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Handmade Art for Everyday People

Handicrafts in Depression-era Milwaukee

Mar. 25, 2014
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“In like a lion, out like a lamb,” it’s said of March’s mellowing weather. But the proverb could be applied to the 1920s with equal justice. Gatsby and flappers and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five typify the Roaring Twenties in all their extravagant, socially permissive and artistic glory. But on October 29, 1929—aka Black Tuesday—the Jazz Age came to an abrupt halt.

To ease poverty and neutralize despair, the Works Progress Administration developed public works projects to put the unemployed to work. The Milwaukee Handicraft Project was a WPA subproject that trained thousands to create handmade wooden and cloth articles. Material scarcity and uncertain demand yielded products of unusual appearance and high functionality.

“Handmade for Hard Times: The Milwaukee Handicraft Project” at the Museum of Wisconsin Art collects a selection of these objects, in which we see the beautiful and the functional merge while the dichotomy between high art and low birth collapses. The exhibition opens March 28, closes June 15, and is interspersed with a handful of lectures. MOWA is closed Mondays.


Prospect Mansions Lecture

Charles Allis Art Museum

1801 N. Prospect Ave.

Once upon a time, the dominant domicile of Prospect Avenue was not the cloud-scratching skyscraper. There were fewer folks but more regal residences. The democratization of one of Milwaukee’s finest views came at a high price—viz., demolishing the mansions that earned the street the nickname Milwaukee’s “Gold Coast.” Gone, but not forgotten, are Prospect Avenue’s stately manors, kept alive by local remembrancer and Pabst Mansion Senior Historian, John Eastberg. Marshaling rare photographs and historical narratives, Eastberg will deliver a lecture on the mansions Thursday, March 27, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and, to ensure availability, should be purchased in advance online at pabstmansion.com.


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