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Thoroughly enjoyed Waukesha County Museum's Owen Gromme exhibit. I learned a lot from reading the labels at each painting and artifact. Some were funny stories behind the subject of the art or the reason for the painting, while others told how they were done or, like color studies, why they were done.
As a counter in the Midwest Annual Crane Count myself, I was surprised to learn Gromme was an early benefactor and board member of the International Crane Foundation and sandhill cranes one of his favorite subjects.
The Waukesha exhibit does a good job summing up Gromme's career as a "museum man", which really blossomed after his 1928-29 African expedition. "In Gromme's own words, a good museum man had a solid background as an all around scientist, artist, carver, sculptor, lecturer, writer, photographer, bookkeeper, taxidermist and hunter." We learn more about Gromme from the Milw. Public Museum magazine article published after his death.
The Waukesha County Historical Society and Museum is showing several paintings never seen before and, possibly, never exhibited again. I also saw the only portrait he ever painted and took a picture of it before I saw the "no photography" sign. Since the damage is already done:
It's a never before shown portrait of his daughter, Anne Marie, done in 1938 when she was two years old.
I would encourage everyone to visit the Gromme exhibit before the end of October when it ends. He was one of Wisconsin's most famous and prolific artists, and outside of his work seen at the Milwaukee Public Museum, you may never get a better opportunity. Coming Oct. 25th, the last week of the exhibit, you may also be interested in lunch and a talk by Owen's son Roy.
I've copied below one of the first articles I read before the exhibit's opening in July. My dad was friends with the Arthur MacArthur mentioned in the article, who also was from Janesville. As a teen I visited MacArthur's home and mink ranch in northern WI.
Famed nature artist Owen Gromme was upset when his son wanted to buy his "Cedar Creek-Mallards" painting in 1955.
Owen Gromme was paying for half of his son's college education and thought if he spent $400 for the painting, he could pay more for his own education.
Roy Gromme reminded his dad they agreed he could use his leftover money to buy anything he wanted, except a car. So Owen Gromme sold it to him, rather than the Janesville area mink farmer who asked him for it. Roy Gromme said it's a special painting to him because it reminds him of a hiking trip with his dad.
"It held fond memories for me, plus I liked the picture," Roy Gromme, now 78, said in a telephone interview from his Oconomowoc home.
That painting will be featured in "Owen Gromme: The 115th Birthday Exhibition," which will be at the Waukesha County Museum in Waukesha starting Tuesday.
It features more than 30 family-owned works and numerous personal items that have never been publicly shown. The collection will not be exhibited again after the show ends in October.
Roy Gromme said his father ended up doing a different mallard painting for the farmer, who was conservationist Arthur MacArthur. He had many of his father's works. His family also donated 14 Gromme paintings to the state in 1988 after he died. They are now in various state buildings in Madison, including the governor's office.
The hike Gromme and his family went on that inspired Owen Gromme to paint "Cedar Creek-Mallards" was in Washington County, where a woman in the group fell, startling some mallards. The piece was recently appraised at $40,000, Roy Gromme said.
Gromme, born and raised in Fond du Lac, was a prolific painter of Midwestern birds and designed the 1945 Federal Duck Stamp. He was also a taxidermist and worked for the Milwaukee Public Museum for 40 years, including 10 months in 1928 when he and a team traveled to Africa to collect materials for large museum displays.
In 1963, Owen Gromme published the book, "Birds of Wisconsin," which featured 25 years' worth of his paintings.
Roy Gromme said many of the paintings in the exhibit had been passed on to the grandchildren, which was his father's request before he died in 1991. Many were in the condos of Roy Gromme and his sister in the Twin Cities, since their children don't have the space for them yet.
Other exhibit items include Owen Gromme's African expedition rifles, his personal paint palette and painting smock, original field notes, family photographs, the 1945 stamp, a decoy his father carved, and walrus tusks and a polar bear tooth he brought back from an Alaska expedition.
The museum's executive director, Kirsten Lee Villegas, said they try to pick a different Wisconsin artist every summer to show off at the museum and Gromme is one of the most famous from Wisconsin.
"His paintings of cranes are just phenomenal," she said. "They are luminescent."
Another painting in the show features the family dachshund, Rusty, which Owen originally painted for his wife. It was a second attempt since the first one Gromme sold to someone else, much to his wife's dismay. Roy Gromme said his mother and sister hated it -it was different than the first and had the dog on a green shag carpet with a ripped-up ball. Roy Gromme said it's ended up in his basement.
His father would mostly only do commissions and he would paint from memory, often changing details of a setting, depending on how he was feeling, he said.
His dad always liked wildlife and art, but never graduated from high school and never took art lessons.
"It was probably something that was born in him," Roy Gromme said.