Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Extra! ‘Birds in Art’ continues to fascinate, awe

Critic At Large

Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau

NOTE: Since the completion of article, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum announced a temporary closure due to local COVID-19 concerns. Updates and access to much more are at

WAUSAU, Wis. (WFRV) – Living in northern Wisconsin, “famous international art show” sounds like it should be somewhere distant, but one is not that far away from you.

The artists in this exhibition are stars in the field from around the world, including Wisconsin.

And what is featured in the amazing “Birds in Art” could be from your backyard.

Everybody knows birds, and that’s one reason why “Birds in Art” is popular.

Entrance art at Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. (Warren Gerds)

Every autumn, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum displays the results of a dynamic competition.

The exhibition of the winners is a kaleidoscope of styles, media and, especially, imaginations.

The competition is strict and demanding, and being selected for “Birds in Art” is an achievement. The day I viewed the 2020 exhibition, I met an artist who has been entering every year since 1983 and has yet to have a work accepted into the show.

This is the 45th year for the exhibition.

Selected is work of 114 artists.

That may sound like a lot, but 17 countries are represented as the birthplace of the artists: United States, Uganda, India, Sweden, England, Japan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Italy, Finland, Canada, Australia, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Russia.

Being from Wisconsin doesn’t count for being selected for this exhibition, but five Wisconsinites are this year. Their media give a sampler of the variety found in the show:

Julie Ann Briede Ibar drawing of Owen Gromme. (Warren Gerds)

+ “Owen J. Gromme Banding Birds, Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, circa 1923” is a graphite drawing on Bristol board by Julie Ann Briede Ibar of New Berlin in southeastern Wisconsin. This is my favorite, in part because it recognizes an inspirational figure in wildlife art and “father” of the exhibition.

+ “Fast Food,” a belted kingfisher painted in oil on gessobord, is by Jan McAllaster Stommes of Owen in central Wisconsin.

+ “Cock O’ the Walk,” a golden laced wyandotte created as a hand-colored woodprint on Rising Stonehenge paper, is by S.V. Medaris of Mount Horeb in south central Wisconsin.

+ “Winter Coming On,” a flock of waterfowl represented in an acrylic painting on canvas, is by Shelly K. Breitzmann of Foxboro in northwest Wisconsin.

Gary Eigenberger sculpture. (Warren Gerds)

+ “Shoreland Dance,” a reddish egret created as sculpture with oil and acrylic on tupelo wood and monkey pod, is by Gary Eigenberger of Ashwaubenon in northeastern Wisconsin.

Every year, I marvel at the variety of ways that birds are featured, from comical to somber to silly to profound. Always, skill and thought are part of the artwork.

Most amazing, in a way, is admission to the museum is free.

Also, photography is allowed.

A “Birds in Art” gallery. (Warren Gerds)

The viewer can get up close to almost all pieces – some are encased because of delicacy – to examine minute details.

The experience is absorbing and fascinating year after year. (Embedded here is my take on a “look at me” bird in 2017).

A visit to the museum includes much more viewing outside and inside.

While the exhibitions may give an impression that birds are sacrosanct, some artwork represents hunting. Also on display in one of the galleries is a whole exhibition devoted to the experience, “Art of the Hunt.”

As usual, much of the “Birds in Art” exhibition will travel on after it closes Nov. 29 in Wausau. The stops into January 2022 are Hastings-on-Hudson, New York; Southwest Harbor, Maine; Stamford, Connecticut; and Fullerton, California.

There is very much more than meets the eye with “Birds in Art.”

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