist with diminished central vision, he creates folk art emphasizing contour and gesture over detail. When viewing a duck, he says, most see feathers while he sees flutter. Using rasps and chisels in his Minocqua studio, Sullivan creates whimsical waterfowl caricatures from barn beams, cabin timbers, pier pilings, and other reclaimed wood.

The former Wausau resident, who visited the Woodson Art Museum often for inspiration, is eager to return to share insights about his work during:

  • Art Beyond Sight, Saturday, November 6, 10:30 am-Noon
    Individuals with low vision and blindness gather for a multisensory visit to Birds in Art 2021 galleries and hands-on art making during this program, led by Museum educators and Sullivan. To register for this free program, call 715-845-7010.
  • Open Studio with Dan “Sully” Sullivan, Saturday, November 6, 1-4 pm
    Drop in to observe Sullivan at work with his tools and materials and converse about his work.

Sullivan’s perspective includes seeing parallels and analogies drawn from more than fifty years of experiencing impaired vision. “Oftentimes, pieces of wood are perceived as weathered, warped or cracked,” he wrote in a 2019 Our Wisconsin magazine article. “What’s beneath the surface is overlooked and defined by outward characteristics. I can relate.”

Without the central visual acuity needed for detail work, Sullivan sees the world from a more peripheral viewpoint, and sense of touch is important.

He concludes, though, “it’s not how well you see what lies before you, but how well you see what’s farther beyond. Some old chunks of Wisconsin wood helped me to finally see this and realize the visual creativity within me really could take flight.”

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