Windhover Hall is transformed into a winter wonderland this holiday season, with 40 new art-inspired snowflakes on display through the first week of January 2020. Museum staff collaborated with local artist Fred Kaems to create nine unique snowflake designs, inspired by popular works of art in the Museum’s Collection. Read on to learn more about the creative process, from the artist himself—and see the final designs up close!
How did you select the artworks that are featured on each snowflake?
FK: I wandered through the Museum’s Collection, after having talked about the project with David (Exhibition Designer, Milwaukee Art Museum) and Alison (Design + Brand Lead, Milwaukee Art Museum); I tried to see every piece. I was looking for unique shapes that might translate well into these cutouts. I snapped photos of more than 100 pieces that caught my eye, and looking them over, I narrowed down by about half.
How did you transform each artwork into a snowflake pattern? Can you explain the design process?
FK: After looking them over again, I started sketching shapes from about 20 of my favorite artworks, looking for forms that could be simplified and would be recognizable as silhouettes. I took those shapes and digitally started to collage them together, rotating and mirroring them into the types of symmetries that snowflakes have. I tried to use each combination of shapes in a couple of different ways, looking for a good balance between legibility and strength for the actual cutout. I shared these collages with the Museum’s Design Team. We made a few adjustments and narrowed it down to about a dozen that everyone liked. I then created final digital vector files that could be used to cut them out with a CNC machine.
Do you have a favorite out of the nine final designs?
FK: That is a tough one, but probably the design based on Song of the Towers. I have always loved that painting so I knew that I wanted to make a flake based on it.
How/where can we find more of your work?
FK: You can find it around the city in the numerous murals I have painted. Online, you can follow what I am working on through my Instagram @fred_the_artist or find me on Facebook. I also have some of my finished work at FredKaems.com.
We are so proud to call ourselves Milwaukeeans—and we know many of you are, too! This holiday season, give your loved ones creative gifts that feel like home. From locally made products to exclusive designs, the Museum Store has something for every proud Milwaukeean on your list. Check out some of our favorites below.
Offered at the Museum since 1976, the Junior Docent School Program (JDSP) is a multi-year, multi-visit program for upper elementary students. Legendary Museum Educator Barbara Brown Lee developed the program along with two art-advocating Milwaukee school teachers, and it has since become a model for Museums across the nation, adding depth to art education with its intentional multi-visit design.
At MAM, the program includes ten themed, docent-guided tours, given to students over the course of three years. In the first year, students learn about the elements of art and are encouraged to investigate works using their senses. In the second year, students make personal and interpersonal connections with art by exploring Portraiture, Wisconsin Stories, and Communities and Traditions. In the third year of JDSP, students extend their understanding of art and history with an American Stories tour and an Antiquities to Contemporary tour—and eventually select a work of art for the culminating capstone graduation project.
Once a favorite work of art is selected, students learn formal presentation skills, research their artwork and artist, create a reproduction, and showcase imagination with a creative response. Some of the most memorable student responses have included dressing in costume, playing self-composed music, and performing an interpretive dance inspired by the work of art. During the final tour, which represents three years of learning, the students share their work with family, peers, teachers, and Museum staff, and officially become Junior Docents.
This year, however, MAM and the students participating in the JDSP were given the special opportunity to share their experience with a much broader audience. Beginning in August, Museum educators worked with Milwaukee PBS and ALBA School in Milwaukee to tell the story of the Junior Docent School Program as it began its 43rd year. Film crews captured the first “oohs” and “aahs” as third grade students entered our wing-topped building for the first time, and they followed a group of fifth graders on their journey to becoming Junior Docents.
Producer Tiffany Pua and the film crew of PBS’s The Arts Page captured hours of footage in the Museum and at school, and interviewed Museum staff, docents, teachers, and alum of JDSP. The results of this collaboration are neatly packaged into a 26-minute television special, which first aired on September 26, 2019. Before their big television debut, ALBA students were invited back to the Museum for an exclusive sneak peek of the program, complete with red carpet photo ops and plenty of refreshments. Students shared in the excitement, as they saw their friends—and themselves—appear on the big screen inside Lubar Auditorium. It was a heartwarming end to another great year of the Junior Docent School Program.
Missed out on seeing our Junior Docents on The Arts Page? You can still watch the full episode online.
Much like our curators, the Museum’s archivists typically work behind-the-scenes. However, on October 2, in honor of Ask An Archivist Day, our social media followers were able to learn more about archival work and get a peek inside the daily lives of our on-site archivists. Check out some of the questions and responses below!
What training do you have? How did this become a career for you?
“My educational background includes a Masters in Information Studies and a Masters in Public History among several other related studies, certificates, and work experiences. With the rapid growth of information, data management has become a vital part of the Museum’s ability to document and manage its extraordinary collections and its everyday business activities. With my past studies in history and art, libraries and archives became a natural draw where I could apply my knowledge and skills to assist others.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
“The move to the Downer mansion in 2017 more than doubled the Museum’s original archive and library space. The larger space has enabled us to work one-on-one with researchers, authors, students, and staff, and provide behind-the-scenes tours to classes, support groups, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and more. Materials are housed at both the Downer mansion, for more typical day-to-day inquires, and also at the Milwaukee Art Museum for rarer materials.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
What is a typical workday like?
“As the Museum’s media archivist, I fulfill daily staff requests for digital images and audio/video for various projects and press/social media. I am also constantly digitizing old media formats in our archive collections for digital access internally and online, along with maintaining and updating the information, or metadata, that describes these digital files that we create. While very time consuming, it allows us to be able to search for media when we need it, which enhances the stories of the objects in our Collection, and to tell the history of the Museum from its earliest beginnings to the present day.” –Beret Balestrieri Kohn, Media Archivist
How often do you collaborate with others during the day, and how often do you work alone?
