Wisconsin Regional Art Program: About

The Wisconsin Regional Art Program (WRAP) provides statewide art workshops and exhibits for nonprofessional artists. It began in 1940 to encourage your creative growth in these three ways:

  • Your art work is shown in a noncompetitive exhibit in your community. Meritorious work is selected for the Annual State Art Exhibit in Madison. The workshop on the last day of this exhibit includes:
  • A demonstration or slide lecture by a professional artist.
  • The exhibition judge will answer your questions on design, composition, and technique at a group critique and evaluation discussion.

The Wisconsin Regional Art Program consists of many artist workshop/exhibits that meet throughout the year statewide. Each one has a different artist demonstration or slide lecture and a different judge to lead the afternoon critique. You may enter as many Wisconsin Regional Art Workshops as you like. Your art work will be on exhibit in different communities. If your work is selected for the State Exhibit at two different workshops, you may choose which ONE you want to submit to the Madison exhibit.


The Wisconsin Idea, extending the reaches of the university throughout the state, inspired the original Rural Arts Program.

In 1936, an era of rapid social change, the UW–Madison College of Agriculture began a bold artistic experiment: using the arts to expand the cultural growth and knowledge of rural Wisconsin. Rural sociologist John Rector Barton and Chris L Christianson, the dean of the college, envisioned what would become the Regional Art Program. They hired John Steuart Curry, a well-known landscape painter, to serve as the first-ever “artist in residence” at any college. Curry was part of a famed trio of American Regionalist artists, alongside Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. One of his responsibilities was to be a mentor for the painters and craft workers brought together in the newly formed Rural Art Program (what is now the Wisconsin Regional Art Program). Founded as an arts-based outreach program of the College of Agriculture to foster cultural growth, independence, and self-improvement in rural Wisconsin artists, the Rural Art Program’s adult, noncredit students would be a group of largely self-taught artists—teachers, mail carriers, blacksmiths, farmers, and homemakers residing in various small communities.

John Steuart Curry, Southwest Panel, "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research" c. 1941-43. Oil and tempera on canvas. Collection of Public Art at UW-Madison.
See the full story of the mural here and here.

Curry guided and grew the program from 1940 until his death in 1946. He was followed by artist Aaron Bohrod, who remained artist-in-residence and led the program until his retirement in 1973.

Informal field visits offering supportive critiques and instruction around the state culminated annually in what was then called the Rural Art Exhibit. The first exhibition, at the Memorial Union, showed the work of 30 artists from 17 counties. By 1947 there were 105 exhibiting artists. (Today there are nearly 200 artists in the state exhibition, selected from more than 600 artists who participate in local WRAP exhibitions and workshops).

James Schwalbach, host of WHA’s popular “Let’s Draw” radio program, joined the staff in 1945 and helped expand the program as a part of his work with the College of Agriculture and UW–Extension.

Administration for the Regional Art Program moved to UW-Extension with the retirement of Aaron Borhod and the suspension of the College of Agriculture artist-in residence program. Wisconsin sculptor Mary Michie directed the Rural Art Program for UW-Extension, followed by artist Ken Kuemmerlein and artist Leslee Nelson. The administration of what is now know as WRAP was first shared by UW-Extension and the UW–Madison Division of Continuing Studies, and now resides entirely within Continuing Studies under the direction of Helen Klebesadel.


Literally thousands of Wisconsin artists have participated in WRAP through the years. Most participants are interested in personal growth and transformation through the arts, but some who may have had their first experiences of public recognition with WRAP have gone on to develop professional careers. Some better-known Wisconsin artists who have exhibited their work with WRAP include:

Lois Ireland Zwettler, Waunakee

Lois Ireland, The Homestead, c. 1944. Oil on canvas, 34¾ x 28½ inches. Collection of the Wisconsin Regional Art Program, UW-Madison.

