On Wisconsin spotlights public art on UW–Madison campus

An article in the summer 2024 issue of On Wisconsin magazine, headlined “Art for All,” shines a light on public art across the UW–Madison campus. The article includes several works by artists with ties to the School of Education’s Art Department. They are:

James Watrous

James Watrous, who earned a bachelor’s degree in art as well as a master’s and doctorate in art history from UW–Madison between 1931 and 1939 — and was later an art professor — is the artist behind the iconic Paul Bunyon mural in the Memorial Union.

Watrous, who created the mural while he was a graduate student at UW, earned a $25 weekly wage to fill the Paul Bunyan Room’s walls, notes On Wisconsin.

“It seemed a bountiful wage to a young, unemployed artist,” he later wrote.

William Conrad Severson

William Conrad Severson, who earned his bachelor’s degree in art in 1947, later donated the 4,500-pound, 18-foot-tall stainless steel fountain, “Maquina,” on Engineering Mall. Severson — who donated the piece in memory of his father, Edwin 1921 — said he wanted it to represent “engineering tools and the engineer’s role in creative problem-solving.”

“Maquina” on Engineering Mall (Photo: Bryce Richter)

Dale Chihuly

While studying within the nation’s first studio glass program at UW–Madison in the mid-1960s, Dale Chihuly chose to live in a small cabin on the shores of Lake Mendota.

“I remember the sparkle of the lake,” Chihuly said in 1997, which On Wisconsin notes is the same year he was commissioned for an art installation at the new Kohl Center on campus.

That lake view inspired “The Mendota Wall,” which is made up of 1,284 blown-glass pieces. “The 140-foot wall installation — Chihuly’s largest at the time — greets visitors as they enter the Kohl Center’s curving main concourse.

“I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in some way that they’ve never experienced,” Chihuly said.

Truman Lowe

In Sept. 2023, Truman Lowe’s “Effigy: Bird Form” returned to its UW–Madison home. Lowe’s sculpture, first displayed at the White House a quarter century prior and then at Western Michigan University, now stands on UW–Madison’s Observatory Hill near the Native burial mounds that inspired it.

Lowe, a prominent Ho-Chunk artist, graduate of UW–Madison’s MFA program, and longtime UW professor, was commissioned to create the sculpture for the Honoring Native America exhibition that opened at the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden in 1997, notes On Wisconsin. It was the first collection of contemporary Native fine art to be shown at the White House.

To learn more about UW–Madison’s public art works and the artists that created them, check out the full article in On Wisconsin.

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