THE 2005 WISCONSIN VISUAL ART LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS.
Persons or organizations that receive one of the WVALAA awards are considered Wisconsin’s Cultural Treasures, persons or organizations that have excelled among their peers in activities related to the visual arts in our region.
The program for the May 15th event included a presentation by Hannah Heidi Levy, author of the recent book, “Famous Wisconsin Artists and Architects”, who was also available for book signing. In addition other persons representing various involved organizations spoke briefly, and persons accepting the awards also were given the opportunity to speak.
Here is the list of the recipients of the 2005 WVALAA awards
James Auer (1928-2004)
A man with broad interests and abilities that encompassed all of the arts, James was skilled in careful observation, astute reporting and commentary in many fields. A multi-talented individual, he was able to see broad themes and important details on the world scene, and especially within his regional community which he never neglected or slighted.
While he was a contributor to many publications in his lifetime, his main audience was the Wisconsin region that he reached through the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel newspaper, where he served as art editor and critic starting in 1972. He arrived there after many years of employment with publications in the Fox River Valley area.
Jim was a skilled photographer and videographer, creating films about national and regional figures ranging from Aaron Bohrod to Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. His still images document nationally acclaimed artists as well as subjects closer to his Wisconsin roots. Always willing to engage artists and citizens in thoughtful conversation about many topics that he seemed to know intimately, he has often been called one of those “men for all seasons.”
Henry H. Bennett (1843-1908)
H. H. Bennett is best known for his photographs of the Wisconsin Dells (Kilbourn City) area, where he established his photography studio after serving in the Civil War. Today that studio has been restored and is maintained as a museum by the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
Bennett was an artist and entrepreneur who successfully used his particular genius and the qualities of the Dells area to promote an early tourism, revealing the beauty of Wisconsin. It is said his photos brought the Dells to the world, which it did.
In his lifetime he exhibited at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Saint Louis Worlds Fair in 1904. He was an inventor, creating useful photographic equipment, including a portrait studio that could be revolved to utilize the position of the sun. This now resides in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. He developed original methods for printing and mounting pictures and improvements for his cameras.
His work has appeared in the Museum of Modern Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Wisconsin State Historical Society Museum. The West Bend Art Museum has several of his Dells photos, all of which can be admired for their beauty and for the skill of the artist.
Susan Frackelton (1851-1932)
Susan Stuart Goodrich Frackelton has earned a place in the national spotlight due to her ground-breaking work with ceramics, china painting and the art pottery movement of the late 19th century.
She studied landscape painting under one of Wisconsin’s earliest professional artists, Henry Vianden, those lessons influencing the compositions on her ceramics and china designs. As part of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, her salt-glazed stoneware, china painting and patents for the invention of the gas-fired kiln put her squarely in the advance guard of that movement.
As a teacher she gave many women the skills needed to develop their talents into a profitable living. As an author her book “Tried by Fire” reached a national audience and broadened her influence beyond Wisconsin. She organized the Milwaukee Artists’ Association, was president of the Wisconsin School of Design, was a friend to many prominent artists of the period, and during the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago, earned nine medals for her ceramic work. Additionally she won many other medals at expositions throughout the United States and Europe during the 1880s and 90s.
Emily Groom (1876-1975)
Emily was an influence on several generations of Wisconsin artists. She maintained a fifty-five year connection with the Milwaukee-Downer College where she organized the art department and taught undergraduate and extension classes. She also taught at the Layton School of Art.
She received her training at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students’ League in New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and in London with Frank Brangwyn. She was co-founder of the Wisconsin Watercolor Society, and member of several artist organizations including the Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors, American Watercolor Society, the Chicago Gallery Association, Artists’ Equity, National Association of Woman Painters and Sculptors, Concord Art Association, and the Philadelphia and New York Watercolor Clubs.
Her earliest recognition was a gold medal from the St. Paul Institute in 1917, thereafter exhibiting broadly and receiving awards in Chicago, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. In 1936, Porter Butts wrote of Emily Groom in his book, “Art in Wisconsin,” that “She is the most prominent woman painter of the early artist group.” As a respected and well-loved member of the Wisconsin art community, she remained active into her ninety-seventh year.
