The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, in the heart of Wausau, Wisconsin, is known for its internationally acclaimed Birds in Art exhibition, presented each Fall.
- Art of the natural world is the guiding spirit behind the paintings, works on paper, and sculpture in the Museum’s collection.
- Diverse exhibitions feature artwork from around the world and change more often than the seasons.
- Enriching programs and events for all ages enliven exhibition themes.
- Committed to always-free admission, the Museum is a valued community resource and north central Wisconsin cultural attraction.
The Woodson Art Museum’s mission is to enhance lives through art. Therefore, the Museum continually strives for excellence in providing audiences with quality art experiences through the permanent collection, changing exhibitions, and education programs for all ages.
Both the Museum and the community have their roots in the lumber industry. Wausau is nestled amongst lake-dotted, rolling farmlands and woodlands, intersected by the Wisconsin River, which define north central Wisconsin’s natural beauty. Wausau is home to about 40,000 people; Marathon County, 133,000; and the 15-county north central region served by the Woodson, about a half-million people.
In 1973, John E. Forester and Alice W. Forester donated an English Tudor home and four-acre estate to be the community’s only art museum, one that would always be free to all. The home was renovated and a two-story gallery added. A second two-story gallery was added in 1987; a new main entrance was added in 1997; and a 9,000-square-foot addition was completed in 2012. The Yawkey and Woodson families, who had been prominent in Wausau’s business, cultural, and philanthropic affairs for nearly a century, wished to enhance the lives of others with art, as their lives had been enhanced by it. Their generosity and love of art and nature established what has become the Museum’s guiding spirit – the marriage of art and nature. The Woodson, which is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, remains the region’s only art museum.
When it opened in 1976, the Museum featured the Woodson family’s decorative arts collection, including a complete set of bird and floral porcelains designed by Dorothy Doughty for Royal Worcester, and a collection of nineteenth-century glass baskets. These objects reflected Cyrus Yawkey’s (1862-1943) belief in the need “to cultivate a love for beauty in art and nature.” The collection focuses on art inspired by nature, primarily birds, and has grown to more than 5,000 objects.
To initiate their promise of robust changing exhibitions, the Woodson family asked their friend and respected Wisconsin artist, Owen J. Gromme, (1896-1991) to organize the Museum’s inaugural exhibition. Public response to Birds of the Lakes, Fields and Forests so far exceeded expectations that it became the highly competitive annual juried Birds in Art, which has shown the work of almost 1,000 international artists.
Woodson Family Women
The Museum is named in honor of Leigh Yawkey Woodson (1888-1963), a woman who with her husband, Aytchmonde P. Woodson (1881-1958), continued her family’s legacy of generosity in the Wausau community. Mr. and Mrs. Woodson had three daughters.
- Nancy Leigh Woodson Spire (1917-1998) resided in New York throughout her adult years with her husband, Dr. Lyman J. Spire; she generously supported every phase of the Museum’s growth.
- Alice Woodson Forester (1918-1994) and her husband, John E. Forester, spearheaded the effort to create an art museum in memory of Mrs. Woodson.
- Margaret Woodson Fisher (1920-1972), who supported the founding of the Museum, died before it opened. The Sculpture Garden is named in her honor.
The Yawkey Connection
Frequent questions focus on former Boston Red Sox owner Thomas Yawkey’s relationship to Leigh Yawkey Woodson.
- Cyrus Carpenter Yawkey, the father of Leigh Yawkey Woodson, was the first cousin of August Lydia Yawkey Austin, mother of Thomas Yawkey Austin, who was born in 1903.
- Thomas Yawkey Austin spent summers during his childhood with his mother in Hazelhurst, Wisconsin, about 70 miles north of Wausau.
- Thomas’ name was changed to Thomas Austin Yawkey when he was adopted by his uncle, William Hoover Yawkey, following the death of both his mother and stepfather in 1918.
- Following William Hoover Yawkey’s death in 1919, Cyrus Carpenter Yawkey became Thomas Yawkey’s legal guardian.
- Cyrus Yawkey was Thomas Yawkey’s first cousin, once removed.
- Cyrus Yawkey was a lumberman who moved to Wisconsin from Saginaw, Michigan, with his wife, Alice Richardson Yawkey.
- They had one child, Leigh Yawkey, who married Aytchmonde P. Woodson in the early 1900s. Leigh Yawkey Woodson was Thomas Yawkey’s second cousin.