Fellow coworker and museum educator Emily Fritz asked me last week on my birthday, “Do you have any birthday traditions?” To which I answered, “No.” Although I quickly realized that’s not entirely true. When I was younger, my mom would cook my favorite meal on my birthday. . . chili, spaghetti, or meatloaf. However, what made birthday meals feel even more memorable was the red and white plate it was served on, one that reads “Today’s Your Special Day.” With each bite of food, I was reminded that the day was important and should celebrate me. Now, as an adult, I look forward to sharing a birthday meal with my parents as a tradition and eating off the plate that gives me warm feelings of nostalgia.
This year on my birthday, I celebrated in a different way, with another tradition – the Wausau School District’s Art Cluster program. Art Cluster gives fourth and fifth grade students the opportunity to dive deep into the visual arts with an all-day excursion at the Woodson Art Museum. Students must apply and be accepted into the program, with nominations from their art teachers and a clear interest in artmaking. This year, all 160 students (80 fourth and 80 fifth graders) explored Soñadora: Yuyi Morales and took inspiration from Yuyi’s colorful, mixed media illustrations, which influenced the projects they created – fifth graders made a diorama with collage, crafted needle felted objects to add to their hand-crafted set, and added a Model Magic character while fourth graders designed an illuminated letter book cover and completed illustrated pages for their own explosion book. You can see the mastery and creativity behind their inventive projects which will be on display at the Marathon County Public Library in downtown Wausau February 6 – 28.
This isn’t the only long-standing tradition the Museum has to support student artists, either. The annual Student Art Exhibition in its 47th year kicks off March 2 – 31, with submissions from art educators accepted February 9 – 16. This year, during Youth Art Month, the exhibition celebrates the original and creative artwork from students in central and north central Wisconsin in grades 9 – 12. Following the Student Art Exhibition, Portfolios will highlight the work of advanced art students from Wausau East and Wausau West High Schools; each student selects a theme or concept and builds a body of work around that topic. Their portfolios are then submitted to the rigorous Advanced Placement (Wausau West) or International Baccalaureate (Wausau East) programs to be reviewed for college credit.
Although my birthday has passed, every day feels like a special one at the Woodson Art Museum, especially when the work of bright young artists is celebrated.