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Museum features art inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright

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Story by Kris Kochman

Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence is evident throughout Racine, from the Wingspread conference center to the S.C. Johnson administrative buildings and the private homes he designed and inspired.

A new exhibit which opened May 29 at the Racine Art Museum, 441 Main St., explores Wright’s inspiration to other artists, said Bruce W. Pepich, executive director and curator of collections. Pieces on display will make their debut, following a recent donation from long-time museum supporter Karen Johnson Boyd of Racine, sister of the late S.C. Johnson president Sam Johnson.

Boyd grew up at the Wingspread family home designed by Wright, and in the 1950s she commissioned Wright to build her westside home, where she continues to reside, Pepich said. Over the years, she has amassed a collection of artwork and memorabilia related to Wright’s designs.

The donation establishes a Frank Lloyd Wright archive at the museum, and includes photographs, prints and books created by artists and authors inspired by the famous architect. Included is the 1980 print portfolio of Wisconsin artist Frances Myers. There are also photographs of Wright buildings by Pedro E. Guerrero. The exhibit is augmented by Wright furniture on loan from the S.C. Johnson organization.

“The Wright Stuff: Artists Respond to the Work of Frank Lloyd Wright” will be on display through Aug. 7.

“It’s looking at Wright’s buildings as aesthetic objects — not so much looking at architecture,” Pepich explained. “He was one of the great artists of the 20th century.”

“Considering the size of the community, we are very lucky to have four bonafide Wright buildings,” Pepich said.

Wright also influenced other architects in the second half of the 20th century, including John Randal McDonald and Hans Geyer. Although they didn’t work directly with Wright, his work was the inspiration for their designs, including homes in Racine County.

Pepich said Wright’s Prairie style, with its emphasis on natural materials and open space, continues to intrigue people because it captures the way we experience the land and nature in this part of the world. He also had a larger-than-life personality.

“There is a lot of material, both in the work he designed and the life he led, that people find fascinating,” Pepich said.

The Wright exhibit ties in with two other current exhibits at the RAM, which have the common theme of place.

“You will be able to take trips to a number of places without leaving the museum,” Pepich said.

Nine artists are featured in a landscape show, “Field of Vision: Artists Explore Place,” which opened May 22. Pieces include carved wax flowers, paintings on mirrored glass, hanging plants constructed from clay, and jewelry with a landscape image. It will be on display through Oct. 2.

“Pocket Guide to New Zealand Jewelry” opened June 12, and features contemporary jewelry from 16 jewelers, working with a variety of media and subject matter. The show highlights influences that inspire New Zealand jewelry. It was organized by Velvet da Vinci Gallery and curated by New Zealand art historian Damian Skinner. It is on exhibit through Oct. 23.

The RAM opened in May 2003 in the heart of downtown, occupying a former M& I bank building, which the bank donated to the city for use as a museum. It has an interesting history as the site of a bank robbery by John Dillinger in the 1930s, according to Pepich. Today, the RAM is fully accessible and includes handicapped parking.

The RAM has one of the most extensive collections of contemporary crafts in North America. The collection includes ceramics, fibers, glass, metals and wood from artists with national and international reputations. The collection began at the Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Arts, 2519 Northwestern Ave., which opened in 1941. It includes 300 pieces created for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project in the 1930s.

The collection has grown to 5,000 pieces and has benefited greatly from past donations from Boyd, Pepich said.

“She’s really the most generous and dedicated donor to the collection,” Pepich said.

The Wustum Museum functions as a visual education campus, featuring artists with local and regional reputations. It offers art programs for children and adults, along with school tours.

The RAM is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays and closed Mondays and holidays. Admission to the RAM is $5 for adults, $3 for senior citizens (over age 62); $3 for young adults ages 12-18 and for full-time students; and free for RAM members and children under 12. Parking is available in metered spaces and in a parking ramp opposite RAM at Lake Avenue and Fifth Street.

Admission to the Wustum Museum is free. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and is closed Sundays, Mondays and holidays. There is free parking.

For further information on RAM, phone 262-638-8300, or visit its website: www.ramart.org.