Museum Store

Milwaukee Studio Visit: Heather Hambrecht’s Studio (h(om)e)

Donele sets out on an adventure seeking the Milwaukee studio where Heather Hambrecht creates her fantastic organic leather handbag line, (h(om)e).

Win this (h(om)e) handbag! Photo by Donele Pettit-Mieding
Win this (h(om)e) handbag! Photo by Donele Pettit-Mieding

On a searingly sun-filled afternoon, I set out on an adventure with my intrepid photographer friend, Meg, seeking the Milwaukee studio where Heather Hambrecht creates her fantastic organic leather handbag line, (h(om)e).  We were armed with an address, detailed directions and a GPS—so we weren’t really expecting a grand adventure requiring a one-woman rescue mission to get us through the final blocks to our urban destination.

I elegantly hauled myself up a step as high as my waist to get into the building and stepped into the freight elevator (a fellow rider told me: “Darlin’, you don’t look like you know what the h*** you’re doin’.”). As we made our way upstairs, Heather shared the story of how this extraordinary building came to house every sort of creative artist, from fine art photographers to painters to sound and video artists to everyone between and beyond.

(h(om)e) fall collection. Photo by Megan Yanz Photography
(h(om)e) fall collection. Photo by Megan Yanz Photography

Heather describes her studio space as her “little oasis, my utopia in Milwaukee. There’s a beauty to the fact that this building really isn’t known as a studio, even though there are over 40 artists who are functioning in this space…you can’t even find the location on Mapquest or Google Maps”–confirmed true!–“which we all really cherish since it allows for true freedom in creation, to come to some place that is really quirky and unconventional to create art.”

Detail of (h(om)e) handbag. Photo by Megan Yanz Photography
Detail of (h(om)e) handbag. Photo by Megan Yanz Photography

How did they find such a place? Eight years ago, Heather and a couple of artist friends were looking for studio space. They had a friend with a studio on the fourth floor of an old brick building that had been in the Vogel family for generations, and was at that point mainly used for storage.  When they saw the 10,000 square foot space on the sixth floor of the same building, “Our hearts went pitter-patter,” Heather says.  “We knew this was where we wanted to create from.”

A few of Heather’s 40-odd art-compatriots have been in the building since the beginning of the studio and had helped to map out the space with 2x4s on the floor.  In keeping with the building’s sense of being located in some alternate un-mappable reality, Heather divulges that “The years pass really quickly here.”  I asked her what the relationship is like between all of these artists sharing space.  “It’s actually quite a fusion of things,” she said.  “Since everyone has their own studios, it’s a really nice balance of everyone doing their own thing and then everyone also collectively being unified at some point.”

Heather Hambrecht. Photo by Megan Yanz Photography
Heather Hambrecht. Photo by Megan Yanz Photography

While the building itself has an aura of inaccessibility (the giant step, the freight elevator), there is a welcoming feeling once you are inside that is in large part due to Heather’s own gentle courtesy and kindness.  She had thoughtfully laid out aesthetically appealing, nutritional snacks for Meg and me, and persuaded us to make ourselves at (h(om)e).  Heather’s encouragement allowed Meg the creative freedom to climb on furniture and poke around to get the beautiful photographs that accompany this post (visit Megan Yanz Photography to see more).

As an example of Heather’s philosophy that making other people happy is paramount, the Museum Store is holding a giveaway! Each Under the Wings reader who shares a comment on this post will be entered into a drawing to win the stunning, one-of-kind, (h(om)e) handbag pictured below.  Made from eco-friendly leather remnants like all of Heather’s creations, this bag features adjustable rings, covered pockets, a spring gate fastener and is lusciously soft.

Win this (h(om)e) handbag! Photo by Donele Pettit-Mieding

Fine print: No purchase necessary.  Must be 18 years old to enter; winner to pick up in store or pay minimum shipping fee.  Winner will be drawn on Friday December 14th and will be notified via email, so be sure to enter your email in the correct field when you make a comment.  Museum employees not eligible to win (alas!).

