By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 30, 2023 at 9:02 AM

If you haven’t heard, The Warehouse Art Museum is a gallery-sized space located on the first floor of the Guardian Fine Art Services building at 1635 W. St. Paul Ave. in the Menomonee Valley.

While it’s arguably one of the best-kept secrets in the local world of art museums, thanks to shows like the recently closed – and very exciting – William Kentridge show (which spawned a full-on arts festival, and a rare appearance here by the South African artist himself), The Warehouse is also working up to being among the best art venues around ... full stop.

Further solidifying that opinion is the recently opened exhibit featuring the late Milwaukee painter Ruth Grotenrath.

“Rediscovering Ruth Grotenrath: All Things Belong To This Earth” opened opn Jan. 13 and runs through March 31. It includes more than 90 works by the artist, as well as an opening salvo of portraits of Grotenrath taken by museum co-owner, artist Jan Serr.

Serr photosX

Grotenrath and Lichtner were friends with Serr and her husband and Guardian Fine Art & The Warehouse co-owner John Shannon.

Admission to the museum, which is open weekdays from 10 until 4, is free.

There are still lifes, landscapes, portraits – including of Grotenrath’s also respected Milwaukee artist husband, Schomer Lichtner – paintings, works on paper and more in the exhibition.

A portrait of Shomer Lichtner.

Born in 1912, Grotenrath grew up on the East Side and attended Bartlett Avenue and Riverside High Schools.

She was one of the area’s WPA-era muralists and forged her own style, which embraced Modernism and also seemed to take inspiration at times from Fauvists and Matisse, with expressionistic lines and bursts of bright color.

Modern MadonnaX

Her work was varied and one of the most striking pieces in the show – and largest in terms of format – is a 1935 riff on a Madonna and Child with John the Baptist-style triad portrait that is a powerful statement against the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe at the time.

“Modern Madonna” is now in the collection of the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

Annemarie Sawkins, PhD, guest curator of the show, wrote in the exhibition catalogue that “Modern Madonna” was Grotenrath’s, “most socio-political work of art. In it, her frustrations over the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy are palpable. Grotenrath’s Madonna is blindfolded by political forces within society, monied interests, the Church, and increased militarism, represented by the swastika and fasces.

“Drawn by the allure of bayonets, playing ‘soldier’ captivates the oldest child more than his blocks. Books representing knowledge are locked away and pages are ripped from a volume in an act of censorship. Furthermore, a grotesque figure offers rotten fruit to a clearly menaced younger child. Perhaps Grotenrath, a tacit feminist, felt challenged by bias and the status quo in society and felt propelled to paint this major work.”

It’s quite a sight to behold.

The table (left) is depicted in the painting (at right).

But so are the many more works on view painted by Grotenrath at her family’s lake cottage, located out near Holy Hill.

Though she died in 1988 and Lichtner passed away in 2006, the cottage is still in the family and I was lucky enough to stop in to see the exhibition when the husband of the artists' grand-niece was getting a tour from Shannon.

I insinuated myself and got to hear all kinds of interesting stories about the painters and their lives amid their family. This informal tour guide recognized every tree, every vista, every piece of furniture in the works and had related stories for each.

A perfect illustration was, in a still life painting of a window at the cottage, he pointed to a simple glass juicer and said, “That juicer is still sitting right there. I use that juicer all the time.”

The juicerX
juicer close-upX

It was a beautiful reminder that great art and great artists live among us. You don’t have to look far. Rather, look closely in your own city and you will find amazingly creative, talented people.

And the works of one of them – sadly, no longer with us – can be seen through March 31 at The Warehouse. Don’t miss this show, and keep an eye on The Warehouse because it’s on a roll.

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.