New in Ag Hall: An exhibition of notable Wisconsin rural art

Next time you climb the steps of Ag Hall, don’t be too quick to pass through the lobby. When you get to the first floor, turn around and take in the artwork. Gone are the oil portraits of former deans. Now hanging above the stairwell are five paintings from the statewide exhibit of the Wisconsin Regional Art Program.

The selected pieces—painted by artists Jenna Eichberger of Black River Falls, William Balthazor of Oconomowoc, Jake Stephens of Prairie du Chien, Jack Dennis of Cross Plains and Sandra Cashman of Slinger (see thumbnails below). They offer a definite flavor of Wisconsin’s natural environment, including landscapes of farms, a snow-covered field and even the state’s most famous golf course.

What goes around comes around. The Wisconsin Regional Arts Program grew out of a unique experiment undertaken by the college six decades ago. At the tail end of the Great Depression, CALS Dean Chris Christensen invited well-known regional artist John Steuart Curry to become the university’s first artist-in-residence. He received salary, a studio and a mission: to awaken the artistic spirits of Wisconsin’s rural citizens.

One way that Curry fulfilled that mission was to create the Wisconsin Regional Art Program to encourage the creative impulses of farmers and rural citizens. Now administered by the UW Division of Continuing Studies, WRAP sponsors workshops and exhibits for non-professional artists throughout the state, including an annual exhibit of Wisconsin’s most notable rural art at the UW’s Memorial Union. The paintings in Ag Hall are part of that exhibition.

The paintings will hang in Ag Hall for a year, and new artistic works from WRAP artists will be selected each fall.

“It’s really a wonderfully appropriate addition to our flagship building,” says Dean Molly Jahn. “These works both give us a window on the communities where our work is most impactful and remind us that there is so much about those communities to cherish.