Eldon_Murray small

Pioneer of LGBTQ Rights

I’m getting close to finished with the 11 canvasses for “Portrait of Milwaukee Progress” – commissioned by MATC. This piece, like the others, is still in draft status but will be completed in time for the opening exhibition in August of 2021. Eldon Murray made an enormous positive impact on the LGBTQ community in Milwaukee and across the US. Unlike many other gay people who lived during the time, his position in life allowed him to be open about who he was. From this place of safety, he was able to devote his life to helping others who were not as lucky. For this piece I focused on a photo of him from later in his life in the foreground and in the background depicted a Gay Pride Parade day in Milwaukee. In the midground I have layered in a portrait from when he was young and in the service on the right, and also an image of Eldon Murray dressed in drag (on the far left).


Eldon Eugene Murray, 1930-2007

Eldon Eugene Murray was proud to be a leader in the gay rights movement nationally and in Milwaukee. He grew up in born Vincennes, Indiana, moved to Chicago at 18 to start a career in finance and later served in Korean war. In 1955 he relocated to Milwaukee, and that’s when he was able to really advance his career and became a successful stockbroker. Eldon has said that the Stonewall riots of 1969 were a turning point for him. “I was 39 years old and established in business,” he says. “My clients didn’t care as long as I made money for them. I could stand up and be openly Gay when few people could.” Thus started his lifelong advocacy for gay rights and liberation. He was the host of the one of the first regularly broadcast gay radio programs, called “Gay Perspectives” in the early 1970s, helped establish the Brady Street Clinic and was an adviser in the early days of the Milwaukee AIDS Project, and he was involved in the Gay Liberation Front at a time when gay people never used their real names. He was one of the founders of the Gay People’s Union, the first major gay liberation organization in Milwaukee. In the 1980s, when AIDS hit Milwaukee, Eldon Murray wrote Murray wrote the grants for what would become the Milwaukee AIDS Project, known later as the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, which is still going strong today. In 1994, he founded SAGE Milwaukee (Senior Action in a Gay Environment), which was Wisconsin’s first organization devoted to issues surrounding aging in the community. Mr Murray received numerous awards and recognition for his efforts in the gay community both locally and nationally. His ability to stand up and be openly gay launched a remarkable string of projects that established a legacy still felt today. His integrity resonates and will live on in the countless lives he embraced. “All through history it has been those whose views and lives have been unorthodox who have had the most profound effect on their time. The world has relied on the genius of the individual, even when eccentric or deviant, to lead the way, but then it has said ‘Look at him. He’s just like me.’ Until recently, Black heroes were omitted from the history books, their accomplishments being ignored entirely. Blacks are busy putting [themselves] back into the pages of history. We must do the same thing … We must remove the whitewash carefully so that the true picture will emerge and gays both historic and modern can take their rightful place.” (Eldon E. Murray, GPU News, March 1973)


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Lloyd Barbee sm

Anti Segregation Leader

Civil Rights Leader Won the Fight Against School Segregation

This week’s progress on the MATC project, “Portrait of Milwaukee Progress” is a sketch of Lloyd Barbee. A contemporary of Father Groppi and Vel Philips, Mr Barbee was an inspirational lawyer who took the anti segregation case against Milwaukee Public Schools all the way to the US Supreme Court, and won. For this portrait I have combined three images – in the foreground a portrait of Mr Barbee, behind him in the midground is Barbee pictured with a row of anti school segregation protestors, and in the background a scene of children of the era being bussed to school. As with the other images, this one is draft status and the design is in flux, but I’m happy with the direction so far.


Lloyd Barbee, 1925-2002

Lloyd Barbee was a lawyer and noted civil rights leader of the 1960s, fighting to end segregation in Milwaukee. In 1963, working for the NAACP, he challenged the Milwaukee Public Schools to integrate. Barbee organized civil rights activists into the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC), which organized boycotts of the schools and blocked buses, aiming to bring attention to the problem. In 1964 Barbee ran for Wisconsin State Assembly (MKE 6th District) and won. From 1965 to 1977 he was the only African-American in the state legislature, introducing a State Fair Housing bill, and working for fair employment, gay rights, women’s rights, prison reform, legalization of drugs and prostitution, disarming police officers, and taxation of churches. The school boycotts did not sway Milwaukee’s school board, so in 1965 Barbee filed a federal lawsuit Amos et al. v. Board of School Directors of the City of Milwaukee. The case ground on for years, but in 1976, federal judge John Reynolds ruled in favor of Barbee: “I have concluded that segregation exists in the Milwaukee public schools and that this segregation was intentionally created and maintained by the defendants.” MPS appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, but that court supported Judge Reynold’s judgment and Barbee’s case. In 1979 MPS agreed to change its policies and began making progress toward integrating its schools.


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Ezekiel_Gillespie SM

First African-American Voter in Wisconsin

Fighting for freedom and voting rights

Ezekiel Gillespie is the focus of this week’s work on the MATC project, “Portrait of Milwaukee Progress”. I chose to include Mr Gillespie as his life was particularly extraordinary. Though born to slavery, he fought his whole life for what he knew was right for himself and for his community, taking the fight for Black Suffrage all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. I was only able to find a couple existing images of Mr Gillespie – the one I chose to inspire this portrait showed particular strength in his posture, and I changed the direction of his gaze to peer directly and unflinchingly at the viewer. Directly behind the portrait I inserted a grouping of African-American soldiers of the Civil War, looking worn but powerful. These men fought for the America of Abraham Lincoln’s vision, which included the right for African-American men to vote. (The Women’s Suffrage movement was to come later). Behind the soldiers is depicted a voting day scene – men of color standing in line, casting votes for the first time. This was a momentous day. This work is still in draft status, but the sketch is starting to come together. I will be adding more drama to the darks and lights and the colorization is likely to change somewhat as well.


Ezekiel Gillespie, 1818-1892

Ezekiel Gillespie was an African-American civil rights leader who won a landmark case securing voting rights for African-American men in Wisconsin. Gillespie was born a slave in Mississippi (or Tennessee), probably the son of an African-American slave and her white slave owner. As a young man he purchased his own freedom for $800. He traveled to Indiana, and soon moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he found success selling groceries at the corner of Mason and Main, and then worked as a railroad porter. He quickly became a leader in the African-American community, an activist fighting for equal rights. He operated a local branch of the Underground Railroad and facilitated the founding of Wisconsin’s first African-American church. In 1865, Gillespie attempted to vote. He was denied a ballot, so he sued the Board of Elections. Gillespie v. Palmer went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The justices of the court sided with Gillespie, in his argument that Wisconsin voters had voted in favor of male African American suffrage in an 1849 referendum. He was the first African-American voter in Wisconsin. 


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Laura_Wolcott sm

Wisconsin’s First Bonafide Female Doctor

Perseverance, Dedication and Leadership

Continuing progress on the MATC portrait project this week, I have a draft in progress of Dr Laura Ross Wolcott. An inspiring woman who, through her perseverance, led the way for female doctors in Wisconsin and was an active proponent of the suffragette movement. I was only able to locate a single photo of her, which was in profile. I used that to inspire the foreground image, and in the background I incorporated three other images which relate to her life. The background is a group of female students observing surgical techniques in theater. In the mid ground is a combination of two images from suffragette protests. I imagined what Dr Wolcott would look like straight on, depicted on the woman on the left holding the “Votes For Women” poster.


Dr Laura Ross Wolcott, 1834-1915

Dr Laura Ross Wolcott was the first bonafide female doctor in Wisconsin and an important leader of the woman suffrage movement in Milwaukee. Born in Maine, she came to Milwaukee in 1857, opened a private practice, and later became a consultant at several of the city’s hospitals and at the Industrial School for Girls. In the 1860s, she applied for admission to the Milwaukee County Medical Society, but a decision was delayed, allegedly because they hoped she would “quietly withdraw her application.” At that time there was a deep skepticism of women doctors. Many people thought females could not be “real doctors” and were quacks. A disgruntled colleague even went so far as to submit her obituary to the local papers while she was still alive, hoping her patients would abandon her. While she awaited the Medical Society’s decision, Dr Ross served as a commissioner to the 1867 World’s Fair in Paris and also took classes in medicine at the Sorbonne. She finally gained admission to the Medical Society in 1869, with help from the surgeon general of the Civil War and leading doctor in Wisconsin, Erastus B Wolcott. Laura and Erastus soon married and she continued work in her large private practice, garnering respect and stature in the community. It was said that Laura Ross Wolcott “fervently believed that women MDs would gain only if all women profited from activism for social justice, equity, and human dignity.” She fought for the admission of women to medical positions and training, and she became an active leader in the suffragette movement. She organized the first women’s suffrage convention in Milwaukee in 1867, where Susan B. Anthony was a speaker. In 1869, she helped to organize a convention for women’s rights and was a founder of the Wisconsin Women’s Suffrage Association, serving as its president in 1882.  She lived her life as a model for women in medicine.


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America-sm

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”.


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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. 


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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.


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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.  


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