“Our work in the library/archives is fascinating and no two days are alike! Some days we may be cataloging/archiving books or one-of-a-kind materials, and other days are spent working with researchers, staff, or students on their projects. Every day I feel like I am learning new things about the collections and Museum’s history, and I am thrilled we can share that information to help others move their own projects forward.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
What’s the most difficult aspect of your job?
“In the archives, every day is different, which is both refreshing but also challenging. Each new request allows us to delve into a facet of the Museum’s history we often have not had a chance to visit, and we do get a bit distracted now and again winding down the threads of artists and events that have passed throughout the decades. We learn so much so quickly but often don’t have the time to indulge in the details as there is always a new request around the corner, changing our focus. It’s really a happy difficulty to have.” –Beret Balestrieri Kohn, Media Archivist
If you could choose any piece from the archives to display, what would it be?
“I am a big fan of the Brooks Stevens archive material. Some of my favorites are the early iterations of the Wienermobile. There are so many amazing designs in his collection, here’s a snapshot.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
How does one become qualified to be an archivist?
“In the fast-paced information world, more archivists are definitely needed! We are lucky enough to have several excellent university archive programs near. If interested, be sure to look into the School of Information Studies at UW-Milwaukee and the Information School at UW-Madison.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
You see the exhibitions and the beautiful works of art in our galleries, but how often do you see the people who, through careful thought, research, and planning, helped bring them here?
Much of a curator’s work takes place behind-the-scenes, and most Museum visitors only get to see the final products—new art acquisitions and stunning exhibitions. But on September 18, 2019, in honor of International #AskACurator Day, we encouraged our social media followers to ask our curators anything! Check out some of the questions and responses below.
How did you start your career in the art field? Always a curator or did you dabble first?
“I dabbled in painting as a child and teen, but even then it was obvious my talents were in analysis rather than practice. I actually majored in history as an undergraduate, but fell back in love with art and with museums, and went to graduate school for art history and museum studies. During that time, I did many internships and practicums and through those opportunities, finally landed my first job as a curator.” –Brandon Ruud, Abert Family Curator of American Art
What work of art started your passion for museum work?
How did you become a curator? What did you go to school for?
“I became a curator because I love to think and talk about art. I studied art history as an undergraduate, and did a graduate program in curatorial studies.” –Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography
“Graduate school, internships, entry-level museum jobs, slowly working toward becoming a curator; I have an MA in decorative arts/design history and a PhD in architecture/design history” –Monica Obniski, Demmer Curator of 20th- and 21st-Century Design
“In order to become a curator you have to be interested in visual language and how it reflects the time in which it is produced. I studied art history in college and graduate school, and focused on the history of photography and contemporary art. Then I interned at museums around the country until I finally landed my first fellowship. I find that having a good visual memory is key to success in this field.” –Lisa Sutcliffe, Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts
What is considered a MAM-worthy piece of art; what’s the protocol?
“We look at numerous factors—quality is paramount—but we also ask a range of questions. Is it in good condition? Is it an excellent representation of its type? Is it compelling and unique? How does it connect to the Museum’s Collection? Does it build strength on strength or offer us something we didn’t have before? Does it connect disparate parts of the Collection? Etc. It is hard to describe the process simply, as it is also something intangible—an object should speak to you, it should be something that is so appealing, so compelling, for whatever reason, that it demands to be added to the Collection.” –Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art
What is the oldest work of art in the Museum’s Collection?
“Our Egyptian Statue of Sekhmet, Late New Kingdom (1069–664 BC), ca. 1000 BC” –Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art
What’s the oldest painting in the Museum’s Collection?
What is the oldest artwork in the Museum’s Collection that is known or suspected to have been made by a woman?
“It’s a toss up between our Diana Mantuana and our Sofonisba Anguissola, although likely the work by Sofonisba is a touch earlier” –Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art
How do you decide what pieces to display downstairs (in the Herzfeld Center of Photography and Media Arts)?
“As curators who oversee the Herzfeld Center, we aim to present a balanced program of photography and media arts that engages with the history of the medium as well as contemporary concerns. Photography is a light sensitive medium and so it must rotate more often than other objects in the Museum’s Collection.” –Lisa Sutcliffe, Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts, and Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography
How do you decide what pieces to move when you rotate what is currently on view?
“Sometimes we are making room for new acquisitions; other times, we may want to work through some ideas…and we are always considering how the works relate to one another, which may cause a work to rotate off view if there is a more compelling story to tell, etc.” –Monica Obniski, Demmer Curator of 20th- and 21st-Century Design
What’s your first step or thought when you begin curating a new exhibition?
“I started Portrait of Milwaukee looking at the Museum’s Collection: Which story or stories did the photographs tell, and what was missing from the narrative? With that in mind, I reached out to local collections to find photographs that told other stories—such as that of tannery workers in the mid 1970s, with photos borrowed from the Central Library.” –Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography
“What’s the thesis, and has something like this been done before?” –Monica Obniski, Demmer Curator of 20th- and 21st-Century Design
Are there any curations that are not your own that didn’t get the attention you believe they should have?
“The smaller rotation spaces in our Museum are sometimes overlooked. This is where curators get to explore just one idea, like the small posters Jules Cheret made for a Paris weekly; Milwaukee’s connection to polymath László Moholy-Nagy; or an introduction to Functional Fashions, a clothing line focused on providing disabled consumers with stylish clothing choices.” –Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography
What do you enjoy most about being a curator?
“Working with great art and the excellent team!” –Brandon Ruud, Abert Family Curator of American Art