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Catherine Williams

Necedah artist Catherine Williams explains her thinking behind a portrait of "Tom," one of 40 pieces on display now through Saturday in the Drury Gallery at Portage Center for the Arts.

It takes a little time for Catherine Williams to decide what to emphasize about a person when she draws a portrait.

Often, she’ll emphasize a particular feature or expression in the model’s face. She’ll become fascinated by how that person wants to be seen. Other times, she’s drawn to the hands or boots.

She picks up her charcoal pencil eventually.

“It’s very profound to sit down and stare at someone for an hour,” Williams said. “How often do you do that?”

Forty of her portraits are displayed at the Portage Center for the Arts Drury Gallery through Saturday, an exhibit she calls, “Profiles on Paper.”

Williams is the library director at Necedah Public Library and one of a handful of Juneau County artists who helped to launch an arts cooperative, Oh! Arts. Usually about seven of these artists and one model will meet at 5:45 p.m. every Tuesday night in Mauston to draw portraits.

Afterwards, they grab dinner.

“Every night is different,” Williams said of the program she started about four years ago at the library. It outgrew the library — using props and furniture now — and the artists meet inside a building one of them purchased at 215 E. State St.

There, the members plan to hold art classes and display their portraits and other works in a permanent gallery.

“Variety keeps us coming back every week,” Williams said of the portraits program. “It’s the variety that the models bring to it that keeps it fresh and exciting. It’s hard to put into words what the value is, but I think a lot of people don’t understand you don’t have to be a visual artist to be creative. The people who don’t draw — our models — they still have a part in making art without ever having to pick up a pencil.”

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Models surprise the artists frequently, Williams said. Once, a model arrived dressed as a pirate. Her portrait is among those on display at Drury.

“She rolled a barrel in there,” Williams said of the experience. Another model came dressed as a steampunk mermaid.

Most of the models arrive dressed as they normally would, Williams said, and many of her portraits at Drury are of the most frequent patrons of her library.

“It’s amazing; it’s so lifelike,” said Kathleen Jahn, the visual arts committee chairwoman at PCA. “I think she catches the personalities of each of these individuals. You really have to go in there and study the faces to get what she’s trying to portray.”

Everybody has a story, the two women agreed.

“It’s something I think everyone should try,” Williams said. “It really is very interesting because an hour’s a long time. I’ve always known everybody has story but it becomes clearer when you’re doing this.

“Some of our models will say it’s therapeutic to just sit there with their own thoughts,” Williams continued. “And what’s great is it brings people of all backgrounds and mentalities together for one reason: for the art. We look for unusual things; we want people who we maybe wouldn’t interact with otherwise.”

Her exhibit kicked of the new, monthly gallery season at Drury and is followed with Dennis Trecek, who, in October, displays photographs he took during a safari in Kenya.

For more information about the gallery and for a complete schedule, visit portagecenterforthearts.com.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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