Founded by Karl Gartung, Anne Kingsbury, and Karl Young in 1979 and opening its doors in 1980, Woodland Pattern grew out of cultural ongoings in the 1970s at Milwaukee’s Water Street Arts Center, an unconventional space which housed two experimental theater troupes—Friends Mime Theater (which evolved into Milwaukee Public Theater) and Theater X—as well as Boox Books and Terminal Arts, a bookshop/gallery/imprint endeavor led by Young, Pat Wagner, Tom Montag, and Marc Haupert, who were engaged in various publishing projects and had hitherto practiced guerrilla bookselling at early 70s political events.
Loosely run and staffed by volunteers, Boox Books began as a single rack of about 100 small-press titles sold on consignment that would pop-up after plays. Over time, Young and company expanded their inventory, began hosting poetry readings, and opened an art gallery (Terminal Arts) that was connected to the shop via a reading room. In 1976, upon Wagner’s departure, Boox Books hired their first paid employee: theater set designer and poet Gartung, who eagerly helped curate the reading series but was also interested in expanding live events to include music and performance art. To Gartung’s delight, multi-media artist and musician Thomas Gaudynski later joined in on the effort, first bringing in films for his experimental cinema group Individuals for Independent Film Screenings (IFIFS), and then expanding his curatorial efforts to include musicians and performance artists as well.