Arts and Culture

Waisman Center releases its first book of art

Artists with disabilities created all works

The Friends of the Waisman Center released its first collection of art in a book called, “Drawn to Art: Works by People with Developmental Disabilities, the Collection at the Waisman Center.”

Friends of the Waisman Center, a nonprofit on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus, have raised tens of thousands of dollars for the facility and its treatment programs for those with developmental disabilities. 

For the past four decades, the Waisman Center has curated artwork by the very people they try to help in the Harvey A. Stevens International Collection of Art, named after the center’s first administrator. 

The more than 200-piece collection from more than 150 artists is displayed throughout the Waisman Center on Highland Avenue whether that’s in the meeting rooms, conference centers, clinics, hallways or lobby. Recently, the collection has been featured in schools and museums. There was also a six-month exhibition at the Dane County Regional Airport.

But “Drawn to Art” is the first time a large amount of the collection has been compiled into a book.

The book has more than 75 examples of art created by individuals from around the world with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities.

Several of the contributors, who range in age from 9 to 76 and hail from 16 countries, are quoted saying they find peace in the act of creative self-expression. It’s clear, too, that many of the artists also overcame great physical and mental challenges to produce their art.

The book includes work by artists of some renown in their own countries—like Brazil’s Sebastiao Theodoro Paulino da Silva and Norway’s Herleik Kristiansen. An acrylic painting of Madison’s capitol building by Madisonian Phil Porter, titled “The Biggest House My Great-Grandfather Ever Built,” is an ode to Lew F. Porter, the supervising architect of Madison’s Capitol and designer of UW-Madison’s Red Gym.

The first piece shown in the book, “Amor Perfeito,” from an artist named David, might be the most special. This piece, gifted to Stevens by a friend from Brazil, inspired him to start the collection in 1976.

Albee Messing, the director of the Waisman Center, writes in the preface, “We share Harvey’s vision that the collection encourages individuals of all abilities to express themselves and expand their world throughout art.”

Copies of “Drawn to Art,” which was edited by Madison Magazine Editorial Director Neil Heinen, can be purchased from the Waisman Center by calling 608-263-5837 or emailing The book will eventually be able to be purchased at stores in the area.

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