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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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-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.