Wightman Hall began opened as the Arts and Crafts Building in 1948. In June 1941, College officials approved plans for a new Arts and Crafts Building to replace a number of temporary facilities built on campus over the previous half-century. Planned for the area on the corner of Washington and what was then Hopkins Street, the land on which the Arts and Crafts Building would be constructed was in fact the old athletic field west of Keeler Union and the main campus. The area had been the home of Central athletics in the 1920s and was still home to clay tennis courts and girls' sports, especially field hockey. Although plans had been approved, the United States' entry into the Second World War would delay the construction of the building for a number of years.
By 1944, the State of Michigan agreed to grant Central $1,315,000 for postwar improvements, which would include the construction of a new Arts and Crafts Building. By 1945, a scale model of the project was on display in the Industrial Arts Department. The new building was designed by architect Roger Allen of Grand Rapids and built by the Henry C. Weber Construction Company of Bay City. The official groundbreaking ceremony was held on December 19, 1946, and was attended by College president Charles Anspach, the director of the State Building Construction division, and the Secretary of State A.N. Langius. By the spring of 1947, the foundation had been laid. Although the proposed cost of the project was $500,000, the construction eventually cost over $800,000. The remaining funds had to be taken from those reserved for the construction of a new gymnasium, which was postponed as a result.
The new Arts and Crafts Building opened on September 23, 1948. The Art Department occupied the entire second floor, which featured a ceramics laboratory, a metal laboratory, an art gallery, and a weaving room. The first art exhibit opened in October of that year and featured the work of the Saginaw Art Guild and judges from the faculty of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan. On the first floor, the Home Economics Department had access to a social center, food laboratory, clothing and textile laboratories, and a home management center.
The south wing of the building housed the Industrial Arts Department, replacing the original Industrial Arts building that had been destroyed in a fire in 1933. This section of the building featured a drafting room, woodworking and metalworking shops, and a room for general shop classes. There was also an auto- and aero-mechanics shop equipped with hangar doors on the south end of the complex. Finally, the building featured a boy's locker room with lockers, washstands, shower, and toilets so that students could easily change clothing while working in the shops.
Wightman Hall housed the Industrial Arts Department until the late 1980s, when Central Michigan University opened its Industrial and Engineering Technology Building in 1989. At that time, Wightman was scheduled to be repurposed to become the new home of the Department of Art as well as the Department of Home Economics, Family Life, and Consumer Education. The University announced the $3.15 million Wightman Renovation Project designed by architects at Greiner Incorporated of Grand Rapids. The construction contract was awarded to Midland-based Helger Construction Company. The renovation included three small additions to the building totaling 11,000 square feet. Besides the new space, existing space was extensively remodeled and the building was brought up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The west side of the building, which housed University Printing Services, was also remodeled. Finally, Wightman Hall was connected to the North Art Studio by a walkway.
In 1950, President Charles L. Anspach announced that the Arts and Crafts Building was being renamed Elizabeth R. Wightman Hall. Wightman, one of the original faculty at Central, did her earliest teaching in the public school system of Mount Pleasant. She later studied at the Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) then returned to Mount Pleasant to teach geography and art at Central Normal. In 1900, she was promoted to the rank of professor and also made head of the Department of Art. She also served as the patroness of Pi Kappa Sigma and as the faculty advisor to the Art Club. She retired in 1937, a much beloved member of Central's faculty. She died in the spring of 1940. Her obituary in the Mount Pleasant Times said that her friends and neighbors were shocked to learn that she had passed away in a Detroit hospital after just a few days of illness.