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An Art-sy Day in Milwaukee

For most people, a day of exploring the art and artifacts of Milwaukee will center on the Milwaukee Art Museum on the Lake Michigan shore. It’s a natural itinerary. The massive wings crowning the Quadracci Pavilion—actually, a movable sun screen that unfolds and folds twice daily—by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava command an audience.

But that’s for another day. Our sightseeing took us to lesser-known cultural treasures.

The word Milwaukee translates to “gathering place by the water,” as named by the Native American tribes who once lived here. It’s a much friendlier meaning than Chicago, my home town, which means “stinking onion.” Milwaukee was settled by Germans, and many Germanic influences remain. Clocks are everywhere—Germans like their worlds to run smoothly, and that means being on time. Also, Milwaukee’s architecture is older than Chicago’s, mainly because Chicago burned down in 1871.


Our first stop was he Grohmann Museum, an art museum is dedicated to people at work. More than 1,000 paintings and sculptures, dating from 1580, portray men and women in various laborious pursuits. They toil in fields, mines, quarries, foundries, factories and operating rooms. One painting depicts the building of the biblical Tower of Babel.

The artists are primarily American and European, and their works are largely representational. You won’t find any impressionistic or modern pieces herAe.

A mosaic tile floor at the entrance sets the theme for the Grohmann Museum.


The entrance is through a glass tower, with a mosaic tile floor and ceiling mural. Each of the three floors has a theme: “Iron and Steel,” “Agriculture and Construction” and “Craftsmen and the Intellectual Trades.” PAM’S TIP: Check out the 17th Century Dutch medical paintings on the third floor.

Bronze statuary on the rooftop garden.


On the Rooftop is a sculpture garden, where 12 nine-foot-tall bronze statues line the perimeter of the environmentally friendly green roof and six more are interspersed within the interior garden.

Early stone quarry.


These works were collected by Milwaukee industrialist and entrepreneur Dr. Eckhart G. Grohmann, who sees beauty in work. He donated the collection to the Milwaukee School of Engineering as well as the funds to renovate the former bank building that now houses them.




Lunch was at Karl Ratzsch’s restaurant, a local landmark and one of Milwaukee’s oldest German dining establishments. Our family-style menu included sauerbraten, chicken schnitzel, red cabbage and spaetzle. And a dry Riesling wine. Decorating the bar is a priceless collection of beer steins and Bohemian glassware.

(NOTE: Ratzsch’s has closed after 113 years in business.)

Beer steins and Bohemian glassware.



Our last stop was the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum and Renaissance Garden, which sits high on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. This Italian Renaissance-style villa, designed by architect David Adler in 1923, was built for industrialist Lloyd Smith and his bride Agnes. The style was chosen to recapture the romance of their Italian honeymoon.

Entry garden at Villa Terrace.


Today it is a museum of permanent and changing decorative arts displays dating from the 15th Century through the 18th Century. A highlight is the collection of wrought-iron masterpieces by Cyril Colnik, an Austrian-born metalsmith (1871-1958) On this particular day, an exhibit of intricate Korean paperwork was also on display.

Renaissance Garden slopes toward Lake Michigan.


The formal garden behind the villa slopes downward to meet the Lake Michigan shore. A dramatic “water stairway” flows down past three terraces of flowering crabapple trees (in season). Grassy spaces and benches, classical sculptures, herb garden, fruit trees and a fish pond are among elements used to recreate a 16th Century Tuscan landscape.

Grohmann Museum

1000 N. Broadway

Milwaukee, WI 53202




Karl Ratzsch’s

320 E. Mason St.

Milwaukee, WI 53202




Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum and Renaissance Gardens

2200 N. Terrace Ave.

Milwaukee, WI 53202



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