The Fairfield Art Center Collections Find New Homes

Permanent Collection Will Reside at Chazen Museum of Art in Madison; The Wiiken Scandinavian Glass Collection Will Go to Neenah’s Bergstrom-Mahler Museum

On Saturday, February 28, the Fairfield Art Center in downtown Sturgeon Bay closes its doors for the last time. A victim of the current recession, the 10-year-old contemporary and modern art facility was forced to shut down when donations plummeted at the end of 2008 and without an endowment, it no longer had the funds necessary to continue daily operations.

Fairfield Art Center

Fairfield Art Center

In the years since its November 1998 opening, the art center made a significant impact in the community. It attracted national-caliber exhibitions such as “The Arts of China” and “Chagall, Moore & Matulay: Three Influential Modernists,” and it shone a spotlight on renowned Door County artists such as Emmett Johns, Wence and Sandra Martinez, Craig Blietz and Margaret Lockwood. And, partnering with Peninsula Players, it played an important role in the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Big Read” 2008 and 2009 initiatives in Door County.

With the 242 Gallery, the Fairfield also gave numerous established and emerging Door County artists a much-needed resource; its rotating monthly shows provided a valuable exhibition venue and access to a large audience. Next door, the art center’s Henry Moore Gallery gave the public full access to treasures from its internationally recognized permanent collection — and most significantly, the work of a 20th century modern master.

Throughout the years, the Fairfield has drawn enthusiastic crowds to its spacious galleries for energetic opening receptions, artists’ talks and art demonstrations. It worked with the local schools to present children’s art exhibits as well as a high school art club’s “students’ choice” exhibition, and it raised money for area schools’ art programs through an annual flower sale. Its “Art of the Trees” fundraiser — which evolved into the Holiday Gala & Auction — became an eagerly anticipated event on the Door County holiday social calendar. More than 50 local artists exhibited their work in the 2008 fundraising event, which drew a record crowd.

When the Fairfield Foundation sold its landmark 1906 William S. Fairfield Building on the corner of Michigan and Third to Jon Blahnik of Raymond James Financial Services, a building tenant since 2002, the future looked bright. The sale allowed the art center to retire its longtime mortgage debt and ensure the security of its permanent collection, and it provided a cash reserve.

“Unfortunately the cash reserve was not enough to weather the economic crisis, and rather than risk the permanent collection and plunge into debt once again, the Fairfield Foundation and its advisory board determined that closure was the best, most responsible course of action,” says Walt Freckmann, executive director. “While we will miss working with the peninsula’s talented artists and continuing to serve the community we love so much, we are happy to report that the Fairfield legacy will live on,” he continues. “The permanent collection, which includes the works of Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti, Fernand Leger and other world-class artists, will now reside at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison. And the 19-piece Wiiken Scandinavian Glass Collection, gifted to the Fairfield by collectors Don and Carol Wiiken of Oak Park, Illinois, will make its new home at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah.”

Then there is the William S. Fairfield Building itself, which will continue its successful commercial operations after the Fairfield Art Center has departed.

“If Fairfield founder Irene Newkirk and the Foundation had not undertaken its major renovation in the late 1990s, this landmark building would likely not be here today,” Freckmann says. “It will remain an anchor of Sturgeon Bay’s historic district for years to come.

“On behalf of the Fairfield staff and our many dedicated volunteers, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Door County community for its support over the years,” he concludes. “I would also like to encourage everyone who cares about Door County’s cultural destinations to support them in this time of economic crisis. It doesn’t matter how big or small the contribution; every dollar matters. The more venues we have, the better for the community. And every loss hurts us all.

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