Owen Gromme (1896-1991)
While Owen will forever be associated with the important and popular field of wildlife painting, his influence in the field of conservation and museum studies cannot be overestimated.
Despite being largely self taught, he has been referred to as the “Dean of American Wildlife Artists,” with his work being dispersed throughout the United States in museum and private collections.
After World War I he worked at the Milwaukee County Public Museum as taxidermist, collector, photographer, movie editor, background painter, botanist, geologist, sculptor, and curator of birds and mammals. In 1963, after 25 years of painting and study, he published the important book, “The Birds of Wisconsin,” which is considered by many to be his single biggest achievement.
Gromme defended environmental causes for over half century, and donated his time and talents to conservation efforts. He received five honorary doctorates for his environmental work. This quote is from his address to the 1978 graduates at Marian College:
“We owe a great deal to those who came before us, and it is our duty to pass on to posterity a world morally and physically as good as, or better than, the one we live in. By every legal means it is our duty to oppose those who out of greed and avarice, or for selfish or other reasons, would pollute, defile or destroy that which means life itself to every living being.”
Edmund Lewandowski (1914-1998)
Edmund, who was trained at the Layton School of Art, subsequently taught and was administrator at that institution. He moved to the international stage as a leader in American Modernism, specifically the movement known as Precisionism. In this he was the peer of artists like Charles Demuth and Joseph Stella, having exhibited many times at the nation’s most prestigious institutions. These included the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran, Whitney, Brooklyn Museum, and Metropolitan Museum. In 1938 he was represented in a show of US artists in the “Musée du Jeu de Paume,” Paris.
Among his visible and popular works are numerous Precisionist covers for “Fortune Magazine,” the gigantic hard edge mosaic mural on the Eero Saarinen designed War Memorial Building in Milwaukee, and a postage stamp commemorating Poland’s millennium. A 1990s catalog of his work stated the following:
“Through the years of painting, exhibiting and teaching and through his involvement in artistic endeavors in his community, Lewandowski has made a lasting contribution in the field of Precisionism and the development of Modern American Art.”
Richard Lorenz (1858-1915)
When Milwaukee was still seen by many as being part of the Western frontier, 28 year old Richard Lorenz settled there in 1886. He had already established himself as a skilled artist in Weimar, Germany, where at the Weimar Art School he twice won the school’s highest award. He had exhibited in Antwerp and Berlin, but made his way to America to participate with the American Panorama Company as it produced the huge canvases that toured America and Australia.
Richard was noted as a specialist in the painting of horses, and that skill not only enabled him to work on the panoramas, but it also served him as he traveled westward and produced many paintings from his visits to Texas, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and California. He visited tribes of Native Americans, observed cowboys, and it is believed about half of his painting production dealt with Western themes. While not as well known as Frederick Remington, his work stands up well in comparison. In fact, he has been called the nearest rival to Remington, and the artist having the “biggest reputation” among Milwaukee residents.
He exhibited in Munich in 1891, the Paris Salon in 1901, the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893 and the Saint Louis Exhibition of 1904, and winning prizes in a New York event called the Osbourne Competition.
Despite his travels out West, his studio remained in Milwaukee, where he pursued his profession as painter and teacher. Many of his students had their own productive careers, such as Alexander Mueller, George Raab and Louis Mayer.
Helen Farnsworth Mears (1876-1916)
One of the best known sculptors in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Helen was born in Oshkosh. She was christened Nellie at birth, but took the name of an aunt who left her a legacy enabling her to go to the Chicago Art Institute. She received her first official commission from the State of Wisconsin at age 21 to create a heroic figure to be exhibited at the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893.
Helen was apprenticed to the world famous sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens in New York, Paris and Italy. She studied at the Art Students’ League in New York during the time of the apprenticeship. She received many commissions and won medals for her work in several exhibitions. Despite what was certainly visible success and renown in her brief lifetime, her health deteriorated and she died in 1916.
A newspaper article reporting on a posthumous exhibition of her work held at the Brooklyn Museum of Arts and Sciences states she was “hailed as a great genius,” with a particular gift for monumental sculpture. The largest collection of Helen’s sculpture is in the Paine Art Center in Oshkosh, part of the art collection of the Nathan Paine family.
