Established in 1976, Leigh Yawkey Woodson’s three daughters and their families established the museum to always be admission free. The three daughters were: Nancy Woodson Spire, Alice Woodson Forester, and Margaret Woodson Fisher.
The inaugural exhibition that helped launch the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in 1976 took flight and soared to become the Woodson Art Museum’s flagship and internationally renowned “Birds in Art” exhibition. Throughout nearly five decades, the Woodson Art Museum and offerings have expanded, via its collection focused on art of the natural world, all-new “Birds in Art” exhibition each fall, diverse changing exhibitions, and robust visual arts experiences, serving all of the northern Wisconsin community and beyond – always admission free.
Building additions and facility enhancements continually improve accessibility and the visitor experience. The English Tudor home, donated by John E. Forester and Alice W. Forester was renovated and a two-story gallery added. A second two-story gallery was added in 1987; a new main entrance was added in 1997; a 9,000-square-foot addition was completed in 2012, increasing storage and gallery spaces; and a Rooftop Sculpture Garden debuted in September 2021.
Located just northeast of downtown Wausau, the Woodson Art Museum includes an outdoor sculpture garden, gallery spaces spanning two museum levels, two classrooms, a Rooftop Sculpture Garden, and Art Park, an interactive space inviting visitors of all ages to engage in art-making at the Museum, complete puzzles, read books, and explore thematic, exhibition-related content.
As northern Wisconsin’s full-service art museum, the Woodson Art Museum hosts a varied lineup of traveling exhibitions featuring an array of themes that have ranged from Tiffany glass and the optical illusions of M.C. Escher to children’s book illustrations and origami artwork. Artist residencies, programs, tours, workshops, and special events enliven exhibitions. Offerings like take-and-make art kits and artist demonstrations encourage visitors of all ages, stages, and abilities to absorb and explore art-making processes.
The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum was named a 2017 National Medal winner, the nation’s highest museum honor for service to the community. The Woodson Art Museum is one of only two art museums named as 2017 National Medal winners by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, for significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.
In addition to being named a National Medal winner in 2017 and a finalist in 2016, the Woodson Art Museum also was the 2016 winner of the Wisconsin Governor’s Arts, Culture, and Heritage tourism award. In November 2020, Kathy Kelsey Foley, director, received the Association of Midwest Museum’s Distinguished Career Award for her significant contributions to the museum field.