By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 27, 2024 at 11:01 AM

Although the new Milwaukee Public Museum isn’t expected to open to the public for another three years, when you have literally millions of things to pack, it pays to get started early.

That’s why collections staff at MPM has already started the years-long effort to pack objects for the move to the new museum, which will occupy a 2.4-acre site on the northeast corner of 6th and McKinley, across from the Deer District.

Packers at work.

"Packing and moving a collection can take years and years and years and years," said MPM Collections Move Project Manager and Registrar Sara Podejko Tuesday morning. "A collection of our size is going to take a long time to move, so if we don't start now, we'll never make it.

"In addition to this packing, there was a lot of prep that we had to go through in order to get to this stage. Packing is really the last step in the process. There's a lot we have to do beforehand."

The team invited media in to see the work in action on as they began wrapping in acid free tissue, packing in archival-quality foam and packing 23,000 fragile ceramic and glass items like dishware, vases, teapots and figurines that are part of the history collection.

Most of the objects were made in the 19th century.

Sara Podejko
MPM's Sara Podejko explains the packing process.

Inorganic objects like these, staffers say, can safely be stored for long periods of time without being compromised by pests, temperature fluctuations and other threats.

All of the items currently being packed have most recently been in storage at the museum, not on view in the galleries (though many of them have been shown over the years).

"First what we do is we work with our curators and they help us identify which collections are going to be the best candidates within the collections we've prepped to actually be formally packed," said Podejko.

"(Then) we bring them down from the collection space, we stage them on ... shelves, and then we work with a really great team of packers.  

"We have to be very careful that each object is considered uniquely for its safety. We lay them out so we get a good idea of size, we get a good idea of any conditional problems, if there are previous breaks, things that we have to watch out for. And then our packers actually do the packing process."

A fully packed crate.

The wrapped objects will be stored in one of the 4 x 4 x 4-foot collapsable and reusable crates that the museum has had specially built. So far, MPM has nearly 60 of these crates.

MPM staff worked with Wisconsin-based Orbis – a reusable packaging company – to create adjustable and removable internal dividers that help maximize space and safety in the crates.

“The archival material we use to preserve and protect our collections items is inert, acid-free and dye-free, so the original quality of those items is not compromised during the packing and moving process,” said Podejko.

Some of the ceramics collection awaiting packing.

“Since this material is safe to use with many different objects, we’re able to reuse it through the entire packing process, an important element of our preparation which will allow us to be as sustainable as possible and eliminate unnecessary waste as we pack and move more than 4 million objects in total.”

A key step undertaken before packing was an inventory of all the items, each of which got a barcode that will allow curators to know instantly where each item is at any given time and connect it to scientific and other data.

This is a step that takes time but will be a boon for the museum, said Chester Read Curator of History Collections Jackie Schweitzer.

“In 2019, our small team started to fill in gaps in our digital records,” she said. “Since that time, we have transcribed and imported over 144,000 handwritten object records into our collection management system, allowing for streamlined inventory as well as barcoding to track each object throughout the moving process.

Each object is literally tied with a bow.

"Now our team has expanded to include additional individuals dedicated to inventorying and packing our collections.”

Fully packed crates will remain on-site until they are moved by truck either to the new museum building, once it is ready, or to the museum’s off-site storage facility.

The museum is still seeking properties for that facility.

Once unpacked, the empty crates can be sent back to MPM to be refilled with more objects until everything has been moved out of the old building at 8th and Wells Streets.

The museum currently has three staff members working on this collection, which is expected to take about a year to pack, according to Podejko.


"This is really our prototype collection," she said. "We're determining how the rest of the pack and move is going to go. But we do have others working right now, and we're hiring for more departments as well to start inventorying those collections."

Podejko said the packing and moving effort is likely to continue in the current museum building even after the new museum is open.

The museum has no intention of deaccessioning any of the objects in its collection, which belongs to Milwaukee County, Podejko said.

“The MPM Curatorial team is proud to have hit this point in the moving process after several years of preparation,” said Schweitzer.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.