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?

Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Byrdcliffe Colony Chest

Zulma Steele (American, 1881–1979) designer, Chest, ca. 1904. Produced at Byrdcliffe Colony, Woodstock, New York. Poplar and original copper hardware. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection L1993.5.1. Photo by Efraim Lev-er.

In honor of women’s history month, here is one of the Museum collection’s most striking objects from the Arts & Crafts Movement–an object that happens to have been designed by a woman.

This poplar wood chest was made at the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony near Woodstock, New York and features a relief panel designed by Zulma Steele. Steele–a talented painter, potter, and designer–arrived at the idyllic community of craftsmen at age 22 in 1903 and became a lifelong resident. She was one of many women drawn to the community in search of an independent artistic career instead of the traditional, subservient role of wife that was prevalent among her contemporaries.

Art Curatorial

From the Collection—George Mann Niedecken

George Niedecken’s reputation is that of a masterful Prairie School interior architect. However, because he worked as a collaborator to the master Prairie School architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, Niedecken’s legacy is often diminished. In addition to his famous collaborations on Wright’s Robie House (Chicago, Illinois) and Bogk House (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Niedecken was committed to new American styles for the twentieth century right here in Milwaukee. He studied the European Art Nouveau, Secessionist, and Arts and Crafts movements in Paris and Berlin, and applied these ideas to inspired designs for the living rooms of his Midwestern clients.