Memories and Influences

By: Andrew McGivern, curator of exhibitions on May 7th, 2009

The Museum’s galleries are filled with Native American trade blankets from the collection of glass artist Dale Chihuly along with glass cylinders from his Blanket Series. The exhibition, Wrapped in Tradition, opened April 4 and visitors are streaming in to see the colorful and vibrantly patterned blankets and spectacular glassworks. The docents have been busy giving tours to area school children whose teachers have taken advantage of a terrific educational field trip as the school year winds down.

As a child growing up in Wausau, I remember going to the Marathon County Historical Society on a school field trip (this was before the Woodson Art Museum was established . . . I guess I’m dating myself). What stands out in my mind from likely my earliest museum experience, was being in the kitchen of the historic Yawkey house. Off the kitchen was a narrow staircase that led to the second floor and on the walls of the staircase was a colorful logging mural. I remember thinking how unusual it was to see a painting in a staircase and what a special place this museum must be.

In the sixth grade I went on an end-of-the-year field trip to Milwaukee and we visited the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Zoo. It was the mid 1960s and for me the art museum was a real treat. The artworks that made the biggest impressions on me were Andy Warhol’s stacked Brillo boxes and a huge Robert Irwin acrylic disc that allowed you to look through its concave shape, distorting your view of the museum entrance and other children on the opposite side.

As I look back on my grade school and high school years, I’m now certain that my experiences influenced me to pursue a museum career. Because my early field trips and museum visits had a profound impact on my, I think about this when scheduling exhibitions for the Woodson Art Museum.

I wonder how visitors will perceive an exhibition, which artworks will “speak” to them, and especially how school children will react to the artworks in the galleries.

The combination of trade blankets and glass is unusual, but once you understand the “Chihuly connection,” the objects on view at the Woodson convey a powerful message of how an artist working in one medium was influenced by another art form.

How might you be influenced by your next visit to the Woodson Art Museum?

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