This year, 2021, marks a century-long relationship between the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Garden Club support group. Both the Museum and its support groups have weathered many storms together over these past one hundred years, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the Garden Club expertly shifted to virtual programming and connections with their members. To help the Museum celebrate this history, Char Schulze, Garden Club president, has agreed to share her thoughts on the Garden Club’s past, present, and future.
—Courtney Kihslinger, director of stewardship and events
For one hundred years, the Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club has been supporting the Museum with projects and acquisitions to further its mission. The Garden Club, one of nine Museum support groups, promotes the fine arts of gardening, floral arranging, landscape design, horticulture, and conservation. Dudley Crafts Watson, director of the Milwaukee Art Institute (now the Milwaukee Art Museum), founded the Garden Club in 1921, together with two avid gardeners and members of the Milwaukee Art Institute, Mrs. George Lines and Miss Gertrude Sherman. Watson was an artist in his own right, best known for his florals and marine landscapes; an excellent and much sought-after art and travel lecturer; and a proponent of women’s clubs.
At the time, starting a garden club was not unique. From the late 1800s to the 1920s, women’s clubs, including garden clubs, were growing in popularity across the country. They provided the only opportunity for most women to share their creativity and leadership skills to influence the world around them. Clubs were established for many interests such as music, literature, and social issues. Women interested in gardening, parks, community beautification, and the environment joined or started garden clubs because they were excluded from botany and horticultural organizations. Today, both women and men are active garden club members.
As charter members of the Milwaukee District Garden Club and Wisconsin Garden Club Federation, the Museum’s Garden Club is one of nineteen original state garden clubs that, in 1929, formed National Garden Clubs, Inc. The Garden Club is proud to be part of the movement that brought about the unification of garden clubs on local, state, and national levels.
Attendees of past Art in Bloom events may best recognize members of the Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club by the yellow aprons they wear as they volunteer and assist the Museum in welcoming more than 14,000 attendees into the event. The Garden Club’s involvement in Art in Bloom began in 2008, when it introduced the idea to the Museum. Over the years, this event has grown and is considered by many to be the city’s official symbol that spring has begun. This annual four-day celebration features flower arrangements throughout the Museum’s galleries inspired by works in the collection, a floral fashion show, floral design competition, and family art activities. Art in Bloom continues to evolve, especially in recent years as a virtual event. In this format, Art in Bloom lovers can access floral design tutorial videos, recipes, children’s art activities, special gifts, and more.
In addition to supporting the Museum with projects and acquisitions to further its mission, the Garden Club serves its members through educational lectures, workshops, unique garden tours, and educational excursions. Members of the Garden Club enjoy the opportunity to exchange ideas and information with others who share an interest in horticulture, flower arranging, landscape design, and environmental issues. Garden Club programs have included distinguished speakers from various fields such as Mark Dwyer, John Gurda, Elizabeth Murray, Melinda Myers, and Will Radler. As the Garden Club looks to the future, its continued efforts will focus on projects with Habitat for Humanity, establishing prairies at Lake Shore State Park, educational opportunities for elementary schoolchildren with Konnecting Kids to Nature, volunteer work at Alice’s Garden, and further supporting the Museum’s community outreach. To learn more about the Garden Club or to become a member, additional information can be found here.
Save the Date—Open Days
The Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club is supporting Open Days, a national program of the Garden Conservancy, by arranging the opening of four private gardens. The Open Days program, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, consists of self-guided tours of the country’s most exciting, creative, and innovative private gardens. On August 28, four outstanding private gardens will be open for the public to tour in Whitefish Bay, Bayside, and River Hills. Three of the gardens will also be available to tour on August 29. Tickets go on sale June 1. For more information, please visit gardenconservancy.org/open-days.
Char Schulze, President of the Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club, was a Member and volunteer at the Museum long before becoming a member of the Garden Club in 2013. Like many members, she joined the Garden Club through the influence of a friend. She has held several positions within the club prior to becoming president in 2019. A dedicated supporter of Art in Bloom, she has served as Garden Club volunteer coordinator, event co-chair, and chair of the Art in Bloom auction.
Courtney Kihslinger is the Director of Stewardship & Events in the Development Department at the Museum. She oversees and manages stewardship for the Museum, including but not limited to sponsorship, donor and member events, as well as all fundraising events organized by the Museum including the annual Gala and Art in Bloom.