Lois Ireland exhibited 23 paintings through the Rural Arts Program between 1943 and 1948, starting when she was just 14 years old. (Curry discovered the young Waunakee artist’s paintings on display at a Westport steakhouse and became a supporter and mentor to her.) After graduating from high school she went on to study art at UW–Madison and the Arts Student’s League in New York, and developed a career as a regional landscape painter. As the art world turned away from landscape and toward abstract expressionism, Lois turned away from her art, married, and focused on a career as a wife and mother until the 1970s, when she again picked up her brushes. In recent years she has been rediscovered. She had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in 2007, and her work was featured in the exhibition Lois Ireland: Wisconsin Pastorale, at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Clarence Boyce Monegar, Black River Falls

Clarence Boyce Monegar, The Watering Hole, c. 1942. Watercolor. Collection of the Wisconsin Regional Art Program, UW-Madison.

Clarence Boyce Monegar loved the Wisconsin landscape and knew it well. A HoChunk artist also known as Red Arrow, as a child he was encouraged by his mother, who has her own artistic talent in weaving, designing, and decorating baskets. Clarence’s art career did not start until 1942, after the death of his young wife to tuberculosis. His grief sent him into depression and drinking, and eventually to jail. There he started to draw and paint wild animals in natural settings from memory. Supporters of his creative work brought him to the attention of Curry, who encouraged him and taught him lithography. Monegar went on to get more artistic training, and to make his living as a painter in oils and watercolors, and a printmaker with artworks focus on wild life themes, until his death in 1969.

Harry Nohr, Mineral Point

Harry Nohr, American Studio Craft Hand Carved Wooden Bowl, c. 1960. Birch wood.

Harry Nohr was a rural postman in Mineral Point, a conservationist responsible for Gov. Dodge Park in Iowa County, and a nationally recognized artist. He was first “discovered” by and encouraged to exhibit with the Rural Arts Program. Harry created and mastered a specialized technique for creating wooden bowls, capturing the essence of the wood from which they were made. He was recognized by UW–Madison for his “creative work and for the many contributions he made toward a broader community interest in art.” In 1975 he was elected vice president of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences Arts and Letters. Upon his death in 1977, UW–Platteville received a gift of $300,000 from the Nohr Family Estate, which made it possible to create a professional exhibition space for the expansion and enhancement of the current visual arts program at UW–Platteville.

Nick Engerbert, Hollandale

Nick Engelbert was born in 1881 in Pravaljie, Austria. After serving in the Austro-Hungarian army for two years, he fled Europe and eventually settled in the United States and married.  He and his wife bought a small 7-acre farm just outside the little village of Hollandale where they raised 4 children. Starting in the mid-1930’s while recovering from a sprained ankle, Nick became known for creating concrete sculptures. By the 1950’s his entire yard was transformed into an artistic landscape of more than 40 concrete sculptures, and he had decorated the entire exterior of his small farmhouse with a colorful mosaic of concrete embellished with stones, shells, glass shards, and fragments of ceramic dinnerware and porcelain figurines.  In 1971, when he was in his 70s, Nick was given a set of oil paints. He began to paint and attend Rural Art Program gatherings in nearby Mt Horeb.

Walter Thorp, Baraboo

Walter Thorp, Covey of Quails, c. 1941. Crayon and pencil. Collection of the Wisconsin Regional Art Program, UW‑Madison.

Frank Lloyd Wright likened this work to a Japanese print.  Thorp was drawn to nature and to art from his earliest, years despite no memories of others in his family pursuing visual art.  He farmed in Iowa and Wisconsin for eleven years and entered his firs Rural Art Exhibit while he was a tenant farmer in Baraboo.  He sold these two works to the Permanent Collection but found it hard to make time for art while scrapping out a living.  Mostly he gave his drawings away.  He considered Nature to be his principle guide and teacher.

Joan Arend (Kirkbush), Almond

Joan Arend (Kirkbush), Wisconsin Farm Auction. Oil, 1945.

Born in Milwaukee but raised on a farm, Joan Arend received early attention in RAP/WRAP, winning recognition with this painting in 1945. Joan trained as a book illustrator at Layton School of Art in Milwaukee.  In 1953 she moved to Alaska with her husband and embarked on what became a career painting Alaskan native children. She wrote and illustrated several coloring books that were popular with Alaska Natives because the images were so lifelike. 

The first exhibit

Iris Furman Tellefson, charter member, Rural Arts Program (1940). Feeding Time. Oil painting, c. 1942.

