Museum Exhibits to See in Milwaukee When the Weather Gets Cold

When chilly weather sets in, Wisconsin’s museums offer endless fascination.

Looking for something to do when the weather outside is frightful? Try these great Wisconsin museums.

1) Grohmann Museum

1000 N. Broadway

Photos by David Plowden from the Grohmann Museum’s “Portraits of Work” exhibit

The Grohmann Museum, on the campus of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, is all about work. Its collection includes more than 1,300 paintings and sculptures from 1580 to the present, reflecting a variety of artistic styles and subjects but together documenting the evolution of organized work, from farming and mining to trades and heavy industry.

The Grohmann displays a large portion of this permanent collection, as well as feature exhibitions throughout the year. The current feature is David Plowden’s “Portraits of Work” (on display through Dec. 30). Plowden has spent his career capturing scenes of industry. Over the last 10 years, the Grohmann has hosted exhibitions of his railroad, bridge architecture and steel photographs. His work is the subject of over two dozen books of industrial photography, from lake boats to small-town feed mills. However, no single book or exhibition has focused exclusively on his portraits of workers until now, says the museum’s director, James Kieselburg.

Photos by David Plowden from the Grohmann Museum’s “Portraits of Work” exhibit

In collaboration with the artist, the finest examples of these portraits have been selected for this exhibit. Included are subjects from occupations including farmers, mechanics, engineers, salespeople, shopkeepers and ship captains, to name just a few.

The museum’s next major show, starting Jan. 18, will be “Growing Place: A Visual Study of Urban Farming.” It will feature photos, prints, ephemera and artifacts – all depicting Milwaukee’s urban farming heritage, curated by MSOE associate professor Michael Carriere, according to Kieselburg.

2) Jewish Museum Milwaukee

1360 N. Prospect Ave.

The big winter show at this East Side museum is “Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare.” It’s described as a “multi-sensory exhibit that explores the intersection of politics, art, economics and the social dynamics that impacted the American First Amendment rights of speech, religion and assembly during Hollywood’s Red Scare” of the late 1940s and 1950s.

The exhibit includes personal narratives of those blacklisted, members of the House Un-American Activities Committee and film executives and “examines the shifting definition of what it … means to be a patriotic American,” according to the museum.

The Jewish Museum is staging public programs with the exhibit, including a Nov. 1 lecture about the making of High Noon, a film seen as an allegory for the blacklist (see p. 22). On Nov. 14, blacklist author and scholar Larry Ceplair will present Victim and Villain: Jewish Responses to the Red Scare,” which will include a detailed look at the roots of Jewish anti-Communism, focusing especially on the trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and the Jews who advocated for their capital punishment, and on the role of Jews in the Hollywood blacklist.

There will also be a “Blacklisted”concert (which the museum describes as “the music HUAC never wanted you to hear”) Dec. 1 at UW-Milwaukee. Chicago-based cabaret singers will perform songs written or made famous by blacklisted artists such as Leonard Bernstein, Yip Harburg, Lena Horne, Burl Ives, Zero Mostel, Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger.

The exhibit runs through Feb. 10.

3) Racine Art Museum

441 Main St., Racine

The Racine Art Museum is in the midst of a half-year focusing on its biggest single donor, a woman who helped establish the RAM as a national center of the contemporary craft movement.

“All of the museum’s interior galleries currently are devoted to artwork donated by Karen Johnson Boyd,” says Jessica Zalewski, the museum’s marketing and publications manager. “She is our No. 1 artwork donor and gave us over 1,700 objects. She was very supportive of the museum both with artworks as well as financially for many, many years.”

Boyd, who died in 2016 at age 91, was a member of the civic-minded Johnson family that founded Racine-based S.C. Johnson Inc. She was an internationally renowned art collector, owning a gallery in Chicago, and was instrumental in improving the status of contemporary craft in the art world. Her 1991 gift of 200 such works to RAM inspired other collectors to give – and led to the museum having the largest contemporary craft collection in the United States.

The museum will have Boyd-donated art displayed in all of its galleries through December, says Zalewski, and some displays will remain until February.

“It’s a tribute to her relationship with the museum,” says Zalewski, “but also with the local community and with the larger art community, because one of her main goals was to share it with the public for purposes of education and appreciation.”

4) Milwaukee Public Museum

800 W. Wells St.

Streets of Old Milwaukee. Photo courtesy Milwaukee Public Museum.

Milwaukee’s venerable storehouse of history and science has added a good deal of spice to its offerings.

“If your last visit to MPM was on a field trip,” says Jenni Tetzlaff, director of marketing and communications, “you’re missing out on all the fun!” She’s promoting a series of adults-only events at the museum in the coming months, featuring “engaging experiences, memorable discussions and dynamic adventures.”

Among the programs planned:

– On Dec. 14, a look at the “naughty side of the season,” with “Scandal & Sleaze in the ‘Streets of Old Milwaukee,’” the exhibit that recreates a slice of Downtown around the turn of the 20th century.

– On Feb. 16, there’s a unique craft beer festival, Food & Froth, a fundraiser for the museum with live music and adult beverages from dozens of breweries.

– On Mar. 29, there’s a chance to team up with friends for a game of “find the missing artifact,” at “Mystery at MPM.”

– On selected Thursdays and Saturdays there are adults-only stories of museum exhibits. “Exposed Tours are filled with salacious details, and our Hidden Museum stories will have you looking at MPM in a brand-new way,” Tetzlaff says.

