Char ter Beest-Kudla

Mayor Mike Palm hands a Gem Award plaque to Baraboo artist Char ter Beest-Kudla.

BEN BROMLEY/News Republic

Leave it to a fiber artist to weave connections throughout the community.

Char ter Beest-Kudla has spent the past three decades creating handbags and relationships. On Tuesday, she was recognized with a Gem Award, handed out by the mayor to citizens who make Baraboo a better place to live.

“The city of Baraboo extends its heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Char for her commitment to our fair city,” Mayor Mike Palm said in reading a proclamation in her honor.

Kudla has gathered local artists for events such as the Fall Art Tour and the Very Merry Holiday Fair. Speaking to the City Council, she said her work merely continues Baraboo’s legacy of artistic creation, which was started by the Ringling brothers and is carried on by contemporary artists. “You’ve created an environment for creative thinking, and there is a community of people willing to take a chance with sometimes crazy ideas,” she said. “Our future is bright.”

She came Baraboo in 1979 to teach home economics at the middle school. In 1985, she left that job to pursue artistic endeavors, starting with a book titled “Willow Baskets.” Kudla saw a need for an artisans group in Baraboo, and became one of its founding members. By the early 1990s, she was helping to create the Fall Art Tour, which now brings thousands of visitors to Baraboo each autumn.

“Baraboo is a place for artisans,” she said.

In 2007 she founded the Very Merry Holiday Fair, and more recently got involved with bringing the Threaded Streams Fiber Arts Trail to town. Her studio, Helen’s Daughters, has produced more than 60,000 handbags worn around the world. She has formed a publishing company for her books and has received several awards for them.

Meanwhile, she and husband Frank Kudla showcase their art – handbags and gold items, respectively – at art shows across the Midwest. They also beautify unkempt areas of the downtown business district with summer gardens.

In 1988, Char ter Beest-Kudla received a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship award grant, and in 2002 she won the Arts in the Community Award. The Gem Award represents her latest bouquet. “It’s an honor to be recognized this way,” she said.