The yr was 1986 and Karin Wolf, on the time a scholar on the College of Wisconsin-Madison, was using her bike round Lake Monona. She got here throughout a statue in Orton Park not like any she’d ever seen.
It featured a homosexual couple and a lesbian couple sitting on a bench. The piece, titled “Homosexual Liberation,” was made by artist George Segal. Dick Wagner, who had been an overtly homosexual member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors for six years by then, was a part of the group from Dane County Cultural Affairs and New Harvest Basis to get the sculpture positioned in Orton Park for the general public to see.
“I had by no means seen something like that in my life,” mentioned Wolf, a member of the LGBTQ neighborhood who has now been the Madison Arts Program Administrator for 16 years. “I used to be from a small, conservative space in St. Louis, and my pal in highschool was frightened of shedding his job if any individual came upon he was homosexual.
“Bringing a sculpture to Madison of LGBTQ love, and having it publicly displayed within the 80s, Dick set a bar for Madison to be an inclusive place. He was a champion of that, and it made me need to dwell right here.”
Wagner, who handed away again in 2021, served on the Dane County Board for 14 years, in addition to serving on the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Madison Landmarks Fee, the Madison Belief for Historic Preservation, and the board of Honest Wisconsin. He was the primary overtly homosexual county board chair within the state, was appointed co-chair the Governor’s Council on Lesbian and Homosexual Points, and helped create a 1980 county nondiscrimination ordinance defending homosexual and lesbian people. He additionally co-founded the New Harvest Basis, the one basis in Dane County that funnels charitable contributions completely to LGBTQ organizations for neighborhood growth, together with an extended record of different inclusion-focused accomplishments.
So it’s all too becoming that Wagner could be immortalized in art work as properly, by way of the colourful brushstrokes of trans painter Rae Senarighi. The portrait, that includes a smiling, multi-colored Wagner with the backdrop of a vivid blue sky, now hangs within the Metropolis-County Constructing, outdoors the Council/County board chambers (Room 201) following a dedication ceremony which passed off initially of March. The portrait was beforehand on show outdoors Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s workplace as a part of an exhibition that includes a few of Senarighi’s portraits of trans people.
“We had one in all his big portraits hanging up the place you flip the nook to the hallway resulting in my workplace, then various smaller prints following that, after which there was the portrait of Dick, which was hanging proper by my workplace doorway,” mentioned Rhodes-Conway, who had served on a panel with Wagner about being an overtly homosexual elected official.
“It was such a pleasure to stroll into work each morning and see Dick’s smiling face, and to be reminded of his care and his kindness. I’m a little bit unhappy that I do not get to stroll by it day-after-day now, however it’s good to have it the place the remainder of the general public can see it.”
The colour of compassion
Senarighi’s work is supposed to mirror the LGBTQ+ rainbow in addition to the colour spectrum and the way human eyes understand gentle. “I at all times really feel an ideal sense of accountability to get these portraits proper, in order that if their family members walked into the room, they’d suppose, ‘There’s that individual I really like.’ And I did really feel an amazing quantity of stress when requested to color Dick Wagner as a result of he’s so well-known and so beloved. The truth that I’ve had individuals inform me how a lot they see Dick in that portrait has meant loads.”
It’s additionally becoming that the portray, initially commissioned for the duvet of the March-April 2022 problem of Our Lives Journal, would play a big function in seeing Madison’s rainbow crosswalk on the high of State Avenue come to fruition. Senarighi donated all the cash used to buy the portrait to help the rainbow crosswalk.
“I don’t suppose that The Rainbow Crossing Initiative would have ever occurred in any respect with out Dick and his affect on this neighborhood,” mentioned Meri Rose Ekberg, Neighborhood & Cultural Sources Planner for the Metropolis of Madison. “Public artwork also can usually be controversial, and the ‘Homosexual Liberation’ piece, the rainbow crossing…that sort of labor is usually a problem to place within the public eye, however with help from neighborhood leaders like Dick, these works can survive and be celebrated as an alternative of coming below assault.”
In keeping with one in all Wagner’s closest pals, Scott Thornton, a former Chair of the Madison Arts Fee, Wagner approached each activity with the understanding of not solely the influence it will have on a neighborhood, however on people as properly.
“When it got here to getting town to agree to position the Homosexual Liberation statue in Orton Park, Dick and some others went round knocking on the doorways of individuals within the neighborhood to clarify why a statue like this was essential,” Thornton mentioned. “He was at all times working with the general public in thoughts. The problems mattered, however so did the way it affected people.”
It is probably not his most well-known triumph, however Wagner’s work with George Segal’s sculpture continues to be affecting Madisonians right this moment in addition to New Yorkers in its new house as a part of the Stonewall Nationwide Monument in Greenwich Village
“I had an opportunity to see it once I was there for satisfaction throughout my first yr as mayor,” says Rhodes-Conway. “I used to be there for an occasion of the Victory Fund, which Dick additionally helped to begin as a technique to fund LGBTQ+ candidates.
“It was an amazing expertise to know the sculpture’s reference to Madison, and with a person whose affect, like his compassion, was limitless.”