I’m a book lover. Always have been, always will be. For me, the physicality of a book—the tactile qualities of holding it in my hands, the smell of the paper and ink, and the sound of turning the pages—it is part of a complete experience that I never want to give up. And I’m not the only one. Although e-readers have taken part of the book market, readers still prefer physical books and physical books outsell e-books.
I don’t own an e-reader, but I do a lot of reading on screens, usually on my computer. Compared to even ten years ago, an enormous amount of important scholarship for the art historian is on the internet. I still conduct good and thorough research using printed books, but it’s amazing what is available with a few taps of the keyboard.
Although this year we cannot gather at the Museum to see the Neapolitan crèche in the European galleries, an annual tradition for many, it is still possible to appreciate the joy this special tableau brings.
Back in early 2018, Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art, proposed that the Museum again install its Nativity scene, or crèche, in the galleries for the holidays. The work, a visitor favorite, hadn’t been on view since 2013, because the setting for the Holy Family and other figures was worn and needed repair—such stage sets are often fragile constructions that require replacing. The Museum’s setting needed either to be restored or refabricated. The decision was made to make a new stage set, and a group of us, from the Conservation department and the preparatory staff, started to explore the possibilities.
Alberto Rios is not only one of the Museum’s wonderful third-shift security officers; he is also a talented photographer. You may have seen some of his photos featured on the Museum’s social media pages. He captured this gorgeous sunrise on the East End and an image of Schroeder Galleria lit up for Pride Month, among other views of the Museum. Because he has such a great eye, and he has the unique opportunity to capture the Museum at a time when most are asleep, I asked if he would create a photo diary, taking viewers through one of his shifts. Get a behind-the-scenes—and somewhat eerie—look at the Museum (after dark!) below. —Erin Aeschbacher, associate content writer
As we wait to welcome you back to the Museum, work continues behind the scenes. In the conservation department, we prepare for many different disaster scenarios that might potentially strike our collection. Fire, flood, insect infestations, mold, and even terrorism are all covered in the Museum’s Emergency Preparedness Plan; COVID-19 and Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order are not. Having the Museum closed to the public for an extended period presented us with an entirely new set of challenges.
Just how does Robert Indiana’s The American LOVE sculpture make its way from the truck bed to become a fixture on the lakefront? What does the back of a Robert Henri painting look like? How does a three-dimensional sculpture get packed for safe travel to Spain?
In the early 1950s, designers Charles and Ray Eames painstakingly arranged penny cars, pencils, pills, and papers to photograph for their House of Cards construction set. They probably never imagined that decades later, thousands of children and adults in the Milwaukee region would meticulously decorate their own House of Cards, let alone that these cards would be installed together in a towering spiral at the Milwaukee Art Museum in conjunction with the exhibition Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America.
Throughout the month of January, families who visited the Kohl’s Art Generation Studio made art for other kids to enjoy by contributing to a community mural that is displayed at Penfield Montessori Academy.
Penfield Montessori Academy employs a child-centered exploratory approach to learning, while also allowing children with special needs to grow in the classroom amongst their peers. They work in collaboration with Penfield Children’s Center, a fellow Kohl’s Hometown Partner, extending the opportunities that families can receive into their child’s schooling, as well as providing after-school care. Penfield Children’s Center creates a positive start in life for infants and children, many of whom have developmental delays or disabilities, by providing early education, health services, equipment, and family programming.
Penfield Montessori Academy opened for their inaugural school year in September 2016, so our Youth and Family Programs team met with their staff to brainstorm about what we could create to help beautify the school. We decided on a community mural, taking inspiration from artwork at the Museum and Penfield Montessori Academy’s mission of growing and learning together.
Being a part of this process was an amazing experience. I have the pleasure of working with a fantastic team of educators who designed this mural as a way to invite kids and their families to contribute to a project that not only provides them with a unique art making experience at the Museum, but benefits the Milwaukee community as well.
When families dropped by the studio, they drew from real flowers and plants, inspired by Nature and Opulence: The Art of Martin Johnson Heade, using a magnifying glass to get a closer look. They also drew from a variety of school supplies: pencils, scissors, glue, and other items that kids might recognize from their classrooms. Drawings were made directly onto transparencies, which were then transferred to the canvas, and painted. (See photos of the entire process in the slideshow below!)
It’s not quite as simple as I’m making it sound. We had a lot of help from our visitors, as well as incredible staff. But when it all came together… wow! Just look at this beauty!
We unveiled the mural to the students and staff on February 21st, and boy, were they excited. As a part of the unveiling, Kohl’s Color Wheels, the Museum’s off-site studio program, provided a hands-on art activity to the kids at Penfield. The kids created colorful paintings from real flowers!
Penfield Montessori Academy and Penfield Children’s Center hold a very special place in my heart with everything they do to serve families in our community. I am constantly amazed by their dedication, and I’m thrilled to call their amazing school home for this mural.
To see more photos from the mural unveiling and the beautiful paintings the kids created, check out the Flickr album.