Artwork will add local flavor to Marquette Interchange

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:29 pm

    When finished, the Marquette Interchange will be more than massive spans of concrete and green signage. In some stretches, the new construction will feature works of art that celebrate Milwaukee’s rich multicultural heritage.
    The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will spend 2% to 3% of the project’s $810 million construction budget on a community-sensitive design, according to Brad Flom, deputy project manager for Milwaukee Transportation Partners.
    Milwaukee Transportation Partners is a team of engineering firms working on design for the project.
    The design elements will include wrought-iron fencing, colorful tiles, bronze plaques and large painted murals.
    The mission of the community-sensitive design is to add architectural elements to make the Marquette Interchange as aesthetically pleasing as possible for both motorists and pedestrians passing underneath the structure, Flom said.
    "We’re trying to make the freeway look better than it did in the past," said Don Reinbold, director of the Marquette Interchange team for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT). "We’re going to complete the Riverwalk. We’re going to try to do some enhancements under the freeway at Fifth Street, because Fifth Street is going to be a major pedestrian walkway."
    "The area around Walnut Street and Fond du Lac Avenue was a thriving business district in the early 1900’s," Flom said. "There was a large African-American population and many jazz clubs, night clubs, restaurants, etc."
    The area was known as Bronzeville and considered the heart of the African-American business and social community, according to Clayborn Benson, a local historian and writer.
    Benson said the simultaneous factors that ended the Bronzeville community and era in the late 1950’s included the building of the freeway, the building of the first housing project and the end of segregation laws that motivated African-American families to move out of the close-knit neighborhoods to homes with larger yards – places they had not been allowed to live in before.
    Bronzeville deserves to be remembered for its historical significance in the city, Flom said.
    "We worked with the north side neighborhood groups and the Black Historical Society to do some things up near Walnut Street and Fond du Lac Avenue, because that was the location of the Brown’s farm on the Underground Railroad, and we’re doing some things that are historically significant for the black community in that area," Flom said.
    Rick Norris, president of Norris & Associates, Milwaukee, the engineering firm sub-contracting for the north leg of the Marquette Interchange, said the Walnut Street bridge will have colorful tiles placed in concrete under the fence.
    In addition to the wrought iron fences, bronze plaques will describe some of the many influential leaders in the community’s past.
    Norris said two murals will grace the Fond du Lac Bridge, interpreting experiences some of the runaway slaves had as they came through Milwaukee via the Underground Railroad.
    "The Walnut Street Bridge is a gateway into a certain community, a service, a point of destination," Norris said. "Sometimes people look at freeways as a device or a vehicle. We look at it to foster, promote and connect certain communities. One way to go about that is by using content-sensitive, or as we are calling it, community-sensitive design. This is a tribute to the community and to Wisconsin."
    The DOT has hired local artists to transform the design ideas into works of art.
    "We have made revision after revision and are now finalizing plans," Flom said. "People understand what our purpose is, and we basically want to take the input of the community and make the transportation project fit within that community."
    Muneer Bahaudeen was hired to make the 18-inch ceramic tiles that will be inlaid onto the concrete along the parapet of the bridge. Bahaudeen said the tiles will feature symbols from the South and from Ghana.
    "African-Americans used to make what they called cold quilts, or freedom quilts, where the symbols informed other slaves when it was time to run away," Bahaudeen said. "They would hang one on a fence one day that said people were running in two days, and then the next day there would be symbols depicting locations to look for while on the run."
    Bahaudeen is putting up 72 tiles along the Walnut Street Bridge, 20 of which are being made by students who won an essay and drawing contest at Roosevelt Middle School.
    George McCormick is the artist who will design the bronze castings commemorating Bronzeville that will be placed on the wrought iron fencing of the bridge.
    Tejumola Ologboni, a folklorist and oral historian, is designing the six bronze plaques for the pilasters of the bridge. One will bear a map of the area, and the other five are profiles of leaders within the community at that time.
    Ologboni said the people to be featured in the plaques will include: Joe Harris, a gambler and policy maker who ran a lottery, a bar and settled neighborhood disputes in the town; Ardie Halyard, who started the Columbia Savings and Loan to help black business owners; and William Kelley, past president of the Milwaukee Urban League who confronted issues of equal employment for African-Americans and sufficient housing.
    "The object for me is to say that I cannot even begin to explain the concentration of life, energy, political power, comradeship and churches that existed in Bronzeville," Ologboni said. "With the bronze plaques, I want to visually represent some of the hundreds of people involved in building the area, such that people can walk and drive by the bridge and say there really was something here."
    Ammar Nsoroma, who will be painting the murals on the Fond du Lac Avenue underpass, will focus on the Underground Railroad because Fond du Lac Avenue was one of the throughways.
    One mural will depict Joshua Glover, a runaway slave from Missouri who was captured in Milwaukee and jailed after working in Racine for two years. According to Ologboni, Sherman Booth, a Wisconsin radical, rallied abolitionists to break open the jail and help Glover escape to Canada.
    Nsoroma said he will paint a mural of Glover treading through a river while being chased on one side by a man on horseback and on the other by a man with hounds.
    The other mural will show Caroline Quarles, a 16-year-old runaway slave from St. Louis who crossed Fond du Lac Avenue in a barrel on a wagon. She will be depicted with a freedom quilt wrapped around her that leads into a barrel and a figure representing Samuel "Deacon" Brown welcoming her to his farm.
    The other side of the mural will feature a map showing her path through Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan into Canada.
    Bahaudeen said the artwork will start going up as soon as the bridges are finished in November 2006.
    Norris said Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, the local Hmong community, the Hispanic community, Wisconsin Avenue and others also will have their own themes depicted in the artwork.
    "As locals and travelers come through Wisconsin, they will get a sense of what they are traveling through," Norris said. "The Marquette Interchange is creating the capacity for entrepreneurs to build. This is where art and technology merge and the result can be a very wonderful product that can grow in popularity around the country. It is a good launching position for further development in each area, and we are all really excited to see how it turns out."
    May 14, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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