Unfortunately, “Edward T. Schoenberger” is not a well known name around town, or at least not as well known as it should be. There are no streets named in his honor, no schools or really anything as far as I can see. His two largest works, if not entirely forgotten are no longer in their original locations, other works by Mr. Schoenberger are gone forever, like the man himself.
Ed Schoenberger was first and foremost an artist, working in a wide range of mediums. One common thread to his work is that he had a knack for creating larger than life works of public art.
He started on that path in his native New Orleans during the Great Depression, painting a mural on the history of printing for the New Orleans Public Library as part of the Works Project Administration. When World War II came along, Ed found himself in the Army Air Corps, but even in a time of war, Ed’s talent could not be denied and he again created larger than life murals, this time for US military bases.
After the war he headed for the East Coast where he worked as a designer for several companies. With his cosmopolitian background: art schools, New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, it might seem strange that he would up spending most of his life in Wausau. But he did.
Succumbing to the pleadings of an old army buddy, John Stoutenburgh, Ed took a position as assistant director of the Marathon County Historical Society in 1957. I wish that Ed were still alive so I could find out what exactly Stoutenburgh might have said to entice Ed to drop his East Coast life and come to Wausau. Must have been powerful stuff. Schoenberger spent 50 years in Wausau, until his passing in October of last year at the age of 92.
Schoenberger might have had a job title that indicated he was some kind of historian, but no matter what the title, he was first and foremost an artist.
His art projects and murals filled the Yawkey House with educational backdrops for the exhibits. A totem pole he carved for the museum was later moved to Camp Phillips. After filling the Historical Museum with his work, he branched out all over town, painting murals and creating sculptures in banks and schools all over town. And he also created two of this town’s most famous unknown pieces of public art.
In 1976 Schoenberger created “Wenebojo” for the plaza of what is now the First American Center. This towering copper sculpture is no longer there, but it can still easily be seen. It was moved (I don’t know when or why) to NorthCentral Technical College, where it sits in their inner courtyard. Unfortunately, there is no marker or plaque on the sculpture, so it is likely that most, if not all of the students at the Tech have no idea who made the piece or where it came from. I hope to be able to answer some of those questions and post the answers here.
Schoenberger’s next creation of public art, in 1979 for the City of Wausau is also no longer in place. Rumor has it that the pieces of the sculpture are still in storage in a large garage somewhere, but it has been years since it was removed. “The Pinery” featured a number of utilitiy poles at odd angles at Stewart Park on the banks of the river. Apparently it was quite controversial at the time, which is a good thing in art, but is now mostly forgotten, which is a bad thing.
For all the large works of public art that Schoenberger worked on in this area, his most lasting legacy is actually a chimera, a seemingly insubstantial work that arises suddenly and just as suddenly is gone for another year.
Ed Schoenberger conceived of and helped organize the first Wausau Festival of Arts.
Wanting to bring together the artists of the community like he had seen in larger cities, Schoenberger brought together the first Festival of the Arts on the grounds of the Yawkey house in 1965. In many ways, his vision continues to shape the festival to this day.
That first festival not only featured artists displaying and selling their work, but also entertainment, children’s art actvities and food sales for charities. It may have been small (42 artists who sold $600 in art, according to Schoenberger’s notes) but the elements were all in place. By the 5th annual show in 1969, the Festival had grown to the proportions it continues to enjoy today with 120 artists displaying their work and 10,000 people attending.
So, when you come downtown in a few weeks, remember to thank Ed for awakening the artistic soul of our town.