Hey, Milwaukee locals: be sure to stop by the Art Museum’s booth at the Buy Local Gift Fair at Lakefront Brewery on December 9th.  A big shout out to the M Magazine readers who voted the Art Museum Store the “Best Boutique to Buy Local Designers”—we are proud to support local talent like Heather and her (h(om)e) handbag line.

And thanks to Meg, my dear friend and former Museum colleague who offered her special eye and photography talent for this Under the Wings blog post!

Donele Pettit Headshot

Donele Pettit-Mieding was Museum Store Marketing Manager. She organized Museum Store events, promotions, and communications and introduced visitors to art and design objects to enjoy in their daily lives.

56 replies on “Milwaukee Studio Visit: Heather Hambrecht’s Studio (h(om)e)”

Lovely AND generous! I’d love to see some examples of the work being done by other artists using the space, too! Can you go back?

Kari–I love that idea and I’m sure Meg will, too! I am going to have to look into that possibility…thanks for the suggestion!

Wow! What an awesome experience you had!! I love to be around fellow artists and watch them create in their true environment! Beautiful handbags. I’m in love!

I cannot tell of my other comment posted!!! Amazing art, so inspirational and the photos are amazing!!!!! How cool to win!

Thank you! I am inspired by the studio space, the bags themselves, Heather’s philosophy, and even her dress. I would love more stories about local women artists.

Beautiful! Cool! Lovely! Would love to see the other artists featured who share the studio.

I love the stitching! Do you ever do anything with non-shiny hardware, especially to attach the shoulder straps? Here’s hoping!

Does the building housing Heather and other artists open its doors to the public?

Did you leave a trail of popcorn so you can find your way back to bring us more treasures?

I am a big fan! My friend Jen b. introduced me to this work years ago by gifting me a small bag that I still love. Great work and I love the artist in studio series.

Serendipitous, all the treasures Milwaukee has to offer. What a special jem this artist is in her studio! Thank you for sharing a peek through the beautiful photographs. I am also happy to learn of the local arts show on December 9th!

Heather’s work is stunning and so original! I’m so proud to be from Milwaukee where such true talent resides!

Oh my, these bags are gorgeous! What a gift you have, and how generous of you to share with us!

Nice work on all parts! Enjoyed the article, checked out Heather’s page with all her bags and loved them.

An intriguing space and story, phenomenal photos, gorgeous handbags, and a generous heart. I feel very inspired to embrace the spirit of the holidays after enjoying this post. Thank you.

Linda-yes, (h(om)e) handbags are available at the Art Museum Store! You can shop the store online at or come visit the store in person to see (and feel!) a more extensive selection of Heather’s bags (admission is not required to shop). In general, I do not believe that the studios are open to the public.

Donele- such a great piece. I love finding out about local artists & designers. Heathers pieces are incredible, I love the stitching & edges on the bags. The hardware is striking. The bags seem to mimic the building, I love it. Thanks for sharing 🙂

I’m having major jealousy issues on that work space, that closet alone is wonderful!

Wow, what an inspiring story. This studio is amazing! Thank you for sharing this gorgeous world (and bag) with us.

The bags are beautiful, and it must be so peaceful creating them in a space as gorgeous as that one. Wishing Heather the best for her company, her philosophy and herself!

These bags look sturdy and whimsical at the same time, fantastic blending of form and function. Nicely written piece about the artist and space.

The detail put into these bags is so beautiful! Just reading about this made my day a little happier.

A heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for your thoughtful and warm comments! Congratulations to Niki, who is the winner of the (h(om)e) handbag drawing–I’m sure Niki and her new handbag will be happy together for a long, long time!

I just picked up the handbag from the museum gift shop, and I’m absolutely speechless. This bag is truly a work of art. I will cherish this for years and years. Thank you Heather and Milwaukee Art Museum!

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