The first Rural Art Exhibit was held at the Memorial Union during Farm and Home Week in 1940. Under the guidance of John Steuart Curry, the exhibit grew rapidly, expanding from 30 nonprofessional artists in 1940 to over 100 by 1947. The energy and enthusiasm of Curry's successor, Aaron Bohrod, and the WRAP directors, James Schwalbach, Ken Kuemmerlein, Leslee Nelson, and now Helen Klebesadel, along with the ongoing support of the Wisconsin Regional Artists Association, has ensured that exhibitions and workshops have remained cornerstone activities for nonprofessional artists throughout the state for over 75 years.

Our partner, the Wisconsin Regional Artist Association

The Wisconsin Regional Artist Association (WRAA) is anonprofit organization that has been a significant partner to WRAP since it was founded in 1954 with just 36 members. Originally aided by the UW Extension arts programs that then hosted the WRAP program, the WRAA’s mission then and now is to support Wisconsin Regional Art Program (WRAP). Now a completely independent nonprofit organization supported by its membership, WRAA’s collaboration with Continuing Studies keeps the WRAP program strong. The organization recently spearheaded a fundraising drive to build an endowment to support WRAP’s continued existence as public funds for the university wane (see How to Donate). In 2014, the WRAA celebrated its 60th anniversary of promoting creative growth for Wisconsin’s artists. Today, with more than 600 members, WRAA members continue to participate in and promote WRAP exhibits and the annual WRAP State Exhibit and Conference. 

Mary Ann Inman, Moonlight on the Dock, c. 2009. Watercolor on polystyrene. Recognition of Excellence Award, Wisconsin Regional Art Program, UW-Madison.

The WRAA has a 14-member volunteer board of directors led by artist, teacher, and board president Mary Ann Inman. Together they work to support WRAP and other arts programs, particularly for Wisconsin youth. Their Statewide Teen Art Mentor Program (STAMP) facilitate 1-on-1 relationships that focused on creative work between WRAA members and teens aspiring to expand their creative voices; and the WRAA Bridge Program works with younger students and their teachers to give young people a chance to experience sharing their creative work at exhibitions.

In addition, WRAA also kicks off the WRAP State Exhibit and Conference weekend by hosting an Evening with the Arts artists' reception, which includes a showcase of WRAP-award-winning art, as well as the WRAA-sponsored STAMP and WRAA Tiny Treasures exhibit, competition, and sale. WRAA also solicits and distributes approximately $5,000 in awards, which are given out at the annual award ceremony to participating WRAA members.

The Wisconsin Regional Arts Program (WRAP) Today

The Wisconsin Idea, extending the reaches of the university throughout the state, inspired the original Rural Arts Program that has evolved into WRAP of today, which now serves rural and urban artists and is administered by UW-Madison Continuing Studies. Wisconsin is the only state that has this program.

Nearly 200 art piece are selected to be a part of the annual State WRAP exhibition from more than 600 different artworks exhibited across the state throughout the year as a part of 21-plus local art exhibits sponsored by local arts organizations. 

While the exhibition artists do not consider themselves to be professional artists (“professional artists” defined by WRAP as individuals who make the majority of their income from their art), that in no way reflects on the quality of the artwork. Local WRAP exhibitions are judged by professional artists who select artworks to receive state awards and honorable mentions.

Lois Ireland, Homecoming, c. 1945. Oil on canvas, 29½ x 35½ inches. Collection of the Wisconsin Regional Art Program, UW-Madison.

Artists who receive a state award are invited to show their award-winning artwork in the State WRAP Exhibition that takes place every August through September and culminates in the State WRAP/WRAA Conference and awards ceremony.  For an artwork to be included in the state art exhibition, it must have been created in the past 2years. There are no restrictions about where the artist is from, and works can be for sale.

STAMP artwork is usually displayed at the WRAP exhibitions, as are the “Tiny Treasures” fundraising exhibition, made up of small matted images measuring 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches in size. The funds from this fundraising competition support a color catalog for the WRAP exhibition, along with other WRAA publications.

Anyone age 14 and older interested in expanding their creative growth in the visual arts can participate in WRAP exhibits and workshops, as long as they do not consider themselves to be professional artists (WRAP defines a professional artist as someone who makes the majority of their living from their art).