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American Art Collection Curatorial Exhibitions

Layton Art Collection: 1888-2013, Part 3

When we last left off, Charlotte Partridge was the curator of the Layton Art Gallery, which was located on the northeast corner of North Jefferson street and Mason street. In 1957 the Layton Art Collection joined the Milwaukee Art Institute in the new War Memorial building. Three figures are key to the Layton Art Collection during this third period: Edward Dwight, Tracy Atkinson and Frederick Vogel III.

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American Art Behind the Scenes Collection Curatorial Exhibitions

The Layton Art Collection—1888-2013, Part 2

Charlotte Partridge and Miriam Frink. Filed February 17, 1954. Journal Sentinel Archives
Charlotte Partridge and Miriam Frink. Filed February 17, 1954. Journal Sentinel Archives

Last month, I wrote about the first part of the exhibition The Layton Art Collection: 1888-2013. I introduced the great Milwaukee businessman and art patron Frederick Layton, and touched upon the founding of the Layton Art Gallery. The first section ends with the death of Frederick Layton.

The second section, which is my favorite part in the exhibit, starts with Charlotte Partridge.

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American Art Collection Curatorial Exhibitions

The Layton Art Collection—1888-2013, Part 1

Exhibition Title Wall. Photo by Claudia Mooney
Exhibition Title Wall. Photo by Claudia Mooney

As you may know from reading Chelsea Kelly’s last blog post, the Milwaukee Art Museum is celebrating its 125th anniversary–-commemorating the big year with three exhibitions. The Layton Art Collection: 1888-2013 is the Chipstone Foundation’s contribution to this great celebration.

The exhibition, open through the end of the year, is located in the Museum’s lower level. It tells the story of the Layton Art Collection, and is divided into three parts: Frederick Layton and the Layton Art Gallery, Charlotte Partridge and Modernism, and American Paintings and Decorative Arts. Each of the sections represents a distinct period in the Layton Art Collection. I will devote one blog post to each period, since each is rich with objects and interesting stories.

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American Art Collection Curatorial European Exhibitions

Mr. Layton’s Gallery: The Salon-Style Hang

View of Gallery 10. Photo by Chelsea Kelly

If you’ve been in the European galleries in the last few weeks, you’ve probably noticed a dramatic transformation in Gallery 10!

The gallery has been reinstalled as part of the celebrations of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Layton Art Gallery, which laid the foundation for what would become the Milwaukee Art Museum.  We’ve decided to call it Mr. Layton’s Gallery, after Milwaukee philanthropist Frederick Layton, who started it all.

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20th and 21st Century Design American Art Collection Curatorial Modern

Lewandowski’s Mosaic Mural at the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center

Milwaukee County War Memorial Center. Image courtesy www.warmemorialcenter.org.
Milwaukee County War Memorial Center. Image courtesy http://www.warmemorialcenter.org.

Though the soaring wings of the dramatic Santiago Calatrava building sometimes steal the show, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion is just one of two internationally significant architectural gems here on the Museum campus.

The other is the bold Saarinen masterpiece 1957 Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.

Modernist architect Eero Saarinen (American, b. Finland 1910–1961) is known for dramatic design accomplishments like the St. Louis Gateway Arch (1965), JFK Airport’s TWA Flight Center terminal (1962), and the iconic “Tulip chair” (1955). He took over the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center commission at the death of his father, Eliel Saarinen (Finnish, 1873–1950). The designs called for an arts complex that would “Honor the Dead by Serving the Living,” including a museum, performing arts center, and veterans’ memorial.

On the western facade of Saarinen’s Modernist concrete, steel, and glass floating cruciform is a purple and blue tile mosaic. You probably see this mural best when driving toward the building on Mason Street.

I had been working in this stunning building for several years before I finally paused to ask: What is that mosaic? What do the letters mean? Who is the artist?

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American Art Collection Curatorial

From the Collection: Wisconsin Crazy Quilt

Quillt with many different squares
Margaret A. Beattie (American, b. ca. 1860), Crazy Quilt, 1883 (detail). Pieced and quilted silk with metallic yarn, and oil paint, 76 × 64 1/2 in. (193.04 × 163.83 cm). Purchase, with funds from Marion Wolfe, Mrs. Helen L. Pfeifer and Friends of Art M1997.58 Photo credit: Larry Sanders
Quillt with many different squares
Margaret A. Beattie (American, b. ca. 1860), Crazy Quilt, 1883. Pieced and quilted silk with metallic yarn, and oil paint, 76 × 64 1/2 in. (193.04 × 163.83 cm). Purchase, with funds from Marion Wolfe, Mrs. Helen L. Pfeifer and Friends of Art M1997.58 Photo credit: Larry Sanders

My grandmother made about a dozen quilts in her lifetime and having them around so much as a kid, I sort of took them for granted.

Before I worked at the Museum as an intern, I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum’s exhibition American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection in the summer of 2010. As many exhibitions of material culture tend to do, the display gave me a new appreciation for artforms that had surrounded me my whole life. I saw my grandmother’s craft in a new way, and as someone who just a few years ago mastered sewing on a button, the awe I feel for the craftsmanship is possibly only outdone by the respect I feel for the artistry of quilt making.

