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Getting out and ‘art’-bout for the holidays

During the holidays, there often is a flurry of travel and excitement as family and friends visit. Whether you are entertaining out-of-town guests for a day or a week, there are plenty of venues to check out that will introduce the visual culture of Milwaukee in ways both conventional and unusual.

Unusual Muses 

The roots of the work “museum” go back to ancient Greece and reference locations such as temples dedicated to the Muses, who were patron goddesses of the arts. Museums today are repositories of knowledge and still significant sources of inspiration. You already know about major Milwaukee museums like MAM, but some of those that don’t come to mind as quickly are as appealing to guests of all ages. 

The Grohmann Museum is located on the campus of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and its association with industry is deeply rooted in its permanent collection. The works come from Dr. Eckhart Grohmann, who had been acquiring art since the 1960s and donated his collection to MSOE in 2001, followed by the gift of the museum itself. 

More than 1,000 pieces are on view, with imagery associated with various labors from the 16th century to the present. Ironworkers, farmers, even taxidermists and glass blowers are among the types of workers represented in this expansive collection of paintings and sculptures. 

Architecturally, the building is unique. The entryway atrium features a mosaic floor that introduces the themes of the museum through images of a farmer, textile worker, blacksmith, miners and foundry workers. On the exterior of the building, a rooftop terrace is overlooked by 12 monumental bronze sculptures that depict various professions. 

The Harley-Davidson Museum also celebrates muscle and machinery, but in a distinctly focused way. Exhibits detail the history of the iconic motorcycle company, from its inception in 1903 to its near demise in the 1980s through its subsequent success, with engaging interactive displays and enough motorcycles on view to keep Harleyfest going year-round.

There are many special exhibits as well, such as the Experience Gallery where visitors can sit on bikes, and the Design Lab, which offers a peek into the engineering and styling that goes on behind the scenes. Recent Watercolor Paintings By Willie G. Davidson also is on view through Jan. 3, and celebrates the artistic flair of the renowned designer. 

Beer baron Capt. Frederick Pabst looms large in Milwaukee, as does the industrialist’s palatial home on Wisconsin Avenue, completed in 1892. The Pabst Mansion is now a museum that captures a taste of life in the gilded age. 

The architectural details and art permanently on view in the home are captivating, but the patina of history becomes even shinier as the mansion is decked out in its holiday finery. Christmas trees, garlands, topiaries and all sorts of festive installations decorate each of the rooms, making the museum seem even more like a home for the holidays. 

Guests can tour the mansion daily, but tours usually stop at 4 p.m. Dec. 18 is the exception; that day, guests can get the full decorative experience with “twilight tours” 5-7 p.m. Tickets are $16, $9 for children ages 6-17 (advance orders receive a $2 discount). 

See and Sip 

If your guests need more than art to stimulate them, consider one of the city’s many galleries that double as bars.

If Walker’s Point is your destination, explore Var Gallery. Established in 2013 by Josh Hintz and Renée Navis, it began as an artist studio collective. A move last year to its current location, a former aluminum factory, expanded Var’s endeavors to include a performance space, bar and art gallery. 

The current exhibition, One Year in Walker’s Point, celebrates this anniversary with a show that includes many of the two dozen artists who also have studio space in this multipurpose building. Live music often is part of Var’s schedule, as well as drawing sessions and other performance events. In fact, the gallery will be hosting a special New Year’s Eve celebration, beginning at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31.

Heading into Bay View, Tonic Tavern is another place to find a mix of art and music, along with a vibrant social scene. With rotating exhibitions organized by artist Jeff Redmon, Tonic hosts regular opening receptions often accompanied by live bands spanning numerous genres. 

Currently on display are works by painter Melissa Dorn Richards, whose taste for abstraction turns ordinary objects like mops into intriguingly unfamiliar things. Tonic’s spacious outdoor patio is a big draw during the summer, but the bar has a year-round appeal, thanks to the cozy fireplace in the gallery area. 

In Riverwest, the visual and the drinkable come together in a most charming pairing at Art Bar. Owner Don Krause intended art to be a main feature of this establishment from its inception 12 years ago, and since then thousands of artworks have graced its vibrant walls, including December’s Mini exhibition of small art. Along with changing exhibitions, an array of events and live music offer stimulation that goes beyond the visual. 

On Display

The Grohmann Museum is located on the campus of MSOE at 1000 N. Broadway. msoe.edu.

The Harley-Davidson Museum is located in the Menomonee Valley at 400 Canal St. harley-davidson.com.

The Pabst Mansion is located near the Marquette University campus at 2000 W. Wisconsin Ave. pabstmansion.com.

Var Gallery is located in Walker’s Point at 643 S. Second St. One Year Celebration & Collective Show continues through Jan. 3. vargallery.com.

Tonic Tavern is located at 2335 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View. Work by Melissa Dorn Richards will be on view throughout December. tonictavern.com.

Art Bar is located in Riverwest at 722 E. Burleigh St. The current exhibition, Mini: Tiny Art at Tiny Prices, will continue throughout December.

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