WAUSAU, WIS.- The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum
announces with gratitude and pride, a magnanimous gift from BMO Harris Bank of forty-three oil paintings by legendary Wisconsin artist Owen J. Gromme (1896-1991).
M&I Bank, now part of BMO Financial Group, commissioned this extraordinary collection of paintings in the mid-1960s for its corporate office in downtown Milwaukee. These works, considered among the best created by Gromme, feature birds and other wildlife subjects specific to Wisconsin.
"The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum is without question the most fitting home for this collection of Owen Gromme paintings," said Mark Furlong, President and CEO of BMO Harris Bank. "On behalf of BMO Harris Bank and M&I, I am delighted the gift is met with such great enthusiasm, and I'm confident that Museum visitors will enjoy these paintings for generations to come."
Woodson Art Museum Board President Neil F. Slamka and Director Kathy Kelsey Foley echo Mark Furlong's sentiments. "As stewards of the Museum's collection, we eagerly and gratefully welcome the Gromme gift and acknowledge the generosity of BMO Harris Bank. The appropriateness of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum as the permanent home for the M&I Bank Collection of Owen Gromme paintings will resonate with artists and visitors in perpetuity."
Highlights include Artist's Studies (1968), a trompe l'oeil still life of feathers, eggs, and sketches; Sandhill Cranes - Central Wisconsin (1967), a composition of two cranes in flight against a brilliant sunset; Wood Ducks (1966), highly colored birds resplendent on branches and in the water; and Cedar Waxwings (1968), depicted in winter on red-berry-laden branches. The quality of these paintings speaks to Gromme's importance as an artist, as do his longtime curatorial service at the Milwaukee Public Museum and his seminal volume, Birds of Wisconsin, first published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 1963. Gromme is recognized as a pioneer in conservation; he painted the 1945 Federal Duck Stamp and the first Wisconsin Duck Stamp in 1978.
Owen Gromme has been referred to as the "Father of Birds in Art," an acknowledgment of his prominent role as the de facto curator of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum's inaugural exhibition, Birds of the Lakes, Fields and Forests, in 1976. Throughout the ensuing thirty-six years, this exhibition has evolved into the Museum's highly regarded annual flagship exhibition, Birds in Art.
It was, in fact, Mr. Gromme's work for M&I Bank that forged a friendship with John E. Forester, who served as a Bank Director, and his wife, Alice Woodson Forester, who founded the Museum with her sisters, Nancy Woodson Spire and Margaret Woodson Fisher and their families, in the early 1970s. Mr. and Mrs. Forester sought Gromme's advice about an appropriate exhibition that would celebrate the opening of the fledgling Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum.
Mr. Gromme offered to "call fellow artists and friends" on behalf of the Museum to organize Birds of the Lakes, Fields and Forests, a most suitable fall exhibition. Those who heeded Gromme's request proved to be highly talented artists, including seven future Woodson Art Museum Masters: Guy Coheleach, Don Richard Eckelberry, J. Fenwick Lansdowne, Roger Tory Peterson, Maynard Reece, Arthur B. Singer, and George Miksch Sutton.
More than 8,000 visitors viewed Birds of the Lakes, Fields and Forests, exceeding expectations and encouraging the Museum to consider the exhibition's potential as an annual mainstay. Today, more than 600 artists annually submit their work for consideration for Birds in Art and more than 16,000 visitors flock to the Woodson Art Museum each fall.