Wisconsin Arts and Sciences
In this farmhouse yard near Hollandale. Wisconsin, a man named Nick Englebert took some very ordinary materials-concrete, broken glass, stones and old and odd pieces of metal—and made them into something new, something strange and beautiful.
Nick Englebert did many things in his long life. He was a sailor, a farmer, a teacher, a husband and a father. Like many other Wisconsin citizens of the past (as well as today), he was also an artist. He took delight in finding new meanings, new beauty in the world around him. And not only finding new meanings, but creating new meanings, new beauty for the world around him. New beauty all of us can discover and enjoy.
One hundred fifty years ago in a frontier fort at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, a man named William Beaumont discovered new meanings in another man’s stomach William Beaumont was surgeon in the United States Army. In his time no one knew what happened to food after we ate it. Doctors knew we had stomachs but no one had much idea how the stomach worked.
Doctor Beaumont had been treating a French voyageur named Alexis St. Martin who had been accidentally shot in the stomach. No one expected St. Martin to live, but he did. The only thing was the wound never really completely healed and he ended up with a hole in his stomach, covered only by a flap of skin to the outside.
Beaumont saw a rare opportunity and he took it. He paid the man to help him and began a long series of experiments. He would put pieces of meat, of bread and of vegetables directly into St. Martin’s stomach. He kept the food on a piece of string and then would pull it out again after varying lengths of time.
Through these experiments, carried out over a period of two years here at Fort Crawford, he learned how the body makes and uses various acids and juices to digest our food It was the first time in human history anybody ever found this out.
I put these two stories together for a reason. Usually we think of art and science as very different. They are different, but in many ways they are also alike.
In Wisconsin and all over the world there have always been people who have taken delight in finding out new things, and in creating new things. People like this we call artists and scientists. People like Nick Englebert and William Beaumont. Maybe even people like you ... and me.
Let’s take a look first at a few samples of famous artists and scientists who Lived in years gone by in our state of Wisconsin. We will follow that with a look at the arts and sciences in Wisconsin today.
Our first Wisconsin artists and scientists were our first Wisconsin people. We call them native Americans or Indians. For over ten thousand years there were native American peoples of many tribes living in what is now the state of Wisconsin.
In those days just about everyone was both an artist and a scientist you might say. There were no stores to buy things in, no groceries to get food from, no radios or television to listen to. Each family, each tribe had to do everything for itself.
They made their own clothing and jewelry. They gathered their own food. They made their own entertainment. They learned their own lessons from nature. All of these things required skill and intelligence. And all of these things resulted in things of beauty as well as knowledge.
In the nineteenth century, Europeans settled in Wisconsin and big changes were made. People became more specialized in their jobs. Some were farmers; some were railroad workers, factory workers, lumberjacks; some were lawyers and doctors and dentists; and some-a few-specialized in art or science, became professional artists or scientists.
Helen Farnsworth Mears, for example, grew up in a talented family in Fond du Lac and Oshkosh. As a teenager she became interested in sculpture. Her father had once studied medicine and taught Helen about bones and muscles and the human shape. She set up a studio in a woodshed in her bad< yard and began making clay and then marble statues.
While still a schoolgirl she made this sculpture called Genius of Wisconsin. It won a prize and was exhibited at a big international exposition in Chicago. Later it was brought back to Madison and is now in our State Capitol building for everyone to see and enjoy.
August Derleth is an example of a Wisconsin artist in the twentieth century who became famous for his stories, essays and poetry. He lived all his life here in Sauk City and Prairie du Sac on the Wisconsin River, where there is now a park named in his honor.
Derleth was a man who loved nature and natural things. And just as important, he loved people and the stories they could tell. In his life he wrote over 100 books. You probably have many of them in your school library. Take one home some night and enjoy it.
Stephen Babcock, on the other hand, is an example of a famous Wisconsin scientist whose curiosity and inventions changed a whole industry.
Back in the nineteenth century, dairy farming was just getting started in Wisconsin. One of the problems dairy farmers faced was making sure the quality of the milk was high. And always the same. Babcock was a scientist at the University of Wisconsin School of Agriculture in Madison. He solved the dairy farmers’ quality problem by inventing a new kind of milk-separating machine.
With his new machine dairy farmers could easily measure the exact amount of butterfat In milk. That way they could now control the quality and get a higher price for their milk as well.
