Local artists depict evocative scenes from Milwaukee history in this new exhibition.
Some of Milwaukee’s emblematic places are depicted in a compelling group exhibition titled “Remember: Special People, Places & Things We Just Can’t Forget” at the Gallery of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. It features paintings, photographs, sculptures and assemblages and runs through October 26.
1) Jake’s Delicatessen: A Tradition Since 1955
Artist Colleen Kassner asserts that Jake’s Delicatessen has the best corned beef and pastrami sandwiches in town. “Ask anyone who has dined there,” she writes of the landmark. The building originally housed a butcher shop. In 1955, Jake Levin purchased the business from Ruben Cohen and Jake’s was born in what was then a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.
Jake ran the deli until retiring in 1969. Then, Allan H. “Bud” Selig and his partners purchased the restaurant, which is now managed by the Stand Eat Drink Hospitality group. Jake’s décor has retained vintage wooden booths, Art Deco-style fixtures and neon signage.
1634 W. North Ave.
2) Holler House: Home of the Hollerin’ Alleycats
The family-owned Holler House remains an old-style corner tap — a disappearing phenomenon. It consists of a street-level bar full of dangling brassieres and a basement bowling alley popular for parties. The two lanes are sanctioned by the Professional Bowling Association and still rely on human pin setters. If you stop in to enjoy a cold one, ask about how all the bras came to festoon the vintage bar. And you might get waited on by 93-year-old proprietor Marcy Skowronski, featured in two Colleen Kassner paintings.
2042 W. Lincoln Ave.
3) Von Trier: Back by Popular Demand
German beer halls were once a staple of Milwaukee’s social life. Von Trier, which opened in 1978, carries on that heritage. News spread in 2017 that the East Side bar would be remodeled into a mid-century cocktail lounge, foregoing its German image. Artist Colleen Kassner immediately documented the tavern through photos for a planned painting. Soon after she completed the painting, Von Trier’s owners reversed course and decided to keep it a German bar.
2235 N. Farwell Ave.
4) North Point Lighthouse, Lake Park
Georgia Stebbins became the official keeper of the North Point Lighthouse in 1881, although she had started doing the job earlier. Like many women who adopt an unlikely job upon the death of a family member, quiet, steadfast Georgia stepped — and stepped and stepped — up the long stairway to the top of the lighthouse to faithfully light the house’s lamp to help keep ships in Lake Michigan on course. Darlene Wesenberg Rzezotarski’s sculpture shows Stebbens holding the lighthouse.
5) Downtown Milwaukee’s Skewed Streets (Wisconsin Avenue & Others)
Downtown streets abutting the Milwaukee River legendarily do not align. That’s a result of an 1845 “war” over who would control the bridge between Juneautown on the east and Kilbourntown on the west. Darlene Wesenberg Rzezotarski’s ceramic sculpture depicts Jonathan Arnold, an eloquent lawyer who tried to mediate a dispute between residents of the feuding towns. Rzezotarski explains: “An important commercial link for the East Siders, the bridge was sabotaged one night. Outraged residents decided to shoot a cannon at Byron Kilbourn’s house.” They were ready to light the fuse when Arnold stood on the cannon and delivered a fiery speech urging a truce. The matter was settled eventually “through grudging diplomacy,” albeit resulting in misaligned streets.
6) The 16th Street Viaduct
Although the bridge is now known as “The James E. Groppi Unity Bridge,” Darlene Wesenberg Rzezotarski calls this sculpture Crossing the 16th Street Bridge. It embodies the tension of Milwaukee’s turbulent era when protesters marched across the bridge for 200 nights in 1967-68, calling for fair housing. The bridge divided the long-segregated North and South Sides. As a charismatic priest at St. Boniface Catholic Church, Father Groppi worked with the NAACP Youth Council and others to urge open housing. Vel R. Phillips, the first woman and first African American to serve on Milwaukee’s Common Council, co-led the marches.
7) Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall
Milwaukee was once home to dozens of polka bars and dance halls; few remain. Art Altenberg’s Concertina Bar on the South Side was one such institution. In 2007, Andy Kochanski purchased the 1900 building, which had previously housed that bar for several decades. He continues to preserve the building’s historic character and the original bar’s roots by hosting weekly Wednesday polka jams and offering many Polish beers. Kochanski’s has also evolved into a popular music venue, hosting international, national and local acts. One of Philip Kassner’s photograph features Delilah DeWylde playing bass as part of a rockabilly band.
1920 S. 37th St.
8) Fuel Café
Fuel Café opened in Riverwest in 1993 as a motocycle-themed, down-to-earth storefront combining a punk-rock vibe with coffee drinks and comfort food — including vegan and vegetarian options. It attracts dedicated clients from its eclectic neighborhood and beyond. Philip Kassner’s photos document Fuel visitors: shown is a woman enjoying a cigarette decades ago — before smoking was banned in area restaurants.
818 E. Center St.
The exhibition also features the work of Patrick Doughman, Gary John Gresl and Janet Roberts, who conjures memorable scenes not tied to named places.
The six Greater Milwaukee artists will participate in a conversation about their work on Saturday, October 20, at 10 a.m. at the Gallery of Wisconsin Art (202 Water St., West Bend).