A Lasting Vision: The Craftshop and its Legacy
By Nancy Payne x’16
With the Memorial Union Reinvestment phase 1 west wing renovation nearly complete, we’re looking back at one of the many Wisconsin Union programs getting a major face lift. The Craftshop, soon to be the re-imagined Wheelhouse Studios, has a long history at the Union.
Created in 1930, the Craftshop was inspired by recent graduate, Sally Marshall. Sally’s UW Madison Art Department senior thesis explored the necessity for an inclusive space on campus that offered artistic opportunities for all. Thanks to Marshall and the Union, this vision became what was first known as the Union Workshop.
Eventually known as the Craftshop, Sally oversaw the initial stages, providing studio space for a few undergraduates working in arts and crafts. Eventually Sally became the full-time supervisor and affectionately known as the “mother of the Craftshop.” As word spread about the Craftshop around campus, the number of attendees doubled in three years.
The positive feedback from students led to a gradual expansion of programs and opportunities. One of the first activities offered to the Craftshop was to design sets for the Union Theater. From there, novice artists to art majors participated in making posters, camera work, bookbinding, picture framing and more. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the Craftshop welcomed anti-war protesters looking to silkscreen their posters.
Later, adding a woodworking shop proved to be especially popular among women on campus, who were traditionally denied this opportunity.
In an article written in 1934, just four years after the start of the Craftshop, writer F.A. Gutheim praised the Craftshop by saying “It has, first of all, blown the dust off art (a dust that is often prone to collect in academic circles); it has shown again, in short, that art can be fun.” This sentiment pretty much summed up the mission of the Craftshop: to inspire the student body with the promise that creativity and art can be accessible to anyone who wants to try. The dedication and passion of all those involved during its evolution made this promise a reality.
As the program grew, so did the budget, allowing for new equipment and updated programming. Craftshop managers and programmers stretched this budget to reach a variety of subjects. For example, James Allen, Craftshop manager at the time, accommodated the demand for digital photography without breaking the budget by updating old computers with photography software.
In recent years, the concept of Free Art Fridays and Mini-Courses have been the main focus of the Craftshop. Free Art Fridays have been a place for students and community members to come together and participate in the craft of the week while also get to know fellow art lovers. Mini-Courses have featured classes on topics ranging from figure drawing to mason jar gardening, giving chances to artists of any level to learn new skills.
The current director, Jay Ekleberry, and his team of both professional and student instructors have used their passion for arts and crafts to transcend these programs to various events around campus. With their help, the Craftshop has flourished in carrying out its mission: offering art to the masses.
The Craftshop will be taking an exciting step in its evolution as it transitions into the re-imagined brand, Wheelhouse Studios. Opening in June, Wheelhouse Studios will continue this mission with added features and exciting new programs.
Historical information courtesy of F.A. Gutheim’s article, “Arts and Crafts in College” from the 1934 issue of The American Magazine of ART.
Nancy Payne is a UW sophomore majoring in Strategic Communication frequently seen in Der Rathskeller eating a bag of Stiftskeller popcorn with a bowl of Chocolate Peanut Butter Babcock ice cream on the side.