James Watrous

Wisconsinís Visual Arts Legacy

James Watrous (1908-1999), The Woodcarver, 1934, photograph
James Watrous was an influential artist, professor, art historian, curator, and author at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned three degrees here: a bachelors degree in Applied Arts and both a masters and doctorate in Art History. He was the first curator of the University of Wisconsin art collection in the 1930s while still a student. Watrous began pushing for a campus art museum in the 1930s and was instrumental in the creation of the Elvehjem Museum of Art in 1970. His book A Century of Capricious Collecting chronicles the building of the Elvehjem. Watrous helped shape the University of Wisconsinís art community, and without him it would not be what it is today.

The Woodcarver was done while Watrous was a student on campus in 1934. The photo depicts David Parsons carving the figure of a dancer, Berta Ochner. This piece was first displayed at the Annual Student Art Show of 1934. It reportedly was purchased by the Wisconsin Union Art Committee for $10, a notable half of the budget for the art show. Watrousí art can be seen all over campus, including the well-loved 1936 Paul Bunyan Mural in the Memorial Union, done as a part of the PWAP, and the very visible Freedom of Communication mosaic on the exterior of Vilas Hall.

catalogue entry by Emily Wallrath

Related Website: www.union.wisc.edu/art/collection/