by Gary John Gresl, Board President, Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors, Inc.
During an awards ceremony held May 2, 2004, at the West Bend Art Museum, the Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards (WVALAA) announced the names of the first group of award recipients. The awards are presented to those, both living and dead, who have made extraordinary contributions to Wisconsin's visual arts and are considered state cultural treasures.
The first group of eleven recipients consists of: Aaron Bohrod, Porter Butts, John Steuart Curry and Harvey Littleton, from the Madison area; Frederick Layton, Edward Steichen, Elsa Ulbricht, Henry Vianden and Carl Von Marr, from the Milwaukee area; Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors, Inc., which has chapters in Milwaukee, Madison and the Fox Cities; and Frank Lloyd Wright of Spring Green. These names were selected from an original list of 80 possibilities.
A fifteen-person committee chose the recipients. The WVALAA was founded by three of Wisconsin's respected visual arts institutions: The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters; Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors, Inc.; and the West Bend Art Museum.
The awards ceremony included a presentation by author William Gerdts, who spoke about American regional art; congratulations from the Wisconsin Arts Board; a cash gift presented by the Milwaukee Visual Artist Roundtable; presentation of the physical awards to recipients and their representatives; and the announcement of an official Web site, www.WVALAA.org (also available at www.WVALAA.com). The Web site lists the award winners along with biographical sketches and images of their work.
The nominating committee members for the 2004 honorees were: James Auer, Jane Brite, Bob Brue, Terry Coffman, Gloria Dee Erlein and Gary John Gresl, all from metro Milwaukee; Randall Berndt, Arthur Hove, Ralph Russo and Doug Haynes, all from the Madison area; Ruth Muehlmeier of Delafield-Oconomowoc; Janet Treacy of Waukesha; Tom Lidtke of West Bend; Kevin Mileager of Racine; and William Gerdts of New York.
For more information about the awards program, contact Gary John Gresl at 414-357-6822, Randall Berndt at 608-263-1692 or Tom Lidtke at 262-334-9638. The task of selecting the 2005 award winners will begin soon.
2004 Wisconsin Visual Arts Lifetime Achievement Awards Recipients
Aaron Bohrod (1907-1992)
Aaron Bohrod worked in the Regionalist and Socialist-Realist styles. This stood him in good stead from 1942 to 1945, when he was an artistic war correspondent in Europe for Life magazine, and also for work done on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers. In the late 1940s, Bohrod became part of a growing tendency toward illusionism and fantasy called "Magic Realism." His later trompe l'oeil still lifes, begun in the 1950s, are filled with allusions, puns and jibes that refer to many different cultures and eras. He was successor to John Steuart Curry as artist-in-residence at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Porter Butts (1903-1991)
Porter Butts became the first director of the Wisconsin Union after graduating from UW-Madison in 1924. As author of Art in Wisconsin, he wrote one of the two most important scholarly studies of the development of Wisconsin art, illustrating myriad aspects of early painting within the state (including landscape, portraiture and panorama painting). This 1936 publication is still considered essential to the study of Wisconsin art history. Butts founded the Wisconsin Salon of Arts and established the first gallery and craftshop in any university union in North America. He also established the Wisconsin Union's collection of artcurrently over 1,300 pieces, mostly by Wisconsin artistsand served in leadership positions with the Madison Art Association. In addition to chairing the Arts Committee of the Wisconsin Territorial Centennial celebration and the Milwaukee War Memorial Art Center, Butts was also was very supportive of the Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors group.
John Steuart Curry (1897-1946)
In 1934, Time Magazine hailed John Steuart Curry as one of the three leading Regionalist American artists, along with Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. Through his art, he presented the virtues of the fertile Midwest landscape and common people. In 1936, he was selected to be the first artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While there, one of Curry's primary responsibilities was to serve in what is now known as the Wisconsin Regional Art Program. He holds the distinction of being one of only about a half-dozen Wisconsin artists listed in most general American art surveys.
