Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009

Interview: What's Up at The Woodson Art Museum

By Peggy Sue
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Marcia Theel wears several hats at the now renamed Woodson Art Museum. First, acting as Associate Director, and also as Public Relations Director, Theel has served the museum since September 1977, beginning only one year after it opened in 1976. Originally built in 1931 by Ben Alexander for his bride, the large brick mansion on four acres eventually came to the family of John and Alice Forester. They named the museum after Alice's mother, Leigh Hawkey. But now the museum is shortening its public name to reflect their artistic mission, but will retain the Leigh Hawkey for corporate use only. However, despite the name change, this underappreciated art enclave in Wausau produces some very innovative ideas that Theel enthusiastically speaks to.

Q: What major changes have you seen in the Woodson while you were here?
A: Well, our mission is to bring art to the community from around the country and the globe. We serve a big audience and when the family founded the museum they wanted to focus on this, to go beyond the region. So we've added on galleries, a children's art park, and a sculpture garden that has permanent nature sculptures, but brings in a new exhibit biennially. And there's a huge growth in the educational programming, which was started in the late 80's.

Q: Could you explain some of the growth in the educational programming?
A: We just started art babies this summer. Its a program for infants not yet walking and their parents or caregivers. They carry the babies and take them through the galleries or gardens to look at. And then we also do sensory stimulation with them. And we have a large hippo sculpture in the sculpture garden, one children can touch, sit on, or crawl over. We keep a canvas cover over it to keep it from getting too hot in the summer.

Q: You start art education that young?
A: Actually we were the first in the country to offer museum programming for toddlers, ages two to four. We've spoken at many national seminars discussing this. We have Toddler Tuesdays once a month, with about 125 toddlers attending, plus the parents! For an hour and a half, they're all here: story time, art projects, with tot size easels, aprons and brushes. And its signed for the hearing impaired, which parents enjoy having their hearing children learn.

The weekend blog will continue with the interview: What's Up at Wausau's Woodson Art Museum?



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