Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum

Wausau, WI





In 1973 a member of the Woodson family gave her English Tudor home and 4-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 $2.1 million project in 1997 added a new main entrance, a second multipurpose space, new mechanical systems, expanded collections storage, and state-of-the-art storage systems. The Yawkey and Woodson families, who had been prominent in Wausau's business, cultural, and philanthropic affairs for nearly a century, wished to enhance the lives of others with art, as their lives had been enhanced by it. Their generosity and love of art and nature established what has become the Museum's guiding spirit -- the marriage of art and nature. The Woodson, which is accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM), remains the region's only full-service art museum.

When it opened in 1976, the Museum's permanent collection galleries were installed with the family's decorative arts collection, including a complete set of 99 bird and floral porcelains designed by Dorothy Doughty for Royal Worcester, and a collection of 19th 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." The permanent collection, retaining its focus on art inspired by nature, has grown to more than 3,500 objects.

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To initiate their promise of an active program of changing exhibitions, the Woodson family asked their friend and respected artist, Owen Gromme, 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 more than 750 international artists in over 60 American venues and 14 international venues in its 31-year history.

In fulfilling its commitment to diverse exhibitions representing the broad spectrum of world art, the Museum has organized or presented, to date, more than 300 changing exhibitions ranging from Victorian needlework, Russian icons, American waterfowl decoys, and Egyptian objects to botanical prints, 17th century Dutch and Flemish still-life paintings, Gaston Lachaise sculpture, and William Wegman and Clyde Butcher photographs. In addition, 50 Woodson-organized exhibitions have been shown in 42 states and 15 countries since 1979.

Two other changing exhibition highlights include a commitment to biennial exhibitions of work by children's book illustrators and outdoor sculpture. Beginning in 1991 with the work of illustrator Tomie dePaola, a key component of the Woodson's children's book illustration exhibitions has been a partnership with the Marathon County Public Library. Subsequent exhibitions have featured Eric Carle (1995), Jerry and Brian Pinkney (1997), Australian and American illustrators (1999), William Joyce and David Wiesner (2001), Robert Sabuda and David Diaz (2003); and Paul O. Zelinsky (2005).

Art exhibitions moved outdoors in 1995 after construction of the Margaret Woodson Fisher Sculpture Garden. Seven thematic exhibitions have been organized, and seventeen large-scale sculptures are sited in garden and grounds. The sculpture garden hosts programs and special events, including a popular summer concert series.


Woodson Family Women

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.

- Alice Woodson Forester (1918 - 1994) and her husband, John E. Forester, spearheaded the effort to create an art museum in memory of Mrs. Woodson. They donated their residence to serve as the museum and oversaw the addition of a large gallery wing prior to the opening in September 1976.

- Nancy Leigh Woodson Spire (1917 - 1998) resided in New York throughout her adult years with her husband, Dr. Lyman J. Spire. Though distant from her hometown of Wausau, she generously supported every phase of the Museum's growth.

- Margaret Woodson Fisher (1920 - 1972), who supported the founding of the Museum, died before the Museum opened. She resided in Florida during most of her adulthood with her husband, Dr. Frederick W. Fisher. The Margaret Woodson Fisher Sculpture Garden is named in her honor.

The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum is located at the corner of Franklin (Co. Hwy. Z) and Twelfth Streets on Wausau's east side, one mile from the downtown pedestrian mall. For hours and fees please see the museum's website.

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