A mistake that’s easy to make is to frame business as one thing and art as its antithesis, the former a matter of efficiency and profit and the latter looser, but a new wing at the Dunn County Heritage Museum in Menomonie, shows the two are twined. The 15,000 square foot wing, called Holtby Hall, houses the museum called Fulton’s Workshop, which celebrates industrial arts. Industrial arts is descriptor from way back that still succinctly conveys the art in industry. Just as business can be bolstered by an artist’s touch, creativity can be parlayed into profit, and Fulton’s Workshop shows how one man did these things and invites others to do the same.

The Artistic Engineer

Fulton Holtby was a teacher, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota for 41 years. As a teacher, he displayed a gift for making the complex comprehensible. His creativity in the classroom transferred to the business sector, where he was an inventor, collaborating with a colleague on the first aircraft flight recorder and fabricating heart valve replacements and suture clamps for the pioneering Dr. Christiaan Barnard.

His teaching also transferred outside the classroom, where he was called upon to make the complex comprehensible. For example, he did this in 1979 in the court case of the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz, a tanker that ran aground, split in three, and spilled 219,797 tons of light crude oil into the sea, affecting tourism, fishing, and quality of life off the coast of France. The jury had to consider a complex case with many factors, from a jammed rudder to a failed anchor to snapped towlines. The ship’s pump room was part of the equation, so Holtby, using his artist’s touch and engineer’s understanding, built an exact model of it for the prospective jury, facilitating a settlement. The pump room is one of many models on display in a 7,500-square foot exhibition space. Some of the models are working, such as steam and marine engines.

The tools Holtby used to build his models and invent mechanisms are also part of Fulton’s Workshop, for when fabricating from steel and other metals, it takes more than clever, steady hands. The tools aren’t just static relics, but will be powered up from time and time in live demonstrations. Video of them in operation will also be available.

Fulton’s Workshop won’t be utterly Holtby focused. Other Dunn County inventions will be on display, such as Henry Miller’s car engine and the submerged motor developed in Menomonie. There’s also the Tainter Gate.

Frank Smoot, Executive Director at the Dunn County Heritage Museum, said, “The Tainter gate was invented some 125 years ago and it’s still in use all over the world. Tainter gates run American rivers right now, today.”

Fulton’s Workshop won’t limit itself to heritage. Much as CVTC, UW-Stout, and UW-Eau Claire partner with area manufacturers and other businesses to develop curriculum that graduates students ready to contribute in the Valley, Fulton’s Workshop plans to also partner with area businesses, offering display space for their products, to showcase what is being done and to encourage visitors, young and old, to consider what could be done via industrial arts.

Children and those young at heart are invited to do more than witness the processes by which inventions manifest out of creativity. They’re urged to go elbow deep into widgets and thingamajigs and fabricate something of their own.

Make Space

The Make Space is a working workshop within Fulton’s Workshop. After viewing the profuse output of Holtby’s creativity, museum visitors are invited to conceptualize and then create.

Smoot said, “We want to inspire people: If you can think it, you can make it. We want people to see others have done amazing things and that they are capable of making things too.”

The Make Space is sectioned into challenges, some structured and some freewheeling.

Melissa Kneeland, museum educator at the Dunn County Heritage Museum, said, “We have maker challenges, with directions and materials set up on some tables.”

Want more latitude?

“There are other tables for visitors to use their imaginations and create whatever they choose.”

Just as many of the world’s world-changing inventors cobbled with a little of this and a scrap of that, the Make Space challenges visitors to create and craft from found materials.

“The materials we provide are for the most part recycled, as we like to emphasize that it is not necessary to spend money or buy new materials in order to build prototypes and bring your vision to life.”

Working with castaways helps inventors see junk in a new way and whatever you make from scrap is yours to take.

“The creations made in this part of the museum are ‘Make and Take’ and can be taken home by the visitor.”

There’s also an area with building materials more familiar to young hands.

“We also have a number of shelves filled with building and engineering toys that are ‘Play and Stay.’ These are things like Lincoln Logs, Kinex, wooden blocks, and other toys that allow visitors to build and get creative. These stay at the museum for everyone to use.”

There’s also a place to tinker with a fundamental force.

“Our Wonderwall is a large stainless steel wall, donated to the museum by Steel Towne, that has tubes attached to magnets. This is a place for visitors to experiment with building pathways, and using gravity as a power source.”

