2008 Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards

Thistles, by David Lenz, photo courtesy of the artist
The Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards honor Wisconsin artists, patrons, educators and art authors for their contributions to the visual arts of Wisconsin. In association with this annual event the first-ever exhibition of art created by all the past Lifetime Achievement awardees will be exhibited in the Wisconsin Academy’s James Watrous Gallery in the Overture Center. Past winners who were authors, patrons and educators will be also represented in the show.

The new 2008 awardees, also part of this exhibition, are: Peg Bradley, Barbara Brown Lee, Cyril Colnik, John Colt, David Lenz, Mary Nohl, Jane Bradley Pettit and Francesco Spicuzza. See the partial biographies of these new awardees included below.

Thomas D. Lidtke, Executive Director of the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, will be the guest speaker. His presentation is titled “It Begins with the Awakening of our Consciousness”. Other speakers will include George Tzougros, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Arts Board. The awards will be presented to the new recipients who may also speak. The associated James Watrous Gallery exhibition is titled “Building a Visual Arts Legacy” and goes from April 29 to June 8. It will be open for Spring Gallery Night, Friday, May 2, with a Gallery Talk by Graeme Reid, Assistant Director of MWA at 6:30.


Peg Bradley (Patron) 1894 - 1978
Peg Bradley’s name is inseparable from the Milwaukee Art Museum for her 1970 donation of her personal 600 piece collection to the Milwaukee Art Center, which can be regarded as the major impetus for the Museum being catapulted onto the world stage as a first class institution.

Her taste for fresh color and bold execution led her to purchase works by such masters as Utrillo, Matisse, Picasso, Fauves and Cubists, as well as other early to mid 20th century progressive masters. Her collection served as the foundation from which the museum could build as it acquired additional examples to flesh out the art history of the 20th Century. In addition to this generosity, Peg saw to it that the Allen-Bradley Foundation provided one million dollars to help create a new wing to house not only her collection, but to provide additional space for exhibits, an educational center, a theater, and a small restaurant. With the Bradley collection still at the museum’s core, Peg and her generosity have remained an omnipresent inspiration and spirit.

Barbara Brown Lee (Educator) 1940 -
Another name intrinsically linked with the Milwaukee Art Museum is Barbara Brown Lee, currently the museum’s Chief Educator. Barbara has been intimately involved in many aspects of the evolving museum since 1963, not only serving as educator but as first contact for many individuals and organizations. Barbara studied at the University of Arizona, the University of Guadalajara, Mexico; the Winterthur Museum Institute; and the Attingham Summer School, Shropshire, England, and elsewhere. She has received a Wisconsin Outstanding Art Educator Award presented by Wisconsin Art Education Association, and has served on the Board of Directors of Creative Sharp Presentations, Inc., involved in literacy programs.

At MAM her duties have included directing docent programs; collaborating with curatorial staff regarding exhibitions and activities; training of volunteers, staff, and guards; planning and implementation for education gallery exhibitions, including the long running Scholastic Art Competition. She has been a teacher of high school students in the Satellite Art Program, a lecturer for community outreach, and a juror for many art exhibitions. As art critic James Auer stated in a Journal Sentinel article, Barbara “... (serves) as an often enlightening, always entertaining human conduit between the museum and its patrons”. In the same article, Auer asked Barbara why she has spent her life looking at art and interpreting it for others. She replied, “Because art talks to me about life on the planet. Our skills, our abilities, our creative imagination . . . to me, an art museum is the soul of mankind.”

Cyril Colnik (Artist) 1871 – 1958
Born in Styria, Austria, Cyril attended schools in Vienna and Munich, before apprenticing for four years in an art metal works at Grotz and an architectural blacksmith shop. His skills and training earned his selection to assist in installing the German metal exhibits in the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair, AKA the Columbian Exhibition and White City.

Cyril subsequently settled in Milwaukee where he began work with the Reliance Iron Works, but he quickly decided to open his own iron works in 1894. Until his retirement in 1955, he and his firm produced hand wrought gates, fences, railings, lattices, balconies, brackets, chandeliers, hinges, candlesticks, urns, and other decorative sculptural elements for homes, churches, and public buildings. His work can still be seen at such noteworthy buildings as Villa Terrace Art Museum, the Pabst Mansion, Mader’s German Restaurant, Wisconsin Memorial Park, and as far as the Ringling Mansion in Sarasota, Florida.

