There are many reasons why we should be proud to be Badgers: incredible professors, stellar athletics, a beautiful campus and we can also add Wheelhouse Studios to the list. Wheelhouse Studios is an incredible asset that allows students from all majors, experiences and passions to create art. These studios, located in Memorial Union, offer a wide selection of mediums including sculpture, metalworking, jewelry, glass, ceramics, drawing, painting, digital work, printmaking and fabric making.
The studio director, Jay Ekleberry, shared how Wheelhouse has come to be a place that so many students know and love. In 1929, Sally Owen Marshall, a fellow Badger, wrote her senior thesis about how the student union should create an open art facility for students. The University took this into consideration and thus, the first open studio was born, housed in a building on Park Street. According to Ekleberry, along with a long list of other impressive firsts, UW-Madison can claim that we had the first open multimedia studio on a college campus. As the popularity of the studio grew and they could no longer serve all the students that wanted to work there, these studios were moved to a larger space in Memorial Union. They remained there until 2012 when our beloved Union underwent construction. While this construction temporarily suspended artists hard at work, it allowed for the creation of entirely new studios. While, sadly, more construction on Memorial Union means fewer pitchers to go around, it has not stopped the creativity of artists found in Wheelhouse. Students, faculty and community members gather together to create beautiful works of art. Some of the programs that you can join in on are Free Art Fridays, course programming, private instruction, open work time in the studio and “Art as Part of the Solution.”
“Art as Part of the Solution” is a program started by the newly appointed assistant director Emily Tarver. Tarver stated she has “always been captured by how humans find and develop meaning.” She brought this passion with her at Wheelhouse, which she believes to be one of these spaces of meaning. According to Tarver, the new program uses art to interact with greater societal issues. For example, a free printmaking event was held to allow students and community members to process their feelings surrounding the Tony Robinson case. In addition to these powerful motives, both Ekleberry and Tarver spoke of the numerous instances that Wheelhouse has played a part in student learning outside of the classroom. An Asian religions and Daoism class recently visited the ceramics studio to experience the peaceful nature of wheel throwing. They were not looking for a finished product, but instead to illustrate and enhance class concepts. “We love making these kinds of connections, especially true when it comes to UW-Madison students. We are not just here for art students or like-minded people. We think everyone is an artist. Art can and should benefit everyone’s life,” said Tarver. This mission is being achieved every day at Wheelhouse.
In the past two years, Wheelhouse has opened its doors to student organizations including Global Brigade, Best Buddies and Habitat for Humanity. They were awarded the Don Hunt Humanitarian Award in 2014 for donating clay and space for the creation of over 100 bowls for donation. In addition, an anthropology student is collaborating with Wheelhouse to investigate and recreate ancient forms of pottery. Further, the students who won the Allen Centennial Gardens Installation project are working with Wheelhouse to create a meditation garden. Students came into Wheelhouse to create approximately 150 tiles depicting what makes them happy. Each one of these tiles will be installed this May on a retaining wall in the garden to act as a peaceful oasis for hardworking students. Wheelhouse Studios, while an incredible location to create art, is not just that. These studios are much more powerful as they facilitate community interaction, inspiration, conversation about relevant issues and a greater understanding of the world around us.