The Wilson Place Mansion front door was crafted at the turn of the twentieth century as a gift for philanthropist, lumber baron, and senator James Huff Stout and his family. Stout had founded the Stout Institute, an innovative educational institution that eventually became the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
The Stout Institute was a major landmark of educational innovation in state history. With its emphasis on creativity and handwork as well as vocational preparation, the school was greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, a major force in artistic, cultural, and progressive political circles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement promoted the belief that people benefited spiritually and emotionally from exercising their creativity and placed great value on fine craftsmanship. The Stout Institute embodied those ideas in Wisconsin.
Stout supported a new approach to formal education in which students learned not only from textbooks, but also engaged in hands-on activities to gain advanced technical skills. He encouraged activities not so obviously “vocational,” including drawing, sewing, embroidery, and photography.
The door is believed to be the work of well-known arts and crafts blacksmith Thomas F. Googerty, who taught summers at the Stout Institute in the 1910s. He likely worked with students to design and make the door, though no one knows for sure when or by who the door was crafted.
Tragically, Stout died two years after his institute opened in 1908 but ownership transferred to the state, ensuring that the innovative legacy of the school continued.
This story was produced in partnership with Wisconsin 101, a collaborative project to explore Wisconsin’s story in objects.