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Tangled up on lyrics: Art installation to fill Depot during Dylan fest

"Shakespeare's in the Alley" by Wisconsin artist Skye is an exhibition of Dylan's lyrics on large-scale panels. It will be shown at the Depot during Duluth Dylan Fest. Submitted photo1 / 3
Skye's exhibition, which includes hand-stenciled lettering, has been displayed at two Wisconsin galleries. Submitted photo2 / 3
Skye mapped out the letters before stenciling them on fabric panels that are at least 8 feet tall. Submitted photo3 / 3

Honestly, back in the day, Skye was more into the Beatles. She was a bit too young for the Bob Dylan movement, though she recalled he was in the background of everything. You couldn't miss him, the Door County, Wisconsin-based artist said in a phone interview.

"His music was all over the radio," she said. "I used to play guitar, and I remember singing 'Blowing in the Wind.' That's a classic, standard kind of thing."

She took a decades-long break from the singer-songwriter-Nobel Prize winning Duluth native, but Dylan-curiosity led her to "No Direction Home," Martin Scorsese's 2005 documentary that covers the artist's career.

"There was something about it that just struck me," she said. "The images of him and ... how fast it all happened and how young he looks — how young and vulnerable. He had to be so strong, or at least try to be during that period of time."

Skye (who goes by one name) dug in, checking out books and CDs from her local library. Then it got more serious, she said. The visual artist needed to find a way to translate her enthusiasm into art.

The result, "Shakespeare's in the Alley: A Tribute to Bob Dylan," is a collection of 44 fabric panels, each hand-stenciled with Dylan's lyrics and described as a "virtual forest." The opening reception for the installation is 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, at the Depot Great Hall. It's free the first day, but museum fees apply for the rest of the exhibition's run through May 29.

The panels are 57 inches wide and 8 to 27 feet long. Some will hang; others will be attached to the wall. The song-list covers five decades.

The exhibition is part of Duluth Dylan Fest, more than a week of art, music, poetry, lectures and more. It runs May 19-27 at venues ranging from Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum to Dylan's childhood home in the Central Hillside to the North Shore Scenic Railroad.

An idea unrolls

It came as a vision, Skye said. The panels started unrolling during her morning walks. She decided to go for it.

"I was very resistant to it at first," she said. "I was, like, 'Really? I'm going to copy somebody's lyrics?' (Then) I saw the value of doing a strict, genuine tribute."

She listened to the music over and over again. Some that she chose to include were obvious. Others, not so. And some are obscure.

"There's a portion of them which I chose because I think they hold up without music," she said. "They hold up to be read."

Her tools: tape, a ruler, markers and stencils.

First, she would count the characters and map them out on paper. She has tried to recreate the lyrics as they are presented in lyric books — or at least as they're sung, with natural breaks. Then the words are hand-stenciled in the Caslon font with fabric markers that she used until they wore out — which is why an observer can see the progression of the marker as it fades.

Each piece took between five and 40 hours to create, and the entire project has spanned about five years, with breaks.

Some of the featured songs include: "It's All Over Now Baby Blue," "Visions of Johanna," "All Along the Watchtower," "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," "Tangled up in Blue," "Ring Them Bells," "Not Dark Yet," "High Water," and "Workingman's Blues #2."

Her panels have had previous showings. Fifteen were the backdrop for a Dylan tribute concert in 2011 at Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor, Wis. More were added for another performance at Door County Auditorium in Fish Creek.

She displayed all 44 panels again at Woodwalk Gallery, and it has traveled the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bent and Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek.

Skye has received permission to tour the exhibition from Dylan's manager, she said, but she is not allowed to sell individual panels.

Finding the Fest

Zane Bail, of the Duluth Dylan Fest committee, received an email from Skye about the exhibition and recalled thinking, "Wow. How are we going to make this happen?"

The panels were also championed by the late John Bushey, Dylan-head and host-creator of KUMD-FM's "Highway 61 Revisited." In a January interview, Bushey was already talking up Skye's installation.

"It's literally a forest of lyrics in the Depot's Great Hall," he said.

Skye, who is coming for the entire festival, said she is excited to bring the exhibition to Dylan's birth town, which so obviously influenced his work.

"It's such a great opportunity to have it there, where there is a captive audience," she said.

But she's not sure it's completed yet. The panels do not include anything from "Tempest" or newer, Skye said. She envisions it having 80-100 panels. And at some point, she would like to include an audio component so viewers could listen to the featured songs while standing among the words.

For Skye, the exhibition is about teaching people about who Dylan really is.

"I would call him a national treasure," she said.

IF YOU GO

What: "Shakespeare's in the Alley: A Tribute to Bob Dylan" exhibition by Skye

When: Artist talk is 5:30 p.m. May 23

Where: Depot Great Hall, 506 W. Michigan St.

Tickets: Free during opening reception, museum fees apply during the rest of the run

Click here for the Dylan Fest schedule.

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