Museum of Wisconsin Art Displays 'The Wisconsin Idea' in John Steuart Curry Exhibition

Aug 8, 2014

When Wisconsin scenery comes to mind, images of rolling hills scattered with cattle and farm houses is often at the top of the list. This year the Museum of Wisconsin Art celebrates the Wisconsin landscape and the quintessential artist who brought it to the public in their exhibition of John Stuart Curry's work.

Although born in Kansas, Curry became the University of Wisconsin-Madison's first artist-in-residence in 1936, and the first artist-in-residence of any university in the country.

"He was really charged with doing his own work, engaging with campus, but also playing that very critical role in reaching out to artists around the state," says Graeme Reid, Director of Collections & Exhibitions at MOWA.

Curry spent 10 years in Madison, taking advantage of a progressive university setting to bring art and education to the everyday person both in and outside of the academic communities. The MOWA exhibition is the first to center on Curry's time in Wisconsin.

John Steuart Curry, View of Madison, Oil on panel, 1937. Lent by Kiechel Fine Art, Lincoln, Nebraska to Museum of Wisconsin Art
Credit Museum of Wisconsin Art

Curry's enthusiasm for the Wisconsin landscape and the working class is clear in the collection displayed. Curry himself was judged for his background when first attending art school in Kansas before reaching fame.

"People kind of looked down their nose and thought, 'Who's this farm boy?'," says Reid. "I think that had a tremendous influence on how he kind of behaved and acted when he became the artist in residence at Madison.  He had been treated as that outsider...and I think that gave Curry a huge empathy for these miners, milkman, electricians, housewives...the range of occupations is almost endless of the people that he worked with the rural art program at Madison.".

The MOWA exhibition, John Steuart Curry: At Home in Wisconsin, will be on view through September 14, 2014. **Update: Since broadcast of our interview, the exhibit received a review in the Wall Street Journal.