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Middlebrook tips scale in favor of public art

David Middlebrook wanted to reconnect with his Midwestern roots. A native of Michigan, the 60-year-old world-class artist lives in Los Gatos, Calif., and recently was able to fulfill his desire when he traveled to Milwaukee to help install his 20-ton sculpture in Gordon Park.

Middlebrook's proposal was unanimously selected by a panel of residents, artists, county engineers, architects and county supervisors a year and a half ago. Middlebrook says the piece, tentatively called "Tip," is the most challenging work he's done to date, and that it required comprehensive research about Milwaukee.

The sculpture, valued at $50,000, is part of the $2.5 million effort, funded by Milwaukee County, to rebuild Gordon Park, located on the corner of Humboldt and Locust in Riverwest.

The 40-by-20-foot work features a tree branch and anvil atop a towering marble iceberg, with the tip of the branch grazing a collection of cultural icons on a column imprinted with giant thumb prints of Riverwest residents.

Middlebrook says it represents Milwaukee's timeline, from the glacial age to the arrival of Italian immigrants to modern industry.

The sculpture was shipped in pieces by train, and a crane completed the installation. The work was completed in time for the Fourth of July celebration in the park.

"I still don't know how we moved it," he says. "It was like moving Barnum & Bailey."

Prior to the sculpture's journey to Brew City, Middlebrook was married beneath it in his California studio on May 22 to his girlfriend of 18 years. He said he usually throws a party in his studio after he finishes a piece of public art so friends and family can view it before it moves to its new home city, and the wedding was his most magnificent celebration to date.

Consequently, "Tip" will forever hold special meaning to Middleberg and his new wife.

"It has a lot of delicacy, sensitivity and intimacy," he says. "Not to mention color, texture, mass, grace, story, rhythm, passion and intent. I love this piece. I'm really proud of it."


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