In a little different way, another famous man in Wisconsin arts and sciences was the historian-scholar, Frederick Jackson Turner. Turner grew up in Portage, Wisconsin, and later did the work for which he became famous at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the late 1800s. He was one of the first historians to recognize the importance of the frontier in American history.
‘Frontier’ means the places where European settlers first came Into contact with native American peoples. Jackson saw that this everchanging line of conflict and opportunity was one of the main things that made American life the way it was. A final example of a famous person in Wisconsin arts and sciences is probably the most famous one of all, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright, who grew up and lived in Spring Green, Wisconsin, is considered by many to be the greatest architect the United States has ever had.
Architecture itself is an unusual combination of art and science. Wright was very original in his discoveries and in his inventions. Here are just a few of the famous buildings he designed in a long lifetime and career.
We end as we began, here in Nick Englebert’s front yard. We told you of just a few, a very few, of the artists and scientists who lived in the past in our own state of Wisconsin. If we had time, we could multiply the examples into the hundreds, indeed into the thousands, and even yes, into the millions.
For the point is, Nick Englebert, William Beaumont, Helen Farnsworth Mears Nicholas Babcock, August Derleth, Frederick Jackson Turner and Frank Lloyd Wright are just the tip of the iceberg, as they say. The truth is we have had many hundreds and thousands of other artists and scientists who have helped make the Wisconsin world we know today.
And just as Nick Englebert did many other things besides sculpture, so, too, many millions of Wisconsin citizens have done many other things besides farming, lumbering, working in a laboratory and typing in an office. These same Wisconsin citizens have also taken time out to paint pictures, make music, write poetry; fix cars, build cottages and study birds.
There is a little bit of the artist and the scientist, in other words, in us all. Let’s turn now to look a Wisconsin arts and sciences today and see how this happens here and now.
Part 2: Today
You have just seen a few samples of Wisconsin arts and sciences today.,. It’s a colorful, exciting world—the world of making new things, creating new meanings.
It’s a world where some people-a very few—become rich and famous. But it’s also a world where everyone wins! Everyone wins because everyone benefits from the new things, the new meanings created. Whether that new thing is building, a song, a book, a discovery, a new way of looking at things or a hearty laugh!
The work of arts and sciences is also a work where literally everyone can play the game. Everyone can participate. Including you ... and me.
It’s a colorful, exciting work, but I don’t want to mislead you. It is also a work where people work hard to make these new things, create these new meanings, make these new discoveries, big and small. The big secret is-it’s hard work that is also fun.
Take the world of music, for instance. Richard Davis here lives in Madison and is one of the country’s most famous and popular bass players. He plays with symphony orchestras and he plays with jazz combos and he travels all aver the world giving concerts. He just came back from Japan.
Mr. Davis had to study hard and practice for many years before he became as famous and popular as he is today.
“How did you get started in playing the bass?”
“I was very Interested in music from an early age because we did a lot of singing in the house. So that just carried through to the interest in music and I started on the bass. I started when I was fifteen years of age, I guess it was my second year of high school. “
“You have to dedicate yourself to playing music well which means you have to practice quite a lot and you have to be detailed and demanding of yourself.
“I prefer jazz to classical music because jazz gives me more of a sense of gratification with being creative and very demanding on the sense of composing, and the skills needed in that are endless.”
Richard Davis is one of the relatively few Wisconsin musicians who make a living at their art. Many thousands of Wisconsin musicians, however, gain great satisfaction for themselves and give great pleasure to their listeners without making it their full-time work. In fact, almost everybody can make music In one form or another, taking part.
So, too, with dancers like Donna Peckett. Donna, like Richard Davis, makes her Iiving teaching tap dancing and performing in musicals and shows.
Most of her students, young and old, do not plan on making a living at tap dancing. But they have a lot of fun learning and creating new meanings with their feet and bodies-as well as giving pleasure and inspiration to those of us who watch.
Music and dance are only two of the arts. Other Wisconsin citizens have become famous in other arts like writing, acting, painting, photography, sculpture and architecture; like making movies, performing in sports, body-building, making magazines and books, making clothes and quilts; and yes, even by such arts as helping others by teaching, nursing, social work and politics.
Some Wisconsin citizens have become famous in the arts. Just about all Wisconsin citizens have the opportunity to play the game.
