Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Painting Headed Back to Governor’s Mansion

Rejected by Walker, Evers will have painting of three Milwaukee children re-installed.

By - Mar 1st, 2019 03:18 pm
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David Lenz painting "Wishes in the Wind." Photo by Michael Horne.

David Lenz painting “Wishes in the Wind.” Photo by Michael Horne.

Last November, after Tony Evers won the governorship, I visited the Milwaukee Public Library to look at a painting entitled “Wishes in the Wind.” The David Lenz work was commissioned for the Executive Residence in 2007, at the beginning of the second term of Democrat Jim Doyle. It was installed in November 2010, at the end of his term. Just weeks after Republican Scott Walker took office in January, 2011, the painting was shipped to the Milwaukee Public Library, where it was unveiled in its new location that June.

Will Painting Return to Governor’s Mansion?” I wondered in an article on November 21st.

The answer is yes, it was announced Wednesday February 27th at an event held at the library. The painting is to be replaced with a high-quality print. Rarely is the loss of an original work of art and its replacement with a facsimile considered good news. But in this case it is. Furthermore, Lenz proposes to create an original work for the library’s significant collection of Wisconsin art.

… it seems to me the Milwaukee Central library should have its own painting, and I expressed that sentiment to City Librarian Paula Kiely, and I am so grateful that the library is interested.

Okay so we’re fully aware that we’re putting the cart before the horse here, we don’t have any specifics for you. We don’t know the size, we don’t know the subject matter, it will probably be several years in the making, and crucially we don’t have a sponsor, yet. … But if everything works out as I hope it will, a few years from now we will have a new painting to replace this print.

I would love to paint a picture specifically for this library and for this city. And have it hang here for all times.

Why the Controversy?

It is significant that the painting was commissioned for a specific location in the Executive Residence. It was clearly the intent of the sponsors, including Richard Pieper, who paid for it, that the work, showing three young children in a wintry urban Milwaukee setting should be a permanent fixture of the mansion. He told me in November that he “wanted the painting to hang in the mansion to remind visiting legislators about the powerless in society, in particular young people like the boy who lost a father and a brother to drunken driving.”

Lenz had met in 2006 with members of the Wisconsin Executive Residence Foundation (WERF), a non-profit group involved with the home of Wisconsin governors. Although the home had a significant collection of Wisconsin art (much of which had been donated unsolicited), most of the scenes were unpopulated landscapes set in rural areas. You would never imagine from such Federal Duck Stamp imagery that a quarter of the state’s population lived in the Milwaukee area. The board members wanted to change that. According to remarks Lenz made Wednesday:

What was missing, they said, was any pictures of people, especially there were no pictures of children … for that matter, there wasn’t even any images of our cities. So they thought it would be wonderful to add to this collection by commissioning some new artwork, filing some of the holes as it were, by adding pieces that represented the entire breadth of the state.

One child was chosen by the Boys and Girls Club, another had lived at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, and the third had lost his father and a brother to a drunk driver. Lenz is known for his meticulous brushwork and choice of subject matters. A retrospective of his work at the Museum of Wisconsin Art was subtitled “People on the Periphery.”

Milwaukeean Catherine Doyle, whose brother was governor during the commissioning of the painting, and who served on the committee, told me last November: “The fact that the removal of the painting seems to have been one of the first things Governor Walker did was particularly shocking and heartbreaking. It felt like a rejection of the message and meaning of the work of art”.

Pieper told me in November: “We paid for the work for the residence … Our contract was with [WERF] on the premise that the piece would be used in the mansion, that it would be on display.” As to whether the painting would be returned, Pieper said, “It likely will go back. It’s up to the foundation and it’s up to the new governor. I don’t know if the new governor is aesthetic, or if he understands it any more than the Walkers did.”

It appears from this welcome news that Tony Evers gets it.

According to a telephone conversation with Charlene Malueg, the Executive Residence director, the painting has not yet been reinstalled above the fireplace in the Drawing Room, which Lenz describes as “the mansion’s main room used for public receptions. THE spot in the residence.”

3 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Painting Headed Back to Governor’s Mansion”

  1. docktora says:

    It is returning to where it belongs. I hope the previous resident took its replacement (“Three Dogs Playing Poker” on velvet) with him to his new hovel.

  2. blurondo says:

    This piece says more about the Republican Party and what it believes and promotes than any in depth study.

  3. The Milwaukee Public Library provided a service which is truly at the heart of the purpose of libraries: to preserve and transmit our culture and knowledge from one generation to the next, and to protect this knowledge and culture in times of darkness until enlightenment prevails. I’m so proud to live in a city with such a great public library preserving the foundations of our civilization.

    I believe the Walker administration will long be remembered by this painting: what about it did Scott Walker and his supporters dislike so much that they literally could not stand the sight of it?

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