Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum

Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau

By Morgen Clary, Arts Wisconsin intern 

July 2015


The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.  Best known for its annual, flagship exhibition Birds in Art, which features new art work by some of the world’s most accomplished artists, the Woodson Art Museum offers ever-changing, diverse experiences – from oversized woodcuts printed with a steamroller and upcycled couture created from repurposed materials and custom-built guitars assembled in a re-created luthier’s studio.  Through programs that enliven changing exhibition themes, the Museum presents hands-on, accessible, art and cultural experiences for visitors of all ages and stages. Committed to always-free admission, the Woodson Art Museum is a valued community resource and north central Wisconsin cultural attraction.    


Both the Museum and the community have their roots in the lumber industry. Wausau is nestled amongst lake-dotted, rolling farmlands and woodlands, intersected by the Wisconsin River, which define north central Wisconsin’s natural beauty.  In 1973, John E. Forester and Alice W. Forester donated an English Tudor home and four-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 prior to the Museum’s September 1976 debut.  A second two-story gallery was added in 1987; a new main entrance was added in 1997; and a 9,000-square-foot addition was completed in 2012. 


The Yawkey and Woodson families, who were prominent in Wausau’s business, cultural, and philanthropic affairs for nearly a century, wished to enhance the lives of others with art.  Their generosity and love of art and nature established what has become the Museum’s guiding spirit – the marriage of art and nature.  Art of the natural world is the guiding spirit behind the paintings, works on paper, and sculpture in the Museum’s collection, which sets the standard for avian art.


The Museum’s lush gardens and grounds and the Margaret Woodson Fisher Sculpture Garden feature a variety of artworks, including Steven Siegel’s site-specific Let’s fan out, completed in 2011; Deborah Butterfield’s Kua; Gwynn Murrill’s Upsidedown Dog; and Kent Ullberg’s Rites of Spring.  The Woodson, which is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, remains the region’s only art museum.


In addition to Birds in Art, diverse exhibitions feature artwork from around the world and change more often than the seasons.  Programs and events enhance and illuminate changing exhibition themes and are offered for all ages – from babies, school children, teens, adults, and grandparents to individuals with low vision and blindness and older individuals with memory loss and their care partners.  Visiting artists interact with visitors during multi-day residencies, offering opportunities for in-depth understanding of mediums and processes through public programs, demonstrations, and hands-on learning.  For example, Art Park, the Woodson’s interactive gallery, is a destination within the Museum, where learning-infused play expands on exhibition themes.


The Birds in Art exhibit will open September 12th at the Woodson.   Dozens of Birds in Art artists will travel from around the country and internationally to be part of the exhibit, interacting with visitors, signing catalogues and posters, and many will demonstrate techniques during Artists in Action.  According to the Wausau Daily Herald, “Each year, the museum seems to find new ways to dazzle viewers with the sheer scope of what artists can make out of the simplest of guidelines: birds, art. Infinite variations. It’s no wonder the exhibition is internationally renowned and draws visitors from around the globe.” 
Learn more about the Woodson Art Museum at www.lywam.org.