Cassy Tully is a talented artist who has created the official artwork for the 2012 US Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin. She’s also painted beautiful landscapes of the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, using the technique of mixing sand with acrylic paint. Thus, Cassy’s paintings display the visually striking quality of “relief.” (Not to be confused with the “relief” you crybabies want when your golf ball ends up in a bad lie.)
Cassy and I had a delightful conversation at the PGA Show in January, 2012. I must say I was rather flattered when she inquired if I’d be willing to pose for her – au naturel – for a mural commissioned by the Ireland Golf Tourist Board: “Bare-Assed at Ballybunion.”
I turned her down, of course. Too many hot dogs consumed at the turn over the years have rendered my physique unfit to be revealed to an unsuspecting public. But if nudity is what you demand from your art, I would encourage you to visit Cassy’s web site. There you’ll see sheep grazing happily in their birthday suits amongst the wind-swept grass at Whistling Straits.
Golf Conversations: Tell me about your relationship with The American Club Resort & Kohler.
Cassy Tully: I’ve painted a series called “Sunrise on the Straits” of Whistling Straits. That first went on sale exclusively at their pro shop and online at KohlerAtHome.com. It’s a series of original paintings; it’s acrylic on canvas. And I use a little bit of sand from the golf course in the painting.
CT: It’s for sentimental purposes. They’ve approved it, they provide the sand; it’s on the Certificate of Authenticity…
GC: That this is real Kohler Golf sand … this is not from Saudi Arabia?
GC: Do you spread the sand throughout the painting?
CT: It’s incorporated into the paint.
GC: Do you use a brush or a sand wedge?
CT: A paint brush.
GC: I should collaborate with you on these paintings because I’m in the sand all the time when I play golf.
CT: I heard you lost a few balls at Whistling Straits.
GC: Is there no such thing as privacy anymore??? Mr. Kohler will be hearing from my attorneys, I can assure you of that!
So how did you get connected with Kohler Golf?
CT: In 2009, right before the PGA, was when we got connected. I had been working as an artist-in-residence in a high-end, interior design studio in Kohler. And I had gotten a number of commissions.
GC: I love that little town.
CT: Isn’t it great?
GC: Do you live there?
CT: I live close by. My husband is from Plymouth, the next town over. He’s a high school teacher there.
GC: Are you from that area as well?
CT: I’m from the Milwaukee area originally and then I traveled the world over. Now I’m in small-town America. I love it there.
GC: Tell me about the traveling the world over part.
CT: I was on a quest to study academic art.
GC: Where did you study?
CT: My degree is from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A Fine Arts degree. I did a Contemporary Art Survey in New York, so I got a feel for the NY gallery scene.
GC: I’m originally from NY. I used to visit the art galleries to get free wine and cheese.
CT: We were treated to some very nice galleries in Soho. But I quickly learned that I would not be able to live in NY long term. I feed off that energy and I really think that I would never be able to sleep. Did you sleep?
GC: Off and on. In between the car alarms going off, the boom boxes playing outside my window, the sound of the garbage trucks picking up trash 4 o’clock in the morning … I slept like a baby.
Then there was the “energy” of riding the subway during rush hour with someone’s arm pit in your face … or having the guy next to you on the bus clipping his nails … or being run over by bicycle messengers flying around corners. Let the record show that Cassy is now furrowing her brow.
CT: I’m glad I did NY as an artist. A year later, I started getting interested in ceramics.
GC: How old were you?
CT: This was my junior year of college. In your interview with Linda Hartough, she said that drawing figures is a great way to train your hand. To really train yourself to be a traditional fine artist and capture subject matter.
But in ceramics, if your art doesn’t blow up, then it’s good. It’s art. You talk about the colors, the textures, and the shape and the form and how beautiful it is. There might be a message there, too, but it’s mostly talking about the art elements and I really like that.
GC: I have to disagree with you. When I was in junior high school, I took ceramics. Just because it doesn’t blow up doesn’t mean that it’s good. I did stuff that after it came out of the kiln and you looked at it, you wanted to blow it up!
