Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Have You Seen This Madison? - Image Gallery Essay

James T. Potter's Photos

James T. Potter: Have You Seen This Madison? | Wisconsin Historical Society
The circular motifs above the veranda are purely decorative, but those under the roof serve as a truss support.

Taliesin-Designed Panels at Plaut Home, 1970

Madison, Wisconsin. Multi-colored panels with a circular motif, designed by the Taliesin Fellowship. The circular motifs above the veranda are purely decorative, but those under the roof serve as a truss support. View the original source document: WHI 35443

James T. Potter, an architect and native Madisonian, combined his architectural background and his skills as a photographer into a photo feature for the Wisconsin State Journal. His popular column "Have You Seen This Madison?" ran in the Sunday paper from 1969 until 1977. The photographs captured the unusual and the ordinary, concentrating on architectural details that often went unnoticed by the casual observer. The "Have You Seen This Madison?" gallery includes many of Potter's collection of Madison photographs, nearly 350. Additional Potter photographs are also available online through the link at the bottom on this page.

About "Have You Seen This Madison?"

EnlargeA gargoyle is the centerpiece in this ornate stilted arch design above the marquee of the Capitol Theater at 213 State Street.

Gargoyle on Capitol Theater, 1974

A gargoyle is the centerpiece in this ornate stilted arch design above the marquee of the Capitol Theater at 213 State Street. View the original source document: WHI 36348

The series originated from a slide lecture Potter gave often in the 1960s to schools, clubs and church groups. According to a quote from him in the Wisconsin State Journal on 2 January 1972, "The whole point... is to prove to people that they haven't seen the city they live in... Madison has great physical beauty, but many people don't see it." In October 2005 Potter contacted the Wisconsin Historical Society's Library-Archives about his collection of Madison photographs.

For many years the Wisconsin State Capitol has been a favorite photographic subject for Mr. Potter. His artistic color images have appeared in several state publications, and the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects sponsored a traveling exhibit of large prints of these photos.

More About James T. Potter

James T. Potter was born in Madison in 1928, the son of Ellis Potter, also an architect, and his wife Juanita. In 1916, the elder Potter became a partner in the firm of Law, Law, and Potter. James Potter served in the U. S. Army in Korea before the war started there. He then accomplished his education at the Universities of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. In 1951 he married Jean Hamby and they agreed that when both were done with school, they would go to Europe, buy a car and drive till they were broke, then come back and start life. The trip covered 10,000 miles on the Continent and 1,800 in England, and they never regretted a dollar spent on that trip.

EnlargeDetailed photo of the ceiling in the Capitol that includes Includes paintings of an eagle and decorative plasterwork.

Detail of Ceiling in Wisconsin State Capitol, 1980

Madison, Wisconsin. Detail of ceiling in Assembly Room of the Wisconsin State Capitol. View the original source document: WHI 44002

Mr. Potter began working for his father's firm in 1953. In 1964 he took over as president, brought in three potential partners and formed the new firm of Potter, Lawson, Findlay and Pawlowsky, Inc. This firm was responsible for the designs of such prominent buildings as the Dane County Coliseum (now the Veterans Memorial Coliseum of the Alliant Energy Center), the CUNA Mutual Complex at 5910 Mineral Point Road, Rayovac Corporate Headquarters at 601 Rayovac Drive, Verex Plaza at 150 East Gilman, the Thompson State Commerce Center at 201 West Washington Avenue, the Findorff Headquarters Building at 300 South Bedford Street and joined with the architects of the Taliesin Fellowship on the Monona Terrace Convention Center. In 1989, the firm name was changed to its current and permanent name of Potter Lawson Architects.

In addition to his professional affiliation with the American Institute of Architects (on both national and state levels), Mr. Potter served on the boards of several local business and civic organizations, including the Madison West Business Club, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Toastmasters International (Madison #1) and the Methodist Hospital.

After 42 years as a professional architect, Mr. Potter has several hobbies that keep him busy. He has talked to over 6,000 children in elementary schools on "Poetry and Life." He also addresses audiences in juvenile detention facilities, organizations for the elderly, service clubs and the general public.

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