School…or…the blocks of cement that held and carved my future.

School…or…the blocks of cement that held my future

With a Mother’s push and a new leather portfolio, my professional art career was launched in Milwaukee, WI at Layton School of Art and Design.

Layton was established in 1920.  Charlotte Partridge was one of the first women educators in the United States to imbue art education with a social agenda, transforming curriculum and encouraging socially conscious activism.  Feeling constrained by teaching methods at Milwaukee’s Downer College for Women, Partridge left her position as head of the Fine Arts Department in 1920, and helped establish, with Miriam Frink, a new Layton School of Art and Design.

What began with borrowed equipment and space, Layton became a nationally recognized school of art within a decade. In addition to a groundbreaking coeducational curriculum, many teaching methods that are considered standard practice today were introduced in Layton. Viewed as one of the most progressive art schools in the country, Layton enjoyed a historical reputation for innovative methods including making design the core of its curriculum.  Layton pioneered several movements now considered standard practice in art education.  It was the first professional art school to require a year of foundation courses prior to specialization. One of these foundation courses was appreciation of literature, thereby exposing students to different means of artistic expression. It abolished an old taboo by conducting its life drawing (nude) classes with male and female students together. Courses were arranged to allow students exposure to the methods and viewpoints of different instructors including women educators who brought their own individual innovations and developed Layton’s role in social activism.  Layton offered a unique method of reading public history by locating everyday politics within separate but related socio-spatial domains including classrooms, boardrooms, art galleries, and meeting rooms.


Frederick Layton was a wealthy businessman who is regarded as Wisconsin’s earliest and most influential art patron. In 1887, he established the Layton Art Gallery, initially built to house his collection of fine painting and sculpture. This also housed the eponymous School of Art whose legacy is seen today in the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.  The Layton Art Gallery acted as the catalyst for the eventual creation of the Milwaukee Art Center and later the Milwaukee Art Museum.


In 1974 Layton closed its doors due to financial insolvency.  Layton reopened the same year as the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD). The present day Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) is the successor to Layton School of Art.  At its closure, Layton was regarded as one of the top five art schools in the United States.

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