Sorry. So you were doing ceramics.
CT: I was working with Bruce Howdle, who is internationally known as a ceramic relief artist. He’s a great guy. He taught me how to make 3-dimensional paintings on a wall out of clay. I loved that because suddenly my painting was now coming forward. After that I did a ceramic workshop at the Anderson Ranch, which is one of the best – if not the best – art center in the country. It’s outside of Aspen.
GC: Kind of a retreat?
CT: Yes. I was by far the youngest, working with professional artists and professors. And my final year in college, I got a national grant and then went through an honor society to research relief art work in Florence.
GC: How’d it go in Italy?
CT: I think I became an artist in Italy. I was researching painting under the direction of Professor Carol Pylant from Madison. She was a wonderful mentor to me because she was a traditional fine artist. Her oil paintings are amazing.
I thought I was going to Italy to paint Florence. Sit in a field, wear a cute hat, and paint Florence. But I actually learned to create art in response to the surroundings, to take in all the visual culture, the photographs, the postcards, the cafes.
GC: Was Carol there?
CT: She was there teaching the painting course and she was my research advisor.
GC: How long were you in Italy?
CT: A month.
GC: So you weren’t there long enough to pick up the language.
GC: Were you there long enough to get picked up?
CT: I learned ciao, bella is said a lot!
GC: Did any of the natives grab you?
CT: No! I learned to be a tough cookie!
GC: Go downstairs to the convention floor – those golf pros will grab you!
It’s good that you learned to be tough. The art world is not for the faint of heart.
CT: No, it’s not.
GC: Ok, so you left Italy ungrabbed. What year was this?
CT: 2006. I did my thesis show and had a cohesive body of work from the Italian collection … thinking I was going to use that as my portfolio for my Master’s Degree. But I got a position as a personal assistant to an interior designer and artist-in-residence at the interior design studio in Kohler.
GC: And you went to Kohler because your husband was teaching nearby. How did you meet your husband?
CT: In school. I knew right away.
GC: What’s his name?
GC: I think Brad deserves to get…
CT: … a shout out?
CT: I love Brad. He supports me in every way. When I decided to go full time with my art work, he said, “You’re just going to be an artist now.”
GC: Cassy, that doesn’t mean you still can’t do a wash or clean the dishes.
CT: I do a lot of that.
GC: I should hope so.
CT: He helps, too.
GC: Ok, but I’m going to have to get in touch with Brad and find out exactly what you’re doing in the house.
CT: You’d love Brad. He’s a writer. I keep a clean house. Don’t worry, Robert
Tell me again how you got in touch with Kohler. You graduated in 2006…
CT: Yes. I taught at a fine arts center in Madison for about a year until Brad graduated. Then he got a teaching position in Plymouth. And I took a leap of faith and moved with him, thinking I would get a day job and use the evenings to put together my portfolio and apply to grad school.
GC: Were you guys married at the time?
CT: Not quite yet, no. We wanted to be married but we were afraid that if I got into grad school, our first year of marriage we would be apart.
GC: So you two were sharing a domicile without the benefit of marriage. Shame on you, Cassy. I’m trying to run a family web site here.
Hey, you’re an artist. You’re allowed to do whatever you want!
Ok, you were working for this design studio. Tell me how you became affiliated with Kohler Golf.
CT: I had painted a Scottish landscape. A lady who lives in Kohler and golfs everyday … she saw it and said, “It looks just like Whistling Straits” because it had the little sheep on it. She said, “You have to go out there. I’m going to have you paint Whistling Straits for my husband for Christmas.”
GC: Where did she see your Scottish painting?
CT: At the interior design studio; it was called Su Casa. As the artist-in-residence, I had original paintings for sale there.
GC: Did the woman want you to paint a particular hole at Whistling Straits?
CT: It was pretty much 14. I looked for the sheep; they were on 14. The light was just gorgeous. Whistling Straits took my breath away.
GC: Whistling Straits took my golf balls away.
How did you go about painting this particular hole? Did you sit there all day? Did you take photos and paint from the photos?
