Leaving a Legacy - A Conversation with Marceil Pultorak
Turning a dream into reality is never easy. But it's the type of challenge that appeals to Marceil Pultorak. "I don't quit," she said. "When I want to see something happen I just keep going." Pultorak, Carroll College professor emeritus of art, realized one of her most important dreams in the establishment of the Carroll College Wisconsin Artists Collection.
It started with a blank wall.
"I'd go into Shattuck Music Center and those walls would drive me crazy," she said. "It was such a waste of space." She also was looking for a better way to teach art to her students. "When you look at a slide of art, you have no idea how big the work is, what its texture is, how it fits into its environment," she said. "They needed to see the real thing to be able to relate to it."
Pultorak, who is know for her outdoor metal sculptures, had made several connections with other Wisconsin artists throughout the years. She also had made a point of saving notices of their exhibits. As she leafed through her clippings, she realized she had the beginnings of something great. "I thought a permanent collection would bring out an awareness of how many creative artists come out of this state," she said. "Using Shattuck as a gallery would allow us to share their creativity and make the works accessible."
Accessibility was a priority for Pultorak. Viewing the works of individual Wisconsin artists generally meant traveling throughout the state to visit temporary exhibits. When the exhibit closed, the works would be put away until the next showing. "The most important thing is that art be seen," she said. "With all that you strive for, and sacrifice, in order to have the time to express yourself, your art is your baby. It shouldn't be stored in a dark room somewhere."
The Carroll College Wisconsin Artists Collection, which includes more than 164 pieces, is one of a handful of permanent collections in the state to exclusively feature Wisconsin artists. Creating it would take more than a decade of Pultorak's life. "I began planning the project in 1981, and I took a sabbatical in 1991 to begin the actual work," she said. Pultorak began by assembling a ten-member board of directors, made up of Wisconsin artists and arts administrators. They had the daunting task of selecting artists to be considered for inclusion in the collection. They began with the lists she compiled.
"Artists were selected based on their reputation, the number of shows they had been in, their education," Pultorak said. Once the selections were made, it was up to her to ask the artists to donate pieces to the collections. "I wrote letters to each one," she said. "I got the pieces on my reputation. They trusted me." Pultorak also donated several pieces of her own collection of Wisconsin artists. As the art came in, she needed a space in which to prepare it. The college owned a house near campus that would suit her purpose.
Pultorak continued the work on the collection long after her sabbatical, even after she retired in 1995 from a 25-year career at Carroll. "I was there at least twice a week, framing, hanging, and putting labels up until I moved to Colorado in 1996." Since retirement, she is concentrating on her own artwork, including large metal sculpture and jewelry.
The collection is often used as a teaching tool for art majors, who learn about technique and design, and gain valuable analytical and critiquing skills. Pultorak said the collection also is valuable as a record of individual expressions. "We live in such a fast-moving society that having a time and place to reflect on those expressions is crucial," she said. "Art sustains humanistic impressions in people. Looking at art is like listening to a song that is very beautiful and moving. An artist can express a feeling for you, and each time you see the work, you can be brought back to a beautiful experience, or even resolve a traumatic one."
The collection also educates viewers on the wide range and scope of Wisconsin artists. The works are evidence that Wisconsin art includes more than pastoral landscapes. "Wisconsin artists are very sophisticated," Pultorak said. "They fit well into their times and spaces and their works express society." Pultorak said that much of the work allows for individual interpretation. "This collection provides an opportunity for someone to find a piece and relate to it and dream," she said. "You may find an artist who has said something through his work that you wanted to say but couldn't. That's where the union, the real connection begins.
Although the journey was a long one, Pultorak said she wouldn't have missed a single step. "I didn't do it for personal reasons. I did it because I felt it was worthwhile," she said.
The collection begun by Pultorak is now in the hands of others. Responsibility has been assumed by a devoted group of faculty, staff, and members of the Friends of Carroll College. Their overriding concern is to fulfill Pultorak's vision. The work is hung in most public spaces on campus, including Shattuck Music Center, the Campus Center, and the Humphrey Art Center, where a gallery is named in Pultorak's honor. Docents are available to give tours.
The collection, which continues to grow, will always be available and accessible, not only to students, but to all art lovers in the community.
Marceil Pultorak, professor emeritus of art, served Carroll College from 1970 to 1995.