Waupun Fine Arts, Inc. (WFA) has been around since 1998. The organization began with two enthusiastic people, Lori Page and Melanie Williams who were interested in showcasing the beautiful and historic Waupun City Hall Auditorium. The Wisconsin Sesquicentennial was being celebrated that year and Lori and Melanie were interested in honoring this event with a Harvest Moon Ball. This gala event brought residents and visitors, dancers and spectators to the Auditorium. Men wore tuxedos and women graced the ballroom with elegant dresses. WFA offered several weeks of ballroom dance lessons to prepare people for the big event, with waltzes and fox trots being the favorite dances. The auditorium is a wonderful venue for concerts and dances with its hardwood floor and excellent acoustics. Over the years, bands, singers and dancers have been enthusiastic about returning to the Auditorium.
The Auditorium became the go-to venue for Waupun Fine Arts for years. WFA offered several more Harvest Moon Balls with big band sounds, plus distinctive concerts such as Zing Go the Strings, The Kat Trio, Acoustic Soup, The First Brigade Band and the Drowsy Maggies playing Irish tunes. The stage accommodated veteran’s concerts, area choral groups, vocalists singing jazz to classical music, and local actors performing in plays such as “Murder at the Howard Johnsons”, and the “Mark and Livy Show” remembering Mark Twain.
In 2001 the organization put together its first Art Around Waupun art show in and outside the City Hall Auditorium. Several years later the Art Show’s date and location were changed. It is now called Waupun Fine Arts Fine Art and Craft Fair, held the first Saturday of August at West End Park. Many famous local artists such as Kay Kittell, Frank Mittlestadt, Justine Port and Leslie Trewyn have sold their art at the fair.
In 2002 the purpose of Waupun Fine Arts was established as “dedicated to promoting and supporting local arts and artists of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” A logo was then designed by Waupun High School graduate Tami Cook Dever of TLC Graphics and soon became the signature image for the developing arts organization.
In 2003, Waupun Fine Arts organized a program celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the City Hall building and was instrumental in highlighting the period aesthetics of the Auditorium. Unfortunately some years ago the original wooden entry doors, stair-rails, kick-boards, ticket booth, and more was painted a cream-color. At that time it was probably thought to be a good idea but in this historic building the original style is prefered. New stage curtains were sewn following the description of the original curtains found in the program for the opening of the building in 1928. The City Department of Public Works, Gary Seering at Hunter’s Run Refinishing in Burnett and seamstress Maria DeGroot, Randolph performed outstanding work bringing the Auditorium back to its original beauty.
After establishing events in the City Hall Auditorium, Waupun Fine Arts moved on to Concerts in the Park at Dodge Park. Bands are still hired to perform on Thursday nights in July. A partial list of bands includes: Mayville Steel Drums, Del Rays, Gary Cross, FdL Symphonic Band, Beaver Dam Community Band, Dead Horses, Madison Brass and many more. One summer a performance of “Shakespeare in the Park – A Comedy” was offered. In 2019, because of construction on Madison St., the concerts were moved to West End Park, and with the large shade trees and prominent location, Concerts in the Park found a new home.
Since 2011, to show support for theater arts, Waupun Fine Arts aided Waupun Festivals during the week-long events of the Missoula Children’s Theatre rehearsals and performances. WFA provided meals for the nearly 50 children during the evening rehearsals and assisted in other ways including ushering and ticket sales.
In 2013 the WFA leadership approached the Waupun Public Library and asked if they would be willing to house an Art Gallery. The Library Board awarded space to the group on the second floor. Waupun Fine Arts works in cooperation with the library staff to cover sales and details of the gallery. Every 6 weeks Gerri Buteyn, retired art teacher from Central Wisconsin Christian Schools, displays a new exhibit from an artist’s portfolio. Some of the featured artists include Kristen Westlake, Terrill Knaack and Terri Einer. The exhibits feature paintings, photography, jewelry, along with high school and college student talent. One year, coinciding with a WFA Quilt Show at the Wesley Center, area residents brought in their original handmade vintage quilts along with Historical Society quilts, some 70-85 years old, to display in the WFA Gallery. Quilts were hung on walls, displayed on tables, and placed over props and railings. The WFA Gallery was pleased to support quilting as a special art form with this colorful exhibit. The Waupun Fine Art Gallery inside the library is a beautiful asset to the Waupun community.
In 2015 the newly organized Waupun Community Players gave their first performance, “It’s a Wonderful Life “ in the Auditorium. The next performances were comedies, “Drinking Habits”, “Drinking Habits 2” and “A Delightful Quarantine”, giving the public fine evenings of laughs! In 2018,WFA was added to Fond du Lac’s event, Art All Around, held the end of May or early June. This event offered a Creative Exchange at the Library, with a place for artists to work on a project, art for sale in the upstairs gallery and a silent auction with the profits going to REACH Waupun. The City of Waupun is fortunate to have multiple pieces of outstanding outdoor art which were donated or created by Clarence Shaler, local entrepreneur and industrialist. A trolley tour of these famous outdoor sculptures was led by local historian, Heidi Antoni. Sculptures include the End of the Trail, Recording Angel, Doe and Fawn, Who Sows, The Pioneers, The Citadel, and Dawn of Day.
Formed in 2020, a Waupun Fine Arts Scholarship fund is now awarding two deserving graduating seniors from the Waupun Area School District, Central Wisconsin Christian Schools or District Home Schools with scholarships in higher education arts programs, one each in performing and visual arts.
The Covid-19 Pandemic, which impacted Waupun in many ways, also had an effect on Waupun Fine Arts programming. Our Irish event on March 7, ’20 was held just before regulations were set. Concerts in the Park on Thursdays in July continued to be held at West End Park in ’20 and ’21 and were well received by large appreciative audiences.
Waupun Fine Arts is supported by monetary donations and volunteers. These monies are used to cover the expenses of events including the cost of performers, advertising and supplies. WFA has a small but dedicated crew overseeing the details of the organization. The committee loves what they do but welcomes help. All who are interested in supporting the arts in Waupun are welcome and encouraged to attend meetings held the second Monday of each month at 6:30 pm, currently at the Waupun Chamber of Commerce Office, 321 E. Main St.
Our goals for the near future include expanding our presence in Waupun in a downtown art gallery with office space and again presenting a variety of concerts and programs in the City Hall Auditorium. Waupun Fine Arts looks forward to continuing to provide the Waupun area with cultural events and entertainment for many years to come.
Thank you, Waupun and area residents, businesses, service organizations and visitors for supporting Waupun Fine Arts for these 25 years!