Accepted into show

“Congratulations! Your artwork, America, has been accepted into in the 41st Annual SECURA Fine Arts Exhibition at the Trout Museum of Art, from June 5 – August 15, 2021. You were 1 of 117 accepted artists from the total 354 applicants. We are very proud of the artwork for the exhibition this year. It is a true reflection of the artistic talent Wisconsin has to offer.”

Yahoo! See y’all in Appleton this summer! 😀

Father James Groppi sm

Father Fighting for Fair Housing

Civil Rights Leader, Catholic Priest

This week for the MATC Portrait of Milwaukee project, I have been focusing on Father James Groppi. Fr Groppi was a contemporary of Vel Philips and they worked together to advance the cause of fair housing for Milwaukee’s black citizens. For the portrait I focused on showing the famous 200 nights of marching, drawing on a few photos. The far background is a shot of Father Groppi and a group of young people marching across the 16th St Viaduct, the mid-ground image is of Groppi being arrested with another protester, and the foreground is from a photo of Fr Groppi from this era, intent in expression, giving the feel of an interview.

Father James Groppi, 1930-1985

James Groppi was born in the Bay View neighborhood on the south side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Italian immigrant parents. James Groppi attended St. Lawrence Seminary (1950–1952) in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin. According to writer Frank Aukofer, “It was during his seminary years that Father Groppi began developing an empathy with the Black poor. He worked summers at a youth center in Milwaukee’s inner core. It was there that he saw the social suffering and ostracism that Negroes lived with every day”. Groppi became active in the cause of civil rights for Africans-Americans, participating in the 1963 March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 on behalf of the Voting Rights Act. In his capacity as NAACP advisor in Milwaukee, Groppi mounted a lengthy demonstration against the city of Milwaukee on behalf of fair housing. Along with Vel Philips, he led marches protesting for fair housing for 200 consecutive nights across the 16th Street Viaduct, to be received every night by angry white citizens on the other side of the bridge throwing rocks and bottles at them. The viaduct spanned the half-mile wide Menomonee Valley, and this was considered to be a symbolic divide between the black north side and the white south side. Throughout this period, Fr Groppi received both physical and moral support from human rights activists like Dick Gregory and Martin Luther King, Jr. Though Groppi was denigrated and arrested on numerous occasions for standing firm in his beliefs, he was instrumental in dramatizing the segregated housing situation in Milwaukee. These efforts led to enactment of Vel Philips’ open-housing law being passed in the city. Father Groppi continued fighting for human rights, marching for the rights of those on welfare, Native American rights, and to end the war in Vietnam. Father Groppi later left the priesthood to marry Margaret Rozga, who was to become an English professor at UW-Waukesha. The couple had a family of three, and Father Groppi worked as a Milwaukee bus driver. After his passing in 1985, the city renamed the 16th Street bridge in his honor, calling it the “James E. Groppi Unity Bridge”.

For more information:

Josette_Vaieu_Juneau sm

The Founding Mother of Milwaukee

Of the eleven canvases I’m working on for the MATC Portrait of Milwaukee project, the portrait of Josette Vieau Juneau represents the earliest era, having lived the first half of her life before the existence of photography. I could only find a couple images of her, one an etched image and another a painting. Both images look so much like each other – exact same pose and expression and outfit – it seems obvious one image was inspired by the other. I decided to take a leap with my depiction of Josette and to interpret her as a younger woman than shown in the source material. As with the other canvases, this image is still in development. In the background behind Josette is an old city planning map of Milwaukee from around the time of her life, the house that she lived in with her husband and children, and a depiction of tribal members from the general time period.

Josette Vieau Juneau, 1804-1855

Josette Vieau (1804-1855), half French Canadian and half Menominee, married Solomon Juneau, the man who would later become Milwaukee’s founder and statesman. The Juneaus were among the first white settlers in the Milwaukee area and set up a busy trading post at what would later become the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street, along the Milwaukee River. Fluent in French and multiple Native languages, Josette served as her husband’s interpreter, facilitated alliances and access to tribal trade networks, ran the trading post when her husband was away, raised thirteen children, and was midwife to American newcomers. She was praised as having a queenly presence, and widely credited as saving the settlement with bravery while her husband was out of town, averting a planned raid by the aggrieved Potawatomi tribe members against the white settlers by patrolling the streets herself all night. By all accounts she was amiable, self-possessed, charitable and diplomatic. That plus her long marriage to Solomon Juneau earned her the name “Founding Mother of Milwaukee”. The Juneaus marriage was loving and lasted for decades. She died 1852, and Solomon died a year later, almost to the day. 

For more information:

Vel Philips v1 sm

Lady of Firsts

I’ve been making progress on the MATC Portrait of Milwaukee project this week, compiling into a single painting multiple images from the life of Vel Philips, 1924-2018.

