Milwaukee Public Museum and exhibit design partner Thinc Design released sketches of the new museum’s Milwaukee Revealed gallery, the “spiritual successor” to the beloved Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit. It’s the third of five permanent galleries to be unveiled through the coming months.
Each gallery, or group of related exhibits, will focus on a specific overarching theme and its many dioramas and individual features will help visitors learn about the interconnectedness of nature and culture tied to that larger concept.
In the Milwaukee Revealed gallery, visitors will find a familiar urban streetscape set at dusk and featuring stores and buildings. Closer inspection will reveal hidden details, historical stories and interactive features. The gallery not only takes visitors back in time but also behind walls and under the surface of the here-and-now.
“As any Milwaukeean or MPM visitor knows, there’s more to Milwaukee than meets the eye,” Milwaukee Public Museum President and Chief Executive Officer Ellen Censky said. “Just as Milwaukee is an urban environment built on a rich natural landscape, Milwaukee Revealed will simultaneously explore the bustling business corridors and neighborhoods of the city, the unique ecology of the lakefront and waterways and the ways in which nature and culture come together in confluence to create the place we call home.”
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Considered the “spiritual successor” to the Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit that’s part of the museum’s current location, the Milwaukee Revealed gallery will all visitors to immerse themselves into Milwaukee’s many facets, Censky noted.
“We heard loud and clear the public desire for an immersive space dedicated to Milwaukee. Milwaukee Revealed will be a gallery visitors can lose themselves in – and learn a lot about Milwaukee, past and present, along the way,” Censky said. “Current fans of MPM’s Streets of Old Milwaukee will find many familiar, nostalgic elements in Milwaukee Revealed, including collections items like the penny-farthing bicycle and the one-of-a-kind Schloemer automobile.”
Plans also call for a virtual-reality experience of the current museum’s Streets of Old Milwaukee and European Village, preserving the experience for the next generation to explore in the new museum, Censky said.
“Current museum fans will be happy to know that we are creating a digital scan of the Streets of Old Milwaukee and the European Village exhibits that will be accessible via a virtual-reality experience at the future museum, enabling us to preserve these beloved museum experiences,” she said.
“As we look to the future of the new museum, we know we have tremendous opportunities to share stories about this great city in ways never done before,” Censky said during a virtual press conference on Friday.
Community input has been a central part of the exhibit planning and design process, she said.
“We know one of the most popular exhibits in the current museum is the Streets of Old Milwaukee. But knowing this wasn’t enough,” Censky said. “It was important for us to understand what people love about this exhibit. As we asked more and more questions and had more conversations with the multitude of individuals and groups, some patterns started to emerge. We learned that for many people their love of the Streets of Old Milwaukee is not about any one particular object or storefront but rather the feeling they have when they walk through the exhibit. The immersive design transports them to another place and time. This was at the forefront of our minds as we developed the concepts for the Milwaukee Revealed gallery. As a result, there’s a gallery that despite being new, feels very familiar.”
The museum shared a sampling of some of the exhibit features for the commercial and neighborhood areas of this gallery. The final gallery will also include immersive exhibits about Milwaukee’s relationship with its rivers and Lake Michigan.
The gallery details and exhibit examples shared by the museum on Thursday represent only a portion of what visitors can expect in the new museum’s Milwaukee Revealed gallery. The final gallery will include many more exhibits, collections items and opportunities to learn.
At this point, here’s what’s being revealed
Upon entering the Commercial district of the gallery, visitors will be transported to a bustling, immersive urban environment. With a mix of historic and modern city landmarks, Milwaukee Revealed will evoke a contemporary view of Milwaukee. Highlights include:
Immediately upon entering the gallery, visitors will encounter the Mitchell Building, a recognizable, historic building that ties the present to the past. Look long enough and the Mitchell Building’s façade will fade away to reveal the home of city founders Josette and Solomon Juneau, which once occupied the same site.
“Through choreographed lighting effects, the façade of the Mitchell Building will at times look solid, like any other wall, but once lit from the inside, visitors will see through the surface to find the silhouette of the Juneaus’ cabin – a hint at the stories they will encounter once entering the building,” said Chris Muller, senior exhibit designer at Thinc and a lead designer for the Milwaukee Revealed gallery.
Storefronts lining the gallery’s streets will give a glimpse into the industries and endeavors that have shaped Milwaukee. Among the shops featured will be a dress shop, where a window display will show a rotating collection of both contemporary and historic textiles from the museum’s vast collection. Inside the shop, visitors will be able to explore the changing traditions and compositions of clothing from around the world.
Another storefront will feature a modern-day frozen custard shop, revealing stories about the local dairy industry and from where the ingredients for Milwaukee’s favorite frozen treat come.
Down the street, a market storefront will give visitors a glimpse into other types of business and industry that contribute to Milwaukee’s identity. In this space, museum staff will rotate the collections items on display, revealing something new on a regular basis.
Adding to the experience will be urban soundscapes, including the rumble of vehicles down roadways and birdsong. Visually, silhouette projections of people and animals moving inside the gallery’s shops and houses, especially behind the windows on the upper stories of exhibits, will create a dynamic and immersive experience.
Schlitz Palm Garden
Another immersive space that visitors can enter and explore, the Schlitz Palm Garden will reveal the story of how German and Polish migration and labor, and access to natural resources like water, wheat and hops, led to Milwaukee’s famed beer production. Visitors will encounter German and Polish artifacts and some familiar collections items, too, such as a giant Japanese incense burner – or censer – which once stood in the real Schlitz Palm Garden and is currently on display at the museum.
Cream City Medical Society
Milwaukee Revealed will explore how the many ways of understanding care and practicing medicine have supported Milwaukeeans’ health and wellbeing through stories about holistic medicine, disease prevention and public health.
Central to these stories will be that of the Cream City Medical Society, Milwaukee’s first organization of Black physicians established in 1927 under the leadership of Dr. Richard Herron – son of Milwaukee’s first Black physician, Dr. Allen L. Herron. Visitors will be able to walk into a contemporary pharmacy with an old-timey feel and learn about the different healing and medicine traditions held by Milwaukee’s diverse communities and the ways in which plants, such as chamomile and peppermint, have been utilized for medicinal purposes across cultures. The pharmacy will be constructed from Cream City brick, and exhibits will explore geological and industrial origins of Milwaukee’s iconic building material.
Wisconsin’s first scientist, Increase Lapham, is a key figure in the development of museums. Visitors will be invited to enter a study, much like the one Lapham might have had in his own home, to see a precursor to the modern museum – with collections of plants and geologic specimens displayed on shelves.
In the commercial district, a scenic lookout will give visitors the chance to see out over an exhibit demonstrating the Milwaukee River and catch a glimpse of what lies beneath its surface. The city’s dropping water table will be made visible below the river, and the city’s architectural skyline will change along the riverfront, revealing how the ecology and industry of Milwaukee has evolved over time. Lighting will create a dynamic effect similar to the movement of currents and fish, and a soundscape of rippling water will further immerse visitors into the scene.
The neighborhoods area will recreate a quintessential Milwaukee neighborhood street, mimicking domestic architecture commonly found in the city. Here, visitors will be able to see the surprising details that lie beneath the surface of ordinary homes and the kind of Easter eggs museum fans love to discover.
“Like the Mitchell Building, houses lining the street will explore more than meets the eye,” Muller said. “The streetscape will reveal stories about the hidden systems that make modern living possible, such as the water and sewage systems that underlie all of Milwaukee. In other houses, visitors might glimpse animals like bats and squirrels that coexist with humans in the city and play an important role in our urban ecosystem.”
In a community garden, visitors will encounter live specimens of familiar garden creatures like spiders, ladybugs and other urban neighbors who live in and contribute to nature within the city.
Haymarket Candy Shop
Tucked into the Milwaukee Revealed streetscape will be the Haymarket Candy Shop, a functioning store where visitors can purchase sweet treats to continue a beloved museum tradition and honor the new museum’s home in the Haymarket neighborhood.
The museum is planning for a $240 million transition of one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions out of its deteriorating building on MacArthur Square and into an architecturally unique new structure north of Fiserv Forum and the Deer District. https://www.milwaukeemag.com/milwaukee-public-museum-announces-5-future-permanent-exhibitions/
Great care will be taken with all current collection items and all will remain the property of the museum even after the relocation, even if they aren’t being displayed right away in the new facility, Censky said.
“All of the collection items will be moved to the new museum or put into an off-site storage facility,” she said. “Some will be on display in the new museum immediately. Others will be carefully stored until they can be rotated in. I want to be clear that we are not selling, destroying or giving away any of the collection items.”