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When a Statue Comes to Life…

Milwaukee performer Alice Wilson startles festivalgoers as Rosie the Riveter and Steampunk Mary Poppins

Aug. 29, 2016
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As Milwaukee moves from a best-kept-secret of the Midwest into the national spotlight for accolades such as Bradford Beach earning spots on USA Today’s 10 Best lists of urban beaches and freshwater beaches, Thrillist crediting Brewers fans with being plain awesome and Lonely Planet listing Brew City as a most exciting place to see in 2016, the city’s sights and sounds have become more various and colorful.

One such example: the award-winning Alice Wilson, one of Cream City’s very own (and very few) living statue street performers. If you encountered a living statue by default of your summer adventuring in Milwaukee, it was likely Wilson. Meriting double-takes and curious pokes from children and adults alike with her startlingly still ways, Wilson has appeared at nearly every one of the City of Festivals’ namesakes since June.

“I know of two other living statues in Milwaukee, and neither one is actually from here,” Wilson said. A long-time creative in many forms, a military vet and a 2004 graduate of UW-Milwaukee’s theater program, Wilson earned the Craftsmanship Category award in the costume contest at Milwaukee Comic Con in February 2016, and first place for women in the costume contest at the 2016 Four State Retro Pop & Comic Con in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.

Milwaukee’s quite possibly one and only live-in living statue can be spotted masquerading as nearly a dozen different characters. You might have seen her as a pirate, Rosie the Riveter, Willy Wonka, a steampunk Mary Poppins, Napoleon, a Wizard of Oz-style munchkin, Misty the Pokémon trainer or a horse jockey. Creations in the works include Strawberry Shortcake and a Warsaw mermaid outfit.

Aside from two or three sporadic living statue performances over the years, Wilson began her living statue work on a regular basis in June, kicking things off with her first performance at the Port Washington Pirate Festival. She’s now got dozens of performances under her belt, from Milwaukee’s famed Big Gig, PrideFest and Bastille Days, to novelties like the Oak Creek Public Library’s Hogwarts Reunion. At the special request of a retired Milwaukee firefighter, Wilson even performed at a wedding-turned-charity event to benefit burn victims through the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin Charitable Foundation.

“It’s fun, it’s making me money, and it’s also allowing me to travel and give money to charities; at least half the year now, I’ll be making my living doing this,” Wilson said of her passion-project-turned day-job.

Wilson’s work has brought her from Green Bay to Duluth this summer, performing at both cities’ Tall Ships Challenge events.

“I just happened to find something no one else had been doing yet,” Wilson said of the historic art form she’s come to master. “Two of the main things that I do just collided. I’ve been a theater actor since I was eight years old, and an art model for 12 years.”

Each street performance requires careful and thorough preparation – an impressive undertaking in itself, let alone the fact that Wilson is a total DIY-er. From the make-up to the costumes to the props, every aspect of Wilson’s living statue enterprise is a product of her personal blood, sweat and tears. And with some of the temperatures we’ve endured this summer, sweat is no understatement.

Wilson typically spends about an hour applying coats of makeup, powder and sunscreen to prepare for a performance – an exact and particular process she’s come to master through a journey of trial and error. She’s spent countless hours assembling her montage of costumes, also something of an art display in itself. 

“With costume pieces, I have to get things bigger because they shrink after being painted with the latex paint,” she said. “The clothing is essentially turned into plastic.” Wilson has acquired the majority of her costume and accessory pieces from Goodwill.

“This fuels my creativity, and I’ve never been interested in 9-5, office-type work. Not a lot of people can say they love their job. I wish everybody could do what they love.”

Keep tabs on where Wilson will be next by following the @AliceWilsonStatue Facebook page or @AliceStatues on Twitter.


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