CT: I knew Whistling Straits was a very exclusive golf course …
GC: It’s not that exclusive – they let me in. [pause] That was a joke.
CT: Oh. I wanted to make sure I respected the golf course and didn’t just go running out there. So I approached them and asked for permission. They treated me very graciously.
GC: Was this the golf pro you talked to or the guys who work the bag drop area?
CT: Those guys helped me; they were the ones who took me out to the course when they had some free time. They zipped me all around.
GC: What was your process for painting the 14th hole?
CT: I incorporated what I learned in Italy. I took pictures, I did sketches. I also looked at all the beautiful Kohler photography. It was important that I took my own pictures so I wasn’t infringing on their artistic work.
So I brought it all together and made a sketch for her to approve, drawn to scale. And she approved it. Then I painted it and she loved it.
GC: How much time elapsed between the prep phase and giving her the sketch to approve?
CT: Usually it takes 6 to 8 weeks to create an original work of art.
GC: Not the actual painting itself; just the prep-to-final-sketch phase.
CT: I was on a deadline for this one because Christmas was coming soon. I think we started talking about it in late October. So it was a week or so.
GC: Oh, only a week?
GC: Then 6-8 weeks to create the painting?
GC: When you were out there in October in Wisconsin, weren’t the leaves starting to fall off the trees?
CT: Yes, but I had photos to refer to.
GC: I’m asking you nuts-and-bolts types of questions…
CT: These are good questions.
GC: …because my readers might not understand what it entails to create a painting. I don’t either. But I’m curious: you’re sitting there, it’s the end of October in Wisconsin, the wind is blowing, the leaves are off the trees. But you’re saying to yourself, “I’m going to paint this scene as if it was August.”
CT: In its full glory. With all the greenery. What was helpful was that the gentleman who took me out initially was a groundskeeper. He talked with me and shared with me the different ways they cut the grass and the way the light hits it.
GC: How cool.
CT: Yes. I really took that into consideration and how to create the look and feel that the client wanted.
GC: Who was the recipient of this fabulous Christmas present?
CT: Danny Tyler.
GC: What was his reaction when he received the painting?
CT: He loved it. He was also the gentleman who gave me my first golf lesson two years later. I believe he’s a retired PGA instructor. He’s a fabulous golfer.
GC: And you knew nothing about golf?
CT: Absolutely nothing! I grew up working as a tennis assistant at a country club.
GC: In Wisconsin?
CT: Yes. So I knew what a caddie was. I had watched golf and I liked golf. But golf kind of found me.
GC: That’s what happens to most of us who love the game – it kind of finds you.
CT: I love it now.
GC: Are you playing now?
CT: Thanks to Mr. Tyler, I got a good lesson. I thought I was getting good but I quickly learned that I am not good right now.
GC: It takes a lot of practice. But you need to have a passion for it, the way you have passion to create your art. If you love golf, you can’t wait to go out and practice and try to get better. But if you don’t have the passion, you’ll never be any good so there’s no sense in making yourself crazy.
CT: I love being on the course – the energy, the wind, and the beauty. It kind of takes me away.
GC: Well, the Straits course right there on Lake Michigan – that’s a very beautiful place. And Blackwolf Run is also lovely, with the deep woods and the river.
CT: I painted Blackwolf Run, too. You lost a lot of balls there on the 13th hole. That’s what you said in your story about The American Club.
GC: I’ll not have my words thrown back in my face, young lady!
So what happened after you did that first painting?
CT: Another lady saw it and she wanted one for her husband and his boss. So I made two more little ones.
GC: How large were these paintings?
CT: The first one, for Mr. Tyler, was 15 x 30. It was custom made to fit their home. Then I did a series of five, small-sized paintings – about 8 x 10. All except one of them sold in a month. This was at Su Casa. And I quickly realized that I should talk to Kohler about this because this is their golf course and their beauty that they created that I’m now painting. I had one painting left and I presented it to them for approval.
GC: Who was them?
