While the Riverwalk’s Bronze Fonz statue is in the shop getting touched up, another statue stepped in to take his place. That was Alice Wilson, Milwaukee’s hardest working “living statue,” or a person that covers themselves (and their costumes) in paint and makeup hired to appear at events. Wilson’s performance name is Ginger Whimsy and you’ve maybe spotted her posing at Summerfest, Gallery Night, Pride Fest, and other events around Milwaukee.
Wilson got her start in 2015 when she was hired to be a Mona Lisa statue at Bastille Days in 2015. Some of the statue characters she’s portrayed since include Harry Houdini, Rosie the Riveter, a pirate, a cowgirl, Benjamin Franklin, Willy Wonka, and the ghost of Jacob Marley. She performed at Polish Fest as a mermaid based on a statue in Warsaw. Her characters are covered in a bronze or green patina.
Wilson has traveled out of state to pursue living statue gigs, including appearances at tall ships festivals in Boston and Galveston, Texas. Her and a friend played card guards from Alice in Wonderland at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, and a career highlight was traveling to Scotland to perform at the famous Edinburgh Fringe Fest.
To keep still, Wilson channels her theater background (she’s acted from elementary school to college and has a degree in theater performance). Her work posing as a figure drawing model has also helped her “focus and stay in the moment.” Wilson stands perfectly still while people take pictures with her. If they drop cash into her tip box, she offers a small interaction — a wink or nod, or sometimes a funny one-liner.
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Wilson pieces together living her through her statue work, figure modeling, and she’s also acted in commercials, and picked up odd jobs. When many of her gigs fell through during the pandemic, she got creative and started a GoFundMe to sponsor her picking up litter via kayak from Milwaukee’s rivers. She started another GoFundMe to continue that gig this spring.
Wilson says that overall people are respectful of her statue performances, but she occasionally runs into harassment, usually by people who are drunk.
“One thing that people do that is so weird to me is I get people all the time that will stand there and they won’t do anything except they’ll say ‘tickle tickle tickle,’” Wilson laughs. “Like it’s going to actually tickle me, or make me start laughing.”
There’s been a few times that Wilson says she’s been touched inappropriately — usually getting grabbed or slapped on the butt. She’s noticed that “it’s almost exclusively by other women,” and other women living statues tell her they’ve experienced the same thing.
“Our theory is they probably do it because they think its ok because they’re a woman, too, and obviously — no,” Wilson says. She says the way she deals with it “depends on the mood I’m in,” and could range from a quip to a rebuke. The most egregious encounter she’s had was when a woman walked up to her at Brady Street Festival, licked her finger and stuck it in Wilson’s ear.
“I hopped down and said ‘that’s disgusting. You don’t do that — I’m here to entertain you, I’m here for fun, I’m not here for people to do gross things to me.’” Wilson recalls. “She said some nasty things and walked away with her friends. It depends on what event I’m at, but thankfully that type of thing is few and far between.”
On Saturday, Wilson had a gig appearing at the opening of the En Pointe Gallery & Gifts in the Third Ward, and thought she’d use the opportunity to stop by the Riverwalk to fill Fonzie’s shoes. She was dressed in her costume inspired by Elpis, the Greek goddess of hope. She only stayed about 13 minutes – it was cold – but three people encountered her during that time. One was a guy who happened to walk by and took a picture, and then a couple that proved Wilson is good at her job.
“The woman said something like ‘oh, where is he usually?’ And the guy was like ‘right here’ and then I moved and startled the woman, she was like ‘you scared the shit out of me!’” Wilson says, laughing. But no hard feelings — the couple took a picture with Wilson before moving on.
Wilson is planning her summer gigs. So far, she’s got the Luxembourg Fest in Belgium, Wisconsin in August before heading to Maryland Renaissance Fest, the second largest ren faire in the country, where she’s performing at the fest’s entire 9 weekend run. If you see her performing, be sure to give her a tip (but never a fingertip to the ear).
You can see more photos of Alice Wilson at her Ginger Whimsy Facebook page: Ginger Whimsy | Facebook