Milwaukee’s One of a Kind Attractions, Part II – Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

The city of Milwaukee is loaded with one-of-a-kind attractions that are hard to find anywhere else. Even their more common attractions like art and science museums contain unique goodies worth checking out. Here are seven eclectic and never boring venues to plan your Milwaukee holiday.

The Milwaukee Art Museum.
The Milwaukee Art Museum.

Soar at The Milwaukee Art Museum

A beautiful viewing area in the shape of a massive wing-like edifice called the Brise Soleil, whose span is larger than a 747 aircraft, makes up the definitive "skyline" for Milwaukee. But it's not just something to look at and admire from afar, for it makes up part of Milwaukee's premiere art museum.

Roughly 20,000 works are on display, including a fine collection of Haitian Art, American Modernism, and German Expressionist works. Antiquities from the Egyptian Art, Glass, and Ceramics galleries thrill visitors along with the European paintings from Renaissance and Impressionist Masters like Monet.

I want to focus on some of the most interesting pieces of this four-level museum. The Folk Art Gallery, has some really groovy looking things, like Peter Jodocy's circa 1950, Uncle Sam Mailbox that has seen better days. Yet, its wear gives it a special charm. Three of Andy Warhol's works "wowed" me, as I got to see two of his famous Campbell's Soup Can paintings and one of his Brillow Pad boxes.

Impressionist paintings are my favorite kind of artwork, so I was happy to see a couple of Claude Monet's works, including a 1903 "Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect". I thought Deborah Butterfield's 1983 sculpture of a distraught-looking horse called Horse #3 was impressive. It was crafted from red mud and sticks that were secured on metal armature.

Past exhibitions have included scores of works to celebrate Rembrandt's artistic genius, and twentieth- century American comic book artists. One of the current exhibitions on site is Saul Leiter's photography show called "In Living Color". Mr.Leiter was really into photographing ordinary people and things via his close to 80 featured pictures.

For more information, see the Milwaukee Art Museum website.

Get Naturally Cultured Out

The Milwaukee Public Museum focuses on natural and cultural history. Its four stories are loaded with many exhibits. Besides extensive North American coverage, it focuses on such regions of the world as Africa, the Antarctic and Oceanic areas. It has a renowned exhibit called the Streets of Old Milwaukee, dimly lit to capture an autumn night that visitors get to walk through. What I found interesting is that the figures in the exhibit (as well as the other human figurines throughout the museum) appeared to be really human. I actually thought they were moving about and looking at me!

At the Puelicher Butterfly Wing and Garden, visitors get to be among hundreds of butterflies from all over the globe. They can take in some interesting interactive educational displays. The Wisconsin Woodlands has an extensive collection of wildlife taxidermy and geographical dioramas accompanied by a wildlife soundtrack.

Some of my favorite aspects of the museum featured the areas of geology and the African continent. A really interactive science lab contains many fossils found in Wisconsin that are between 375 to 500 million years old, including a very large chunk of Tubulate Coral (about the size of two footballs) that was part of Wisconsin's shallow sea some 425 million years in the past. A video plays to show how fossils are prepared for examination. A tapir fossil found in my home state of Wyoming is on display in the gallery called The Third Planet: Earth. One can get a good perspective on the geology of the world here.

African Savannah diorama at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
African Savannah diorama at the Milwaukee Public Museum

You have to see the gallery on Africa to believe it. This is the best display of Africa I've ever seen. I basically had this whole area all to myself, as I arrived early during a weekday morning before a throng of boisterous school kids invaded the museum. As I walked through the gallery exhibits, I was impressed with how many artifacts and diorama displays are featured for each region of Africa, including a Northern African Islamic home interior and exterior re-creations.

On site is the Humphrey IMAX Dome Theater. I enjoyed watching the feature called "Fighter Pilot". It had great shots of fighter jets on a military training exercise that spanned two weeks in the desert. And viewers get up close and personal with objects being savagely destroyed by missiles.

More details of the Milwaukee Public Museum are at the website.

If You Like Commercials, The Eisner Is For You

The Eisner American Museum of Advertising and Design is situated in the trendy Historic Third Ward district of Milwaukee. It's the only one of its kind in the United States that explores in great detail advertising and design, while educating visitors and students about advertising's role in our daily lives. It was named after a local multi-businessman, William F. Eisner. This is an interactive museum where guests can even record a radio commercial.

Past exhibits inside this Renaissance Revival commercial structure have showcased the advertising for VW Beetles and cigarettes. One gallery on business card art had a set of six business cards that made up the face of a man. Current exhibits include one showcasing CSA Design's "Art for Commerce by Charles S. Anderson (through March 2007)". This agency has done advertising designs for Paramount, Fossil and Pottery Barn.

The permanent exhibit at the Eisner is called "Opt In To Advertising's New Age", where you can view old commercials from the 1950's to the 1980's through a eclectic-looking television.

Another interesting exhibit is called "Profiles". Several display boards focus on specific age, education and income demographics. For instance, if you are 62 years old, have some high school education and your median income is $16,335, then you are apt to love bargains but don't like sexy advertising. You are referred to as a "Struggler". "Experiencers" have a median income of just under $39,000, and they are 27-year-old high school graduates who are turned on by instant gratification and turned off by restraint.

