Devil of a Story: UW-Stout professor illustrates century-old local fairytale

Emily Kinzel

UW-Stout professor and illustrator Erik Evensen (below) went for a steampunk vibe in his artwork for the recently published story The Devil’s Punchbowl.

For long-time residents, the folklore behind the Devil’s Punchbowl in Menomonie is old as time. Rumors of hauntings, gnomes, and enchantments in this outdoor recreational area are well-known. The natural beauty of the forested, canyon-shaped park is magical on its own, but the promise of troll or fairy sightings only adds to its attraction.

How did the Devil’s Punchbowl become so famous? Perhaps through a fairytale more than a century old, originally documented in 1913 in a Menomonie High School literary magazine, The Menomite. The writer, then-student Isabelle Waterman, is responsible for contributing to the Devil’s Punchbowl’s mysterious history.

Erik Evensen, UW-Stout professor, and Melissa Kneeland, museum educator for Dunn County Historical Society, have teamed up to breathe new life into Waterman’s beloved local story. According to Evensen, they copied the tale as accurately as possible, only correcting minor grammar mistakes. The main adjustment is the addition of Evensen’s artwork throughout the 15-page short story.

In order to honor the story’s traditional fairy tale format, Evensen researched early 20th century fantasy illustrations. He combined elements of his own style with inspiration from period illustrator Arthur Rackham’s work to find a balance between old and new.

“Steampunk was the perfect aesthetic for this project,” Evensen said. “It reflects the time period of the late 1800s and early 1900s, which is when this story was written, but it adds a touch of the fantastic.” He was inspired to use this style by a composition entitled “Steampunk Suite,” by his wife, composer and conductor Erika Svanoe.

Evensen’s affinity for fantasy and sci-fi has stretched throughout his artistic career. In years past, he has contributed several stories to IDW’s Ghostbusters and Back to the Future comic book series. For Evensen, the Devil’s Punchbowl tale was a nice switch, capturing local history.

UW-Stout professor and illustrator Erik Evensen (left) went for a steampunk vibe in his artwork for the recently published story The Devil’s Punchbowl. The story was originally written in 1913 by a Menomonie High School student, Isabelle Waterman (far left).
The Devil’s Punchbowl is based on a story originally written in 1913 by a Menomonie High School student, Isabelle Waterman.

“This project directly contributes to Chippewa Valley and Dunn County’s history by bringing the writing of a Dunn County High School student back to light after more than 100 years,” Kneeland said. “It adds to the lore of our wonderful natural places, and, with Erik’s illustrations, it gives us a new way of sharing a story for new generations of (local) residents.”

A book for all ages, this story appeals to sci-fi, outdoor, and history buffs alike. Copies will be available for $10 at the Rassbach Heritage Museum in Menomonie’s Wakanda Park, which will host an opening night event featuring artwork from the book at 6:30pm Thursday, Dec. 14. More information can be found on the museum’s website (dunnhistory.org) or by calling the Dunn County Historical Society at (715) 232-8685.

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