CVA opens the VAULT

There weren’t plans to call one of the newly redesigned spaces the Vault Gallery. But when major renovations of The Center for the Visual Arts uncovered a vintage bank vault door more than 100 years old, they rolled with it.

The Grand Theater Foundation just completed a year-and-a-half long, $1.1 million interior renovation of the CVA building in downtown Wausau. The project gives the nonprofit organization redesigned and expanded classroom space, two new exhibit galleries, and a new pottery studio.

Work crews found the bank vault door lying on its side, boarded up behind some walls, says CVA Director Rose DeHut. It resembles a steampunk-like work of art, with visible mechanics and the old-timey vault wheel you’d expect to see in a bank robbery movie. It’s now the centerpiece of the CVA’s new second floor Vault Gallery, which will focus on the current dialogue in contemporary art and exhibits that “capture attention,” DeHut says.

The vault door was left over from the Wisconsin Valley Trust Company, which long ago occupied the building. And it isn’t the only thing workers found and the CVA decided to keep. Crews uncovered original marble behind newer walls. Original, ornate ceiling moldings were tucked behind a drop ceiling.

“It’s been like an archeology dig on the second floor,” DeHut says. “There have been a lot of discoveries.”

The finding is significant, says Marathon County Historical Society Librarian Gary Gisselman. The 400 block of Fourth Street is a historic block in Wausau but it’s rare to find intact original building materials such as was found at the CVA. “It really does reveal what Wausau was like in the early part of the 1900s,” Gisselman says.

The renovated third floor is impressive too, with the same rediscovered ornate trim and flooring. Construction also revealed enormous windows that let in the perfect light for art, DeHut says. The third floor will serve primarily as expanded studio space for workshops and classes, and allows the CVA to increase its programming, including new classes in graphic design and digital photography. During renovation, the CVA’s classes and gift shop were moved to Washington Square. The gift shop will remain in that location.

Renovations in the basement created a dedicated new pottery studio. A number of pottery wheels (the CVA added three new ones to its arsenal) line the walls, and the room now runs two kilns. The second kiln was purchased a few years ago, DeHut says, but the building lacked the electricity to run both at once, making the firing process painfully slow. Now the CVA can produce student clay projects much faster, and handle more people in the workshops.

The projects were largely funded by local donations from the Dudley Foundation, the B.A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation, and the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin.

The CVA is open Tues.–Fri. 10 am–5 pm, Sat. noon–4 pm. Closed Sundays, Mondays and holidays. 715-842-4545.

This story has been updated to reflect who owns the building and paid for the renovations.