Charles Allis and Villa Terrace Art Museums
When painting historic architecture, I delight in the craftsmanship of the past. I think about the multiple factors that came together to create these grand containers of human activity. In houses like the Villa Terrace and the Charles Allis, I am reminded of the building blocks that created this world: patrons, architects, craftspeople, natural resources and materials, and the workers and servants that made it function. When the original family dies or moves on, the house evolves into something else while still harboring remnants of its original purpose. I feel fortunate, as a descendant of common folk, to have the chance to experience these environments and to interpret their present incarnation as community spaces.
In this spirit, I launched my artist residency with the Charles Allis Art Museum and the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in September 2018. These two houses are similar in that they share an administrative staff, are from a comparable time period (early 20th century) and were bequeathed to either the city or county of Milwaukee. My project, called House Tableau, was a result of painting on location over a year. When I paint outside of the studio, I’m embedding myself within the location. One of the interesting results is that people who frequent the museum – staff and visitors alike – come to accept my presence in a way that makes me feel like an inhabitant, co-worker, friend, or contractor. As an introverted person, this indirect way of engaging with the community is rewarding, since I gradually get to know people and establish relationships. Visitors or passers-by are usually enthusiastic about what I’m doing if they are inclined to engage.
My goal during my residency was to create paintings that captured unique views and characteristics of each historic house. Both are well documented by visitors and professional photographers alike. What could my paintings add to this already vast array of images? By being present for a year, I experienced the rhythms and subtle changes that occur over time. Most of the paintings were made in the afternoon during public hours. I became familiar with the staff, and I witnessed the variety of animals, plant life, and pace of visitor engagement that changes with the seasons. For instance, while painting Wheat Bouquet at the Villa Terrace, I became acquainted with a deer and a precocious red squirrel. At the Charles Allis, I reached out to Mueller Communications, a neighbor to the south, to see if I could make a painting of the Allis’ front facade from a higher vantage point. They welcomed me warmly and provided a room with a view and lots of encouragement.
As my year came to an end, I felt that I was just beginning to hit my stride. There is no end to the subjects contained within these unique structures. Removing the remnants of my portable studio from the museums was bittersweet, but I look ahead to the challenge of finding new locations to explore as thoroughly – and as enjoyably!
I’d like to acknowledge with heartfelt gratitude the administrative staff of the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum!