Tag Archives: visitors

Milwaukee gets the nod | Buddies building bobblehead hall of fame, museum in Milwaukee

“Say ‘bobblehead’ five times. You just have to smile.”

Collector Bobbie Davis of Green Bay offers this advice to the glum, ho-hum and meh-sayers. The waitress and mother of two meditates to relieve stress. She kickboxes to vent tension. But all she needs to brighten her day is to look at her growing collection of bobbleheads.

There’s obviously a substantial number of people like Davis shaking their heads “yes” to bobblehead collections. Bobble-making is a burgeoning business. And bobble-distribution is huge, especially at ballparks. Fan giveaways crowd Major League Baseball’s promotional calendar this season — T-shirts, garden gnomes, pennants, caps, baseball cards, posters and more. The giveaways that sell out stadium after stadium, game after game, are the bobbles, which demonstrate why there are 130 bobblehead promotional nights on the MLB’s 2015 schedule.

The Milwaukee Brewers’ calendar contains 20 all-fan giveaways this season, including two gnomes, seven T-shirts and 10 bobbleheads. Fans left Miller Park on May 10 with a Hank the Dog bobble and later this season the Brewers will give away bobbles in the likeness of Carlos Gomez, Paul Molitor, Khris Davis, Bob Uecker, Jonathan Lucroy and also a vintage Brewer boy bobble.

Bobbles are popular enough these days to give Phil Sklar and Brad Novak big heads. These Milwaukee buddies are the brains and believers behind the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, which they hope to open in the city in late 2016. They also manufacture and sell bobbleheads to support charitable causes and commercial campaigns.

Sklar and Novak, co-founders of the hall of fame and museum, have been best friends since middle school. They attended UWM at the same time. They’re both big sports fans. And they’re roommates with an extensive bobblehead collection.

“It got to the point where bobbleheads were taking over the kitchen,” Sklar says. “And we were like, what do we do with these?”

Building a bobble

The men — Novak was working in sales and Sklar in corporate finance — began talking about how to transform a hobby into a business. They knew they wanted to exhibit the collection and collect more bobbles. But a complete business model came together for them when they helped create a bobblehead for a friend involved in the Special Olympics.

“We realized there was no real good provider of bobbleheads out there offering bobbleheads to somebody who wants 500 or 1,000,” Sklar says. The guys were aware of major suppliers providing tens of thousands of bobbleheads for mass market but they identified an unfilled market for boutique bobbles — say the Little League Brewers rather than the Milwaukee Brewers.

Novak and Sklar began creating bobbles. “We’ve had really good traction,” says Sklar, adding that the company has manufactured several dozen bobbles and is working on several dozen more. “We’re working not just in our area. We’re working all over the country.”

To make a bobblehead — one or 10,000 — a client provides Novak and Sklar with photographs showing what features they want included, or exaggerated. An artistic rendering is created and then, with the client’s approval, a mold is created. Once the mold is finalized and a painted model approved, production begins.

The minimum order for a custom bobble is one, with the price at about $110. Novak and Sklar plan to create an online system for ordering a custom bobble. And someday perhaps, patrons will leave their museum with a personalized bobble.

“The technology isn’t there right now for people to come in and take a bobblehead home, but they could have their face scanned and have their bobblehead in a week,” says Sklar. “And we can have virtual bobbleheads to share on social media.”

Opening the museum

Novak and Sklar are evaluating sites for the museum and hall of fame, with a focus on establishing the institution in downtown Milwaukee.

“This has the potential to really be a good attraction that draws people into Milwaukee,” Sklar says.

Already they have artistic renderings of how the museum might look and, as they plan for an opening, they are visiting other museums in other cities.

“We’ve also done a lot of research online,” Sklar says. “A few things that we have built into the plans for certain are we want to tell the history of bobbleheads. And how bobbleheads are made. And what’s the story behind certain bobbleheads? We can tell those stories, the story of Jackie Robinson or Willie Mays.”

It turns out that the Willie Mays bobble is a milestone in bobblehead history.

The first published reference to a bobblehead is in an 1842 Russian short story, “The Overcoat,” by Nikolai Gogol, who wrote, “like the necks of plaster cats which wag their heads.” Many types of bobbleheads have been made over the years. But modern bobble mania dates to 1999, when the San Francisco Giants gave away the Mays collectible.

“Now,” Sklar says, “I think bobbleheads are everywhere. There’s so much negative news everywhere and we just want to bring some positive cheer, unite people. Bobbleheads, they’re just fun.”

But first, an exhibition

Novak and Sklar’s bobblehead collection is approaching 4,000, large enough that a couple of interns will spend this summer cataloging items.

“And we’re getting more and more bobbleheads,” Sklar says, adding that collectors have offered to donate or loan items to the museum.

