The Founding Mother of Milwaukee

Digital Medium • 5000 x 5000 PX

Printing and Framing by Greenwood Park Gallery, Milwaukee


This piece is one of an 11 canvas installation called "Portrait of Milwaukee Progress" commissioned by the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).

Josette Vieau Juneau

Josette Vieau, half French Canadian and half Menominee, married Solomon Juneau, the man who would later become Milwaukee’s founder and statesman. The Vieaus and the Juneaus were among the first white settlers in the Milwaukee area. Josette's father had a busy trading post near what is now the site of the Mitchell Park Domes, and Solomon Juneau set up a 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. Josette was praised as having a queenly presence, and widely credited as saving the settlement with bravery while her husband was out of town. She averted 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. 

About this piece

This portrait of Josette Vieau Juneau represents the earliest era in the "Portrait of Milwaukee Progress" installation, 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. In the background behind Josette is an old city planning map showing the streets of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee River, to the right is the house that she lived in with her husband and children, and in the midground is a depiction of Menominee tribal members from the same time period.

I chose to include Josette Vieau Juneau in this series of works because she represents an integral bridge between the indigenous peoples living in the Milwaukee area during its infancy and the white settlers who set out to make a life here for themselves and their families. She was fearless, hardworking and fondly remembered by those who knew her. I also chose her because while her husband's name is well known to Milwaukeeans, and his image is available in photos, portraits and sculptures throughout Milwaukee, neither Josette's face or her story are so familiar. I wanted to keep her story alive as a significant contributor to Milwaukee's history, being female, a person of indigenous heritage, and a peacemaker in her time.


The following 11 pieces comprise the installation, "Portrait of Milwaukee Progress", commissioned by Milwaukee Area Technical College. 

The Founding Mother of Milwaukee

Pioneer for LGBTQ Rights

Fighting for Worker's Rights

Lady of Firsts

Anti Segregation Leader

The Priest Leading the Protest for Fair Housing

Milwaukee's Golda

The Chinese Rockefeller of Milwaukee

Feminist of the 19th Century

Wisconsin's First Female Doctor

Men's Suffrage Leader