the giant food products corporation, has been in the news lately for
closing its beef cattle slaughterhouse, resulting in the sudden loss of
about 600 jobs. Earlier this year, it was at the center of a
much quieter story of preservation. The company was in the process of
demolishing several disused structures on its property. One of them, an
old, decaying cattle ramp, had long formed the backdrop of a
small sculpture park nestled in the Menomonee Valley.
well-maintained sculpture park sits in the shadow of the 16th St. viaduct.
It was created in the 1980s by Bernard Peck, vice president of the former
Peck Meat Packing Corporation. Peck provided sculptors Joseph Mendla and Hilary Goldblatt with
studio and gallery space and was inspired to turn part of the
company’s grounds into a place for sculpture.
|"Menomonee," Hilary Goldblatt|
Mendla and Goldblatt each contributed a sculpture to the
new park. Goldblatt’s contribution was a
site-specific Cor-Ten steel abstraction entitled “Menomonee” that evokes the
history of the Valley as well as its surroundings, including the cattle ramp
and nearby viaduct. Mendla donated “Space Game,” a welded-steel sculpture with
three interlocking parts in contrasting colors. The sculpture was originally
intended for an indoor setting where the three pieces could be playfully
rearranged. A concrete pedestal was added when the work was sited at the
entrance to the corporate marketing center.
|"Space Game," Joseph Mendla|
(Historical note: When the family sold the Peck Meat
Packing Corp. Mendla and Goldblatt moved to another Menomonee Valley studio
where they established Hartbronze, which, at the time, was Milwaukee’s only
commercial foundry specializing in art bronze.)
|"Oops, Missed," Bernard Peck|
Bernard Peck added a sculpture of his own to the park. He
designed and constructed the whimsical piece entitled “Oops, Missed,” which
features a stainless steel lightning bolt penetrating a brick wall topped by a
“Angel in a Cage” has perhaps the most compelling story and certainly the
most commanding presence. Richard Pflieger, a student at the Milwaukee
Institute of Art and Design, created it for a class competition in
1983. MIAD approached Peck to find a site for the winning work and
he agreed to place it in the new sculpture park. Inspired by the backyard shrines common on Milwaukee’s south
side as well as the many fences in the valley, Pflieger’s bold
statement suspended a fiberglass angel inside a tall cage of cyclone
that Cargill might remove the towering sculpture mobilized members of
the Milwaukee Arts Board, the Hank Aaron State Trail public arts committee
(of which I am a member) and others who wanted to save it. City
officials considered alternative sites, another Menomonee Valley artist
offered to store it and bids were solicited for deinstalling the work.
|"Angel in a Cage," Richard Pflieger|
concerns of the arts community and the cost of removal were presented
to Cargill, though, the company decided to keep the sculpture in
place. Although it might seem anticlimactic, the outcome highlighted
overlapping constituencies in the Menomonee Valley, a place that is in the
midst of dynamic transformation, where industries coexist with the arts,
culture and recreational venues. Interest in a striking but often-overlooked
sculpture park also was rekindled. For over 30 years this sculpture park has
been more than a monument to Bernard Peck’s personal vision and passion for
art. It is a visible statement that places art literally at the center of the
industrial Valley, helping to make it more inviting and nurturing an enduring
sense of place.
The part of
the Cargill plant that is adjacent to the sculpture park is not part
of the company that is closing down operations. Perhaps the best outcome
of the story is the renewed attention the situation brought to an overlooked
|Untitled, Claire Liberman|
stone sculpture by Claire Liberman rounds out the Cargill collection.
An edited version of this essay first
appeared in Art
City in a series on "Milwaukee area's under-loved parks." I want to thank Mary Louise Schumacher
for inspiring this essay and creating the placemaking series on Art City.
Buck, Diane M. and
Virginia A. Palmer (1995). Outdoor Sculpture in Milwaukee: A Cultural and
Historical Guidebook. The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison
post is one in a series that relates to my Menomonee Valley Artist in
Residency. For more information about the residency and links to
previous posts and photographs, go to MV AiR.