Frederick Layton (1827-1919)
A wealthy businessman, Frederick Layton can be regarded as Wisconsin's earliest and most influential art patron. In 1887, he established the Layton Art Gallery, initially built to house his collection of fine painting and sculpture. This also housed the eponymous School of Art whose legacy is seen today in the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. The Layton Art Gallery also served as the catalyst for the eventual creation of the Milwaukee Art Center, later the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Harvey Littleton (contemporary)
Harvey Littleton's pioneering work with glassmaking as a fine art medium has gained him the title of "father of studio glassmaking." Internationally known through his art and his teaching, Littleton has introduced studio glass blowing to students and teachers worldwide. His association with UW-Madison as potter, glassmaker and educator covers decades of creativity, and his own work can be found in major museum collections throughout the world. Almost all American university and college art glass programs can trace their origins back to Littleton's work at UW-Madison.
Edward Steichen (1883-1962)
In 1898 Edward Steichen organized and became the first president of the Milwaukee Art Students' League. Initially a painter, he became Wisconsin's foremost internationally recognized photographer. Early exposure and recognition came through association with Alfred Steiglitz in New York; however, Steichen became an internationally known photographer in his own right through his classic fashion and celebrity photos. He served as Director of Photography for the U.S. military during World War II and, in 1947, became the director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1955 he organized and toured the highly successful exhibit "The Family of Man," which contained hundreds of images from photographers from around the world.
Elsa Ulbricht (1885-1980)
When she directed The Milwaukee Handicraft Project, Elsa Ulbricht was one of the most inspiring people ever to lead an art project for the federal government's Works Project Administration. It was one of the largest, if not the largest, W.P.A. art-related project in the nation, employing about 5,000 people from Milwaukee, mostly women, who learned marketable skills for the first time. The program was visited and recognized as an exemplary project by Eleanor Roosevelt. A consummate teacher, Ulbricht taught at Alexander Mueller's School of Fine and Applied Arts and also the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she became the chair of the art department. Later she was the director of the Oxbow Summer School of Painting in Saugatuck, Michigan. Diverse in her skills, she taught clay modeling, teaching methods, weaving, mechanical drawing, basketry and bookbinding.
Henry Vianden (1814-1899)
Henry (Heinrich) Vianden is often called the "Father of Wisconsin Art." He was an early teacher to numerous important Wisconsin artists in the 19th century, including his most famous student, Carl von Marr. Artistically, his Germanic tradition and discipline persisted through his students' work well into the 20th century, and his Wisconsin landscapes provide some of the earliest color images of the state. Many of Wisconsin's first generation of American-born artists received their earliest training from him.
Carl von Marr (1858-1936)
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Carl von Marr was a major artistic force in Europe, reaching the highest echelons of German art in addition to being made an honorary member of the American Association for Art & Literature. During the first quarter of the 20th century, he received great acclaim and was granted an honorary doctorate at UW-Madison for his paintings, teaching, curatorial activities and affiliation with European art groups. For his artistic accomplishments, he was elevated to European nobility in 1909 and was given royal status by three separate European governments. He was offered painting professorships at the Art Institute of Chicago and the art academies in Berlin, Weimar and Munich, but eventually became the director of the Royal Academy of Art in Munich. In the mid-1990s, his work was included in exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the German History Museum in Berlin.
Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors (1900-present)
Established in 1900, this organization is one of less than a half-dozen American professional art organizations that has survived for more than 100 years. The vast majority of early Wisconsin artists that have been nominated for the Wisconsin Visual Arts Lifetime Achievement Awards have been members of WP&S at one time or another. Today, the group has several chapters throughout the state, hundreds of members and international art and culture exchanges. It organizes significant exhibitions throughout Wisconsin, including the Wisconsin Artists Biennial.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959)
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the world's most imaginative and influential architects. His seven-decade career produced architectural forms that were stylistically and technically innovative, with nature providing inspiration for his principles of design. By 1910, Wright had become internationally famous, but never established an architectural style that was dominant in America or Europe, even though he completed work in 35 states. Nevertheless, Wright and his memorable buildings are as popular and well loved today as during the architect's lifetime.