Wausau, Wisconsin: Artwork at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, changes more often than the seasons, offering an ever-refreshing array of artwork and activities. In the months ahead, varied upcoming exhibitions include avian themes year-round via artwork from the Museum’s collection and Birds in Art 2019 in the fall, followed by Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami this winter, L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters in spring 2020, and Many Visions, Many Versions: Art from Indigenous Communities in India in summer 2020.
All-new artwork in the 2019 edition of Birds in Art, which opens each fall on the weekend after Labor Day, inspires in endless ways. The inaugural exhibition that helped launch the Museum in 1976 has taken flight and soared to become the Woodson Art Museum’s flagship and internationally renowned Birds in Art exhibition; yet, the Museum features much more.
- Diverse temporary exhibitions encompass artwork from around the world.
- Enriching programs and events for all ages enliven exhibition themes.
- Art of the natural world is the guiding spirit behind the paintings, works on paper, and sculpture in the Museum’s collection. Visitors experience nature’s beauty year round in the galleries and throughout the sculpture garden and grounds; the Woodson Art Museum’s historic and contemporary collection sets a world standard for avian- and nature-themed art.
- Committed to always-free admission, the Museum is a valued community resource and north central Wisconsin cultural attraction.
- The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum is a 2017 National Medal winner, the nation’s highest museum honor for service to the community.
The Woodson Art Museum is one of only two art museums among the five museums and five libraries named 2017 National Medal winners on May 15, 2017, by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency supporting the nation’s approximately 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums, all of which are eligible for the award. Winners are chosen because of their significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. For 23 years, the award has celebrated institutions that respond to societal needs in innovative ways, making a difference for individuals, families, and their communities. Each of the 2017 National Medal winners “play a critical role as community catalysts and provide vital resources that drive economic development, and foster community well-being,” said Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In addition to being named a National Medal winner in 2017 and a finalist in 2016, the Woodson Art Museum also was the 2016 winner of the Wisconsin Governor’s Arts, Culture, and Heritage tourism award.
Serving an estimated 55,000 visitors each year, more than 11,000 school children are welcomed during class visits to the Museum. Volunteer greeters frequently report visitors exclaiming, “I love this place,” and “it’s always so impressive.” While many visit with friends and family for fun and inspiration, others find refreshment that brightens their days. Consider snippets from Woodson Art Museum TripAdvisor reviews:
• “Must Visit – We love this museum! It has something for everyone. Kid friendly and really neat stuff outside too. Changes often so you rarely see the same things twice.”
• “The quality and diversity of the works are amazing. On Birds in Art opening day, many of the artists are there (from all over the world) and happy to talk with visitors. One artist said there is nothing like this anywhere in the world!”
• “It is a beautiful building. The sculpture garden and museum is breathtaking. The paper cutting art exhibit was the same. Every time we visit Wausau we also visit here. We love it.”
• “This exhibit is definitely on the cutting edge! Great show!!
• “This was magnificent! Took my granddaughter, Addi! She is 7 and studied everyone thoroughly and wanted more.”
• “Cool, fun museum”
• “Great Museum; Don’t Miss – This is a ‘Best of’ Wisconsin and definitely a ‘Don’t Miss’ for Wausau. This is a treasure in Central Wisconsin!”
• “Birds in Art is epic. Not just one medium but many. Large, small, humorous, serious – hard to imagine the creative vehicles of expression. If you are going to be in the area this is a must see. Oh, and did I say it’s free?”
The Woodson Art Museum provides visitors with barrier-free access to a vast array of visual-arts experiences including via ever-changing artwork in the galleries, the sculpture garden, and Art Park – the Museum’s interactive family gallery, visiting artists’ presentations and workshops, hands-on art making, and programs for all ages and life stages – from babies, children, and families to students during class visits and teens and adults. Exhibition themes are woven throughout those programs that span the age and life-stage spectrum – from Art Babies, launched in 2009 for little ones and accompanying adults, to SPARK!, created in 2010 for individuals with early- to mid-stage memory loss and their loved ones or care partners. Art Beyond Sight, implemented in 2006, provides multisensory ways for individuals with blindness or low vision to experience the visual arts.
Also, the Woodson Art Museum’s inaugural tactile art exhibition, In Touch with Art: Tactile Sculpture, comprises avian sculptures, available on a “touch table” in the Decorative Arts Gallery, near the 12th Street entrance. This first in an on-going series provides ready access to original artwork for visitors with low vision or blindness, also encouraging sighted visitors to experience a new way to “see” via the mind’s eye – visualizing artwork through touch. Explore touchable sculpture and the power of hands-on art appreciation.
