Finding the fire: Schulmans shared creative life as artists and educators

Art education department founder, wife featured in exhibit at local museum
William Schulman, the founder of the UW-Stout art education department, creates large scroll collages. An exhibit of his work and his wife’s Shirley Siegel Schulman is on display at the Rassbach Heritage Museum in Menomonie. UW-Stout photo by Pam Powers
Pam Powers | March 30, 2018

Mickey Mouse helped inspire William Schulman, as a young child, to become an artist and start the career path that led to being an art teacher and founder of the University of Wisconsin-Stout art education department.

“I tried to learn to draw his ears,” Schulman said. “When you copy something, you want to make it perfect.”

From refining the famous cartoon character’s ears, Schulman continued to draw all his life, expanding into painting and mixed media.

Schulman, 88, was born in Winnipeg, Canada, the son of Romanian immigrants. Eventually he moved to Milwaukee and became a U.S. citizen. After joining the U.S. Army for two years he entered UW-Milwaukee, earning bachelor’s and master’s in art education in 1964 and 1969, respectively.

While at UW-Milwaukee he met his wife, Shirley Siegel Schulman, 84, also an artist.

The Dunn County Historical Society at the Rassbach Heritage Museum has a gallery exhibition of 55 pieces of the Schulmans’ art from more than a half century of their careers, their 16th exhibit together. The exhibit, Art Inspired by the Dunn County Hills, will remain open past Labor Day.

A reception is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at the museum, 1820 Wakanda St. N.E., in Menomonie’s Wakanda Park. The exhibit is open during regular museum hours 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children. However, during the run of the Schulman’s’ retrospective, admission will be free on Sundays.WIlliam Schulman in his studio at Holtby Museum

The Schulmans in 1982 developed a private studio, Studio Gallery, in their Menomonie home. It closed in 2007. Shirley focused on fiber arts and painting landscapes. Bill’s work took on current events, history and reflections on his Jewish faith. His father lost three siblings during the Holocaust.

“We always used to work outdoors in the yard,” Bill recalled. “It’s a good place to look for subjects.”

Bill has a studio in the historical society’s Holtby Museum, where he continues to create artwork.

From Milwaukee to UW-Stout

He taught art in the Milwaukee schools for about six years. In 1966 he was tapped to develop an art education program at UW-Stout. He helped some 200 art education majors get their degrees before he retired in 1992.

At first, Bill wasn’t sure he wanted to be a teacher, instead planning to be a studio artist. Then he realized his motivation for teaching was “to transfer the fire in my belly for art” to the students.

“The arts are unique,” he said. “Artists are unique. When you have some of that art in you, you’ve got to get it out. How you get it out is a very personal thing.

“I want people to have a fire in their bellies about all the arts,” he said, noting that he would like people to visit the show at least twice. In this manner, one might build a deeper appreciation and understanding of the works.

“You have to ask yourself questions to understand if there is more there than meets the eye.”

He has served as president of the Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors and the Wisconsin Art Educators Association.

Bill called some of his works “morose.” One encaustic painting, an ancient method of combining pigments with beeswax, depicts human skulls from a Rwandan genocide. “I think I want to express man’s inhumanity to man,” he said, noting his goal is to remember such atrocities so they are not repeated.

A painting of Shirley by SchulmanOne of two large scroll collages in the exhibit, in the structural form of the Torah, includes selections of Bill’s hand-written poetry on judgment and time. He has written several poetry books over the years. In other artwork, he revisits the theme of playing cards, a nod to immigrants and an inexpensive pastime.

Shirley was a Hawthorne native who also studied art at UW-Milwaukee. They married in 1956. In 1978 she earned a master’s degree from UW-Stout in fiber art and taught at Menomonie High School and the Eau Claire Academy.

The couple have four children. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about 10 years ago, ending her art career.

Community connections

The Schulmans created numerous set designs over the years for local community theater groups and were contributors to productions at the Mabel Tainter Memorial. Siegel was a director of education at Wilson Place Mansion in Menomonie for many years after it opened in 1976 and researched some of the textiles within the historical collection.

The exhibit begins with some furniture and personal effects from the Schulmans’ home. On the wall is a rug created by Shirley when she was a student at UW-Stout and was part of her master’s thesis. This small, domestic setting was installed with the intent of providing a vision of the home that served as a gathering point for many people over the years.William Schulman on a couch that is part of the exhibit

The couple welcomed many art students, colleagues, visiting scholars and fellow artists into the Studio Gallery and both were dedicated to showing their students ways to find their own paths in artistic expression, Schulman recalled.

“The house was an art educational center,” he noted. “We would have classes in the house and shows in the gallery. We were using the Studio Gallery for a laboratory in terms of their education.”

Michael Pershern of Menomonie, a longtime friend of the Schulmans and mentee, helped set up the exhibit.

“For me to see the breadth of the work of a couple, from their student days through the height of their professional careers and into retirement, is a great privilege,” Pershern said. “It is fairly remarkable to see the lifetime work of a couple.”

Frank Smoot, executive director of the historical society, said the exhibit represents “a half-century of Menomonie history of creating art. Dunn County is full of those stories of people doing amazing things.”

Having an artist in the Holtby Museum is part of the goal to have creative spaces and to encourage visitors to create. “It’s one of the things I truly love,” Smoot said. “I wish we had more artists and crafts people working in the museum in various ways.”

To learn more about UW-Stout’s art education department and the bachelor’s degree in art education, visit



William Schulman, founder of the UW-Stout art education department, creates large scroll collages. An exhibit of his work and that of his wife, Shirley Siegel Schulman, is on display at Rassbach Heritage Museum in Menomonie.

A 1967 painting of Siegel by Schulman.

Schulman works in his studio at the Holtby Museum in Menomonie. The museum's goal is to have creative spaces and encourage visitors to create.

Schulman sits in the couch that was at his home, which also housed the Studio Gallery for many years. The couch is part of the exhibit at Rassbach Heritage Museum.


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