Categories
Behind the Scenes Library/Archives

Milwaukee’s Greatest! … Circa 1892

William J. Anderson and Julius Bleyer. Milwaukee's great industries: a compilation of facts concerning Milwaukee's commercial and manufacturing enterprises, its trade and commerce, and the advantages it offers to manufacturers seeking desirable locations for new or established industries. Milwaukee: Association for the Advancement of Milwaukee, 1892. Gift to the Milwaukee Art Museum Library by Don M. Kaminsky (1941-2009).
William J. Anderson and Julius Bleyer. Milwaukee’s great industries: a compilation of facts concerning Milwaukee’s commercial and manufacturing enterprises, its trade and commerce, and the advantages it offers to manufacturers seeking desirable locations for new or established industries. Milwaukee: Association for the Advancement of Milwaukee, 1892. Gift to the Milwaukee Art Museum Library by Don M. Kaminsky (1941-2009).

Recently, I had the opportunity to open an interesting book in the Museum’s Library entitled Milwaukee’s Great Industries (1892). This 352-page tome features a history of Milwaukee, articles on its various industries, schools, churches, trades, a variety of advertisements, and a list of city facts entitled “Milwaukee in a Nutshell.”

Did you know that in 1892, Milwaukee produced $135 million in goods; had the biggest iron foundry in the world; or produced fully one-third of all the tin-ware used in the United States? And yes, Milwaukee officially had the largest brewery and tannery in the world!

Last but certainly not least–did you know that, in 1892, Milwaukee also had “one of the finest art galleries in the land, and several of the best private art collections in the world”?

You had me at “one of the finest in the land.”

Categories
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?

Categories
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!

Categories
Art Curatorial Exhibitions

Burniture—A performance by Hongtao Zhou

Burniture on fire. Photo courtesy of the artist

On Tuesday, November 22, 2011 a chair was born in the most unlikely of places, Sweet Water Organics.

Sweet Water Organics is an urban acquaponic farm located in the Bayview neighborhood of Milwaukee. If you haven’t already been, you should make it a point to visit. The space is amazing.

It’s a big open warehouse with rows of fish tanks. There are beds of lettuce and other vegetables growing above the water tanks, being fed by the tanks below. In Sweet Water’s sustainable system, the plants act as a water filter for the fish and the fish waste acts as natural fertilizer for the plants.

The Sweet Water Foundation uses a wide-open space in the building as an area for performances, artist collaborations, and educational programming. Their mission is to develop inter-generational and interdisciplinary educational programming for sustainability with a focus on the potential of urban agriculture and aquaculture in the 21st century setting.

Conversations between Jesse Blom of Sweet Water Foundation and Michael Carriere of the Milwaukee School of Engineering led to the idea of having artist Hongtao Zhou create a wax chair at the urban farm.

Categories
American Art Behind the Scenes Collection

Who’s That Girl?: Wisconsin Edition

Nana Kennedy with Lester W. Bentley (American, 1908-1972). Nana, 1939. Oil on masonite. Milwaukee Art Museum, Loan to Layton from Milwaukee Public Museum.  Allocated to MPM by Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration. Photograph by Dick Kennedy
Nana Kennedy with Lester W. Bentley (American, 1908-1972). Nana, 1939. Oil on masonite. Milwaukee Art Museum, Loan to Layton from Milwaukee Public Museum. Allocated to MPM by Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration. Photograph by Dick Kennedy

Every so often, Museum staff gets an email or learns a story that connects the art in our collection with our community. These might be far-away communities, as in the case of the English ancestors of Miss Frances Lee, or it might be close by here in Milwaukee.

Nana Kennedy is the subject of this painting by Lester Bentley, entitled “Nana” (fitting!). Nana grew up in Two Rivers, WI, and so did artist Lester Bentley. Bentley was good friends with Nana’s parents, and completed this painting as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was a New Deal program to employ millions of workers and artisans during the American Great Depression.

After being separated for many years, Nana recently came to the Milwaukee Art Museum to visit her childhood portrait.

Categories
Art Library/Archives

From the Library: “Men Who Own Big Libraries”

Scrapbook of Mr. Charles Mortimer (1824-1911) Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives
The cover (a reused ledger book) of Mr. Charles Mortimer's scrapbook. Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives. Photo by the author.

“Men Who Own Big Libraries: Milwaukeeans Who Delight in Collecting All Manner and Kind of Books” (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 18, 1901).

A title not to be passed up, wouldn’t you say? Who are these men, you ask? I had to read the 1901 article and find out …

I found this article, that goes on to describes the book collections of several wealthy Milwaukee attorneys and local leaders, housed alongside a scrapbook in the Museum’s Institutional Archives. The scrapbook was compiled by a man mentioned in the “Men Who Own Big Libraries” article. This man was not exactly a wealthy Milwaukee industrial titan, he was more of an odd man out–a mechanic whose unique collection provides a special surprise for anyone interested in Milwaukee’s early art scene.

Categories
Art

What is that big, orange thing, anyway?

Mark di Suvero (American, b. China, 1933) The Calling, 1981-82 painted steel height: 40 ft (1219.2 cm) Bluff Park, Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, Gift of Anonymous Donor through Milwaukee Art Museum M1981.305 © Mark di Suvero; Courtesy of Spacetime C.C.
Mark di Suvero (American, b. China, 1933), The Calling, 1981-82. Painted steel. Height: 40 ft. Bluff Park, Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, Gift of Anonymous Donor through Milwaukee Art Museum M1981.305. © Mark di Suvero; Courtesy of Spacetime C.C. Photo by Mel Buchanan.

Many people don’t know that The Calling by Mark di Suvero (the orange sunburst sculpture that sits at the lake end of Wisconsin Avenue) has been part of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent collection since the sculpture’s creation in 1981.

The Calling has attracted a lot of attention and inspired quite a bit of dialogue by Milwaukeeans over the years, including here in an 2006 article that answers the question “Will they Move the Orange Sculpture”.

I’ve found that people either love it or they hate it, as summarized in this 2007 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article.

Recently the United States government indicated on which side of that line they stand: they awarded artist Mark di Suvero the National Medal for the Arts. You can read more about the awards at the National Endowment for the Arts website.