The varied lineup of current and upcoming exhibitions includes:
June 8 – August 25, 2019
Botanical Art Worldwide: America’s Flora
From saguaro cactus of the Southwest, big-leaf maple of the West Coast, and bloodroot spanning the Midwest to bottlebrush buckeye of the Eastern Seaboard, this exhibition features artworks of America’s native plants. Familiar plants such as sunflowers and violets and rare species such as lady’s slipper orchids are highlighted in watercolors and other mediums. Botanical Art Worldwide: America’s Flora highlights U.S. indigenous plants – from cacti and trees to woodland flowers – with a goal to increase appreciation and understanding of the world’s plant diversity and its interconnectedness. Curated by the American Society of Botanical Artists and the United States Botanic Garden, Botanical Art Worldwide is part of a worldwide project in which national exhibitions are simultaneously on view at cultural institutions in twenty-five countries on six continents. Each exhibition features contemporary artwork of native plants by resident artists via a coordinated, international effort to increase appreciation of the world’s plant diversity and to link people with plants via botanical art.
June 8 – August 25, 2019
Flora, Fauna, Font: Illustrating the Alphabet
Kandis Vermeer Phillips’ illuminated alphabet showcases A to Z intertwined with plants, mammals, and insects. Phillips integrated extensive research into the history of and the natural materials used in medieval illuminated manuscripts into an alphabet primer for her granddaughter. She combined decorative letters with representations of flowers and creatures found in her garden or during family travels. This exhibition was organized by the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
September 7 – December 1, 2019
Birds in Art 2019
Imaginations take flight, inspired by new breathtaking depictions of birds by some of the world’s most talented artists who push themselves to new heights, striving to be selected for the internationally renowned Birds in Art exhibition. Majestic yet fragile, amusing, and poignant, birds connect us with the natural world, heralding each dawn and signaling environmental shifts. Savor artistic interpretations and discover anew what inspires you. The 44th annual exhibition features avian wonders through all-new interpretations in original paintings, sculptures, and graphics created within the last three years. Birds in Art opening weekend festivities are part of Wausau’s Artrageous Weekend.
Since 1976, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum has organized Birds in Art annually, seeking to present the best contemporary artistic interpretations of birds and related subject matter. Two- and three-dimensional artworks in all media other than crafts and photography are eligible. Approximately 100 works are selected by a three-person jury; see the Birds in Art Prospectus for details. Artwork for the annual Birds in Art exhibition is selected in May and opens to the public on the first Saturday following Labor Day.
Saturday morning opening festivities for Birds in Art 2019 will include honoring British colored-pencil artist Alan Woollett as the 2019 Master Artist. Woollett’s artwork, whether deftly drawn in graphite or colored pencil, is characterized by eye-catching and memorable compositions featuring birds in striking poses. His exquisitely detailed and elegantly sophisticated avian-themed artwork – conveying birds’ delicacy and poise – conveys the joys of observing, drawing, and appreciating nature. Fourteen Alan Woollett artworks comprises his 2019 Birds in Art Master Artist grouping. For additional information about Alan Woollett, see the 2019 Master Artist press release.
Opening-day morning programs on Saturday, September 7, part of Wausau’s Artrageous Weekend, provide varied opportunities to interact with more than sixty Birds in Art artists visiting from throughout the world. Meet the artists, 9 am – Noon. During the Master Artist Talk, 9:30 – 10:30 am, Alan Woollett, the Museum’s 38th Master Artist, will provide insights into his inspiration and process. During Artists in Action, 10:45 am – Noon, Birds in Art artists demystify processes, demonstrating their work in various mediums beneath tents in the sculpture garden. Wausau’s Artrageous Weekend is an art extravaganza offering admission-free fun for all ages at four Wausau locations the weekend after Labor Day. Art in the Park at Marathon Park; Festival of Arts and the Center for the Visual Arts, both in downtown Wausau; and Birds in Art opening festivities at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum comprise 2019’s 30th annual Wausau’s Artrageous Weekend. Free shuttle-bus service connects all four locations.
A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies Birds in Art and will be available for purchase in advance via this link in summer 2019 or at the Museum in September 2019. Three posters also available for purchase.
December 7, 2019 – March 1, 2020
Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami
Highlighting the extraordinary power and potential of contemporary origami, nine international artists transform two-dimensional paper into stunning, sprawling, and soaring three-dimensional sculpture. Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami encompasses artwork created using varied techniques, including dampening, stretching, folding, pleating, and twisting into forms illustrating connections between origami and mathematics. Bridging the realms of art and science, origami concepts impact architectural and computer-aided design and are reflected even in our folded DNA. These origami artworks – from floating, organic forms to conceptual book sculptures emerging from the Torah and the Koran, also explore concepts as varied as infinity, sustainable design, and world peace. Above the Fold, the first traveling exhibition to bring origami installations from around the world to North American audiences, was curated by Meher McArthur, and the tour was organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C.