Vel Philips

Attorney, Politician, Jurist, Civil Rights Activist 

Vel Phillips’ life was a series of firsts. She was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison law school and the first to win a seat on Milwaukee’s City Council. She was the first African American woman to become Secretary of State of Wisconsin, and also the first to become a judge. And she did it all at a time when many African Americans were not allowed to exercise their civil rights. In 1962, Velvalea Hortense Rodgers “Vel” Phillips proposed a Fair Housing Law, and she participated in nonviolent protests against discrimination along with Father Groppi. They led people on an historic 200 nights of marching. Riots broke out in 1967, four people were killed and Ms Phillips was arrested at a rally. Finally, in 1968, the Fair Housing Law that Vel had written six years earlier passed the city council. Throughout her life, Vel Philips remained a steadfast leader in our society as law professor and lecturer, and an active philanthropist. She also worked to elevate other leaders. Vel Philips chaired the campaign of US Rep. Gwen Moore, who became Wisconsin’s first African American in the US House of Representatives. After Vel Philip’s passing in 2018, at the City of Milwaukee honored her significant contributions by renaming a section of 4th Street after her.

For more information on Vel Philips:

Charlie Toy v2 800

Milwaukee’s Chinese Rockefeller

This week’s progress report on the MATC Portrait of Milwaukee project is the painting of Charlie Toy, 1862-1954. I chose to include Charlie Toy in the portrait project because of his influence as a leader in the Chinese community in Milwaukee at a time when there were relatively few Asians living in the area. He made a great success of his businesses in Wisconsin, bringing Chinese cuisine, architecture and culture to a place that was at the time mostly populated by people from European cultures. His high profile success paved the way for the minority Asian population to strive to succeed as well.

In spite of anti-Asian laws of the early 20th century denying Asian peoples entry into the US, restricting them from marrying Caucasions or owning land, several Chinese families flourished in Milwaukee. Charlie Toy was considered by many to be a patriarch of Milwaukee’s Chinese community in the early 20th century. Toy immigrated to the United States in 1880 at age 18, and worked in various jobs in San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Appleton and Kaukauna before moving to Oshkosh in 1890 where he established several businesses. A success, Toy decided to take on the larger market of Milwaukee. While not the only Chinese restaurant in town, Charlie Toy’s Shanghai Chinese Restaurant was certainly the most famous. Opened in 1904 at 736 North Second Street, the six-story Chinese styled building housed Toy’s restaurant, Hascall Billiard Parlor, a few small commercial businesses and the Toy (Crystal) Theater capable of holding 460 guests. Toy earned himself the nickname the “Chinese Rockefeller,” although newspapers reported was never too proud to lend a hand in the kitchen peeling water chestnuts or to take on other chores with his employees.  

For more information on Mr Toy:

Mathilde Anneke 1000 3

Sketching Mathilde

Mathilde Franziska Anneke

Feminist Activist, Writer, News Publisher, Educator

My second selection for the MATC “Portrait of Milwaukee Progress” project is an interesting gal who moved to Milwaukee in the mid 19th century, and started the first feminist journal in the US. Above is a preliminary sketch for Mathilde’s portrait and following are some high points I learned about her remarkable life.

Mathilde Franziska Anneke (1817–1884) German-born, Mathilde married Fritz Anneke in 1847 and settled in Cologne, Germany. Together they founded a newspaper for the working class promoting socialist ideals. Fritz’s political activism resulted in a prison sentence, during which time Mathilde single-handedly edited, managed and printed the paper. Eventually, the paper got shut down by authorities, and the Annekes emigrated to Milwaukee. In 1852, Mathilde went on to start the first feminist journal published by a woman in America, the Deutsche Frauen-Zeitung, and began a close collaboration with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. An eloquent speaker, she lobbied in Washington for women’s rights, and was a vocal opponent of slavery in America. In 1869 Mathilde Anneke became vice president of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, and later she founded a school for girls in Milwaukee, which she ran until her death on November 25, 1884. 

If you’d like to read more about Mathilde, following are some links:

The Family Farm small

MATC community arts commission

Well, this is cool news! A couple weeks ago I was informed that I was selected (along with 13 other local artists) to create a piece for the community arts project at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). This week – I also found out that they would like to buy one of my recent works for the same installation! So TWO pieces will be installed at MATC this summer. Yahoo!

The piece they are purchasing (shown above) is a recent work, a compilation of portraits of multiple generations of my mother’s family in Medford, Wisconsin, called “The Family Farm.”

They have also commissioned me to create a new piece, which is in production now. My concept is a series of portraits of historic Milwaukeeans of note – people who have made significant contributions to the social fabric of our city. I am still working on the final selection but contenders include Josette Vieau Juneau, Lloyd Barbee, Father James Groppi, Golda Meir, Vel Phillips, Charles Whitnall, Mayor Frank Zeidler and others.

