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Milwaukee Studio Visit: Author and Illustrator Lois Ehlert: Part Two

I recently had the privilege of visiting the home and studio of Lois Ehlert, Milwaukee’s award-winning children’s book author.

Lois and Donele. Photo by Megan Yanz Photography.

I recently had the privilege of visiting the home and studio of Lois Ehlert, Milwaukee’s award-winning children’s book author, along with my photographer friend Megan Yanz. Ehlert published a personal and inspiring new book in March called The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life, which you can learn more about in our previous post about our visit to Ehlert’s studio. Ehlert’s home, as you can see from Megan’s photos that accompany this post, is a welcoming gallery-like space that deserves its own story. Please enjoy this continuation of our visit to Lois Ehlert’s home and studio.

As Ehlert told us, creating a home “is like kind of like creating the books, too—it’s a collage. You get something, you add it to something, you rearrange it and you make a little composition.” And while her apartment is creatively filled with a Museum-worthy collection of global folk-art, and includes her drawing board workspace, it still feels like a home—a place to relax, enjoy life and welcome friends and family.

Entering Ehlert’s apartment, we were immediately greeted by the aroma of fresh flowers, and the sight of books, plants, and art. In short: much of what is good in this world is right at your fingertips the moment you step over the threshold. And the first object that caught my eye is the folk-art tree pictured here, which Ehlert found at a now-closed global arts shop in Milwaukee and which immediately called to my mind Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, of course.

Ehlert is an established artist with friends in the art and museum worlds who have taught her a trick or two about keeping her folk-art collection organized. Ehlert enjoys a beautifully integrated life, where the scrap material of her own creations becomes the backbone of “curating” her art collection. “I have a 3×5 card for each thing and I make a sketch on the back side,” she says. “I write down how much I paid for it, when I bought it, the year and I describe it in words as to color or whatever. I learned that from a chief curator. I make the postcards out of left-over color Xeroxes from when I’m working on a book. A lot of time when I’m working on a book, I’ll go to Kinko’s and make color copies… I think the color Xerox is better color [than a computer], because I buy a special paper from them, it’s a little heavier weight and I can work around the composition.”

The colors, shapes and textures of growing vegetables and flowers are the heroes of many of her brilliantly illustrated books, like Growing Vegetable Soup, Planting a Rainbow, and Eating the Alphabet (all three are available together as the Growing Garden box set). Having been a gardener for much of her life, Ehlert is now an aficionado of southeastern Wisconsin’s farmer’s markets in all seasons and can tell you where to find the widest selection of different colored potatoes (the Winter Farmer’s Market at the Mitchell Park Domes, if you were wondering). The flowery perfume that welcomed us to her apartment was from a collection of blooming hyacinths, and her home boasts an enviable indoor garden of potted plants. Since it’s mid-winter–oops, I mean April–I can only assume the large garden plots below her windows to be quite lovely in the summer, too!

In Ehlert’s home, I was reminded of my impression when visiting Beth Eaton (see the blog post about her Studio here) of an admirably integrated lifestyle. So many of us go from home to work and back again, but there is not a such a distinction is these artists’ lives, especially when their studios are part of their homes. But it isn’t just about physical proximity. Ehlert’s appreciation for the beauty of nature informs her art; the art she collects informs the art she creates; and the art she creates informs the art she collects. Art is life, and life is art.

For more beautiful, intimate photos of Lois Ehlert’s art-filled home, visit Megan Yanz Photography’s blog. Stay in-the-know about artist studio visits, sales, drawings and special offers when you sign up for the Museum Store eNews!

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.

6 replies on “Milwaukee Studio Visit: Author and Illustrator Lois Ehlert: Part Two”

Love all the folk art ;especially the costume display with the masks placed as faces . Would love to try that sometime.

How can a 90s kid NOT have read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom?! Thanks for the post!

Hello. We are a Kindergarten class in Omaha, Nebraska. We are reading and studying Lois Ehlert books. We wondered if the cat in “Top Cat” and “Feathers for Lunch” is the same cat? Is it your pet cat? If you have time, can you email us the answers at ? Thanks for your time and we love your books!

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