– There are also lunchtime lectures on scientific research in Wisconsin and cocktail hour “Science on Tap” get-togethers. And the date-night “Romancing the Stars” planetarium show shouldn’t be missed.

– There’s still plenty for families, too. A “Frogs!” exhibition runs through Jan. 6, and you can celebrate the holidays with a visit to the “Streets of Old Milwaukee” and “European Village,” decked out with Victorian-era flair.

5) Museum of Wisconsin Art

205 Veterans Ave., West Bend

Photo by the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) explores the art and culture of Wisconsin in a dramatic, wedge-shaped building on the banks of the Milwaukee River. Located in West Bend, it connects to the city’s vibrant downtown shops and restaurants by a contemporary white footbridge. The museum’s property includes new gardens and multipurpose spaces. Completed in fall 2018, the Gardens at MOWA feature 800 quaking aspen trees, 1,200 hydrangeas, two outdoor signature sculptures and interconnected walkways. “MOWA’s new gardens are a destination in themselves,” says Jessica Wildes, director of communications and marketing.

The museum’s permanent collection consists of over 5,000 works of contemporary and historic art by more than 350 artists. Each year, MOWA features rotating exhibitions at its main campus in West Bend and its satellite location at Saint John’s On The Lake in Milwaukee, says Wildes.

The exhibit “‘Craig Blietz: Herd’ is the perfect marriage between barnyard chic and SoHo hip,” says Laurie Winters, MOWA executive director. “Blietz’s impeccably drawn cows are front and center, allowing them to float in a depthless background of muted agrarian symbols,” she says. The scenes are a unique contribution to American art.

Also on view at MOWA is “Corey Fells: 100 Womxn Project,” a celebration of diversity, resilience and womanhood. Milwaukee photographer Corey Fells documents 100 minority millennials from Milwaukee. Each photograph was taken in front of the same ivy-colored wall, creating a visual continuity that reflects the shared experience of unique individuals. Their pictures and stories chronicle their hopes, dreams, trials and tribulations.

Both shows run through Jan. 13.

6) EAA Aviation Museum

3000 Poberezny Rd., Oshkosh

When most people hear of EAA in Oshkosh, they think of the annual EAA AirVenture fly-in, the world’s largest annual aviation gathering. But EAA’s activities throughout the year are also worth a day trip.

The EAA Aviation Museum, located on Interstate 41 on Oshkosh’s south side, is open seven days a week, 360 days per year. Its exhibits feature everything from aviation pioneers to World War II-era aircraft, plus a collection of rare World War II bomber nose art now on temporary exhibit.

The museum also has a packed schedule of events for all ages. There is the Christmas in the Air open house in December – with Santa’s arrival via helicopter – plus Family Flight Fest in March, which features numerous opportunities to enjoy flight as a family.

Every month there are aviation movies and speakers, plus hands-on fun for families in the KidVenture area that features flight simulators, displays and more.

“Located just 90 minutes north of Milwaukee, the EAA Aviation Museum is an easy day trip that will engage and interest anyone’s inner aviator,” says Amy Reese, marketing operations manager.

7) Wisconsin Historical Society

The Wisconsin Historical Society has been collecting, preserving and sharing the stories of our history since 1846, two years before Wisconsin became a state.

Reaching people across all 72 counties through 12 historic sites and museums, educational programs, 400 local history partners and 14 area research centers, it is one of the world’s most respected historical institutions.

But through the years, one thing has been missing: a history museum capable of providing the kind of experience that Wisconsinites expect and deserve.

That’s why the society is building support for its biggest project: a new, state-of-the-art museum on Madison’s Capitol Square.

The society now has an opportunity to build a spacious museum with immersive exhibits and modern technology that will deliver an unforgettable experience to guests and allow all Wisconsinites to make meaningful connections to their past by seeing themselves reflected in the stories.

In preparation, the society will be visiting cities and towns across the state, including 14 visits to the American Indian nations, to share design concepts and gather feedback on a museum to reach the whole state and beyond and tell stories of the people who for centuries have called Wisconsin home. 

8) Milwaukee Art Museum

700 N. Art Museum Dr.

Milwaukee Art Museum
Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum

You can explore family, community and the objects that help people make a home their own through three new exhibitions and accompanying programming this fall, during the Milwaukee Art Museum’s season of home.

“Constable? A Landscape Rediscovered,” on view through Feb. 17, solves a decades-old mystery about a painting in the Museum’s Layton Art Collection. Research and conservation have brought new attention to the work, originally attributed to English landscape painter John Constable.

Through a series of photographs, installations and videos, “Family Pictures” explores how black photographers and artists have portrayed familial relationships. The exhibition, on view through Jan. 20, opens with Harlem photographer Roy DeCarava’s groundbreaking 1955 book The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a touchstone for many other featured artists.

Showcasing hundreds of whimsical objects by more than 40 designers, “Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America” is on view through Jan. 6. The exhibition highlights play as a serious form of inspiration, experimentation and problem-solving. Outside the exhibition, local artist Ray Chi will continue constructing large-scale sculptures using thousands of giant cards originally designed by Ray and Charles Eames. Visitors can participate by decorating a card in the Kohl’s Art Generation Studio or attending one of the Community Build Days.

“Go Take A Look” appears in the special advertising section of the November 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at or find the November issue on newsstands, starting Oct. 29.

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