Gustave Moeller (1881-1931)
Gustave was born in the small Wisconsin town of New Holstein, but moved to Milwaukee at a young age. In his teens he was an art student apprentice and associated with young artists such as Edward Steichen and others in the Milwaukee Art Students’ League. He worked as a commercial engraver while taking classes at the Chicago Art Institute. He also went to the Academy of Fine Arts in New York, and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany, where he was taught by Carl von Marr.
He was well known as an important art teacher at the School of Fine and Applied Arts in Milwaukee, which was eventually absorbed by UW-Milwaukee. He was a member of the Milwaukee Men’s Sketch Club, on the Board of Trustees of the Milwaukee Art Institute, the Milwaukee Art Commission and Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors.
With his own art production Gustave remained a Wisconsin loyalist in subject matter. The forward to the Memorial Exhibition of his work, written by Alfred Pelikan, states the following: “His influence on local art cannot be overestimated, both as a creative artist and champion of all art and as a teacher... He loved and understood the typical American village and particularly the beauty of his native state which he depicted in such a manner that the most commonplace shack became endowed with qualities only discernible to the trained eye of an artist.”
Brooks Stevens (1911-1995)
Clifford Brooks Stevens studied architecture from 1929 to 1933 at Cornell University, but returned to Milwaukee where his skills as a designer and businessman emerged.
Despite his awareness that major designers such as Raymond Loewy, Walter Teague and others had offices in New York City, Brooks decided to open his own office in Milwaukee in July of 1935. Within a few years he courted and secured dozens of clients, most of them from Greater Milwaukee and the Midwest.
He became the only Midwestern founder of the Society of Industrial Designers and was the first such designer to be given a one-person museum retrospective in 1950, this at the Milwaukee Art Institute. Another major posthumous exhibition of his work was held at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2004, which secured the knowledge of his place as a major figure in Wisconsin art.
He is known for having coined the term “planned obsolescence.” The thousands of designs by his firm include the Hiawatha streamliner, Studebaker cars, the Excalibur auto, flying boats, Evenrude outboard motors, radios, clothes irons, bikes, the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, and so much more. In his later years, Brooks became associated with the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design as a lecturer, where an art gallery now bears his name.
James Watrous (1908-1998)
The entire professional career of James Watrous centered upon the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There he gained his Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees, and there he became a well-known and highly-regarded member of the faculty, teaching art and art history, and playing a pivotal role in several important university projects.
Through his unyielding effort spread across several decades, James championed the creation of a university art museum which would serve as a repository for the university collections that he had gathered from scattered places across campus. That museum, which has become recognized as a center of learning for the state, is the Elvehjem. This beautiful physical space was born of his influence and design.
James was noted as a muralist, creating the famous Paul Bunyan murals in the University’s Memorial Union, and several others on campus and in Madison. He taught from the years 1935 to 1976, and remained active and associated with the university long after.
His accomplishments include publication of two books on the subject of art. He gained the admiration of thousands of students. He received a Ford Foundation Fellowship, an Award of Merit from the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Wisconsin Governor’s Award, the Porter Butts Creative Award, and an Honorary Fellowship in the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. The Academy’s gallery in the Overture Fine Arts complex in Madison, dedicated in 2004, was named in his honor.
This year’s Nominating Committee is comprised of: Randall Berndt, Jane Brite, Bob Brue, Terry Coffman, Gloria Dee Erlein, Gary John Gresl, Doug Haynes, William Gerdts, Arthur Hove, Ruth Kohler, Tom Lidtke, Kevin Milaeger, Ruth Muehlmeier, Ralph Russo and Janet Treacy
Our thanks to:
West Bend Mutual Insurance Company
Corporate sponsor of WVALAA
Additional support is provided by Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors / Wisconsin Artists in All Media (three chapters), Milwaukee Visual Artist Roundtable including the League of Milwaukee Artists, SE Chapter Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors, ABEA and AC Art Association. The founders of the WVALAA are the West Bend Art Museum, The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, and the Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors/Wisconsin Artists in All Media.
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