Ave Maria! Some of Milwaukee’s artists are reclaiming their alleyways from criminals, using Marian artwork. It’s a beautiful example of ingenuity, creativity and devotion.
In the quiet alleyway at 26th and Mineral streets behind Tree of Life Earthworks, a new art installation is starting to grow.
Five black wrought-iron trellises seem to have sprung up out of the cracks in the concrete. Two of the panels are already crowded with dozens of tiles covered in children’s scrawl, a multicolored garden of clay roses and doves secured with twisted copper wire.
At the center bloom two larger blue ceramic medallions. The faces of two young women rise off the circles in bas-relief. Their features and clothing are different — yet there is something strikingly similar in their kind eyes and serene smiles.
They are the first two of five planned sculptures of the Virgin Mary from various national and cultural traditions. Lori Gramling, the local artist who runs Tree of Life Earthworks out of her converted carriage house, said she first conceived the idea years ago, as a symbolic guardian for the neighborhood where she has lived and worked for more than a decade.“
Alleys can be a place of danger and of garbage. In a lot of neighborhoods, it’s the place you don’t want to walk in at night,” explained Gramling. “We knew it was important to claim our alleys as our backyards.”
The challenge was to design a project that was feasible and affordable. This winter, inspiration struck: why not use wire to attach individual ceramic pieces to fencing behind her studio?
A team of local artists spearheaded the art installation. From the beginning, Gramling felt it was important to get Clarke Square residents involved in the project. “It was going to be the voice of our community, not just our voices,” she said.