In January 2016, RedLine Milwaukee will preview the museum’s collection in the exhibition Bobbleheads: Real & Fantastical Heroism.

The exhibit “presents both a challenge and an opportunity for RedLine Milwaukee,” says RedLine executive director Jeanne Jarecki. “While we will be in our sixth year as a growing nonprofit, we expect this exhibition will attract thousands of visitors and international attention.”

RedLine, 1422 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee, is a charitable organization that promotes the arts through education and with a focus on social justice. The exhibition will focus on heroes: How do we define “hero”? Who is a hero? What are the differences between a “real hero and a fantastical one”? And what role does heroism play in social activism?

Using a timeline approach, the exhibitors will share the history of bobbleheads, explore technological changes in the craft of making the bobbles and examine bobbles as cultural objects.

“We’re looking to showcase the breadth of bobbleheads,” says Sklar, who notes that bobbles vary in size and material, including ceramic and plastic. “In the past five years, people have gotten really creative with bobbleheads.”

The key element of any bobble, of course, is the bobbling ability, by spring or hook.

“If it bobbles, it’s in. That’s our tagline,” Sklar says.

On the Web …

Find more about the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum at bobbleheadhall.com.

More than 200,000 protest development plans near Grand Canyon

The U.S. Forest Service is considering a proposal that would clear the way for a mega-development only a mile from the Grand Canyon National Park boundary.

“The local, national and international communities have spoken and the message is clear — this development doesn’t belong next to the Grand Canyon,” said Robin Silver, a founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now it’s up to the Forest Service to act in the public interest and reject this proposal.”

This spring, more than 200,000 people submitted public comments urging the U.S. Forest Service to reject a special permit request from Stilo Development Group to build roads, sewers and other utilities through the public lands within the Kaibab National Forest. The access is needed to develop the 580-resident community of Tusayan, Arizona — near the southern entrance to the park — from a tourist town into a complex of high-end homes, retail stores and restaurants.

President Theodore Roosevelt guaranteed federal protection for the Grand Canyon in 1908, declaring, “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it.”

The Stilo project is one of several proposals environmentalists say threaten the canyon. Another would restart operations at a nearby uranium mine.

Environmentalists say the Stilo development threatens groundwater that feeds the canyon’s creeks and springs, endangering some of the park’s most important and biodiverse wildlife habitat.

“Building a massive sprawling development at the gateway to Grand Canyon threatens the very things that the park was established to protect — the waters, wildlife, dark skies and opportunities to experience natural quiet,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “That is why thousands of people here in Arizona and across the country are asking the Forest Service to reject this proposal.”

The opposition includes business owners in Tusayan and nearby Flagstaff, a former Coconino County development director, a former Grand Canyon National Park superintendent, outdoor enthusiasts and many park visitors.

Also, the Department of the Interior warned the massive development was raising international concerns over potential harm to the Grand Canyon, a World Heritage Site. The National Park Service has called the project one of the biggest threats to the park in its nearly 100-year history.

David Nimkin, Southeast senior regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, added, “The Grand Canyon is one of our most beloved and iconic national parks — a sentiment that reverberated in messages of opposition sent by our members, supporters and partners in Arizona and across the country.”

On behalf of several groups, the environmental legal defense group Earthjustice submitted a letter in May urging the Forest Service to reject the proposal or, at a minimum, to prepare a full environmental impact statement.

The Forest Service will review the comments this summer and then decide whether to reject the application outright, proceed with a minimal “environmental assessment” with little public review or prepare an environmental impact statement.

An environmental assessment would take up to a year to complete. An impact statement would take twice that long.

Smithsonian puts Bayfield on ’20 Best Small Towns to Visit’ list

The town of Bayfield in northern Wisconsin is one of “The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2015,” according to Smithsonian.com.

Bayfield Mayor Larry J. MacDonald, in a news release from the Bayfield Chamber & Visitor Bureau, said, “The recent designation from Smithsonian reinforces all the qualities of the place we call home.

MacDonald believes the residents of Bayfield place “people, the environment and our businesses in high regard,” making it a community that stands out from all the rest.  

“We are lucky to have a talented community that chooses to be both supportive and protective of our many assets, including both Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands” he said. “It is hard to imagine a better place than Bayfield.”

For the past fours years, Smithsonian Magazine has highlighted its choices for the top 20 small towns in America as a way to encourage their readers to “take the path less traveled.”

A selection committee at Smithsonian.com selected this year’s top 20 towns from a pool of about 13,000 small American towns with populations of 20,000 people or less. According to Smithsonian writer and editor Bess Lovejoy, the committee used a geographic information service, ESRI, to narrow down its selection. 

