New Bay View mural highlights neighborhood’s historic landmarks
January 7, 2017
By Katherine Keller
When the Faust Music building came tumbling down last year, the iconic “For A Stronger Bay View” message painted in red letters on its north wall fell to rubble. For decades the sign served as a quasi locator sign at the neighborhood’s northern gateway on Kinnickinnic Avenue at Ward Street.
Now a new mural three blocks south again boldly announces “Bay View.” It is part of the painting that covers the entire north wall of Steve Ste. Marie’s Maytag Laundromat, 2510 S. Kinnickinnic.
“Historic Awakenings” is the mural’s theme, referencing 23 historic Bay View landmarks. A project of the Bay View Historical Society and the Kinnickinnic Avenue Business Improvement District #44 (KK BID), the mural was designed to promote an interest in Bay View’s historic architecture, settlers, and history.
The depicted landmarks are those that were officially designated as such by the Bay View Historical Society.
Susan Ballje, one of the mural project organizers and past Bay View Historical Society president, said the idea for the mural began to emerge as the result of community visioning meetings presented by the KK BID in the past year. “Thoughts of a project to share the past and enjoy the present, and most importantly, to know Bay View’s history, began to surface,” Ballje said. The goal was to share Bay View’s history and highlight the significance of the area.
Ballje worked with the BID board, including Lee Barczak, Mary Ellen O’Donnell, and Carisse Ramos. Ald. Tony Zielinski advised them about city guidelines. “I supported the mural. We need more murals. Public art is part of our blueprint for Bay View,” Zielinski said.
Ballje and her colleagues sought and received the Bay View Historical Society’s boards’ funding support for the $6,920 project.
“The Bay View Historical Society decided to take on the responsibility (of finding a building and artists) to use the mural as a way to educate the public about the history of the area. We researched murals and looked for funding to support the design, plan, and installation.” Ballje and her colleagues researched murals in Milwaukee, Ashland, Wis., Portland, Ore., and Chicago, Ill.
The society received a $3,000 Community Improvement Project grant from the city of Milwaukee’s Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation. The remainder was funded by the Bay View Historical Society through donations made directly for the mural and from allocations from its education and community fund.
The artists they selected, Josh Ebert, Chacho Lopez, and Jon Bartels, are members of the Creative Collective of Artists from Walker’s Point. They are also tattoo artists at Walker’s Point Tattoo Company, 712 S. Second St.
“Susan called our shop and asked if we were capable of doing the mural,” Ebert said. He told her they were, and they were hired. He said she had seen some of their murals and thought he and his colleagues would be a good fit.
A number of buildings to provide “the canvas” were considered but Ste. Marie’s building was selected because it was centrally located with a big wall. “It took much longer than expected to work out contracts and agreements, find the right location, acquire funding, and create a workable design,” Ballje said. Things began to fall into place in early summer but painting didn’t begin until November.
Ste. Marie said that Ballje contacted him in May asking if he’d consider a mural on his north wall. “Anytime we, as property owners, have an opportunity to get involved with a project of this scope and depth, we should give all the support needed to move things along. We take from the community in terms of our sales, but that street runs both ways; we must also give back.”
He said under the terms of his contract, he agreed to keep the building in good repair “and standing” for the next 10 years.
Ebert said the shape and configuration of the wall, the utility meters, window, and the three-dimensional sign in the upper right corner of the wall presented challenges. The design itself required problem-solving because it would incorporate 23 landmarks. “It was difficult to integrate so many elements and still keep a consistent look and good flow,” Ebert said. “The design or sketch was put together in a matter of days, given the tight timeline. The font was chosen by Chacho to give it an ornamental antique look.”
Ebert said Bartels painted the panel with the Copper Beech tree and Lopez painted the “lettering and some buildings.” Ebert himself painted the remainder of the mural, “from the Avalon to about Puddler’s Hall.”
In total, they worked for three weeks. They began by priming the wall with a gray exterior primer to cover the existing white paint. They used spray paint to create the buildings and text. Ebert said they were paid $3,000 for the artwork plus $3,500 for materials.
“The old and the new are represented side by side, honoring the history in a very public setting,” Ballje said. “With stories and landmarks dating from the mid-1800’s, this mural helps to recognize the importance of preservation while changes are made going into the future.” She hopes the mural will stimulate conversation about Bay View history and also curiosity about the buildings that will lead to walking around the neighborhood to find the landmarks.
Ste. Marie is pleased with the finished art. “The mural actually exceeded my expectations,” he said. “It is really one of a kind and adds a lot of character to Bay View. It’s much better than a boring old white wall.”
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