Geniuses of Oshkosh

July 2 to October 16, 2016

Oshkosh was a community that embraced and encouraged artists and inventors of all kinds, from innovative engineers to nationally recognized artists like Helen Farnsworth Mears.

As a tribute to mark one hundred years since the unfortunate passing of this talented Oshkosh artist, considered one of the nation's most promising artists and hailed as a hometown genius, the Museum devotes a gallery to not only the artistry of Mears, but also to other geniuses of her generation whose inspiration helped transform Sawdust City. The exhibition promises to reveal why Mears, after one hundred years, still retains such esteem.

Artifacts and images from the Museum's collections, and on loan from museums and collectors, will introduce visitors to Mears and other geniuses who found Oshkosh the perfect location to foster their creativity. To give visitors better insight into the meaning behind Mears' sculptures, letters and drawings concerning their creation will also accompany the artwork. 

Helen Farnsworth Mears
Art Contest Display
July 2 - July 31, 2016

The Oshkosh Public Museum is proud to display the State level place-winning artwork of the Helen Farnsworth Mears Art Contest, sponsored by the General Federation of Women's Clubs-Wisconsin, from July 2 to July 31, 2016. Implemented at the GFWC-WI club, district, and state levels, this annual juried art contest for 7th and 8th grade public, private, and home-schooled students is unique to GFWC-WI. The contest was created in 1927 to honor the memory of renowned Oshkosh sculptor, Helen Farnsworth Mears. Her works are on display in the Nation's Capitol, Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Madison State Capitol, and other national and state collections.

The purpose of this contest is to encourage artistic talent, and to recognize the achievement of student artists. Each year, GFWC-WI clubs conduct a local art contest for 7th and 8th grade students in Class A (schools with art instructors) and Class B (schools without art instructors) in the categories of 2D (painting and drawing) and 3D (sculpture). The winners at the local level are entered in a second judging at the District meeting in April, and the winners at the district level proceed to the third judging at the State Convention in May. The final place-winning artwork at the state level is displayed at the Oshkosh Public Museum, home of Helen Farnsworth Mears, during the Museum's summer exhibition.

About Helen Farnsworth Mears
Helen Farnsworth Mears was born in Oshkosh on December 21, 1871, the youngest of John and Mary Elizabeth Mears' three daughters. The entire family was extremely creative and their home a nurturing place for the budding artist. A shed in their back yard became Helen's "studio" and her father even fashioned special sculpting tools for her to use.

Helen showed artistic ability at an early age. Family friends recalled that as early as three or four years old Helen would sit in her highchair and bite her bread into animal shapes, like cats and dogs. At eight years old Helen won first place at the Winnebago County Fair for a small head of Apollo that she fashioned out of clay. Helen's sculptures gained national recognition and today she is still considered one of Wisconsin's premier sculptors.

While studying under Lorado Taft at the Chicago Art Institute, Helen was commissioned to do a figure, entitled Genius of Wisconsin, to represent Wisconsin at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The nine-foot marble sculpture now stands in the Wisconsin State Capitol. A five-hundred-dollar prize from the General Federation of Women's Clubs-Wisconsin enabled Helen to study in New York under one of the most famous and respected sculptors of the time, Augustus Saint Gaudens. She later worked and studied in Europe.

Helen resumed work in New York in 1899 where she completed a number of commissions in bronze and marble. In 1904 she was awarded a medal for her work Fountain of Life at the St. Louis Exposition, and in 1907 Helen secured a fellowship at the famed MacDowell artists' colony in New Hampshire. Her best-known work is a marble statue of Frances Willard that was unveiled in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol in 1905. Among her other works are bronze busts of George Rogers Clark and William Morton, and bas-reliefs of Edward MacDowell and August Saint Gaudens.

In 1911, the State of Wisconsin awarded Helen the contract to sculpt a heroic figure to surmount the dome of the state capitol building. However, a crushing blow to her career came when the Capitol Committee later suspended this contract and instead gave the job to Daniel Chester French. Helen received a nominal payment for the work she had already done, but the loss of the commission was a shock from which she never fully recovered.

Helen Farnsworth Mears died on February 17, 1916, in New York City. One of the country's most promising artists, her career cut short by an untimely death. In 1927, the General Federation of Women's Clubs-Wisconsin honored her memory by inaugurating an annual art competition for school children.