A Milwaukee River art walk

Graffiti on an crumbling foundation wall along the east bank of the Milwaukee River, north of Locust Street. Photo by Carl Swanson

Graffiti on an crumbling foundation wall along the east bank of the Milwaukee River, north of Locust Street. Photo by Carl Swanson

Most graffiti is woefully lacking artistic vision executed with a profound lack of technique. Of course much the same can be said of the sculptures this city has scattered around its parks. Every once in a while, one runs across graffiti that’s pretty striking.

The painter has a nice touch, the shading of the sin tones is nicely done. It appears the woman's blue dress and the man's white pants were added later and much more carelessly. Photo by Carl Swanson

The shading of the skin tones is carefully done but it appears the woman’s dress was added later and more hastily. Photo by Carl Swanson

Consider this painting found along the east bank of the Milwaukee River, just north of the Locust Street bridge, in a fairly narrow space between the bank and the river itself, are a series of shattered foundations in the weeds. There was once a thriving neighborhood here.

On one of the foundation walls, someone created a fairly advanced piece of artwork. The pose is striking and the dove between the outstretched hands is an interesting touch. It appears the man and woman were originally nude and someone subsequently painted the pants and the dress. Perhaps there was the thought nudity might result in the wall being swiftly painted over, while clothed figures would more likely be left alone.

Leaving the painting alone seems like a good plan. It’s not as though an ancient concrete  foundation from a long-gone building would be any kind of adornment to the community if left bare. Unfortunately, lesser-talents have since added quite a few random blotches and spray-painted squiggles. For the unknown painter of the original, it must be annoying to pull off something nice, only to have others add their crude touches.



  1. I have seen this scene in a famous painting – but I’m blanking on the name. Archangel Michael perhaps?


  2. Hi Carl – the crumbling foundations were once part of the Gordon Park bath house, at a time when Milwaukee River recreation was at its apex, prior to its rampant pollution. See the following,



    Also, check out the book Riverwest by Tom Tolan. It’s an authoritative treatment of the neighborhood. Thanks for the interesting blog posts.



    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the kind words! I may have been unclear in my description. The foundations i was referring to are actually on the east bank, on the opposite side of the river from (and a little to the north of) Gordon Park. If you live nearby, it’s worth it to park at Riverside High, go under the Locust Street bridge on the bike trail, and follow the steps to the left down to the river and start north on the path. There’s really a lot of old foundations along there, which is weird because the space between the river and the steep bank is quite narrow.

      I second your recommendation for Tom Tolan’s Riverwest book. He did a great job!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s