Cream City Culture

Nearby Milwaukee offers myriad ways to plan a fulfilling trip around the arts


As a comprehensive art museum—spanning everything from antiquity to cutting-edge contemporary art—the Milwaukee Art Museum [pictured right] is the granddaddy of local museums. Because it can be daunting to try to see everything in a single visit, I prefer a strategic approach, focusing on the main temporary exhibition and a section of the permanent collection that appeals to me.

Through April 25, you can catch Street Seen: The Psycho-logical Gesture in American Photography, 1940-1959, featuring six photographers’ work during World War II and the immediate postwar period. If textiles are more your speed, go on or after May 22, when American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection opens.

While you’re at MAM, don’t miss the decorative arts galleries on the lower level. Even if you think furniture, ceramics and silver aren’t for you, MAM has redesigned this area to present these media in a fresh and unexpected way. One highlight is an installation by Madison artist Martha Glowacki called Loca Miraculi/Rooms of Wonder. Glowacki’s installation mixes historic objects with her own work for a quirky, fascinating take on the centuries-old tradition of cabinets of curiosities.

The Pabst Mansion, built in 1892 in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style, is an opulent slice of Milwaukee history. I particularly like the masculine flair of Captain Frederick Pabst’s study, with rich oak and walnut woodwork.

If the Pabst Mansion whets your appetite for historic homes, you’ll also enjoy the jointly run Charles Allis Art Museum [pictured left] and Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. A Tudor-style mansion built in 1911, the Charles Allis hosts an art collection spanning two thousand years, though it’s particularly notable for nineteenth-century French and American paintings. Villa Terrace, designed in an Italian Renaissance style in 1923, features art from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries as well as lush formal gardens and a terrace overlooking Lake Michigan.

Museums run by local institutions of higher learning include the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University and the Grohmann Museum at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. The Grohmann opened in 2007 and its art collection is devoted to images of work.


If you’ve got the itch to buy art, Milwaukee has a wealth of galleries. Just south of downtown in the trendy, historic Third Ward, you’ll find a mix of contemporary American artists and African art at Elaine Erickson Gallery. Erickson carries first-rate Milwaukee artists like Paula Schulze, Steven Lubahn and Katie Musolff, to name a few.

Also in the Third Ward, you’ll find Katie Gingrass Gallery, which offers contemporary art and fine craft, and Tory Folliard Gallery [pictured right], which carries mostly figurative art, including work by nationally acclaimed Wisconsin artists like Charles Munch, Fred Stonehouse and John Wilde, the brilliant surrealist who died in 2006.

Other galleries of note include Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, voted Milwaukee’s Best Art Gallery of 2009 by readers of Shepherd Express, the city’s alternative weekly. And in the artsy Riverwest neighborhood, you can enjoy contemporary art as you sip a beverage at Art Bar.

Architectural Jaunts

Walking tours are a great way to get your blood pumping and soak up Milwaukee history and culture at the same time. The nonprofit group Historic Milwaukee, Inc., offers a wide range of options, including tours of the Third Ward, Lake Drive mansions and Brady Street, an east-side neighborhood with working-class Polish and Italian roots. To browse current offerings, check

EXTRA: Plan your trip to coincide with Milwaukee’s quarterly Gallery Night and Day; the next one is April 16–17.

Jennifer A. Smith is a Madison-based arts writer.

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