An e-zine for happenings of local culture in Milwaukee and elsewhere

Archive for November, 2011

Brown Street Academy, Alice’s Garden, Caroline Watkins

Before the storytelling began, a few light snacks helped calm a dozen students of Brown Street Academy. I asked one of the small group of mostly fourth graders, preparing to enjoy an after-school program speaker, if he was proud of his school. He nodded a confident ‘yes’. I would soon find out why.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding public education in Wisconsin, strong and undaunted educators across the State hunker-down and find ways to keep knowledge flowing to young minds. The work of Alice’s Garden’s Fieldhands and Foodways Project, now more than ever, proves that collaboration between community-based organizations and institutions like Milwaukee Public Schools play a crucial role in rounding k-12 curricular education.

Venice Williams, Program Director of Alice’s Garden, pulled together with Johnson Park neighbor Brown Street Academy, to host an evening exploring the antebellum history of this near north side neighborhood, and the influence of its most famous settler Deacon Samuel Brown. The Underground Railroad Comes Alive! brought Kimberly Simmons to narrate the story of the first African-American to make safe passage from enslavement to Milwaukee, the story of her great, great, great-grandmother Caroline Quarlls Watkins.

Bound and Determined

Virginian and slave-owner Robert Pryor Quarlls moved to St. Louis in 1826 and bequeathed to his son a woman servant, named Maria, who bore Caroline Quarlls into enslavement. Although she had a fair complexion an blue-eyes, Caroline faced a fate of servitude. Unwilling to accept her lot, Caroline secretly sold lace goods that she learned to sew, from her grandmother. Caroline eventually saved enough money to purchase the keys to her plan for freedom, a “nice dress” and fare on a riverboat ferry north.

On July 4, 1846 at the age of sixteen Caroline, passing as a white woman, wearing the Sunday dress she bought with her savings,  boarded a Mississippi River ferry heading to Illinois. After docking in Illinois, a black porter on the ferry, noticed her traveling alone and uncertain. Suspecting Caroline may have been searching for freedom, the porter advised her that in Illinois she would face greater chances of being turned in for ransom and instructed her on how to make it to Wisconsin.

Freedom Farm

Taking the advice of the porter, Caroline made it to Milwaukee undetected. Again noticed, a black caddy named by Robert Tibald suggested that she seek room at the House Hotel on Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street if she wanted to remain safe. Owned by Samuel Brown, the House Hotel kept Caroline sheltered. However when Charles Hall, the surviving heir of Quarlls estate in St. Louis, realized Caroline’s “escape”, she soon faced pursuit by Hall’s attorney and authorities.

Hall’s attorney and the authorities began scouring Milwaukee boarding houses for Caroline, eventually coming upon Tibald who agreed to tell her whereabouts in exchange for a $100 reward. Milwaukee attorney Asol Finch caught wind of Tibald’s treacherous act and of the Southerners looking for Caroline, and Finch hid Caroline in a sugar barrel at the House Hotel for 12 hours.

Finch soon hurried her away to Samuel Brown’s farm on what is now roughly 20th and Fon du Lac Avenue, a portion of which to this day houses Milwaukee’s oldest elementary school Brown Street Academy. A staunch abolitionist like Sam Brown, Asol Finch established the law firm of Finch & Lynde in 1842, which later would become present day Foley & Lardner.

After a brief stop in Prairieville (present day Waukesha), Caroline joined a group of the first individuals to travel the Old Sauk Trail (present day Interstate 94) to join with Alan Pinkerton (who would later become one of Abraham Lincoln’s secret servicemen), to follow east-marching Union Soldiers from Dundee, Illinois to Detroit. So is told the birth of one of the Northern lines of the Underground Railroad. Not quite a decade later, Joshua Glover would take a similar route from St. Louis to Milwaukee in search of freedom.

Today’s Seeds

Alice’s Garden cultivates land as a part of Milwaukee Urban Gardens, a community land trust providing land for urban agriculture projects. Generations to come will gain an understanding of basic food production as a result of this initiative.