Lovejoy wrote, “Mother Nature is the undeniable draw in Bayfield.”

The town, which sits on the pristine south shore of Lake Superior, is the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. 

Kelley Linehan, marketing and events manager at the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Bureau, said in the news release, “Clearly, the Smithsonian is a very well-respected institution, so this is a high honor for Bayfield. One of the aspects that I found to be particularly interesting is that their definition of a small town is 20,000 people or less. With Bayfield checking in at population 487, we were up against communities much larger than us, yet we made the final list.”

Bayfield is host to four major festivals each year including Bayfield in Bloom, Bayfield Festival of Arts and Gallery Tour, Apple Festival and the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race.

Home to 14 orchards and fruit farms, the town has also been dubbed the “Berry Capital of Wisconsin.”

Pleasant under glass | Botanical gardens offer respite from the winter

Exotic insects chirrup and buzz as they flit among the palms, ferns, figs and tropical flowers. They patrol the jungle for other pests, provide food for the various species of birds breeding in the canopy and occasionally land in the hungry clutches of pitcher plants, Venus flytraps and other floral carnivores.

Meanwhile, just beyond the thermal glass that encloses the jungle, snow swirls across the icy Wisconsin landscape.

Bolz Conservatory, a part of Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is known locally as the “glass pyramid.” It’s one of a number of area conservatories offering plant and animal life from around the world. As temperatures drop and snow blankets the landscape, you can still experience the tropics, arid desert landscapes or spring gardens without purchasing a plane ticket.

What better way to shake the snow from your soul?

Inside the Glass Pyramid

Olbrich’s Bolz Conservatory offers 10,000 square feet of mixed tropical flora and fauna. The pyramid rises 50 feet at the center — high enough to house its 20-foot waterfall and the towering royal palms that take center stage among 650 plants, which include about 80 plant families and more than 475 species and cultivars from a variety of equatorial zones.

Operated jointly by the City of Madison Parks Division and the Olbrich Botanical Society, the conservatory’s environment is controlled by an external weather station that measures the impact of the sunlight and temperatures outdoors to create an indoor environment suitable for its tropical inhabitants. Exterior shades and misting nozzles help maintain an indoor humidity level of 60 percent and temperatures that range between 65 and 80 degrees year- round.

The conservatory, which opened in November 1991, anchors Olbrich Gardens’ 16 acres. The gardens begin to stir in early March, when outdoor beds devoted to roses, dahlias, perennials, annuals and irises begin showing signs of life. 

At the park’s far reaches, shimmering golden in the sun, stands the Thai Pavilion & Garden. The pavilion was a gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the Thai government and the Thai chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. college or university.

Under the Domes

Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory invites visitors into three landmark, LED-illuminated domes, each housing a distinct environment.

The tropical dome houses jungle flora from five continents. On any given day, as many as 50 different species might be blooming there. A rushing waterfall, tropical birds and 500 varieties of orchids add to the ambience.

The arid dome is home to one of the Midwest’s finest collections of cacti and succulents, as well as an oasis of pampas grass and desert palms. Visitors can stroll through environments replicating arid regions of Africa, South America and North America.

The third environment, nicknamed the “show dome,” offers five seasonal displays annually. From poinsettias and holiday lights at Christmas to hundreds of lilies at Easter, the displays offer brilliant colors and fragrant aromas to help combat the winter blues.

The domes were built over a period of eight years, from 1959 to 1967, based on a design submitted by local architect Donald Grieb. Each dome offers 1 acre under glass and 750,000 cubic feet of space, rising 85 feet — that’s seven stories — from the lobby level. A team of four full-time horticulturalists tend the plants daily.

In addition to being located in Milwaukee’s first permanently named city park, the domes are the world’s only conoidal (beehive-shaped, as opposed to geodesic) glass houses, according to park officials. Grieb’s unique design offers a superior angle for solar heating and more interior height for tree growth.

More visibly, they also provide a glittering addition to the Milwaukee skyline. Each dome was outfitted with LED lights in the late ‘00s, bringing the Domes into the 21st century and re-attracting visitors to the Milwaukee landmark.

This time of year, the Mitchell Park Domes and Olbrich Botanical Gardens give visitors the opportunities to shake off the winter doldrums with a dose of tropical air, desert foliage and enough plant life to know that spring is just around the corner. 

At the very least, the weather is much more pleasant under glass, and the verdant growth offers a tangible tonic for the frostbitten heart.

In bloom

Olbrich Botanical Gardens are located at 3330 Atwood Ave. on Madison’s East Side. For hours and other information, call 608-246-4550 or go to olbrich.org.

Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes) is located at 524 S. Layton Blvd. on Milwaukee’s South Side. Phone 414-257-5611 or visit milwaukeedomes.org.