Detail of multi-colored textile

Ruth Davis Design Gallery

The Ruth Davis Design Gallery is an exhibition space focused on the processes and results of design. Exhibitions include national, international makers, and design students at UW–Madison. Visiting the gallery is free and open to the public.

Online Exhibitions

What Would a Microbe Say?

In this exhibition, artist Sonja Bäumel, collaborating with Helen Blackwell of the UW–Madison Department of Chemistry, explores the perception of what bodies are made of through microbes and the body’s surface. Bäumel reimagines skin as a fictional layer of communication, a multi-being landscape linked to the discovery of the human microbiome, which established the body as a walking biotope. Through the works in this exhibition, Bäumel examines how scientific knowledge has influenced the way we have perceived and interpreted the human body historically, and how this impacts our current society and the cultural contexts in which we act.

View the show’s original press release and high-resolution images.


Harmony and Evolution: An Exhibition of the Chinese American Art Faculty Association

Harmony and Evolution showcases the work of art and design faculty from across the country to address the issue of how art and design express cultural integration and creativity. The Chinese-American Art Faculty Association (CAAFA) is a national organization with over 130 members representing art and design in the U.S. and China. This iteration of the CAAFA’s biennial exhibition represents the first time the association has exhibited in the Midwest and draws from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s focus on diversity, inclusion, and creativity.

Explore more about the artists featured in the exhibition:


NOTE: The gallery is currently closed due to COVID-19 recommendations.

History of the Design gallery

Ruth Davis in 1967

During her 32-year career in the School, Ruth Danielson Davis (BS ’31, MS ’40, MFA ’76) developed the artistic talents of thousands of students and exhibited her artwork across the world. Appointed to the Related Art Department (now Design Studies) in 1943, Davis taught “Fundamentals of Design,” and authored a textbook to accompany it. Her advanced elective courses included “3-D Design,” “History of American Interiors,” and the and the laboratory portion of Helen Allen’s course on decorative textiles.

Davis was futuristic, as well as grounded, in viewing the natural environment as the source for sound design thinking. She was concerned with green and sustainable design 50 years before they became known as environmental design concepts.

Ruth Davis’ transformational estate gift to the School of Human Ecology in 2012 underscores her commitment to the faculty and students.

She is also honored on the 100 Women Wall of Honor, permanent art installation at the School of Human Ecology.