Helen Farnsworth Mears: A Genius of Wisconsin

April 23, 2022 through August 14, 2022

This exhibit commemorates the 150th birthday of famous Oshkosh sculptor Helen Farnsworth Mears. Learn about her fascinating life and career through never-before-seen archival documents and photographs, and admire her skill and technique through a selection of her beautiful sculptures.

Helen Farnsworth Mears (1872-1916) is considered one of Wisconsin's premier sculptors. She showed talent for sculpture very young, and eventually received more formal training in Europe and New York. Her most famous works are on public display. Genius of Wisconsin was commissioned to represent Wisconsin at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The nine-foot marble sculpture now stands in the Wisconsin State Capitol. She also won a national commission: the marble statue of suffragist Frances Willard was unveiled in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol in 1905, and still stands there today. She was very prolific and well-respected, but her promising career was cut short after she died suddenly from an illness in 1916.

The exhibit will explore Mears’ life and career. New information pulled from the Mary Mears Collection, purchased by the Museum at auction in 2017, will add to the understanding of Helen Farnsworth Mears’ personality and work, as well her relationship with her sister, Mary. We are excited to exhibit this new information along with never-before-seen photos, documents, and drawings.

Statues from the Museum’s collection, such as bas-relief plaques, Dawn and Labor and Joy Boy, will be on display, including a 2021 acquisition, Echo. We will also have some key works on loan from other institutions.


Dawn and Labor, Helen Farnsworth Mears, 1916, bronze, Anonymous Donation. OPM # I98.11.12.1

Echo, Helen Farnsworth Mears, circa 1906, bronze, Museum Purchase. OPM # 2021.7.1