The Eisner Museum website gives additional information.

Marquette University's Must Sees

Marquette University has two venues for those who want to get a well rounded tour of Milwaukee's arts and culture scene. First, The St. Joan of Arc Chapel was originally built in the fifteenth century in France, but it was fully re-constructed at Marquette in 1966. It's still used for masses; it's purported to be the oldest building in North America that is being used for its original purpose. The chapel contains a lot of artifacts from the Catholic Church, including centuries old artwork. What brings visitors from all over the world to the small Gothic chapel is the famed Joan of Arc Stone. The saintly woman prayed to a statue of Our Lady, then kissed the stone. Since then, it feels colder to the touch than the surrounding stones. Some people have reported a sense of peace and inner healing as a result of touching or kissing the stone.

The Haggerty Museum is a short walk from The St. Joan of Arc Chapel. It covers art from the 1500's on. My favorite work there was a Marilyn Monroe creation by Andy Warhol. The neat exhibit at the museum is going on through mid-January of 2007. Artist, Katherine Sturgis, created ink sketch drawings of hockey players based upon black and white television hockey games. Well, philosopher, Nelson Goodman, was inspired by Sturgis, and the rest became history when he got together with some other artists to create the hockey ballet called Hockey Seen: A Nightmare in Three Periods and Sudden Death. It was first performed at Harvard in 1972 to rave reviews. At the gallery, two short films of this performance (from the early 1980's) can be watched as John Adams' electronic score really adds to the surreal viewing experience.

More about the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, as well as the Haagerty Museum.

Mitchell Park's Domes Are Full of Life

The Mitchell Park Domes are a must for garden lovers. Their three beehive-shaped glass domes, which were fully completed in 1967, house over 15,000 square feet each of growing space, and rise 85 feet into the sky. The Domes are called Arid, Tropical and Floral Show.

The Arid Dome contains desert climate plants of the world. Did you know that in some deserts, bunny ear shaped cacti thrive? Or that in the mountainous or high desert regions, some cacti have wool coming out of them? These were my favorite two plants in this dome.

The beautiful Hibiscus Hybrid called the Erin Rachael.
The beautiful Hibiscus Hybrid called the Erin Rachael

In the Tropical Dome, you find hundreds of species of tropical plants and even a cascading waterfall. One of the most beautiful flowers I've ever seen resides in this dome. It's called Erin Rachael, which is a hybrid hibiscus. Mere words cannot describe the beauty of this plant. Thank goodness for cameras!

One of the more popular showcases for Milwaukeeans takes place throughout the year in the Floral Show Dome. Over 150-plus floral displays implement the use of unique building props. Such props have created wonderful past scenes like re-creations of Charles Dickens' London and a Japanese tea garden – both have lasted several weeks in duration. Early next year, a large model train layout will be the mechanical complement to this garden. What really stands out here is a cone-bearing plant called the Dinosaur Plant (or Zululand Cycad). It has a giant red-colored cones emanating from its center. It looks like something Godzilla would have to battle with in order to save the world!

Check out this site for more details about the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

Spend Your Layover Time at the Mitchell Gallery of Flight

General "Billy" Mitchell is regarded by many as The Father of this nation's air force. He commanded more than 1,500 allied airplanes during World War I. Since 1985, a museum honoring Milwaukee's airport's namesake, has been a nice little diversion if you have a long wait for your flight. Or this can be your first visit since the gallery is on the way out of the airport.

The gallery contains a lot of commercial and military aircraft models, especially from the Second World War. The ones that caught my fancy included a 1:5 scale model of the cockpit of a French Caravelle plane; a 1941 scale model of Layton Ave. Air Terminal (one of the airport's earlier names).

Aircraft-themed pictures abound in this little nitch gallery, including a decade-by-decade rundown of aviation history in Milwaukee, beginning with the 1930's. My favorite pictures included the inside of a Lawson Airliner from the early 1900's with its wicker chairs.

Artifacts of dearly departed General William Mitchell are showcased, including one of his books called "The Opening of Alaska 1901-1903". Mitchell's musette bag (small knapsack) from his military days in the Philippines is on display.

Roy A. Barnes is an honorary Viking in Milwaukee during Leif Ericson Day, October 9.
Roy A. Barnes is an honorary Viking in Milwaukee
during Leif Ericson Day, October 9.

The Mitchell Gallery of Flight also showcases the accounts of the planes and airlines that have flown into Milwaukee over the years, and of aviation history in general. This includes exhibits covering the exploration of outer space as well as for German Zeppelins.

Mitchell Gallery's website provides more information, including a "What's New" section.

Roy's Travel Tips

Milwaukee's Airport Code is MKE and its website is www.mitchellairport.com.

Reliable and friendly shuttle service to town 24/7 by Airport Connection.

Milwaukee Visitor Info: www.visitmilwaukee.org

Roy's next Milwaukee article will feature family-friendly day trips in and around Milwaukee.

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