Door to Nature: A Trip to See ‘Birds in Art’

I remember good friends who lived in Wausau, Wis., and enjoyed visiting Door County and The Ridges Sanctuary back in the mid-1970s. They invited us to stay with them in September 1976 so that we could go to the opening of the new Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, up the hill in the eastern part of the city at 700 N. 12th St.

The home belonged to John E. and Alice Woodson Forester and was donated in 1973 to become the art museum. It is a 1931 English Tudor-style home that sits on four acres and has a fabulous sculpture garden that was developed for visitors to enjoy.

Roy and I made a special trip every autumn to enjoy scenic backroads and the fall colors of the central part of Wisconsin. We would invite good friends to join us and all packed a picnic lunch to eat it at the Dells of the Eau Claire County Park before going to the museum. It is one of the most beautiful parks in our state and is situated along the Eau Claire River in far eastern Marathon County.

An ink drawing of a grey crowned crane by the American artist Cathy Sheeter.

This past late October my niece, Wendy, and I traveled to see the Birds in Art exhibit. This was my first visit since 2014 when Roy and I made our last trip together there during his early treatment for cancer. The halls and large rooms in the museum were filled with wonderful paintings, drawings and sculptures, and many people.

It is open on weekends from noon to 5 pm. They are closed on Mondays and most major holidays. On Tuesday through Friday the art museum is open 9 am to 4 pm. The first Thursday of each month they stay open until 7:30 pm; however, during the Birds in Art exhibit they are open every Thursday until 7:30 pm. Admission is free and many visitors leave donations for this wonderful place. Check their website at

Birds in Art is what made this museum famous, since Owen Gromme, the celebrated Wisconsin native, was the person who helped establish the exhibit. He was born in Fond du Lac in 1896 and by age 21 worked as a taxidermist in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Gromme became a world-renowned wildlife illustrator and eventually was called the “Dean of American Wildlife Artists.” He is known as the “father” of the Birds in Art exhibit. It is a treat to see how the original home has been remodeled and a couple of additions have been made to increase the exhibit space.

Each year one person is named Master Wildlife Artist with special recognition given. Roy and I were fortunate to meet Roger Tory Peterson there and chat a bit and get his autograph. The Saturday after Labor Day is the first day to see this show and many, if not all, of the artists who have work accepted are invited for the grand opening events.

Here is the sign marking the exact center of the northwest hemisphere of Earth.

The Woodson Art Museum attracts school groups from many areas of Wisconsin and they also provide a number of activity guides for young children throughout the exhibit as well as in a special part of the lower level of the building.

Each year 60 pieces from the Birds in Art show are selected for a traveling exhibit to other parts of the United States. This year’s national tour will start in South Carolina, then travel to Texas and finally to New York state. Each exhibit runs for approximately two months.

While we were in Wausau our host took us to see the geographical marker situated about 20 miles west and a few miles north of the city. It is the exact center of the northwest hemisphere of our Earth, where the 45th parallel crosses the 90th meridian. It is in farm country and the local landowner allowed the construction of several informative signs, a parking area and path to the exact location. It was a chilly, windy day but the brisk quarter-mile walk was worth it as we took out our cell phones to check the GPS readings and found all were spot on!

There is still time to view the fabulous Birds in Art exhibit. It continues through Nov. 25. While in Wausau take time to tour the historic downtown district and enjoy a meal at one of the fine restaurants. You will enjoy your visit, just as we did!

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