The Wonderwall is one concrete manifestation of Fulton’s Workshop’s underlying intention.

“It’s wonderful to see how different visitors gravitate to different aspects of Fulton’s Workshop. Visitors of all ages gravitate towards hands-on activities — the Wonderwall is very popular! There is something for everyone, whether it is drawing up plans for a new flying car at the drafting tables, building a catapult in the Make Space, or pouring over the exhibits patent models and exploring the re-creation of Fulton’s Basement Workshop.”

Smoot said, “The exhibit will always have two focuses: invention, and process. As far as process, we highlight fundamentals of the way the world works, things as basic as what can you do with gravity?”

Process, by way of physics, chemistry, and metallurgy, also come into play when exhibits and workshops consider tools like levers and challenges of reforming metal.

Smoot said, “How do you make hot metal into the shape you need? How do you make cold metal into the shape you need?”

More Make Space?

Down the road, the museum might add more make space for big boys and girls.

Smoot said, “We’d really like to add — in the same building footprint — a working foundry and a working metal shop, where expert users could work when they wanted, and visitors could watch them if they came past at the right time.”

It would give visitors front row seats to very best of industrial arts in the Valley.

“It would be sort of like visiting a blacksmith shop at a historic village, but with the most legendary machining tools of their era and the best machinists in the Chippewa Valley.”

The intent would be to deliver more than just a show, but inspiration.

“What we’re really trying to do here is inspire generations of builders, makers, and inventors. Chippewa Valley manufacturers need those people, so that’s a good fit, and those manufacturers also provide great examples of how people right around here solve big problems and find ways to make things people need. That also fits right in with what we do.”

And beyond inspiration, the museum is an invitation to plumb the creativity beneath industry.

“We don’t want to highlight ‘local products’ just for their own sake. We want to highlight products — whether from a fifth-grade project or the 3M lab — that we can then unpack for the visitor: How did anyone think of this idea? How did they make it?”

More specifically, it’s a place for Valley residents to discove how Valley businesses make their products.

“Fulton’s Workshop is an ideal place for collaboration with local manufacturing businesses. It is important to show real-world applications of the kinds of work and creativity we are exhibiting in the workshop.”


Of course, it’s also a place to discover the impact that Holtby had on the Valley and the winder world.

Smoot said, “There are lots of astonishing lives represented in the gallery, but as for Holtby, he really bonded with Dunn County toward the end of his life. He was born a New Yorker, spent many years as a Minnesotan, and traveled the globe solving cases. In some ways, he was a citizen of the world. We’re just honored that he shared some of his time with us, and that we can share his story — and his enthusiasm for how the world works — with everyone.”

Even the museum staff are learning how the world works.

Kneeland said, “What I love about museum work is that it combines education, research, and stories of our human experience. In developing Fulton’s Workshop, I learned so much about machinist equipment, metal casting, and model making. These are topics I may not have otherwise learned about, and now when I look at this equipment, instead of just seeing machines, I see what they can create.”

Kneeland has dipped into the Holtby’s passion for industrial arts.

“Through learning about Fulton and his wife Edna, I understand and appreciate the passion and expertise that Fulton brought to his work. I hope to use that understanding to spark visitors interest, and to help them see the world through the eyes of Fulton Holtby, and other Dunn County inventors and I want our visitors to see themselves as problem solvers and makers in their own right.”

Kneeland gets to witness just that.

“The enthusiasm that visitors most often display is the pride and excitement of solving a problem, or accomplishing a task, whether it is figuring out the perfect design for a popsicle stick catapult, how to adjust a lever on a Rube Goldberg machine, or setting up an intricate marble run!”

The new wing is as ranging as Fulton Holby’s mind.

Smoot said, “There is artifact storage, a working woodshop, an artist’s studio, and the 500-person capacity Holtby Hall, a space for museum events, speakers, and rentals. If you need a space for your reunion or conference dinner, it’s a great space.”

And you’ll find it all next to the Rassbach Heritage Museum in Wakanda Park on Menomonie’s north side, but the more descriptive address is the intersection of Industry and Art.

“We want to inspire people: If you can think it, you can make it. We want people to see others have done amazing things and that they are capable of making things too.” Frank Smoot, executive director at the Dunn County Heritage Museum

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