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20th and 21st Century Design American Art Collection Curatorial

New Installation of George Mann Niedecken objects

Installation shot of Museum's lower level George Mann Niedecken installation. Photo by the author.
Installation shot of Museum’s lower level George Mann Niedecken installation. Photo by the author.

Milwaukee in the early 1900s was a wealthy city known for its manufacturing—including beer, leather, steam engines, and metal machinery.

Milwaukee’s industrialists brought cutting-edge technology to their businesses, and a few brought cutting-edge design into their homes.

For a new look, they could turn to interior architect George Mann Niedecken (American, 1878–1945), who revolutionized the upper-class homes in Milwaukee with a step forward from the cluttered interiors of the Victorian era.

The Museum collection has a wealth of drawings, objects, and archival information about our hometown designer that famously collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Recently, to honor the addition of several fantastic new artworks to the Museum’s Niedecken collection, a new installation was put together on the Museum’s lower level.

What’s the story?

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American Art Collection Curatorial

From the Collection–Cyril Colnik Iron Basket

Cyril Colnik (American, b. Austria, 1871–1958), Hanging Basket, ca. 1900. Iron, glass; 35 x 8 x 8 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the American Arts Society M2012.299a–d.
Cyril Colnik (American, b. Austria, 1871–1958), Hanging Basket, ca. 1900. Detail. Iron, glass; 35 x 8 x 8 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the American Arts Society M2012.299a–d. Photo by the author.

Though the Museum’s mission is to present, in our official lingo, “four floors of over forty galleries of art with works from antiquity to the present,” I’m probably not alone among curators in getting most excited when we acquire and exhibit world-class artwork made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This year, I was thrilled to work with our Museum’s support group dedicated to American fine and decorative arts (the American Arts Society, or AAS) to bring to the Museum’s Collection a fantastic iron hanging basket that was designed, made, and kept in Milwaukee.

While operating The Ornamental Iron Shop for over 60 years in Milwaukee, master iron artisan Cyril Colnik (American, b. Austria, 1871–1958) moved with changing fashions of his posh clientele in the finest homes of this city.

It you see stunning ironwork in Milwaukee, it’s probably by Colnik. To walk on the East Side, or along Lake Drive, is to enjoy a veritable open air Colnik museum.

And now, thanks to the American Arts Society, his artwork is also within the galleries of the Museum!

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American Art Collection Curatorial

From the Collection—Duyckinck’s Jacomina Winkler (and her crabby dog!)

Attributed to Gerardus Duyckinck I (American, 1695–1746), Portrait of Jacomina Winkler, ca. 1735. Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Purchase L1994.2. Photo by John R. Glembin.
Attributed to Gerardus Duyckinck I (American, 1695–1746), Portrait of Jacomina Winkler, ca. 1735. Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Purchase L1994.2. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Summer traditionally ends with dog days. You know those hot, listless, airless spans in August that have people dreaming of thunderstorms and cold fronts.

But why not begin summer with a thought about dogs?

This is not hard for me, as my life is ruled by two dogs (below you’ll find a picture of one of them, my alpha Westie, Alice).  Thus, this blog post combines two of my favorite things—portraiture and dogs—to take a closer look at a work of art in the Museum’s permanent collection.

Around 1735, the New York artist Gerardus Duyckinck I painted the portrait of young Jacomina Winkler, who was probably ten or twelve.  Jacomina’s father had been a merchant in the Dutch East Indies and had settled in Colonial New York, a place with long-standing ancestral Dutch colonial ties.

There is a lot to love in this portrait, from young Jacomina’s sweet expression to the hard-edged, linear quality of Duyckinck’s contour lines.  The folds in the red mantle (coat) that Miss Winkler wears are stiffer than beaten meringue peaks.

But what I love the best, of course, is the dog in her lap.  This is not just any old dog, but a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel…and a very unhappy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, at that.  You just know that this dog is the kind who’s going to snap at you if you try to pet it.

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American Art Collection Curatorial

From the Collection–John Henry Belter Sofa

Attributed to John Henry Belter (American, b. Germany, 1804–1863), Sofa, ca. 1850. Rosewood, rosewood laminate, modern velvet upholstery, 54 x 93 1/2 x 40 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Bequest of Mary Jane Rayniak in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph G. Rayniak M1987.16. Photo credit Larry Sanders.

I’m a Modernist. Give me George Nelson over the Herter Brothers any day.

But all my normal predilections aside, I do love this sofa in the Museum’s collection. It is positively dripping with flowers and leaves and fruit, puffed up with ornament and upholstery stuffing, and tufted on every square inch of its way-too-high-to-be-practical back.

This sofa is exactly the type of “disingenuous” factory-produced Victorian-era object that the reforming Modern designers of the early 20th century–heck, many stylish designers of today–decried as soulless.

So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day–a holiday that is also decried by cynics (me included) as soulless, mass-produced, and disingenuous–I thought I’d ignore all the star-crossed and wanton lovers in Museum paintings to point out this great red sofa that seems to embody all the over-the-top love and lust and chocolate truffles of this greeting card holiday.

This is the Valentine’s Day of furniture. A guilty pleasure we love.