Murals in Milwaukee

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Philadelphia’s got some 2,000 murals but it’s not the only town with wall painters. My long-time friend, Kitty Thompson, is a mural painter in a town, Milwaukee, with few murals. Thompson, who teaches at Milwaukee Institute for Art and Design (MIAD), is also an illustrator and sidewalk chalk artist. Right now, she’s working on walls at the new Urban Ecology Center, (kind of like the Schuylkill Valley Nature Center in Philadelphia). The Ecology Center operated for years out of two trailers in nearby Riverside park but now after a capital campaign, they’re moving to a new — still under construction — state of the art teaching center.

Thompson’s murals will adorn the walls and ceiling of a children’s slide (sliding board) area. (image top is Thompson in front of her still in process mural in the slide area). She’s also working on seven, six-foot panels for a classroom at the center. The panels will depict the habitat at different times of year and will include anatomically-correct depictions of birds and animals that can be used for teaching.

Thompson’s work has always had a joyous quality that comes from her upbeat spirit and her embrace of people, animals, and what life throws at you. What I’ve seen of the murals tells me that they will carry on that spirit of exuberance and positivism. (image is one of the panels in Thompson’s house)

While the mural for the sliding board is going up right on site, Thompson’s been working on the large, six-foot teaching panels in her house. In fact, they’ve taken over the first floor which at the moment has little furniture in it.

She told me that for the teaching panels, she’s using a combination of acrylic paint for the background and oil paint for the animals and birds in their anatomical exactitude.

There’s always been an anthropomorphic quality to Thompson’s animals and here is no exception. The animals welcome you like they’re your neighbors. Guess they are.

Milwaukee is a sprawling place and as we drove from the Ecology Center to Thompson’s house then out for coffee I got my camera out to take one of my favorite types of pictures, person in car. There’s something about the small, pod-like car and the giant person inside that interests me. Also the lighting is off somehow, which makes it more dramatic. I’ve got a collection. Anyway, I snapped a picture of my friend driving her truck.

Then she told me about a friend of hers, Mike Fredrickson, a painter with a similar obsession. Fredrickson makes paintings of people driving cars. (I’m sure he paints other things, too, but he does indeed paint people driving cars). We stopped at the Uptowner bar in Riverwest (the Old City of Milwaukee) to check out three of his diptych paintings installed high on the walls. (shown is one)

Here’s my question, is the people in cars obsession a Milwaukee thing or what?

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