A year and a half ago, a group of volunteers launched a campaign to raise $20,000 to buy the former home of Sid Boyum, the self-taught Madison artist whose quirky, colossal concrete sculptures are landmarks to creativity across the East Side.
Boyum died in 1991 at the age of 77, and his house at 237 Waubesa St., covered inside with his paintings and drawings from floor to ceiling, had fallen into grave disrepair. But fans of the artist, including the newly formed nonprofit Friends of Sid Boyum Inc., considered it stuffed with treasures.
By November 2016, they raised enough to buy the property. And then came the even bigger task: Sorting through mountains of Boyum’s art, making repairs to the long-neglected property and starting to look for homes for artworks created by the inceasingly prolific Boyum.
The Friends of Sid Boyum are inviting outsider art fans, neighbors and simply the curious public to visit the home on Saturday and Sunday.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days, volunteers will lead small-group tours through the first floor — the second floor is not stable enough to allow visitors. Visitors can then wander the backyard of the home, which was a well-manicured sculpture garden when Boyum was alive, and now is something of an outdoor holding area for his largest works.
Admission to the weekend’s “Sid Boyum Pop-Up Museum” event is free. A grant from the Madison Arts Commission helped the Friends make sure the house is clean and safe for the public to walk through, said Karen Bassler, a Friends member who lives nearby.
“Because there have been so many people involved in this project all along, who are all really curious and interested in it, we wanted to give everyone an opportunity to come and see what it’s like. To see what in Sid’s final days it was like,” Bassler said.
“This is just a way to open it to the public and say thank you for helping. This is what you were able to help save.”
The event will include a yard sale of items from the home — not original artwork, but things Boyum collected or used during his lifetime.
Originally, Friends of Sid Boyum hoped to turn Boyum’s lifelong home into a museum. The current plan is to preserve Boyum’s artwork but sell the house.
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Trying to convert the building, which is in a residential neighborhood with limited parking, into a museum “would be a burden on the neighbors, and we didn’t want to do that,” Bassler said.
The volunteer group has been consulting with the Kohler Foundation, known for its dedication to preserving art by untrained artists, about restoring and moving the cast-concrete sculptures in Boyum’s backyard. The foundation would like to help find local homes for the works.
Boyum is such a “cult hero” in Madison that it makes sense for his art to stay here, said Terri Yoho, executive director of the Kohler Foundation.
Edgewood College also might accept some of Boyum’s 2-D work, Bassler said.
Proceeds from the sale of the house would be used to set up an endowment for the sculptures’ care and long-term maintenance, she said.
Many of Boyum’s sculptures already have a signature presence on Madison’s East Side — from the Man-Eating Mushroom and Red Dragon along the bike path by the Harmony Bar and Grill, to the Polar Bear chair in Elmside Circle Park, and the big-eyed hippo in Wirth Court Park that earned the place the nickname “Hippo Park.”
There are still many more in his yard, which backs up to Madison-Kipp Corporation and is located a block south of the Goodman Community Center.
Boyum worked as an industrial photographer, but as a self-taught artist also produced thousands of other photographs, drawings, paintings and bas-reliefs. He also created the whimsical fishing season opener posters that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal each year from 1963 to 1989. Examples are now part of the Wisconsin Historical Society collection online at www.wisconsinhistory.org.
“We’ve cleaned a lot of the garbage out, but the house is still pretty well staged the way Sid had designed it,” Bassler said of what people would see Saturday and Sunday.
“He’s done some pretty elaborate decorating work, and there will be pieces he made on the walls. We’re also going to have some of the flat work and prints and drawings that he made set up on easels in sort of a gallery display. So we’re trying to give people a sense of all the styles of work that he did. I think people are really familiar with the sculptures, but don’t necessarily understand Sid as a painter or an illustrator.”