What The Folk? American Objects From The UWM Art Collections!

This is a very exciting and challenging show and I apologize for taking so long to post about it. What The Folk? is a show of American Art Objects selected from the UWM Art Collections by curators Professor Kay Wells and Gallery Director Leigh Mahlik as well as students from Prof. Wells art history class on American Folk Art. The show is in the Emile H Mathis Gallery in Mitchell Hall and runs through May 9, 2024. The gallery is open from 10 AM to 4 PM next Monday through Thursday and admission is free and it is open to the public. If you want some additional background on the Mathis, check out my earlier post here.

The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee is fortunate to have an extensive collection of objects that fall into the various categories that make up the broad arena of Folk Art. This particular show focuses on American art objects, but of course not all Folk Art is American.

What The Folk? presents us with objects in all media, from paintings to sculpture, from assemblages to collage, from paper silhouettes to tin cutout street scenes and table top dioramas. All in a panoply of color and style…and just a joy to behold. But it’s not just the visuals that inform here. There is a clear explanation of the sub-genres considered part of Folk Art written on the walls of the exhibit: Outsider Art; Americana; Visionary Art; Self Taught Art. So at this point I am going to stop writing and just show you a few of my favorites from the show!!

Unknown Artist: no date: Husband and Wife Silhouette
Unknown Artist: Untitled (Dia de los Muertos 1993
Josephus Farmer, Dixieland (Picking Cotton) 1980
Kacey Carneal, 100 Million Children Live In The Streets, 2016
Leroy Archuleta, Untitled, 1984
From Door County Wisconsin, Edward Zahn, untitled (Red Angel) 1997 and Randy Zahn untitled (Rooster and Bird Tree) and other two untitled pieces, all undated.

A Place For A Muse: The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery @ UW – Milwaukee

Entry to the Mathis Gallery, Mitchell Hall Rm 170 © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

I can’t believe that it has been nearly two years since I posted my first and only A Place For A Muse post. That one was about the Paine Art Center in Oshkosh. I intended to write posts about the museums that I visited and describe their attributes and amenities. If you want to read my original rationale and announcement for the series, check it out here. But I got distracted, mostly by theater. So with the second feature about The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, let’s hope I can back on track.

View of Gallery A in the Mathis Gallery from the front entrance. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

My original intent was to discuss museums and The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery isn’t called a museum. But it isn’t a gallery either. It doesn’t have a stable of artists, it doesn’t sell art, it doesn’t hold solo shows for contemporary artists, it isn’t commercial in anyway. It is far more than a gallery…it is the portal into the extensive collection of donated art at UWM. And it serves the university community in a number of ways but to me it seems to be nearly invisible to the wider community in Milwaukee, and that is a shame.

another view of Gallery A in the Mathis Gallery. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery is a 2,400 square foot exhibition space in Room 170 of UWM’s venerable Mitchell Hall. Mitchell Hall is located on the Southeast corner of Downer Ave and Kenwood Ave and Room 170 is on the first floor near the Southwest corner of the building (facing towards Mellencamp Hall and the Student Union). The official address of Mitchell Hall is 3203 North Downer Ave., Milwaukee, WI.

View of Gallery B in the Mathis Gallery. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

The Mathis gallery is free and open to the public as well as the university community. But it is only open during the academic year (September through May but not during semester break or spring break) because it is staffed by students. During the current semester, it is open from 11 AM to 4 PM Monday through Thursday. The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery is part of the university’s Art History Department. And the gallery is named for Emile Mathis who donated his extensive collection of prints on paper to the university.

The university has an extensive holding of art works and objects and they are used in a number of ways. Of course the collection is available to art history students for their study and research. And each year there are a number of thesis shows assembled by graduating art history majors to support their research and field of interest. These shows are primarily sourced from the collection. What a great experience, to be able to search through a collection and pull works that provide insight into your field of interest and then curate a show to share your knowledge with the rest of the community.

Another view of Gallery B in the Mathis Gallery. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

And professors and staff also put together any number of shows over the course of a semester or academic year. I have seen some amazing shows. Some of my favorites featured Byzantine Icons, or S.W. Hayter prints, or African Art, and the current show, What the Folk!, which explains and displays the various sub-genre’s of folk art.

Oh, I almost forgot. The UWM collection is also being digitized and shared online. If you want to take a peek or have your own research project underway or just have a favorite artist to look for, here’s the link to the collection!!

Extra Credit Reading: The Mathis Gallery Home Page Is Here! or Plan Your Visit here, if you have a particular question or want to insure the gallery is open when you want to visit, contact them here mathisartgallery@uwm.edu. AND some collection highlights!

The current shows run through May 9, 2024.

another view of the entrance the the Mathis Gallery. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman