How one Milwaukee-area couple makes the artistic life work for them.
For three months in 2014, they worked on it, a patchwork of metal scraps and salvaged architectural elements. He taught her to weld so she could be more hands-on. She laid down beads of molten steel as he hunted through his stash of scraps for the next bit of wall or roof. It was hot and dirty work, and at the end of each day, Mark Winter and Beth Bojarski stood back, cracked a Pabst and marveled at what was becoming their wedding chapel. Each night, the chapel’s Gothic windows and gold interior looked more and more like their vision, and each day, they were closer to saying “I do” after a 22-year courtship.
A year and a half later, the 8-by-30-foot chapel – its patchwork of multicolored metal sheets stained with rust – stands near Winter’s Menomonee Falls studio, where most days, he cuts and welds salvaged metal into figurative sculptures, while Bojarski paints in her studio in their Washington Heights home. When they met, Bojarski, now 47, was in art school, and Winter, now 44, was working in his auto body shop. After she graduated, Bojarski took a design job with Kohl’s. Meanwhile, Winter dabbled in sculpting and was quickly able to make a living from it. Not long afterward, Bojarski followed suit, and eventually they combined their businesses. For more than 15 years, they’ve lived off selling their art.
Often, there is room for only one creative entrepreneur in a relationship, but Winter and Bojarski have found a way to support themselves by recognizing their individual strengths and combining them to their mutual benefit. Winter is a natural engineer, and Bojarski has a keen business sense and an eye for detail. Each art festival season, April through October, they travel across the country to an average of eight shows, and then they hunker down during the winter to create new work. Although Hollywood has sold us a romantic and tumultuous notion of the artistic life, Winter and Bojarski’s case looks more like a well-oiled domestic machine.
Winter’s sculptures take the form of imps, animals, monsters and robots. Noticeable welds and scraps of utilitarian objects imbue each piece with an air of post-apocalyptic resurrection. Many of Bojarski’s oil paintings examine the relationship between humans and the natural world. Taken together, their work shares a tender, occasionally naughty sense of humor and irony. It is these playful and subversive qualities that gain them collectors who are happy to spend thousands of dollars for an “MW” or “Bb” original. It is the same quality, the couple says, that has drawn and kept them together, keeping them sane in life’s stressful moments.
Before meeting Winter, Bojarski was sure she would never date another artist, but the creative exchange has helped them individually improve their work. “Sometimes you get too close [to the work],” Winter says. “I like to have Beth’s opinions on things and vice versa. I had a cool piece that just needed something, and Beth painted an ‘E’ on its head. And I can watch her work on a painting for weeks and then say, ‘What if this was over here?’”
Likewise for Bojarski. “I do get a sense of when Mark’s struggling in the studio,” she says. “I get a sense when he needs me to step in and when he just needs to figure it out on his own.”
“Sometimes,” Winter adds, “it’s about what you don’t say, when to keep your mouth shut.”
The chapel that made for an extraordinary backdrop for their wedding ceremony still stands in their yard, the season’s first snow only serving to make the colors of its walls appear richer. Bojarski says that the sanctuary now represents the possibilities they could tackle together, both in the studio and at home.