Each February, Black History Month is an opportunity to highlight Black culture makers. Throughout Wisconsin, from urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison to idyllic and charming small towns, Black artists are making their mark through murals as well as within collections at museums.
Here are seven places to admire and appreciate Black art, from a new mural in downtown Madison to the permanent collections at Art Preserve, Museum of Wisconsin Art, and Milwaukee Art Museum.
1. Art Preserve, Sheboygan
Dr. Charles Smith’s 218 sculptures — the largest holding of his work — can be found on the third (top) floor of this three-year-old museum, which is located on a nature preserve and is an offshoot of downtown Sheboygan’s John Michael Kohler Arts Center.
Like other artists who exhibit here, Smith’s work falls into the category of Outsider art. He documents the Black community — from slavery to the present — through depictions that include fallen soldiers during the Vietnam War and lesser-known figures (such as the first Black postmaster general, Howard McGee).
2. Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
Within the museum’s permanent collection — which includes works by household-name artists like Georgia O’Keefe and Andy Warhol — are close to 100 works (mostly paintings and sculptures) by Haitian artists. Acquired by Richard and Erna Flagg, who began collecting art from Haiti in 1973, this is considered one of the country’s most renowned collections of Haitian art and is among the oldest and largest outside of Haiti.
Artists represented include Hector Hyppolite, Castera Bazile, Wilson Bigaud, Préfète Duffaut, Philomé Obin, Rigaud Benoit, and Georges Liautaud. Within the museum, this collection has its own bright, bold, and vibrant gallery space on Level 1 Mezzanine.
3. Madison Area Technical College, Madison
An exhibit at Gallery at Truax—this college’s art gallery—called “Restoring the Black Woman” (through Feb. 29) is the third annual show hosted by the Black Women’s Affinity Group. It brings together Black artists across several mediums to show the experience of Black Women through multiple lenses. The exhibit opened Feb. 1, timed with Black History Month.
Among the artists represented are Milwaukee acrylic artist Bolanie Awosika, UW-Milwaukee assistant professor of early childhood education Dr. Crystasany R. Turner, Madison artist and educator Althea René Miller-Sims, and DarRen Morris, an incarcerated man serving a life sentence in Wisconsin who is widely exhibited throughout the state.
4. Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel, Milwaukee
Recently named the second Artist in Residence for this arts-themed boutique hotel in downtown Milwaukee, interdisciplinary artist Anwar Floyd-Pruitt hosts craft and art workshops on-site and also invites people to see his works in progress inside his studio, which is also in the hotel.
This includes collage creation, performance opportunities, and crafting zines. Floyd-Pruitt also has a rich background as a puppeteer and has taught puppet-making workshops.
5. Kiba Freeman’s “Carbon Cycle” Mural, Madison
In May of 2020, in response to George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police and subsequent protests against police brutality that were held in cities such as Madison, murals popped up along State Street. Many are no longer — as is the nature of murals — but a new one debuted downtown last summer by Kiba Freeman.
As the mural’s title suggests, it’s an artistic depiction of the carbon cycle in life and nature, bridging art and science. Its creation results from a partnership between the city of Madison and UW-Madison. Find it at State Street Apartments, 318 W. Gorham Street.
6. Mahogany Gallery, Racine
Owned by Scott Terry, a Black practicing visual artist, this fine art gallery in Racine’s Uptown neighborhood debuted in 2019 within the Mahogany Black Arts & Cultural Center. The focus is on exhibiting art created by both emerging and established artists of color from not only in Wisconsin but throughout the U.S.
Terry is also the founder of the Wisconsin Black Art & Culture Expo, a two-month-long event with artist talks, curated art shows, and sculpture workshops that starts in February and pops up at venues in Racine and Kenosha.
7. Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend
This museum’s focus is to highlight the work of artists — both living and deceased — with connections to Wisconsin, and that includes Reginald Baylor of Milwaukee, whose artistic career began as a sculptor. Within the collection is his Pop Art-inspired, acrylic-on-canvas painting (“The Directions To and From”), created in 2013 and acquired by the museum a year later.
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