WRAP exhibition celebrates 75 years of homegrown Wisconsin art

August 17, 2015

Photo: Painting of woodpecker

Jan Woods, Muskego, Wisconsin, ’Ace In The Hole (Acorn Woodpeckers),’ acrylic, 23.75 x 14.75, Photographer Dave Wood

What does the world look like to Wisconsin visual artists? Since 1940, the Wisconsin Regional Art Program (WRAP) has allowed us to see through their eyes by encouraging self-expression in all corners of the state. WRAP’s 75th anniversary culminates in an exhibition that showcases homegrown artistic vision.

The program helps nonprofessional artists develop their creative abilities. It holds workshops and exhibitions around the state, including an annual showcase in Madison for award-winning work. This year’s exhibition, now on display, features more than 200 artists through Sept. 26 at the Pyle Center on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus. The artwork was chosen by the two dozen professional artists who’ve judged local WRAP exhibitions.  

Photo: Photo of skiff

Sharon L. Dowis, Merrill, Wisconsin, ’Monet’s Skiff.’ photograph, 11×14

The state exhibition concludes with an annual conference Sept. 26, including an awards presentation. With help from WRAP’s nonprofit partner organization, the Wisconsin Regional Artists Association, selected artists will receive more than $5,000 to support their continued development.

“The amateur artists who participate in the Wisconsin Regional Art Program are true lovers of artistic and creative growth for its own sake,” says WRAP director Helen Klebesadel. “While they may not be professionals in the sense of making their living in the arts, the art they make often reaches professional level in technique and content. Many of them put their art aside to make a living or raise a family and now credit WRAP with giving it back to them.”

Photo: Image of woman

Mabel Tousignant, Wausau, Wisconsin, ’Autumns Rose,’ silver point, 11×16

The Wisconsin Regional Art Program, inspired by the Wisconsin Idea, is the only program of its kind in the United States. It began as a UW–Madison initiative to engage rural Wisconsin in cultural activities. The American Regionalist artist John Steuart Curry, who served as the university’s artist-in-residence from 1936-46, became a mentor to adults in small communities who wanted to pursue art in their spare time.

Since then, thousands have participated in the program, which has expanded to include urban areas. Some of them, inspired by their work in WRAP, went on to become professional artists, notably Nick Engelbert, Harry Nohr and Lois Ireland Zwettler.

The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters will explore WRAP’s place in the state’s cultural history with a Sept. 24 Academy Talk, “Visual Art and the Wisconsin Idea: 75 Years Encouraging Wisconsin Artists.” Maryo Gard Ewell will discuss UW–Madison’s role in encouraging artistic development among rural teachers, mail carriers, blacksmiths, farmers and homemakers.

—Dean Robbins