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Feren's public art brings vitality to Brew City

Wisconsin's Steve Feren has created public art since 1981, and in the process, has made a strong connection with the community -- something he feels is a responsibility of all artists.

"I see artists separating themselves, but I believe the artist should regain the role (in community) that they've lost over the years," says Feren, who resides in rural Oregon, Wisconsin, and headed the Glass area at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for fifteen years.

Most recently, Feren's "Wind Lilies" was installed on The River Walk in Downtown Milwaukee. The fun, colorful piece features four tall, skinny-middled, silver pillars topped with brightly colored spinning shapes.

"Lilies" took him only two weeks to create. This is unusually fast for Feren -- most of his pieces require between six months to a year of work -- but the installation is temporary and the city needed the job done quickly. However, it was an enjoyable two weeks for Feren, thanks to the creative freedom of the commission.

"The city wanted something that wasn't too noisy or controversial, but otherwise it was pretty much wide open," says Feren, who expressed his gratefulness to the support of Marsha Sehler of Uihlein-Wilson and a member of The Milwaukee River Walk board.

Feren, who has public art in cities from New Jersey to Palo Alto, California, currently has seven permanent pieces in Milwaukee (and one in the backyard of a Whitefish Bay resident.)

"Megaphore," a glass and steel sculpture, was recently installed in the new Washington Park Library. (Photographed below) "Topiary Lucere" is a fiber optic, concrete and glass piece in front of the Marriott Hotel on Plankinton and Wisconsin. Brookfield's Sharon Lynne Wilson Center houses the remarkable "Flock" and "Gear 23,"a concrete, aluminum and glass sculpture, stands in front of the fire station on Appleton Avenue.

The main public library features two of Feren's pieces. "OK, Ready for Zora," a tribute to Feren's 17-year-old daughter, Zora, is near the children's section and "Asaraton" is at the entrance of the art, science and music collection.

Feren is currently working on a sculpture for the new Stone Creek Coffee's outdoor patio in Bay View. "It's a large, coffee boiler sort of thing," he says.

Feren has lived in Oregon for 20 years, and finds solace and affordability in the country. A self-described "loner who likes people," he isn't one to rub elbows with the country's latest and greatests, rather prefers the small community of artists and faculty members in Madison.

Feren admits his private work is sometimes less joyful than his public art. (In a glass sculpture self-portrait he has himself wearing a dunce cap, for instance.) Yet a playful, almost child-like, element appears in almost every one of Feren's public pieces.

"My work is much less cynical than my personality, but I'm a humorous cynic," he says, chuckling. " I try to leave the cynicism out of my public work. I don't think we need it."

Feren feels public art is essential to people's perception of Milwaukee as a vital cultural center. He thinks Milwaukee has a fair share of creative support for a city its size, but needs to keep striving for more artistic appreciation.

"People rave about European cities and public art is part of what gives the flavor to these cities," he says. "Here in the U.S. we need to rethink our position and build the same tradition."

For more information about Steve Feren and his work, go to


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