Cyril’s daughter, Gretchen Colnik, an artist and noted personality in her own right, bequeathed her collection of her father’s work to the Villa Terrace Museum in 1991, where most of it remains on view.

It has been stated that Colnik was the “Tiffany of wrought iron masters” who “... transformed metal into works of beauty and permanence.” As art has evolved in the 20th century we now recognize that there is no longer a question of whether or not Cyril Colnik created craft or fine art; he was indeed a gifted fine art sculptor and a master of metal.

John Colt (Artist) 1925 – 1999
Son of artist Arthur Colt who operated his own art school in Madison for decades, John Colt earned his individual reputation during the 33 years he served as professor of art at UW Milwaukee. In a 1999 Journal Sentinel article Bruce Pepich, Director of the Racine Art Museum and Wustum Museum said that John was “One of the three most important living Wisconsin artists.”

John’s paintings, drawings, and prints have been exhibited in countless shows at such venues as the Art Institute of Chicago, Library of Congress, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and placed in such collections as the Whitney Museum in New York City. Twice his paintings were purchased through awards from the Ford Foundation. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1946 as an electrician on a submarine in the South Pacific, after which he earned a bachelor’s degree in art education and a master’s in art at UW-Madison.

Throughout his productive life John’s painting style evolved from one of abstract but solid renderings of the natural world to evanescent interpretations of the ephemeral in nature. He searched tide pools, roadsides and the unnoticed small natural vignettes where he sketched ideas for future paintings. His work has been said to concern itself with growth and metamorphosis in which he examined countless small living creatures who share this planet with us . . . life forms that humans often ignore and abuse.

As critic James Auer said, “Many fine contemporary artists, skilled both as observers and as reporters, are content to paint the world as they know it. John Colt is different: he has painted the world that will survive us.”

David Lenz (Artist) 1963 –

David Lenz comes from a family of artists, with his grandfather and father both well known to Wisconsin residents. While David continues that tradition, he seems to have achieved greater recognition outside the region in good part due to his having won the 2006 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution with “Sam and the Perfect World” a portrait of his son. That notable achievement was immediately followed by a commission to paint the portrait of the founder of the Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Since he was a child, David strove to be an artist, and during his evolution to adulthood he developed his unique super-realistic style that in its clarity breathes a suggestion of surrealism. Viewing his work, with its detail and seeming perfection, can cause observers to shake their heads in disbelief and awe. The time spent creating in this painstaking technique sometimes results in only a few works being painted each year. In these paintings he recreates his sitters and their world as carefully and authentically as possible . . . capturing essences and generating a sense of other worldly environments.

In the publication, “Vital Culture,” author Peggy Sue Dunigan asked David this question: “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?’ David’s reply was, “You made the world a better place in some small way.”

Mary Nohl (Artist) 1914 – 2001
It came as a surprise to some citizens who only knew Mary Nohl as an apparently eccentric woman living in an oddly decorated home on the Fox Point shore of Lake Michigan, that she was an artist of considerable originality and a philanthropist who bequeathed millions of dollars to create a charitable fund to support other artists. The Mary Nohl Fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation has the mission of doing good for the region’s visual arts and its arts education, with one of its most visible projects being the prestigious Nohl Fellowship Awards administered annually through the Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee.

While she may have been idiosyncratic, Mary Nohl was neither self taught nor an idle art dilettante: she attended the School of the Chicago Art Institute and her paintings, ceramics, jewelry and sculpture were produced over many decades, including a ten year stretch of time when she operated her own production pottery studio. The environment she created in and around her Fox Point home has been recognized by the Kohler Foundation and John Michael Kohler Art Center as one of Wisconsin’s artistic treasures. In fact, prior to her death, the Kohler Foundation had been designated to become caretaker and restorer of the residence, hoping to keep the entire environment in place to serve as a source of inspiration and education.

