Exhibition opens at Milwaukee Art Museum!

It’s open! The exhibition I guest-curated for the Chipstone Foundation and the Milwaukee Art Museum, The Finest in the Western Country: Wisconsin Decorative Arts 1820-1900, opened last Thursday Sept. 11th. About ninety people turned out for a reception sponsored by the American Heritage Society. I presented a lecture with a brief summary of the origins of the database project and an overview of decorative arts in early Wisconsin, examining the region’s dramatic transformation from a frontier economy to a settled state. One of my main arguments is that both craftspeople and consumers maintained close ties to myriad ethnic traditions but were also well informed of popular national trends.

I was absolutely thrilled to see all of the objects–40 in total, loaned by museums, local historical societies, and private collectors all over the state–come together in Milwaukee. The museum staff, especially exhibition designer Mike Mikulay, did an amazing job of presenting each object in a beautiful way.

I was in Milwaukee the entire week leading up to the show, and one of the most exciting points during the preparation stage was when a courier from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts delivered what is one of the highlights of the show–a painted cupboard made by Aslak Olsen Lie, a Norwegian immigrant cabinetmaker who worked in Dane County (see detail below). When the lid of the shipping crate was removed, everyone in the room leaned in and said “Wow!” The vibrant, energetic painted decoration makes Lie’s cupboard a true masterpiece of American furniture, and it’s wonderful to have it back in its home state for a while.

There are two more public events planned in conjunction with the exhibit. I’ll be presenting gallery talks (wearing white gloves so I can open up some drawers and doors to show off the details of the furniture) on Tuesday, September 23 and Tuesday, December 9, both at 1:30pm.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.


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