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Dear MKE – Art Meets Life

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by Guest Blogger Margaret Casey

It was an easy choice to feature Reginald Baylor as the subject of the second of twelve films in the innovative Dear MKE series. Baylor is in the vanguard of artists in Milwaukee’s creative economy that is putting the city in the center of a flourishing new Midwest arts and culture scene rivaling that of the East and West Coasts.

(click image to watch video)

What is it about Milwaukee that makes it a hotbed of inspiration for creative talent like this artist and former truck driver? I went to visit him recently to find out.

The first time I met Reginald Baylor was in 2009 when I accompanied a group of visiting travel writers to his “artist-in-residence” studio in the Pfister Hotel. His engaging manner and fascinating explanation of the process used to create his colorful, mosaic-style artworks carried over on his tour of the Pfister’s extensive Victorian art collection – a genre so different from his own pop art style.

Fast forward a few years and Reginald Baylor is somewhat of a celebrity on Milwaukee’s vibrant visual arts scene. Entering his visitor-friendly studio in the Historic Third Ward recently, I was greeted by a smiling Heidi Witz, his long-time associate and now studio manager, and observed three young artists sitting at computers poring over graphic designs.

Reginald talked of his local roots and how his pop art style evolved at Homestead High School and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. A move to the West Coast found him working behind the scenes in galleries and installing exhibits. Baylor’s unlikely road to pop art success included a return to the Midwest and twelve years as a truck driver to make ends meet, while continuing to hone his skills and sell his work. An exclusive residency in an artistic community in Illinois first sparked the idea of actually earning a living as a working artist, and soon after, Milwaukee’s legendary Pfister Hotel came calling, naming Reginald Baylor their first Artist-in-Residence in 2009.

Baylor is grateful to the Pfister Hotel for instilling in him the importance of striving for a high standard of professionalism both for himself as an artist and with his clients. The one-year residency helped shape his business concept: “..take the mysticism out and add in professionalism.”

What is it about the culture of Milwaukee that lays the groundwork for the bustling arts scene? According to Baylor, “There’s an honest enthusiasm here in Milwaukee, a lack of pretension. We’re not looking for acceptance – it’ll just happen.”

Reginald Baylor believes that Milwaukee has its own voice, its own brand of Milwaukee esthetics. “My success is not isolated, but part of a larger movement. I have progressed as Milwaukee’s creative economy has progressed.”

In a world so easily explored through the internet, Baylor maintains that creatives, not unlike residents and visitors, are looking for communities again.  “We really like our city and our communities – from the Creative Professional community to the farm-to-table movement to the neighborhoods – and visitors and newcomers pick up on that vibe.”

With the same lack of pretension that he claims is an asset in Milwaukee, Baylor credits his success to all the positive reinforcement he received along the way, and “pays it forward” by being a mentor to students and local artists.

Reginald Baylor is making a difference in this city of communities. He is an ambassador extraordinaire, not only of the local arts scene, but for the city as a whole. We can be proud that he’s here to stay.


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Get Out of the Box on Black Friday

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By Jeannine Sherman
Director of Public Relations
VISIT Milwaukee

When it comes to the holidays, I’m a traditionalist at heart – turkey at Thanksgiving, red and green at Christmas, and champagne corks popping to celebrate New Year’s Eve. But Black Friday? I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be standing in line at a big box store at some crazy hour of the night to take advantage of a deal I can’t live without. But in the long run? Those dollars saved cost me time away from something more valuable – and irreplaceable. For me, this is a day to kick back and hang out with family and friends - some that I see all the time - and others I’d like to see more of. It’s a respite before the holiday whirlwind kicks in and it’s always a day when I challenge my own family to find a fun activity that has nothing to do with the ca-ching of a cash register.

Milwaukee’s got plenty of Black Friday activities that fit the bill and might convince you to give up your place in line….and discover a fabulous new tradition!

Blazin’ Yuletide Ride 4 p.m.
Rev up for a trip to the Harley-Davidson Museum where holiday spirit is ushered in with a distinctive Harley rumble. Seasonal highlights include the second annual Blazin’ Yuletide Ride, a motorcycle holiday lights parade with a special appearance from Santa. All makes and models are welcome to join the festivities and the best decorated bike will be awarded this year’s “Blazin’ Yule” trophy.

Black Friday Beer Fest 5 p.m.
For some grown-up fun, ditch the hectic crowds at the mall and the never-ending lines at 4 a.m. and stroll through the Harley-Davidson Museum’s Black Friday Beer Fest instead! After the Blazin’ Yuletide Ride, enjoy samples from local Wisconsin breweries throughout the Harley-Davidson Museum’s The Garage.

