In 1938, Jennie E. Wustum honored her husband’s memory by donating their house, property and a small trust fund to the city of Racine. She wanted to create an art museum and park that would benefit future generations. Her act of generosity inspired the growth of what is now one of the most impressive contemporary craft collections of its type in any museum in the United States. Over seven decades later, Wustum Museum is at the heart of RAM, inspiring and educating generations of children and adults by offering outreach programs and museum-quality studio art classes to our community.

Is Wustum in your heart? The following stories were selected from past submissions to our Tell Us Your Wustum Story contest. They express how RAM’s Wustum Museum positively influenced or affected their lives.

Painting Class Outside
Adrianne Paffrath, Racine

2013 First Place Winner

It is 50 years ago. Summer in Racine, Wisconsin. I am newly arrived from New York City. My New York City means tall apartment houses—Broadway and 116th Street. Crowded, noisy, sometimes unsafe. The real West Side. Now, in this midwest town, I stand on the green, blue-gray Lake Michigan shore, viewing water to the horizon. In the county I can gaze on farmers’ crops, lavender clover large and beautiful, and the sight washes over me.

In my New York City at Riverside Church I had enrolled in an adult education water color class taught by a quiet, insightful Asian woman. We paint birds in a Chinese style. I learn an amazing way to start those paintings. We are taught to begin with the beak. I love the class, how painting opens me up to other worlds, and the way the birds came alive on my paper.

Seemingly by chance, in that Racine summer of the 1960s I meet someone who continues to weave the thread of water color. After a brief acquaintance she is inviting me to her home, an old, elegant house, which is also an art museum, a placed called Wustum. She offers to set up a painting subject on her picnic table and invites me to paint each week. She is charming and so is the place. The calm, the old barn, the leafy trees, a refuge. I experience the Wustum atmosphere in a personal way.

In that 50-year-ago Racine summer, Cherry Jerry gives me such a magical gift at this place called Wustum. It inspires, nurtures and enlightens me. It’s the beginning of what becomes a joyful journey of mixing colors, of painting formally and informally, of seeing. It continues in the Wustum classes I take today.

Tracy Seitz Wiklund, McFarland, WI

2012 First Place Winner

Wustum Museum is why the American Crawl remains, to me, a mystery.

When I was seven, my mom signed me up for swimming lessons. The prospect of swimming at the Quarry during teenage summers sounded great. Until I realized swimming lessons meant undressing in front of other kids. After the first lesson, I told Mom I wasn’t going back. After the second lesson, I stood my ground and refused to go. My mom, frantic to ensure summer included something educational, offered a choice: swimming lessons or art lessons at Wustum Museum. Since art lessons didn’t include public nudity, I chose Wustum. And fell in love with art.

Six years later, I turned again to Wustum to fill my summer. This time, I wanted a drawing class. The only class available, taught by John Goray, was limited to adults. At thirteen, I felt qualified but was told Mr. Goray would decide. Goray spoke briefly with me asking why I wanted to participate, and then said to my mom, “ok, the baby can attend…as long as she isn’t shocked by adult language.” That was no problem for a carpenter’s daughter…however, my class name from Day 1 remained “baby.” With honest, unvarnished commentary, Goray taught me how to think critically about my work. During class, he would draw with a pen, shade with his coffee, and then discard his work at the end of the night. As if to demonstrate that the process was more important than the product.

Forty years later, art remains an important part of my life. I may not be able to swim well, but a Goray sketch replete with coffee hangs in my home to remind this “baby” that art is life. It is indeed the process, not so much the final product, that counts.

Rosemarie Romano, Racine

2012 Submission

How has the Wustum Museum positively influenced my life? Very simply, it gave me an interest and appreciation for art at a very early age. My first recollection of Wustum is as a very young child when my mother would take my sister and me for our Sunday afternoon walks. We would walk from our home on Erie Street, up Carlisle Avenue to Northwestern Avenue and to the Wustum gardens. I was still in my stroller!

When I was old enough to take the bus by myself I took my first summer art lessons at the Wustum Museum. Going to the “barn” for supplies and setting up by the beautiful gardens to paint the flowers were memories I’ll always treasure. We “young artists” were always greeted and encouraged by handsome, silver-haired Mr. Jerry. As a Jr. High School I enjoyed going to the Museum to look at the artwork of other students. I was proud to have one of my own pieces hanging on the wall. Later, as an adult I took various classes at Wustum.

When my young grandson began covering every piece of scrap paper with his artwork, it was time to enroll him in his first lessons at Wustum to begin his journey of appreciating the exciting world of art.

Sometimes I visit Wustum not only to enjoy the varied artwork but to seek out the areas where I spent time as a youth learning to draw and paint, and to just stroll through the gardens where I spent such happy summers.

Patricia Freres Stinger, Madison, WI

2012 Submission

The summer after 8th grade, in 1959, I took a watercolor class at Wustum. It was so frustrating! Then one day the class went out into the gardens, and I painted a tree. I fretted over its flaws, its inaccurate rendering, but the teacher praised it, and when I took it home Mom and Dad, in a loving gesture, framed it and hung it in the living room.

And so it is that, aiming at one thing, we may fall short, yet inadvertently achieve something more lasting. For more than five decades now, on visits home, I have gazed at that tree, musing on its lessons, through many seasons of life.

The gentle teacher at Wustum looked beyond the surface of my imperfect effort, honored instead the creative impulse, and so made an opening, planted a seed of possibility.

Thirty years later, feeling again the old yearning, I took another art class, and so began a passionate engagement with painting, leading to a solo gallery show in 2004, and, far more importantly, endless joy in seeing, and seeking, beauty in unexpected places.

