Milwaukee has been home to many talented designers over the years, but they often fly under the radar. A designer’s main concern is to convey a message or idea on behalf of a client; one’s identity is secondary, but a talented designer finds a way to stand out.
The exhibition currently on view in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Bradley Family Gallery (through June 25) is How Posters Work. On Thursday, April 6, 2017, the museum hosted a program in conjunction with the exhibition called Local Luminaries: Poster Provocation. This gallery tour welcomed luminaries from the Milwaukee area to share their unique perspectives about the works in the show.
What did socialites in Milwaukee read during the jazz age of the late 1920s?
Well, naturally, everyone was reading The Modern Milwaukeean!
The magazine circulated from September of 1928 through the spring of 1930 and billed itself as the key publication for keeping up with the latest technological trends and everything modern. It proposed modernity as a way of life, but what really set The Modern Milwaukeean apart was its modern graphic design.
Now that it’s finally starting to feel like summer, let’s talk about dandelions. Sure, they’re technically weeds, and you probably don’t want them taking over your lawn. But it’s fun to make wishes on the white puffy ones, even if it does scatter seeds and just increases the dandelion population exponentially.
One cannot walk through the doors of the Milwaukee Art Museum without taking in a colorful burst of Dale Chihuly’s glass artwork. The Museum’s Isola di San Giacomo in Palude Chandelier II (at left) is one of the most popular works in the Museum, located at the entry of the Quadracci Pavilion. Milwaukee’s Suzy B. Ettinger, who was recently featured in a great Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Style article, donated the artwork in 2001 to brighten the Museum’s new white Santiago Calatava-designed addition.
Museum visitors have been posing for photos with it ever since (it even appears snaking behind my own mother in her Facebook profile picture). Chihuly’s universal popularity encourages many museums to place his glass artwork front and center as a cheerful greeting.
In fact, in the almost 50 years since he lived and studied in Wisconsin, no other artist can claim to have brought as much popular attention to American art glass as Dale Chihuly.
This weekend, Wisconsin is celebrating Chihuly’s achievements.
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?
Let’s begin with three seemingly disparate thoughts.
One: Since I started working here at the Museum as the Team Coordinator for the Kohl’s Color Wheels art education outreach program in August, I have seen over 25,000 people while out in the community. As you can imagine, the idea of the accessibility of art has definitely been on my mind.
Two: As part of the Museum community, last month, I had the chance to see two lectures in one day: one on the German potter Grete Marks, given by Mel Buchanan, the Assistant Curator of 20th Century Design at the Museum; the other about the creative process at Pixar Animation Studios, given by Dan Holland, a sketch artist there. It made my day.
Three: I also teach freshmen at MIAD. One of my classes focuses on discussing the philosophical and practical underpinnings of these young artists’ budding visual practices. The other day my students started an impromptu discussion about Felix Baumgartner jumping from the stratosphere. It was a great class.
So, where am I going with all of this? Let me explain.
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?
The year 2012 is considered the 50th anniversary of the American Studio Glass movement. The anniversary is being celebrated with exhibitions and events across the country, organized in large part by the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass.
The Milwaukee Art Museum has a terrific collection of studio glass, and we were thrilled to be part of the celebration. Along one wall of the newly-designed Kohl’s Art Generation Studio is a new installation that celebrates using glass as a medium of creative impulse.
The glass sparkles, tells an important art history story, and I hope that its visual beauty inspires young artists as they create their own artwork nearby.
What is the American Studio Glass movement, and what is this anniversary?
I’ve just learned that Hilda Jesser could design anything.
Correction: I’ve just learned who Hilda Jesser was.
To back up, I should explain that I often use this blog as an excuse to explore something in the Museum’s collection that I should know more about. This colorful ceramic vase is charming, but I’ve never selected it to go on view in the galleries because I wasn’t quite certain how to explain it.
Thanks to the markings on its base and the curatorial cataloging records here at the Museum, I knew that the vase was designed by Hilda Jesser while at the Wiener Werkstätte sometime around 1921.
But it doesn’t look anything like my preconceived notion of what Wiener Werkstätte ceramic designs would look like, so how could I select it to represent that influential moment in modern design history?
It was time to find out more.