I will be working on that piece, working title “Portrait of Milwaukee” over the next few months and the unveiling is currently scheduled for August 2021.

Yay! Thank you to MATC!!

More posts on this topic


“Remember the day…” Installed in Shorewood

The Shorewood murals have been installed – yay!

A few months ago I was chosen along with 10 other local artists be part of a beautification project for the Village of Shorewood in Wisconsin. The concept, called “Signaling History” was organized by the Public Art Shorewood committee, and focused on decorating the metal utility boxes located at each intersection with a traffic light. The commission required that each work should incorporate the history of Shorewood, but otherwise the artists were free to create whatever they wanted. We were all provided access to the local historical society and archives to research Shorewood history.

Since my work of recent years has been inspired by antique family snapshots, the idea of incorporating photos of previous Shorewood generations dovetailed nicely into my area of interest. The corner I was working on is the site of two Shorewood elementary schools – Atwater Elementary Public School and St Robert’s Parish and Grade School. My brother and I attended St Roberts, so I was very excited for my work to be installed on this corner.

At the historical society, I found a number of inspirational images. I took photos of at least 100 images, and when I got home I compiled several of those to arrive at the final composition. What made the cut were two class photos of Atwater school children from the 1950s plus an adorable photo of a young boy with his teacher that became the focal point of the piece.

The drawings are not meant to be portraits of specific people. My intent in using old photos as inspiration is to capture a particular time and/or place and to elicit a feeling or mood. I often will make changes to further this affectation. For this piece, I put some of the children in school uniforms and I also added some children of color to the design. These details are not true to the historical photos I was working from, but I wanted to be inclusive of the children of both schools and to also reflect the multicultural nature of Shorewood’s current population. To place the composition on this specific corner of Shorewood, I added sketches of both of the schools into the background.

The signal box I was assigned had two flat adjacent sides so I decided to create a continuous composition that wrapped around the corner. In order to draw the eye from one side to the next, I added a device of colorful balloons blowing in the wind. I did the entire project in a digital format, from my iPad. This is a new technique I’ve been developing which worked perfectly for this project since the final murals were to be digitally printed onto  substrate and then adhered to the utility boxes for installation.

The final work is meant to elicit the celebratory and nostalgic feelings of being a young student on the last day of school. The work is entitled “Remember the day…”. Below are a few site photos.

A big thank you to Diane Buck who told me about this project, to the Village of Shorewood, Public Art Shorewood and the Shorewood Historical society. And an extra special thanks to Confluence Graphics in Shorewood – the printers and installers of the murals. The color turned out just as I’d envisioned it, and the join at the corner is barely perceptible. Awesome job!

For those who live in the area and would like to view this piece in person, it is located on the southwest corner of Maryland Avenue and Capitol Drive, in Shorewood, Wisconsin. And don’t forget to drive through the village and check out the other artists’ work as well. Each intersection with traffic lights now has a mural installed on the utility box! 😀


Milwaukee Bucks permanent art collection at the Fiserv Forum

Wow – what a day!

On Friday, August 24, 2018, the Milwaukee Bucks permanent art collection at the Fiserv Forum was unveiled. I was lucky enough to be one of the 32 artists chosen from nearly 1300 applicants to have my work included in the collection. The day started with a televised press conference where I had the chance to meet many of the other artists, after which our friends and families were invited to come and tour the arena.  Over the weekend, the public is invited to tour the space and they’re expecting up to 40,000 people.

The Fiserv Forum, an elegant new feature in the Milwaukee skyline, seats more than 17,000. My work is hanging on the suite level, outside of Suite 04. There is also a book commemorating the art and the artists, which I’ve shared in the video below.

The work I created, called “The Girls  Team,” measures 26″ x 36″ before framing, and the medium is watercolor on Ampersand Aquabord. This piece is part of the Discarded series of works that I’ve been developing over the last few years which takes inspiration from antique photography to tell a story. For “The Girls Team”, I found inspiration in images of women’s basketball teams from the last century. The background of the piece is a grouping of girl players from earlier eras, dressed in their uniforms, lined up for team photos. They overlook the subject, a young woman of today playing ball against boys, and giving them a real run for their money. I wanted to illustrate that the women who played before, paved the way for today’s young women to not just play without the judgment, but to achieve levels in the field totally out of reach by earlier generations.

This is truly the honor of a lifetime. I am so thankful to be included – thank you to the Milwaukee Bucks and especially to the wonderful women at Sports and the Arts who put this whole thing together!

The video below is of me narrating as I page through the Milwaukee Bucks Art Collection’s commemorative book.

Below are some images of the day, including a closer look at “The Girls Team”.





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