Lighting of the Whale 11:30 a.m.
You can get a Christmas tree lighting anywhere but a lighting of a 40-foot humpback whale skeleton? The Milwaukee Public Museum's "Lighting of the Whale" is a must-see local tradition found only in MKE. When the giant lever is flipped this famous spectacle will illuminate the museum's grand staircase all season long.

Twilight Tours at the Pabst Mansion 5:30 – 7 p.m.
Take a tour of the home of one of Milwaukee’s most famous beer barons on Black Friday. This holiday evening open house invites guests to enjoy warm refreshments and a tour of the Pabst Mansion’s elaborately decorated and furnished rooms decked out for the holidays, as costumed guides take you back in time.

West Side Story Opening Night 7:30 p.m.
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra celebrates the 50th anniversary of “West Side Story” by playing Leonard Bernstein’s electrifying score and memorable songs with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim live. All the while, the newly re-mastered film will be shown in high definition on the big screen with the original vocals and dialog intact. See, and hear this award-winning film like you never have before!

Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony 5 p.m.
Celebrate the Christmas season at The Pfister Hotel. Santa will host the hotel’s Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony while you drink hot cocoa and eggnog while indulging in some holiday treats. The Pfister Hotel will also be collecting non-perishable food items at the event, which will be donated to the Hunger Task Force.

Old World Wisconsin's Holiday Dinner Theater: "The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge" 7 p.m.
Take a trip to Old World Wisconsin for a 19th-century holiday experience. Begin with a themed meal in the historic and beautifully-decorated Clausing Barn, followed by a play in the historic Caldwell Farmers' Club Hall. A year after his encounter with Charles Dickens' Christmas ghosts, Scrooge has reverted to his wicked ways, bringing suit against the Ghosts of Christmas and his deceased business partner Jacob Marley for breaking and entering, kidnapping, slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Who will save Christmas? Tickets include a voucher for The Spirit of Christmas Past, held at Old World Wisconsin the first two weekends in December.

Looking for more ideas? Head to VISIT Milwaukee’s events calendar for a comprehensive listing of events that may become your next Black Friday tradition!


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Milwaukee Holiday Parade Ushers in the Season

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By Jeannine Sherman
Director of Public Relations
VISIT Milwaukee

There’s a nip in the air. The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival is ready to get its glow on and the City’s Holiday Tree is standing at the ready in Red Arrow Park, waiting for the ceremonious flip of the switch that will officially launch us into that “most wonderful time of the year.”

It’s a season for celebrating treasured traditions and making new ones. One of my favorites began when I attended my first Milwaukee Holiday Parade, a sleep-deprived parent with a newborn son snuggled warmly inside my parka. Just a few weeks old, he slept soundly through the entire thing – but it was a big deal to me and his dad to celebrate the family we had so miraculously, and recently, become.

Today, the kid who started it all is a head taller than me and has been joined by two brothers.  A lot of things have changed since that long ago November, but just like every year, you’ll find us gathered this Saturday to watch Milwaukee’s 86th Annual Holiday Parade, brought to us courtesy of Johnson Controls.

We’ll sit in the same spot along the route that we always do, and we’ll have the same argument about who gets the folding chairs and who plops curbside on a blanket. We’ll eat the same brand of cookies as always – one with red sprinkles, the other green – and before the Parade is over someone will kick over the thermos full of hot chocolate.

We’ll crane our necks in anticipation of the police sirens that signal the Parade has begun. Then we’ll don the silly reindeer antlers that I make everyone wear and after a healthy round of arguing about it I’ll get my way and we’ll settle in. Everyone has a favorite to wait for. I like the dog clubs, my youngest likes the Wacky Wheeler (a very limber guy dressed as an elf who propels himself along the Parade route in what can only be described as the human equivalent of a gerbil wheel). We all love the big, inflatable balloons that make us feel like we’re at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There is fierce competition to see who can high-five the most mascots and costumed characters and we’ve been known to get up and shake our groove things when the marching bands go by.

It ain’t over ‘til the Fat Man sings, and in this case it’s Santa. He’s always perched atop the last float in the Parade, singing his lungs out in a charming - if slightly off-key - song of holiday cheer.

Depending on the weather, after waving to Mr. Claus, we’re either running back to the car like crazy people because we’re freezing our little…..ears……off, or we’re wasting time arguing about who is going to carry the chairs. And blankets. And thermos. And…..well, you get the idea.

