Art museums don’t usually have tissue boxes handy, but then most don’t pack the emotional punch of Terry Redlin’s “An American Portrait” series. It follows the life of a boy through milestones from his first dog and moving to a new home to graduation and coming home from college. In a video, Redlin explains the stories in each painting, including the final painting where a military chaplain stands on the front porch to inform the family their son won’t be home again.
Redlin’s style—earthy tones, detailed outdoor settings and distinctive sources of light for what he dubbed “romantic realism”—can be seen in his 155 original oil paintings and 55 prints on display in this massive, three-story building. Opened in 1997, the multi-million-dollar art center can be spotted easily from Interstate 29 on Watertown’s east side. If there are Canada geese hanging out on the front lawn, that’s only fitting for a place dedicated to one of America’s best-selling wildlife artists.
With free admission and travel counselors who can help plan trips across the state, it’s a must-see stop. Even visitors who aren’t initially interested in the artwork may find they get pulled into Redlin’s life story, his patriotic themes including the “America the Beautiful” series, and portraits of life and landscape the paintings capture. They’re especially familiar for rural Midwesterners who will recognize flocks of geese, farms, cabins in the woods and lakeside campsites.
The center also boasts an entire floor that's been recreated to resemble one of the cabins in Redlin’s paintings, a retail store, memorabilia from Langenfeld ice cream (a local dairy owned by his wife’s family), Redlin’s early sketches, a gallery for guest artists, and a 30-acre park with walking trails and ponds. Just north of the building is the Terry Redlin Pavilion, which is a popular spot for weddings, conventions and other gatherings.
Watertown also offers a map and driving tour that spotlights area landmarks depicted in Redlin’s paintings—including Lake Kampeska where he moved after retiring in 2007.