Phoenix mural delivers strong message to struggling neighborhood
Charles Hausmann grew up in the area referred to today as the SOHI (South of Highland) District. Hausmann, a personal injury attorney who co-owns Hausmann-McNally, grew up on 38th and State. He was baptized on 17th and State. His mother was born on 16th and State. And he attended Marquette High School, also in the neighborhood.
"When I was a kid, that was a great neighborhood. It's always been an area of interest," says Hausmann.
As with many communities, time drastically changed the landscape. Poverty and crime became more prevalent, and many of the previously strong businesses closed. Fifteen years ago, Hausmann joined the now-defunct West End Development Corp to attempt to revitalize the neighborhood. It was decided that the focus of their efforts would be on and around 27th Street, a pedestrian-friendly block with the most potential to re-flourish.
So Hausmann bought a large building, 954-956 N. 27th St., just south of State Street (he owns another building in the neighborhood, too). The brick wall on the south side of the 27th Street building is exposed to drivers and walkers heading north in its busy lanes, and Hausmann decided it was the prime location for a mural that conveyed the possibilities of change for the SOHI District.
In 1996, Hausmann hired his stepdaughter, artist Kate Madigan, to paint the mural. Together, they conceived the idea of a phoenix rising from the ashes which represented what the neighborhood needed to do to make a come back.
"The phoenix is a symbol of rebirth, renewal and the ability to overcome obstacles," says Madigan, who grew up in Milwaukee and lived in the city from 2000 to 2008 but today resides in San Bernadino, Calif.
The image worked on multiple levels for Madigan and Hausmann. Not only was it a message to the neighborhood, but it was an important symbol of their personal lives, too.
"We chose the phoenix to reassure ourselves that we would be able to thrive, be happy, successful and continue to help others to the best of our ability despite all that life throws at us," says Madigan.
The painting process took five months, and Madigan enlisted help from local artists Faythe Levine, Mary Aimes, Vicki Just, Isabella Gargiulo and her son, Josh.
Since the phoenix, Madigan has painted many murals in Wisconsin and California. Since 2008, she has worked as an art therapist with the criminally insane at a forensic hospital in California called Patton State Hospital, which houses almost 1,500 male and female patients.
"There is a strong link between criminal activity, mental illness and creativity. I am blessed to get to create art with the best in the business," says Madigan.
Madigan's main focus with the Patton residents is mural-making because of its communal, collaborative quality which she believes contributes to the healing-through-art process. She also, however, works with them in other mediums, including arts and crafts, music and dance.
"There is hardly a patient at Patton who doesn't make some kind of art every week, even if it is coloring or making a card for someone going through a hard time, or writing in his or her journal," says Madigan. "I am so lucky to work at a facility which understands the power of healing through art."
Madigan has a variety of critiques for the 27th Street mural. She believes she could create a stronger design and improve, specifically, the face, if she were to tackle the project with all that she knows today. But despite her thoughts on the aesthetics, the message of the mural remains strong.
"The phoenix is a human theme, it speaks of hope, and speaks to anyone who aspires to reach his or her potential. Life is short and beautiful and inevitably filled with struggles of all kinds," says Madigan.
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