Caroline Quarlls Watkins wrote letters of her journey to freedom, rare first person documentation of the struggles of women and African-Americans to gain equality in 19th century America. Caroline’s stories are now part of the Walk of Fire exhibit at the Kenosha Civil War Museum.

Carte Blanche, Cafe Bizarre, Reefer Madness!


Nestled on 5th and Washington, on a surprisingly quiet strip in Walker’s Point, Carte Blanche Studios continues to imprint it’s butt on Milwaukee’s rogue theater scene. Carte Blanche’s current production Reefer Madness:The Musical enters it’s last weekend on Friday November 18th at 8pm, a stage adapted lampooning of the 1936 alarmist propaganda campaign against ganja Tell Your Children (Reefer Madness).

It’s a slapstick comedy with mega-doses of high jinks and quip humor that pits the active eyebrows of Michael Traynor (portraying the omnipresent shape-shifting conscious of America narrating the story, also serving as maestro of musical interludes) and his pitiful fictitious citizenry from Anywhere, USA, against overly concerned Carte Blanche audience members who play the role of Anywhere High School’s PTA. Okay Carte Blanche‘s audiences my not be overly concerned, even so our funny bones didn’t have a chance.

The Green Brick Road

The story centers around Jimmy (Chris Jones) and Mary Lane’s (Karrisa Lade) infantile teenage romance culminating with Jimmy asking Mary to the High School dance. Jimmy, after building up the guts to ask Mary Lane to the dance, realizes with horror he lacks rhythm.

Vulnerable, Jimmy comes across the path of Jack (Derek Woerpel) the local weed man, who offers him dance lessons as a thinly veiled ploy to lure a new customer into his web. Jimmy takes Jack up on his offer and Traynor dubbing as “America’s Conscious” gets many “I told you so” moments to taunt us with, as Jimmy’s experience on “Marihunana” swiftly turns him into a junkie, eventually dragging Mary into the smoke.

Mae (Samantha Paige), Jack’s pot jonesing girlfriend, melodramatically tries to urge the kids not to go down her path to burnout hussy-dom, but is foiled again and again by Jack, his best customer Ralph (Clayton Hamburg) and his resident floozy Sally (Emily Craig), and her own urges to keep toking. Jimmy and Mary Lane’s peers pop-up regularly as spunky teens of the town, by day, and dancing weed zombies by night… or day, played by Mara Mcghee, Mica Chenault, Andrew Parchman, Jessi Miller, and Caitlin Alba.

It’s plenty entertaining! Even before the lights went up, Michael Traynor’s entrance alone was so on spot to the period that I was already laughing out loud.

Cafe Bizzare

Carte Blanche now has a cafe called Cafe Bizzare that will eventually maintain regular business hours even when a show is not going on. There’s art on the walls, wood on the floors, great furniture, brews of caffeine and malted grains, what more could you want!

Carte Blanche Studios closes Reefer Madness!: The Musical, Sunday, November 20 and opens a one-nighter Lucky13 Open Mic Comedy the next day at 8p.

Related Posts
Reefer Madness: The Musical, Bunny Gumbo’s Blog, Bunny Gumbo
Carte Blanche gets bent: Reefer Madness! The Musical, The Examiner, Jeff Gryngy
Reefer Reviews!, Lisa Golda Blog, Lisa Golda

Oriental Theater, Almodovar, The Skin I Live In

At the Oriental Theater on Farwell Avenue, filmmaker Pedro Almodovar took refuge in his versatility to deliver a vexing psychological thriller with recently released The Skin I Live In. Taking Antonio Banderas out of his cartoonish American film typecast, Almodovar spins a convoluted tale oriented around the tightly wound life of renown surgeon Dr. Robert Ledgard (Banderas).

Tinkering with biogenesis  Dr. Ledgard begins receiving attention from the Spanish scientific community for breakthroughs in medicine that enhance human genetics, even in mature adults. From the surface, Ledgard hides his source of passion for his research. The veil of scientific integrity, and an impeccable BMW and severely opulent mansion, make Ledgard appear to be another detached brainiac savant enjoying his intellectual superiority by methodically solving the the world’s problems in his spare time as a favor to humanity.

As the complete picture of Legard’s life unfolds, circumstances of several traumatic life events erode the illusion of Legard’s power and control over his own life, and his altruistic calling. Quietly, fanatical emotion sweeps Legard to a line drawn in the sand by reason, and it’s hard to tell whether he knows he’s standing on the beach. A wife, a daughter, a childhood nanny and a female house-guest of considerable mystery ensure that Legard never knows where he stands, no matter how hard he tries to dictate his own footsteps.

Spanning the Spectrum

Stylistically, Almodovar accents the screenplay with ample allusion, literary parallels, and foreshadowing with his cinematography alone. As the characters’ M.O.’s collide, Almodovar also calls to question our sense of morality, as several difficult themes including sexual abuse, chauvinism, marital fidelity and retribution gird and create tension in the script’s plot.

The Skin I Live In touches on golden age horror and film noir genres, quickly going from believable to I-can’t-believe-I-just-saw-that absurdity that makes fun of itself with a straight face. The non-chronological storyline adds further intrigue to the film’s characters.

The Verdict

Receiving mixed reviews from the film world, this film does two things well, keep you guessing and skin crawling with sufficient morbidity, but without the use of gore. The film is Spanish language with English subtitles and co-stars Spanish starlet Elena Anaya who brings considerable depth to the film as she burns through a gamut of emotions as Legard’s primary subject Vera (the mysterious house-guest).

You can go see for yourself or get a pretty detailed description from the Shepherd Express, and here’s apparently a review from Cannes that thought the film was terrible. If you do go to the show, get there early and be entertained by the Kimball Organ that is still warming up the shows at The Oriental courtesy of the Dairyland Theater Organ Society

Abstract Severe, Jason Anthony LeRoy

Magicians coined the phrase the “hand is quicker than the eye”, with alacrity Jason Anthony LeRoy proves the hand may out quick the mind. Leaving his works’ presence then returning to stare again, starring once gives no guarantee of capturing all illusions trapped in LeRoy’s art. A theme of Gallery Night Fall Edition 2011 at the Studio Lounge, LeRoy joined a bivouac of artists employing variations on human and animal subjects.

Stretching over birch panel, intricate scenes rendered by LeRoy’s graphite and white chalk implements contrast and weave symbols, livings beings and foreign objects together. The edges blur, flashes of emotion appear in unlikely places. All together 5 large pieces fuse surreal and modern art principles with shades of pop and street art, a birthing of miraculous contemporary conceptions of lived experience.

Jason Anthony LeRoy’s work hangs until November 6th at Studio Lounge. If you miss it live, check out LeRoy kickstarting his next project.

Gallery Night Fall 2011, Studio Lounge
Pt 1 Piqued Canvas, Jenie Gao
Pt 2 Abstract Severe, Jason Anthony LeRoy

Piqued Canvas, Jenie Gao

Walking into Studio Lounge, large canvases covered in artistic expression offer salutations, bizarre and gripping. On the canvas lay familiar forms, a profile of a face, the appendage of an animal, a human body clothed. The forms meld together, a technique exquisitely conveyed by Jenie Gao. Featured on Gallery Night at Studio Lounge, Jenie Gao masterfully persuades her audiences to leave their realities’ and enter hers.

Abstract imagery clouds concrete themes, endangering a surface dweller’s faux pas: claiming a weirdness violation. Quite exceptional, and coherent if not only in craft, Jenie Gao‘s work displays detail in the details. Executing highly proportioned and realistic ink-based compositions, simultaneously in some pieces, Gao reaches for hard to attain anthropomorphic and polymorphic styles seemingly effortlessly.

Gao, also proficient in wood etching, scores exacting resolution in her images. Graphically depicting movement that captures the gravity of that exact moment, precisely, gives Jenie Gao’s work near photographic qualities. Gao’s current works on display at Studio Lounge highlight several pieces from her recent project Thresholds. Jenie Gao’s exhibition anchors Studio Lounges’s wall space until November 6th.

Gallery Night Fall 2011, Studio Lounge
Pt 1 Piqued Canvas, Jenie Gao
Pt 2 Abstract Severe, Jason Anthony LeRoy