Artist Brings His Work Home

Robert and Nancy Burkert

Robert and Nancy Burkert sit with a selection of their artwork. Photo by James Gill.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers students much more than an education; it offers the opportunity to participate in the Wisconsin experience. What exactly is the Wisconsin experience? It is the learning that happens outside the classroom, lab or studio. It is the pursuit of an interest simply because it is interesting. It is the evolving of an individual’s skills and talents through involvement in campus organizations. And, it is the memories that endure long after graduation.

As a student, Robert Burkert (’52 BS, ’55 MA EDU) embraced the Wisconsin experience. Today, the UW-Madison is the beneficiary of this renowned artist’s talent and generosity.

In the summer of 2009, Bob and his wife, Nancy (’54 BS, ’55 MA EDU), returned to the UW-Madison campus for the opening of a retrospective exhibition in the Memorial Union’s Porter Butts Gallery of Burkert’s art and to celebrate his gift of 24 pieces to the Union. He also has donated six works to Chazen Museum of Art.

Surrounded by friends and former colleagues for a luncheon in his honor, Burkert credited much of his inspiration and success to the creative tutelage of John Wilde (’42 BS, ’48 MS EDU), Alfred Sessler, Dean Meeker, Santos Zingale (’43 MA EDU) and James Watrous (’31 BS EDU, ‘33MA, ’39 PhD L&S). Because of his connection to the Union, he said, he had sometimes serendipitous opportunities to connect with other artists, most notably, Frank Lloyd Wright, and to showcase his early efforts.

Burkert, a Racine, Wisconsin native, was already a developing artist when he arrived at the UW-Madison. He studied painting, drawing and printmaking. On Sunday nights, he and Nancy attended concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet in Music Hall. He also edited The Octopus, the campus humor magazine. But his favorite place was the Union.

I lived in the Union. The Rathskeller, theater and crafts workshop.

Robert Burkert

“I lived in the Union,” he said. “The Rathskeller, theater and crafts workshop.” Burkert served on the Union Gallery Committee, the student group that selects, curates, installs and maintains exhibits in the Union’s various galleries. As Burkert acknowledged the fine work of the students who curated his exhibit, he noted that he felt he had come full circle.

Burkert retired from the UW-Milwaukee, where he was professor and head of the graphics department. He experimented with and pioneered new media and techniques in painting and printmaking and continues to create at his home in Massachusetts. His work is featured in galleries around the world include the Tate Collection in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

An accomplished artist in her own right, Nancy Burkert is an award-winning children’s book illustrator. She provided the original illustrations for “James and the Giant Peach” and received a Caldecott Honor Medal for her work in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” as well as the Horn Book Special Award for Excellence for “Valentine and Orson.”

At the luncheon , one of Nancy’s prints, also part of the permanent collection, was on display making the day, and the picture, complete.