These iconic Milwaukee posters survive nearly 40 years later



Let’s travel back in time. 1982 was the year of voluminous hair, mules, neon colors, and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”. Locally, in 1982 Jan Kotowicz and Milwaukee historian John Gurda were preparing the Milwaukee neighborhood poster series, with historical essays on the back of each poster. The project aimed to connect people to neighborhoods and foster pride in the city.

I interviewed Gurda and Stacy Swadish of Historic Milwaukee to learn more about the posters and the process of creating them.

Why was Bay View selected as the first poster to be created?

John Gurda: Because I lived there and Jan lived there.

Oh! So it was personal. I like the idea of ​​starting with what you know.

Gurda: It was quite circumstantial.

What was it like for you to capture the charm of each neighborhood? What was important to you?

Gurda: First of all, it was written under a very tight deadline. I had about three weeks per quarter. It was something where you didn’t have much time to poke around. In good weather I would cycle or drive or walk every street in every neighborhood. Some are fairly good sized neighborhoods so I got to know them quite well in the field. During this process, I was talking to some people. The most obvious, the politicians, the pastors, the people who had some sort of responsibility for the whole region. Much of it fell into conversation. One thing I would do towards the end of the process, I would do a bar jump. Wherever I went I stopped at a variety of bars and this was kind of one of my apps. It was great fun to see the unvarnished, spontaneous.

How were the benchmarks chosen for each poster?

Gurda: I would go out into the field, look at what was in the neighborhood, and then choose something that was relatively representative of what each neighborhood was like. I would make suggestions but it was still Jan’s choice. She would look at the list or she would choose something entirely independent.

I feel like growing up with the city and even though I’m from here I still feel like a beginner. Do you see the city changing and what is it like to both of you?

Gurda: The reality is that cities are constantly changing. It’s like that. They say you cannot enter the same river twice and you cannot enter the same city twice. I remember touring for the 55th class reunion at Shorewood High School and taking them all over town and the reaction was that they were in a different town than they were when they were. during teenagehood.

Stacy Swadish: It’s a different city. My kids are adults and tell them stories while I worked at the Milwaukee Sentinel as a reporter and they were building the Bradley Center which is now gone. I would park under the park’s east highway, which is now gone. The only bar on Water Street was the Harp Irish. I think these posters capture a little moment in time.

Gurda: It’s just the nature of things. I have no regrets or bitterness about it. In the introduction to the book in the Depression era, the WPA hired writers, people like me who would do that sort of thing, and these kind of became a sealed record of what life was like. at the time. It is the nature of the human being.

I have to ask, do any of you have a favorite poster?

Swadish: It’s like choosing your favorite kid. I think there are so many ways to see it. Geography, where you grew up and where you live now. It’s just colors and design and that’s one thing I think about is that Jan’s incredible artistic ability has made these posters stand the test of time. And there are other things that you joke about and you look like a clearance sale or a thrift store, and you’re like it’s the 80s.

Gurda: One word for it is bold. She doesn’t do watercolors. So these had to be sort of dimensional and very sharp.

Swadish: Sherman Park is one of my favorites simply because it’s the classic bungalow and planter. This one always speaks to me. It’s very Milwaukee.

What is monumental is that these posters still have their charm. They are everywhere, maybe at your dentist, a local cafe, or even your home. The art that was created 39 years ago still represents our city. I guess this shows that Milwaukee pride has lasted for generations.

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