From its place in the family home, the tree speaks to me still. “Open your mind,” it says. “Broaden your vision, find beauty, and truth, out there beyond your preconceived notions. Let go of rigid ideas. Perfection is not what you thought.” It reminds me that the essence is not in the details, but in the sweeping patterns of light and shadow. It urges that it is good to have always a beginner’s mind, knowing that you have much to learn, and that it’s all to be enjoyed.

Something that long-ago teacher saw in my artless tree took root and grew fruitful over a lifetime. To her, and to Wustum, I will always be deeply grateful.

Barbara Brown Lee

Chief Educator for the Milwaukee Art Museum

My family moved to Racine in March of 1949. I transferred into the third grade at the Winslow School and there met a young man by the name of Michael Monroe. We became friends and he was attending art classes on Saturdays at the Wustum Museum. His teacher was Sylvester Jerry and Michael asked if he could bring a friend with him to class. The next Saturday we went together on the bus to class and Mr. Jerry agreed to let me come with Michael. And I continued all through grade school.

Mr. Jerry called us his “children” and encouraged us to participate in some of his projects at the Museum after class. We would help him get supplies, unpacked and stored, and clean up the classrooms, wash the brushes put away the paints etc. My Mother was amused to discover that I would stay almost the whole day “working” with Michael for Mr. Jerry at the Museum. Eventually Michael became the Curator-in-Charge at the Renwick Museum in Washington, DC, (Now Director Emeritus at Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue, Washington) and not too long ago helped Hillary Clinton incorporate art glass into the White House Collection. I on the other hand ended up joining the staff at the Milwaukee Art Museum, January 3, 1963.

Today I am still working as an educator and enjoying helping our visitors to see what I see when I look at a work of art. I owe a lot to Mr. Jerry for teaching me about how art was made – painting, printmaking, working with clay and wire, and gaining insight into the process of art. It has made me a better Museum educator. I still have a very soft spot for the Wustum Museum and my early training in a Museum setting. I was young and inexperienced and the atmosphere at Wustum was friendly and it was open enough to accept a young person who was starving to be part of the art world.

I am still a member of the Racine Art Museum and continue to support their programs and attend their exhibitions, and remain very proud of the accomplishments they have made in the last fifty years.

Mary Kaprelian, Racine

2011 First Place Winner

Your advertisement in the ‘Livin it Up in Downtown Racine‘ quarterly supplement to the Journal Times on September 4 stirred a memory and produced a photograph of me and my family when I was a youngster at Roosevelt Elementary School.

I always loved art and we had a classroom competition to illustrate the bull in the story, “The Blue Bull.” I didn’t win the class votes, but my painting was submitted by my teacher to Wustum Museum to be matted and hung alongside additional young elementary artists.

My entire family came to view the show and we happened to be caught by a newspaper photographer (attached). I remembered well the dresses (pink) and the black patent Mary-Janes that my sister and I wore. My mother made the matching dresses and we wore them with green socks (a faux pas compared to today’s fashionistas). Nonetheless, it was a momentous occasion.

Years later I resurrected the clipping, laminated it, and kept it for posterity. What’s ironic is the family pictured to the left turned out to become our best friends: the Radwills have deep roots in this community, and Scott married Kathleen Broshot, my dearest friend. The other family produced Joe Vallner, a future classmate. I treasure this town, the public school system, and the kudos Wustum has given to emerging artists like me. While I’ve traversed many roads in my life, I’ve ended up in education, teaching exceptional skills to children with disabilities. Artistic endeavors continue to thrill me with my little ones’ views, interpretations, productions, and depictions of the world around them using crayons, markers, paints, craypas, pencils, and clay. Art is a paramount indication of a child’s animation, imagination, mood, and concept of life.

Thank you, Wustum Museum, for making me a little star early in my life, an encouragement that has rooted itself in who I am, what I do, and how much I enjoy aesthetics in all that I see!

Delores Liesner

2011 Second Place Winner

A friend and I took the same art class at Wustum and came away with very unique perspectives. The more I watched Jan’s painting skills develop, the more I realized I enjoyed very different aspects of the class. Learning to evaluate the focal point, the blending of colors, strokes and shades, enhanced my being a noticer of all things. Each night after class, I spent mere seconds showing my spouse what I’d created, and much more enjoyed sharing in detail about the teacher, class techniques and my experiences with various classroom characters.

Just as a splash of color put life into a dark flat shadow, I could visualize the right words bringing hope in a dark situation, expunging the sad or sinister parts of life. Studying the many shades of color I’d previously thought of only as gray birthed the fulfillment of longing to describe the myriad of green shades in a patch of sunlit forest, and ironically, confirmed that painting would never be my first love.

Exiting Wustum after our last class, Jan asked in the way one does when you hope someone enjoyed a treat as much as you have, “Will you continue painting?” She shuddered when I replied, laughingly, that I’d rather be at my computer, writing about it, while I felt liberated to paint with words. Jan’s brush created beautifully detailed individual and family portraits, whereas I began illustrating life with words for Prime Magazine and Chicken Soup stories.

Our teacher, rather than be discouraged with the reality that few students would likely follow his footsteps, nurtured each of us without pressure, to be adventurous developing individual artistic abilities. We each left armed with knowledge, new perspectives, and inspiration to create with what we’d learned. Thanks Wustum. That’s what community learning is all about.

Love Art?  You’ll Love RAM!

The mission of the Racine Art Museum is to exhibit, collect, preserve, and educate in the contemporary visual arts. Stay up-to-date about special events as well as support the mission of the largest contemporary craft collection in America: