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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