March 7 through May 31, 2020
L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters
Showcasing the remarkable work of five master printmakers, Jules Chéret, Alphonse Mucha, Eugène Grasset, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters features more than sixty posters and ephemera dating from 1875 to 1910. These pioneering artists reigned in Paris during this period of artistic proliferation, defining a never-before-seen, and never forgotten, art form. Peppering the walls and kiosks of Parisian neighborhoods, boldly colorful posters were heralded as a new art form, a brilliant fusion of craft and commerce. The sudden popularity of posters fueled a passion for collecting them, called affichomania. Organized by The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, Chicago, and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington D.C., the exhibition explores the eruption of the poster craze in Paris conveying the exuberance of the spirited era in France known as the Belle Époque.
June 6 – August 30, 2020
Many Visions, Many Versions: Art from Indigenous Communities in India
Explore the breadth of India’s cultural life and heritage through contemporary artwork from four indigenous artistic traditions. From central India’s Gond and Warli communities, the Mithila region of Bihar, and the narrative scroll painters of West Bengal, more than forty paintings and drawings feature dazzling patterns, vibrant colors, and nonlinear storytelling.
Many Visions, Many Versions: Art from Indigenous Communities in India presents artwork rooted in traditional culture, yet infused with issues of global interest. Among the twenty-four indigenous artists are Jangarh Singh Shyam, Jivya Soma Mashe, Sita Devi, and Swarna Chitrakar.
With themes ranging from myth, cosmology, and nature – real and imagined – to village life and contemporary issues, Many Visions, Many Versions highlights cultural roots and current concerns via artists’ distinctive forms, techniques and styles.
Many Visions, Many Versions: Art from Indigenous Communities in India was organized by BINDU Modern Gallery and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC
On View in the Sculpture Garden & Grounds
The Museum’s grounds feature sculptures that delight visitors of all ages. From Deborah Butterfield’s Kua to Burt Brent’s The Heavyweight, a range of artistic styles and wonders of the natural world awaits. Among the highlights is Kent Ullberg’s striking bronze whooping cranes that stand as iconic sentinels at the garden’s entrance. Experience sculpture by following handicapped-accessible pathways throughout the sculpture garden, near the pond area, and to the Secret Garden. In June 2018, New York artist and landscape designer Bonnie Gale’s willow structure, Living Willow Dreams, was installed in the Woodson Art Museum’s Margaret Woodson Fischer Sculpture Garden; visit often to see how it grows. Recently, Rising Cranes, by Kevin Box, was installed in June 2019.
Mission & History
With its mission is to enhance lives through art, the Woodson Art Museum continually strives for excellence in providing audiences with quality art experiences through the Museum’s collection, changing exhibitions, and education programs for all ages.
Both the Museum and the community have their roots in the lumber industry, and the Museum’s collection focused on avian themes and art of the natural world dovetails perfectly with north central Wisconsin’s natural beauty. 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, Alice Woodson Forester, and Margaret Woodson Fisher. In 1973, John E. Forester and Alice Woodson 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; a 9,000-square-foot addition was completed in 2012, and subsequent renovations continue to enhance visitor experiences.
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.” Today the collection focuses on art inspired by nature, primarily birds, and has grown to more than 14,000 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 hundreds of international artists. The Woodson Art Museum, which is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, remains the only full-service art museum in northern Wisconsin.
Doors opened – both physical and figurative – when Leigh Yawkey Woodson’s three daughters and their families had the foresight to give north central Wisconsin the gift of an art museum. Prioritizing barrier-free access throughout the physical facility benefits those with disabilities and all visitors. Hunter Kelch, a 27-year-old visitor with Cerebral Palsy who blogs about accessibility issues, gave the museum his first-ever five-wheelchair-star rating in August 2016 for full accessibility and great service. He and his mother “were able to sit in a beautiful setting and take a break from our hectic lives,” he wrote. “For that moment, we were mother and son, not caregiver and client.”
Offering ever-changing art experiences for all, the Woodson Art Museum resonates with Wisconsin Northwoods residents and tourists, the local Wausau community, the state of Wisconsin, and the world beyond.
Woodson Art Museum Hours
First Thurs of each month 9am–7:30pm
Thursdays during Birds in Art 9am–7:30pm
Closed Mon & holidays, including New Year’s Day, Easter, July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas
Admission: Always Free Admission
Location: 700 N. 12th Street (Franklin & 12th Streets), Wausau, Wisconsin 54403-5007