Tuesday, August 11, 2015

John Wilde’s Art Featured at Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, by Steve Ehle

John Wilde was a good neighbor and fine friend to many in the Cooksville area, as well as in Evansville.  Those who knew him no doubt saw a quiet, unassuming man with a gentle wit and an appreciation for all things natural and beautiful.            

But those who may have known him better, those who knew his past accomplishments as a respected professor at UW-Madison and as an internationally known artist who was a part of the so-called “magic realist” movement in art circles, would understand why one of Wisconsin’s foremost museum galleries is now featuring many of his finest and least seen artwork.           

From June 13 to September 6, the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) in West Bend is devoting considerable space and time to a special Wilde exhibit. “Wilde’s Wildes: A Very Private Collection” includes approximately 80 paintings and drawings, most of which had hung or had been stored in John and Shirley Wilde’s Cooksville area home.            

The exhibit includes some of John’s early works as a student at UW-Madison and follows his personal art history to just a couple years before his death. Many of the sketches and paintings depict John himself, as well as Shirley. And, of course, there are framed pieces of their beloved Corgies – Banjo, Bugs, Beans and Bryn.           

 John died in 2006. Shirley, his wife of 46 years, died earlier this year. Since Shirley’s death, their respective children gathered most of the artwork that their parents retained in their home for themselves and provided the collection to the MOWA for this unique exhibit.           

 John and his first wife, Helen, lived in Evansville from the early 1950s to the midsixties. Helen died in 1966. John and Shirley married in 1969 and lived in their Cooksville area home until their deaths. John, Helen and Shirley are buried next to each other in the Cooksville Cemetery. Between them, they had five children.  Both John and Shirley served on the Board of the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc. until their deaths.            

 In the foreword to a 66-page full-color exhibit catalogue compiled and written by exhibit curator Graeme Reid, MOWA’s Executive Director/CEO, Laurie Winters writes:           
 “Wildes’s Wildes: A Very Private Collection celebrates the private collection of John Wilde (1919-2006), one of the leading artists of the American Surrealism movement. Over seven decades, Wilde created a collection of the own paintings and drawings, works that easily could have found homes in museums or private collections but that he retained instead for his own enjoyment. Wilde’s Wildes recreates the artist’s collection, which includes paintings and drawings from every decade and phase of his long career as well as some of his earliest works in the late 1930s.”           

At the June 18 exhibit opening, curator Reid took attendees through the second floor gallery devoted to John’s works and explained how the exhibit was compiled and provided an anecdotal narrative to John’s life and work. Later, Reid made a formal expanded presentation for those gathered for the opening. Reid has been invited to repeat his Wilde slide presentation program at a venue in Evansville.           

 For more information on the Wilde exhibit at MOWA, visit the museum’s website at www.wisconsinart.org. The Wilde’s Wildes: A Very Private Collection catalogue is available for purchase from the MOWA Shop at a cost of $58 and can be ordered online, or it can be downloaded free of charge from MOWA’s website.          

 Six of John’s works are on permanent display at UW-Madison’s Chazen Museum, and his painting “15 Cooksvillians” (1996) has been donated to the Chasen. His large 1997 hand-colored print “15 Cooksvillians” hangs in many Cooksville area homes.

The Evansville Grove Society and The Theodore Robinson Society are offering a special program on September 29th at Creekside Place in Evansville to honor Evansville’s surrealist artist John Wilde, former Art Professor at the University of WisconsinMadison.  Graeme Reid, Director of Collections and Exhibitions, Museum of Wisconsin Art, will be the speaker. The program compliments a special exhibit entitled Wilde’s Wildes that is ongoing until September 6th at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend.   The address for Creekside Place is 102 Maple Street, Evansville. The event will begin at 5:45 pm with an open bar and informal reminiscences by friends, relatives, and associates of John Wilde and his two wives. The program will begin about 6:30 pm. Contact Jennifer Ehle, 608-302-1722, jenniferehle1@gmail.com for further information.