Every year when I’m sitting along the route waiting for the Parade to begin, I get a little lump in my throat and I give thanks that we are there together – happy, healthy, and ready to head into a joyous time of year. Like all the best traditions, The Milwaukee Holiday Parade has become a part of the wonderful and unique narrative that binds us to one another as family.  I knew this to be true when I was reminding the oldest of three teenaged boys this week that it was almost time for the Parade and that even though he was technically a “grown-up,” he was going no matter what.

He looked at me like I was crazy, smiled, and said “Are you kidding Mom?! I love that thing! I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

So bundle up and look for us – we’ll be the ones with the silly Reindeer ears fighting over the folding chairs - and we’ll be happy to share a cookie with you and give you a holiday high-five (bonus if you’re in costume). Speaking of sharing, Johnson Controls volunteers will be collecting your non-perishable food items along the route to benefit the Hunger Task Force’s Food for Families. Please join us in bringing a donation to help them make a difference in the lives of others this Holiday Season.

Milwaukee’s 86th Annual Holiday Parade, brought to you by Johnson Controls
Saturday, November 17, 2012
9:30 a.m.


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Treasures of Kenwood House Shine at Milwaukee Art Museum

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by Guest Blogger Margaret Casey

When the Milwaukee Art Museum invited me to a preview of their current exhibit “Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough..,” I was thrilled to go and get the guided tour of this magnificent collection. I soon discovered that I hadn’t paid attention to the fine print “…The Treasures of Kenwood House, London.” Confronted with the picture of Kenwood House, I realized that I had just been there last December on a trip to London to visit my daughter.

Dating back to the 1700’s, the grand Kenwood House sits on the seventy wooded acres of beautiful Hampstead Heath in north London and is one of my daughter’s favorite places to take visitors from the U.S. It houses a superb collection of paintings bequeathed by the late Edward Cecil Guinness, Earl of Iveagh (pronounced “Ivy”) – the same Guinness of the famous Irish brewery known the world over!

And now the Milwaukee Art Museum is one of only four U.S. venues to host the traveling exhibit of forty-eight of the collection’s English, Dutch and Flemish masterpieces, while Kenwood House is closed for renovation.

Once again the MAM has outdone itself in staging this elegant exhibit. The visiting curator from London raved about the creative lighting of the paintings in the exhibit hall. Works that normally hang high up on the walls of Kenwood House, in stairwells or over fireplaces, have been hung lower, so that they can be appreciated in a much more intimate way.

Who knew that Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669) painted over forty self-portraits in his lifetime? The crown jewel of the current exhibit is the second largest of these, painted in 1665 and showing a confident, working artist against a luminous wall. This imposing self-portrait is said to be his most iconic, summing up all the self-portraits that went before. And those mysterious, perfect circles on the wall behind? Art history experts are baffled by their meaning to this day.

The portraits of Anthony Van Dyck (Flemish, 1599-1641) depict the glamorous, aristocratic demeanor of his “sitters.” Among the Van Dyck paintings in the exhibit, “Princess Henrietta of Lorraine, Attended by a Page” is a brilliant example of the illusion of finery and sophistication.

A student of the brushwork of Van Dyck, Thomas Gainesborough (English, 1727-1788) is known for both bucolic English country scenes and splendid portraits. Gainesborough’s “Mary, Countess Howe” (1764) is a breath-taking full-length portrait of the quintessential English aristocratic lady. I was awestruck by the detail in the lace cuffs and the gossamer silver apron over the billowing rose-colored dress.

Aristocrats and nobility weren’t the only ones to sit for portraits back in the 18th century. Sir Joshua Reynolds (English, 1723-1792) painted Kitty Fisher, a celebrated prostitute from his gentlemen’s club, as “Cleopatra” in 1759. George Romney (English,1734-1802) painted Emma Hart – “the Kim Kardashian of her day” according to the MAM curator – as an innocent “Spinstress” in 1784.

Dutch & Flemish paintings of land and seascapes round out the exhibit, which is the MAM’s first classical art exhibit in recent years, after successful shows featuring contemporary paintings, photography, Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and the blockbuster Summer of China.

So even if I had seen the paintings before, in their original setting in the regal Kenwood House, I was fortunate to see them in a brand new light at our very own MAM! The audiophone tour makes the exhibit come alive with stories of the historical period, the artists, their influences and struggles, and the people who sat for their works.

Treat yourself to a MAM visit to view these masterworks that will return to their original home in London in January 2013. Your hosts, Rembrandt van Rijn and Mary, Countess Howe, will be “ever so pleased” to see you!

"Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London"
Milwaukee Art Museum
700 N. Art Museum Drive


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