In her time Mary usually shunned the art establishment which today embraces both her and her legacy. Her work is now seen as being simultaneously child-like and sophisticated, with her art objects celebrating diversity, mystery and joy. Mary Nohl can be said to have blurred boundaries in terms of inner and outer space, academic rigor and childlike freedom, reality and fantasy.

Jane Bradley Pettit (Patron) 1919 – 2001
Jane was the child of Harry Lynde Bradley, creator of the Allen Bradley Company, and by that stroke of fate became heir to millions of dollars. It is a great credit to her name that we primarily know her through her charitable largesse that provided more than 250 million dollars to worthy causes.

In a Milwaukee Journal article written in 2001, Jane was noted as a determinedly private person leading a quiet, unostentatious life. She gave to a wide variety of causes in Milwaukee, including the visual and performing arts, and in doing so acknowledged her debt to her father. She said “The things that we have done for the community and for individual people have been done as a result of me being fortunate to have a much loved father . . . I am not able to do anything for him except to use his gift in ways I think he would enjoy.”

As an example of her kindness and generosity, there were years when a private letter sent to Jane by a representative of Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors resulted in her returning a handsome check drawn on her private account. No fanfare was needed. The Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation exists today, still conducting charitable acts in her name.

Francesco Spicuzza (Artist) 1883 – 1962
If one studies the history of art in Wisconsin, or is engaged in the field of buying or selling art from this state, one of the first names to be encountered is Francesco Spicuzza, an extremely talented artist who produced thousands of works through which he earned an income for his family. In a practical manner he would produce works to order in a variety of sizes, quality and price ranges, it is also acknowledged that he could produce masterpieces.

Sometimes described as being largely self taught it is known that he studied with Wisconsin notables Robert Shade and Alexander Mueller before becoming part of the Milwaukee Art Student’s League, teaching at the Milwaukee Art Institute and in his private studio. He was also a member of the Milwaukee Arts Commission, the Seven Arts Society and a honorary member of Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors.

Francesco was among the first to avoid the influence of the Germanic Academic realism that was commonly seen in Wisconsin art, and early in his career he was considered revolutionary for presenting a visual style that was akin to French Impressionism. He is best known for his paintings and pastels of Lake Michigan beach and bather scenes, but he produced an array of landscapes, still lifes, State Fair scenes, allegorical-themed paintings, and portraits.

In 1962 he is quoted as saying, “One should trust to the impression of one’s own eyes . . . it is not the biggest that is the best in art – but rather the simple, sympathetic, poetic bits of nature that make one feel and see the beauty of the good in all things.”

All other past recipients of the Awards include:
Auer, Jim
Bennett, Henry H.
Bohrod, Aaron
Butts, Porter
Colescott, Warrington
Curry, John Steuart
Frackelton, Susan
Groom, Emily
Gromme, Owen
Grotenrath, Ruth
Kohler, Ruth DeYoung
Layton, Frederick
Lewandowski, Edmund
Lichtner, Schomer
Lidtke, Thomas D.
Littleton, Harvey
Lorenz, Richard
Lowe, Truman
Mayer, Louis
Mears, Helen Farnsworth
Moeller, Gustave
Museum of Wisconsin Art
Niedecken, George
O’Keeffe, Georgia
Panorama Painters
Sessler, Alfred
Steichen, Edward
Stevens, Brook
Stonehouse, Fred
Ulbricht, Elsa
Uttech, Tom
Vianden, Henry
Von Marr, Carl
Von Neumann, Robert
Watrous, James
Wilde, John
Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors
Wright, Frank Lloyd
Zingale, Santos
For more information visit www.wvalaa.com

Thistles, by David Lenz, photo courtesy of the artist Tugboat by David Lenz, photo courtesy of the artist Cave Site, by John Colt, photo courtesy of the Museum of Wisconsin Art On the Pier - Big Cedar, by Fancis Spicuzza, photo courtesy of the Museum of Wisconsin Art Jane Bradley Petit, photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
painting by Mary Nohl, photo courtesy of the Kohler Foundation, Inc. Mary Nohl, photo courtesy of the Kohler Foundation, Inc.
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