CT: Through a number of connections … I believe it went to Josue Reyes and Dirk Willis. I gave it to them on loan for however long they needed it.
GC: What year was this?
CT: 2009. It was six weeks before we got married.
GC: I don’t recall us getting married.
CT: No, my husband Brad.
CT: I presented the painting to them. It was about six months before I heard back from them. But I understood that there were various levels of approval that the painting had to go through.
GC: In February, 2010 they came back to you?
CT: Yes. They said, “We’d like to see more of your work.” I did a series of 15 paintings and from that they selected 7.
GC: How long does it take to do 15 paintings?
CT: A couple of months.
GC: This was acrylic with sand?
CT: Yes, acrylic paint – gel medium – and then I mixed in a little bit of sand. They approved it and they said that the paintings would be photographed for their online KohlerAtHome sales gift shop.
And from those paintings, I made greeting cards and limited edition, signed and numbered prints.
GC: Where are the 15 originals that you painted? Were they all sold?
CT: A number of them sold. Some of them are now for sale in the Whistling Straits clubhouse.
GC: And you have your own studio? Your own website?
CT: Yes. My gallery gift shop is for my custom consultations. Art collectors can commission a painting and come to the gallery and work with me one-on-one to plan and prepare.
GC: This is in Plymouth, WI?
CT: Yes, I found a little spot where I could be close to home. It also gave me the opportunity to do custom framing.
GC: If someone wanted to buy some of your Kohler golf artwork, they would go to the Kohler web site. Correct?
CT: Yes. You can also see them on my website. But if you’d like to purchase, my site will direct you to KohlerAtHome to purchase.
GC: And at your site, can they also purchase the non-Kohler golf artwork?
CT: Not yet, but sometime in the future.
GC: Do you have any commissions to do additional Kohler Golf artwork? Perhaps a series of nudes from the women’s locker room?
CT: “The Sunrise at the Straits” series set the tone. With the US Women’s Open coming this June at Blackwolf Run, I was invited to paint a series of paintings. I worked with the Kohler people to select the signature holes they wanted. That series is called “Daybreak at Blackwolf Run.”
GC: With this Kohler experience under your belt, do you want to concentrate on painting golf vistas?
CT: My goal is to be a premier golf painter. There are a number of very talented and very successful golf painters and I’d like to be among them. My goal is also to be the premier destination artist for the Kohler area where I live … and to attract art collectors worldwide to our area.
I did a series of The American Club at winter. Were you there in the summer or winter?
GC: I was there in June.
CT: Kohler in the winter is exquisite. They put little twinkle lights on all the trees. There’s holly everywhere.
CT: I did a series called “The American Club Holiday Series.” That went very well so I’ve been invited to paint the American Club this spring and those paintings will be unveiled at the end of February.
GC: If you’re interested in seeing how the master has done it, you need to get a copy of Linda Hartough’s “Hallowed Ground.” It has her paintings of some of the world’s most famous courses.
CT: I should get that. I do intend to reach out to other golf courses and to grow. But my partnership and business relationship with Kohler is very important to me.
GC: That’s a good one to have. You know, Mr. Kohler also owns The Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews, Scotland.
CT: Have you been there?
GC: I’ve been to St. Andrews but I didn’t stay at his hotel. But when you read Linda’s book, you’ll see some of the classic golf courses of Scotland and England. Pete Dye, at Mr. Kohler’s request, fashioned Whistling Straits after Ireland’s wind-swept links courses.
So if you want to be a golf artist, grab your brushes and head over there, Cassy. It’s a must-see, an important part of your training. Kind of like going to Italy … except the food stinks.
With the US Women’s Open coming in June of this year to Blackwolf Run, I have a great idea for a painting. We’ll call it: “Lost in the Sheboygan.” It’s a dramatization of a great but tortured man losing half a dozen golf balls in the Sheboygan River. I’ll talk to my contact at Kohler and maybe we can meet at the 13th hole and do some preliminary sketches.
Cassy, it was a pleasure talking with you. I wish you all the best in your art career.
CT: Thank you, Robert.