Old South Side Settlement Museum brings home history
The Old South Side Settlement Museum, 707 W. Lincoln Ave., focuses on the history of the Park Neighborhoods (Lincoln Village and Baran Park). The museum is spread across several rooms on the ground floor of a 105-year-old house; each room represents different families at different time periods in the neighborhood.
The museum grew out of the studies that anthropologists in Urban Anthropology, Inc. (UrbAn) have been conducting for 12 years. UrbAn and its projects, including the museum, are "dedicated to the celebration of cultural diversity and a holistic approach to urban problem-solving." This mission is broadly applied, extending past scholarly inquiry and artifact curation to community projects and activism.
Jill Florence Lackey founded the museum and was until recently executive director of UrbAn. She will be delivering a free lecture entitled, "Milwaukee's Ethnic Groups: Who are They and What are They Up To?" at the museum on Wednesday, September 14 at 7 p.m. The lecture will cover much of the anthropological studies the group has worked on for so long.
The museum tour emphasizes the similarities between Polish and Mexican cultures and how families got along because of shared leisure-time activities and the Roman Catholic church. "You still find a lot of Polish-Mexican intermarriage in Milwaukee," says Rick Petrie, who's been executive director of Urban Anthropology, Inc. for one year, since Lackey retired.
The 45-minute museum tour is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors / children and is free for residents of the park neighborhoods. All visitors need to make reservations to enter the museum by calling (414) 271-9417. The museum can comfortably accommodate 25-30 people at one time, and has done school groups of 30.
The front room of the former ground floor flat is the museum's reception area, and features artists whose work has been prominent in the park neighborhoods. Among these are early- to mid-20th century photographs by Roman Kwasniewski, drawings by Todd Gnacinski and pieces of Wycinanki, which are beautiful, Polish paper-cutting artwork.
The next stop in the museum is the dining room, which looks like it did when the Rozgas (the family of the funeral home next door) lived there in the 1920s. The museum building is still owned by the funeral home, and the Rozga family donated some antique pieces for the display.
Information given by the tour guide includes how the Rozga family, who owned two funeral homes but lost one, would offer free funerals to families who could not pay during the Great Depression. An article in The New York Times newspaper dated Oct. 28, 1929, the day before the Wall Street crash, sits folded in the room as part of the display.
The last stop on the tour is the kitchen, which is set up to model how the Figueroa family had their kitchen arranged during the 1950s.
"The Figurroas were among the first Mexican American families to migrate this way," says Petrie.
Petrie attended both UWM and MIAD, has a degree in commercial art, and lots of experience working with Lackey and UrbAn. Petrie worked for Lackey in her previous consulting business, while Urban Anthropology was in its infancy. Before that, he designed brochures and other media, and was a museum administrator. When Urban Anthropology formed and founded the museum, Petrie was able to get in on the ground floor, drawing on his experiences administering the Charles Allis and Villa Terrace Decorative Art museums.
Petrie also offers another guided tour, two Saturdays a month from June through October, called "The cultures and architecture of Lincoln Avenue." Prices for this walking tour are the same as for the museum, but reservations aren't required. Anyone interested should just arrive outside the Old Town Serbian Gourmet House, 522 W. Lincoln Ave. Call the museum for days and times.
UrbAn is working on putting together a bus tour called "Lost Milwaukee," which would drive people through various areas that were once thriving ethnic neighborhoods, such as the Third Ward (Italian American) and what used to be Bronzeville (African American). Other projects in the works include a tour of homes in the park neighborhoods.
UrbAn claims it's the only non-profit group of its kind "that studies people in their own backyards." These studies are applied to urban growth and renewal of the park neighborhoods with public art and projects such as Operation Artists, Scholars and Innovators (OASIS).
OASIS attempts to attract artists, scholars and entrepreneurs to the park neighborhoods. Through this project, UrbAn connects with other community organizations, such as the LGBT Community Center, 252 E. Highland Ave., and the many arts groups in the city. UrbAn is a neighborhood ambassador and seems to act somewhat as an intermediary, showcasing neighborhood talent and pointing other community groups toward the housing and commercial properties available in the neighborhoods, hoping the creative people associated with these groups will consider moving there.
UrbAn also produces films of historical and anthropological significance. These documentaries are on DVD and available for purchase at the museum and via the website. Some titles include, "Urban Indians and the Culture of Collective Action" and "The Kashubes of Jones Island: The People that Nobody Knew." The Kashubes were also the subject of a popular boat tour the museum offered until the owner of the boat retired. But artifacts from the fishing villagers' homes on Jones Island were donated by relatives and are display in a room of the museum.
Among the public art projects completed by UrbAn are the "Youth Art Pillars." Located across the street from the museum in Kosciuszko Park, the two pillars consist of series of ceramic tiles, each depicting periods or specific events. The tiles were designed by young artists from schools in the area. The first pillar was erected in 2009 and the second, which showcases histories of Germans, Puerto Ricans and Africa Americans in the city, was built earlier this year.
And then there's the Family Tree Project. "We put 13 new trees in the park. Each tree has a tag dedicated to the ancestors of those who helped. This is connecting ancestry to the environment," says Petrie.
i've done some intern work at UrbAn a few times and it is a great place, great to see a story about them and the wonderful Lincoln Park neighborhood. Seriously, stop by the little mexican candy shop nearby (it's actually part of the tour), great treats!
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