“I just started about six years ago and I just wanted to do it so i did it. I didn’t take any lessons or anything. I just started doing it. Any of you kids can do it ... all you have to do is get a block of wood and get a knife and just cut away everything that doesn’t look like a duck.”
Some arts are best done alone. Others require other people. Wherever you live in Wisconsin you will find organizations on the local level that will help you get started.
Some examples of organizations that help would be the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the 4-H Clubs, church groups, YMCA and YWCA, political groups, hobby groups, community theaters, art museums, public and private, big and small schools of all kinds, unions, lodges and neighborhood organizations. Do a little searching yourself to find one you feel comfortable in. And then just go to work and have fun.
Science is the same. Hard work-and a lot of fun. Everybody has a different way of getting started, and once started, no one is ever sorry.
Take a full-time Wisconsin scientist like Leon Shohet here In his laboratory at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Shohet is one of the world’s leading scientists in the new field of plasma research figuring out how to tame the hydrogen fusion reaction-the hydrogen bomb-to give useful, peaceful energy.
How did you get started as a scientist?
“I became a ham radio operator when I was fourteen years old and I had a lot of trouble building my radio equipment and it never worked right so I said, maybe I should become an engineer so I could learn how to fix it, and that’s really how I got started.”
“I got interested in fusion and plasmas because one summer evening I saw a very beautiful display of the Northern Lights. I don’t know if any of your viewers have ever seen the Northern lights, but when they’re on they’re just beautiful. And this particular display was red and it covered about half the sky and I said I want to learn about that stuff and this is how I got interested in plasmas because that’s what the Northern Lights really are, these hot glowing gases.”
Some Wisconsin scientists look for new discovering new meanings in living things. DeAnn Liska, for Instance, is trying to find out how vitamin K helps to clot your blood. As she says, “You get to a point where after a few years in graduate school you’re starting to do things people have never done before. That is really exciting.”
Or Brenda Faison who is working with the smallest living things in a field called microbiology.
“The beauty of microbiology is that you can make things grow. You have this entire little ecosystem:in a glass dish, and it’s yours, and you made it. l’m working with life. I can’t control it. All I can do it try to understand it.”
You, too, can get some of the same thrill Leon Shohet and DeAnn Liska and Brenda Faison get by making discoveries of your own in nature. Some Wisconsin citizens do this while gardening. Some by bird watching, fishing, camping, hunting, canoeing, taking nature walks, keeping bees, making maple syrup, collecting tree !eaves, studying butterflies and beetles. The list is endless, limited only by your own interest and imagination.
And remember, some of the greatest biologists of all time, like Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel and our own Stephen Babcock, started out just this way—in their own backyard.
Other Wisconsin scientists of today like Verner Suomi and Jim Bockheim are studying weather and the earth itself. They are earth scientists.
Verner Suomi, for instance, is one of the world’s experts on using space satellites to understand and predict weather and climate. Here’s the way he looks on scientific research.
“The important part is to ask a question and try to get an answer. Many times an answer requires a lot of hard work. It’s like a ball game, the most exciting ball game is when you play hardest.”
Jim Bockheim’s research takes him all the way to Antarctica to study soil in the winter, and to northern Wisconsin in the summer to study acid rain. And when he gets back to his office at the University he says, “To be honest with you, I look forward to going to work on Monday morning. I can’t wait to get in. Just full of things I want to look at, examine data. I find it a very exciting field.”
Did you notice that Verner Suomi, Jim Bockheim, Leon Shohet, DeAnn Liska and Brenda Faison-as well as thousands of other scientists—work at the University of Wisconsin. It is no accident that their work is so important to our world today. Most experts rank the University of Wisconsin among the top ten research university systems in the world.
Very recently, for instance, a scientist at UW made headlines around the world. James Thomson, a researcher at UW-Madison was the first scientist to find a way to culture embryonic stem cells.
The work of physics and chemistry, of meteorology and engineering are also wide open to amateurs. To people who don’t make their living doing science, but people who like to find out new things and make new things.
Some Wisconsin citizens of today take part in this kind of science and art by repairing their own car, remodeling their own house, setting up their own weather station; they do science by discovering a better way to wax their floors, to fix their locks, to heat their water. A better way to program their computer, to light their room, to make their bicycle ride smoother and faster.
Let’s finish this story of Wisconsin arts and sciences today in the same way we began. With a quick tour of possibilities. A quick tour of work and fun in science and art.