Celebrations are taking place all around the country in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of landmark American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and Milwaukee – where Olmsted’s firm designed Lake, Riverside and Washington Parks, helping to launch our beautiful parks system – is hosting its own.
“In the Park with Olmsted: A Vision for Milwaukee,” which looks at Olmsted’s career and influence, with a focus on his work here, opens April 14 at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., and it runs through Sept. 25.
An opening night reception takes place at 6 p.m. and includes a 7 p.m. curator talk with Annemarie Sawkins and remarks by Anne “Dede” Neal Petri, who is president and CEO of the National Association for Olmsted Parks.
On April 26 – Olmsted’s birthday – the museum hosts “Olmsted and ‘Parks for All’: Democracy, Equity, and Environmental Justice” at 6 p.m., with panelists Arijit Sen, Patrick Mullins, August Ball, Steven Hunter and moderator Michael Carrierre, MSOE. The event is hosted by the Milwaukee Area Cultural Landscape Alliance.
The exhibition will also spur a series of walking tours of the Milwaukee Olmsted parks. Even more enduring will be a catalog that will be the first book to focus on Olmsted’s work here.
The exhibit, curated by Sawkins and Martha Chaiklin – and presented by The Friends of Villa Terrace – is one of the many events slated for cities across the country, which you can find at the Olmsted200.org website, coordinated with the National Association for Olmsted Parks (NAOP).
Celebrated as the “Father of American Landscape Architecture,” Olmsted’s idyllic landscapes – which appear natural but typically heavily designed and landscaped – helped create a nation-wide vision for parks that were open to all.
While his best-known works are places like Central and Prospect Parks in New York City, the U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington, D.C., the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and Boston’s Emerald Necklace of parks, Olmsted’s vision was also important in Milwaukee thanks to his work at Lake Park, Riverside Park and Washington Park, each of which, to some degree, still display his vision.
Lake Park, especially, remains – according to many – the loveliest jewel in the County Parks System.
“While there were some public squares, there really were no public parks in the United States before Olmsted set the standard,” says curator Sawkins.
“He redefined cities by designing public parks for all. Milwaukee is among a select group of cities with not one but three Olmsted parks. Olmsted’s influence on the future of Milwaukee’s park system is both undeniable and profound, hence the need to celebrate.”
The Milwaukee show will include new and old photographs (include 1937 aerial images of Milwaukee), postcards, maps, plans, posters, paintings, videos and more.
You can learn more about the show at olmstedmilwaukee.org.
“We were drawn to an exhibition profiling Frederick Law Olmsted because of his important history as a conversationist, an advocate for critical societal issues like public health and mass transit, and for his vision for parks and green spaces that provided more equitable access to all,” says Neil Albrecht, interim executive director for the Charles Allis and Villa Terrace Art Museums.
“Milwaukee parks and greenways designed or inspired by Olmsted helped shape the city’s development and, subsequently, the Milwaukee County Parks system.”
Admission to the Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and students. and free for children ages 12 and under.
Reservations, at villaterrace.org, are available Wednesday and Friday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon-7 p.m.
“Olmsted is a rare example of an icon who is nevertheless under-rated,” says Guest Curator Martha Chaiklin. “He had an enormous influence not just in his time, but on the landscape of America. The 200th anniversary seemed the perfect opportunity to highlight his contribution to Milwaukee.”
More Olmsted200 events
A series of Olmsted-focused events is also on tap up in Kohler. Find links to information on those events here.
Milwaukee Area Cultural Landscape Alliance (MACLA), the MSOE University Scholars Honors Program and the Milwaukee Turners host a talk by Laurence Cotton, the filmmaker behind "Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America."
The events takes place Saturday May 7, at MSOE's Diercks Hall, 1025 N. Milwaukee St., at 6 p.m.
Cotton – whose film can be typically be seen on the PBS app – will speak about "Frederick Law Olmsted: Bringing Nature into the City and Creating Breathing Space for Democracy."
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 OnMilwaukee.com 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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.