The rains have not quit. We don’t have a long drive to Milwaukee, so we don’t start very early. The B&B provides its second day’s large breakfast, and we sit and enjoy it leisurely before we pack the car and set off.
Before we get too far, we notice a cheese place called Renard’s on the right. Without too much hope, we stop just to check it out. Does this place have cheese? Sure enough they did! Like most of the other shops we have visited, they have plenty of foods of all varieties to entice us, but the cheese is clearly the main draw. They have lots of cubed cheese in labeled containers right as we come in available for us to try. So we did, of course. Gwen ended up liking the Monterey jacks the best, while I also enjoyed the cheddars. They had plenty with mixed in flavors to add to the enjoyment – the best was the Ghost Chili Pepper Jack, which has quite a kick to it, and lasts a long time after it’s gone, if you know what I mean. So we buy a bit and moved on. We finally have found Wisconsin cheese!
One other stop awaited us prior to getting to Milwaukee – the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin. Suzie had this on her list, and said it would be a good place for lunch. We stop by, and this is quite a place. First of all, Kohler is like Bennington, Arkansas, a company town. Bennington is the home of the Waltons (not the fabled TV family, but the Sam Walton family – the creator of Walmart). That town has received many of its civic amenities through their association with the Walton family, and it shows. Kohler is a bit different, but the results seem to be similar. The Kohler Company is famous for its plumbing products. In 1912, the company moved from nearby Sheboygan to land it owned in what was at the time rural land nearby. The American Club is a golf resort that is right next door to the Kohler plant, and is owned by the company. It has a marvelous set of ivy-covered brick-fronted buildings with plenty of public areas ready for walking around in. The place is pretty, and definitely worth the look around. In the end, we are too full from breakfast (and cheese tasting) to eat there, however.
Into Milwaukee we drive, getting to the Intercontinental Hotel just after noon. As this is Sunday, we looked into what was open for us to go to. Horror of horrors – the museums (and most of what we were interested in) are not open on Mondays! The top of the list is the Milwaukee Art Museum, so we head over there quickly to at least get that in today.
The Milwaukee public television station has artfully taken the white building and drawn the wings as if they came up from the body of the main part of the building to their current position as a signature background every time they show the station letters on screen. You enter the museum by going up the stairway “under the winged beast’s tail feathers”. After paying your admission, you walk down a long hallway to the left, and into the main part of the building (the brown stacked structure). Once in the main part of the museum, you are on the first floor, with many numbered rooms in a rectangular pattern. Each room has a theme. The lower numbered rooms start with their small collections of historical artifacts, going back to a pharaoh’s casket lid, Greek statues, masks and a small number of other carved elements. Quickly you go through Renaissance art, icons and other religious objects, then 18th and 19th century examples of French, German and other European art, and finally, in room 11, you’re into the Impressionists of the late 1800’s. The museum’s collection up to and including this room is as sparse as my description. For example, their only Monet on display is of Waterloo Bridge at one of its darkest and most foggy states. The Museum is much more about German art rather than French, and even more about contemporary art. I enjoy parts of their contemporary collection which fills almost the entire rest of the three floors of the museum. They have two of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans, and what to many people is the quintessentially “modern art” piece of the late 20th century: a panel (in this case, three 3’ X 6’ panels) of a solid color (red, yellow and blue). They have many other pieces, some of which interested me greatly. In one room, they have the figure of a janitor leaning against the wall. He is so life-like that both Gwen and I had to go over to him to assure ourselves he was indeed one of the exhibits.
The rooms that interested me most focused on art from Germany in the 19h and 20th centuries. These painters showed quite a variety of talents. For example, almost the opposite to impressionism, the photographic realism (a skill I cannot even begin to achieve) of one of the groups of pictures was astounding. One I remember specifically is of a pre-teen girl sitting sideways with her feet up on a bench squeezed between the kitchen table and the wall with a book open on her lap. She is looking over the book with her eyes directly on the artist. Her expression is exactly the one I get every time I ask one of my children (or Gwen) to take their picture (before the face drops into resignedness). How do you capture that expression on canvas? This artist did it, and so clearly!
There also is a large area of “folk art”. This kind of work always gives me encouragement. It is typically done by those who are untrained, or perhaps not as gifted / skilled, but who nonetheless enjoy what they are doing. It may not be as visually appealing as the girl on the bench, but art is in the enjoyment, both for the artist and the viewer. The folk artists enjoy their work, that is usually clear, and sometimes there is a message as well. An example: a corner is taken up by ¾ life size carved wooden figures set near and on a western open-air stage. Many of the figures are moving (a ballerina fronts a pole and is rotated by it, another one is sitting on a bicycle peddling for all she is worth), and over the speakers comes a voice attributable first to one character and then to another. Some of the figures had labels on them with names of famous people. This scene is part of a whole town of such carvings established outside a desert town in the mid 20th century all done by Charles Black and his wife. He did the carving and the voices, while she did the clothing. What’s the message? I’m not sure – he just liked to carve the figures (that’s clear) and the town gave them a setting, like model trains in a scene.
One of the exhibits was done by a local artist. She held a series of workshops with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Each one resulted in a book of remembrances, experiences, artifacts, and quotes, which she gathered together. The series of books that she thus obtained (one from each workshop) when stacked together was at least three feet high. The whole of the series is available for free download, but if a printed book is desired, that is also available for a nominal fee. The museum has a room devoted to the series, with the books laid out on the center table to be thumbed through at leisure. There are a lot of pictures of life in-country, while on duty and off. There are stories of people the soldiers had met, and gotten to know. One book is devoted to a reporter who was born to American parents who (if I remember correctly) were missionaries in Afghanistan. Her story, I suspect, would be worth the read. The scenes of the personnel on assignment, working with the local people, caught my eye most of all. Overall, this work will be an invaluable resource in years to come.
We walk ourselves back to the hotel — the rain has retreated — and went to bed early. Tomorrow, assuming OK weather, we’ll do the river walk to the Historic Third Ward.
The last few of the pictures from the Algawa Canyon train ride follow. My favorites are those seen from the advantage of height, showing a wide variety of intermixed color near and off into the distance. Gwen likes those showing lakes and streams with the varied colored trees growing back from the banks. The train ride turns out to have some of the best such views we see on the entire trip.