Recently acquired by the Woodson Art Museum, American artist Charles Burchfield’s large-scale watercolor, Brooding Bird, radiates the power of nature: calligraphic strokes describe vibrating, leafless trees at the horizon line.
When I first visited the Woodson Art Museum in September to interview for the curator of collections position, I was struck by John Felsing’s Ghost in the Twilight, now on view in the Avian Celebrations exhibition.
I’ve been asked hundreds of times what my favorite artwork is in the Woodson Art Museum collection. My answer always centered on a question: do you have a favorite child? What I do have are memories, including my first impressions of a work and the stories I conceive in my mind while standing before a work; I’ve always had a great imagination. Many factors influence my opinion of each artwork.
Alright, fine; I can’t communicate with cranes. When I say “cranes,” I mean people who work with cranes, which is close enough for me when it comes to blog titles. The crane-loving colleagues of whom I speak are none other than dedicated staff members at the International Crane Foundation.
It’s not a secret; I love working at the Woodson Art Museum. What’s not to love? Each day I’m with fabulous colleagues, in a beautiful facility, surrounded by stunning artworks. Working with the Museum’s collection of thousands of historic and contemporary paintings, works on paper, and sculpture throughout forty years, I’ve curated more than 100 exhibitions. Where do I get the themes and how do I choose the artworks? That’s the challenge and joy. Rather than a recipe, it’s more like a jig-saw puzzle. The exhibition idea “picture” is there; getting the pieces in the right place is the goal.
My heart cracked a bit last week after reading Wisconsin Governor Evers’ “Safer at Home” order effective through April 24. I hope Covid-19 is controlled soon. As for so many others, my routine is no longer, well, routine. I’m all about the comfort of sameness and control, yet that is gone. I know it’s for the best, but the uncertainty is testing me and all of us. So, what can I share via this blog? The Woodson Art Museum is closed, staff are working from home, and the galleries are filled with dozens of beautiful artworks with stories to tell. Yet the joy of viewing them is available only online now.
Many of us hoped that on February 2 the weather-predicting groundhog wouldn’t see its shadow – a purported omen that spring is six weeks away. I, too, hoped for a speedy change of season.
“You’ve come a long way baby,” is a phrase that came to mind as I began writing this Woodson Wanderings blog post. Why that sentiment? As I considered the Woodson Art Museum’s collection, looking for a clever way to present the recent acquisitions, my mind wandered to the “Wish List,” consulted by the Collections Committee when making acquisitions. A six-member subcommittee of the board of directors, the Collections Committee guides all gifts and purchases for the Museum’s collection. The Wish List, developed dozens of years ago, was pages long and featured the names of both contemporary and historic artists whose artwork would enhance the collection and set the world standard for avian art.
While I recently watched a broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar, sang along, and marveled at the costumes and stage designs, it struck me that theater performances are organized much like art exhibitions.
One of the most exciting aspects of my career at the Woodson Art Museum is working with the artists. Just recently, following the 2016 opening of Birds in Art, I contacted fifteen artists to purchase or accept gifts of their work for the permanent collection. Those fifteen paintings, sculptures, and works on paper join 486 others that have been acquired from Birds in Art exhibitions over the past forty-one years. By any standards that is an amazing commitment to supporting artists and building a world-class collection for future generations.