The Arts Find an Outlet in Historic Oshkosh Buildings

May 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm EST


A ‘haunted’ opera house and Tiffany-furnished mansion have inspired and entertained Oshkosh residents for more than a century.

Bohemian Rhapsody

You’ll encounter just about all types of performing arts at the newly restored Grand Opera House – except opera.

Blues and jazz concerts fill the house, roadshow companies perform, world-class jugglers and magicians astound audiences while ballet companies and classical musicians offer inspiring performances. Educational opportunities are offered each year to the public in the form of classes and workshops, but opera hasn’t been the main attraction since the turn of the century. The first opera performed at the Grand was “The Bohemian Girl” in 1883.

The Grand has had a checkered history. At one point during the 1920s, the theater was transformed into an adult movie house. The theater began a slow decline when it ceased booking touring companies featuring performers like Enrico Caruso and Mark Twain and turned to vaudeville in the 1920s. At one time in the 1970s, the opera house was the only pornographic movie house on the National Register of Historic Places.

After a massive grassroots campaign and a multi-million-dollar restoration effort, the Grand Opera House reopened 103 years after its founding with a commemorative performance of “The Bohemian Girl.” And like all good opera houses, the Grand is reputedly haunted. Some feel the ghost is that of Percy Keene, longtime stage manager. If so, he must be pleased to have his theater restored to its former glory.

A Home for the Arts

In 1908, the Sawyer Home was described as one of the finest residences in Wisconsin. Today, it is recognized as the home of one of the finest art collections in the state.

The Edwardian-era home was built for banker and businessman Edgar Sawyer and his wife, Mary. It included interiors designed and furnished by New York’s Tiffany Studios, plus some of the latest technological features of the day. Following the death of his wife, Edgar donated the residence to the city of Oshkosh. Since then, the home has been a major component of the Oshkosh Public Museum.

The impressive museum contains approximately 250,000 objects. The home’s first floor rooms have been restored and maintain the ambiance and feel of a 1908 Edwardian home and are used as settings for the decorative arts collection.

Royal Paine

The Paine Art Center and Gardens has been a cultural mainstay and family favorite in Oshkosh since 1948. Center programs include a literary arts group, Paine Pals kids club, Van Go, a museum on wheels that travels to schools and senior centers to display artwork as well as the Family Discovery Gallery, which features a hands-on gallery with educational displays and programming for children.

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