New public sculpture on Hank Aaron State Trail: An introduction
By Eddee Daniel and Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail
I’ve been on the Public Arts Committee of Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail since 2005 and have had the pleasure of seeing a lot of great art being placed on the Trail. Arlene Shechet’s Tilted Channel is the latest addition to this esteemed outdoor collection. Tilted Channel was originally displayed on Wisconsin Avenue as part of the 2019 Sculpture Milwaukee installation. Sculpture Milwaukee invited me to create an audio introduction to the newly placed sculpture and I’ve adapted that audio into this blog post. Following my introduction you will find the official press release announcing the installation of the sculpture.
Introducing Tilted Channel
The Menomonee Valley gets its name, of course, from the Menomonee River. The Hank Aaron State Trail follows the course of the River along the length of the Valley. The Menomonee was the subject of my first book, Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed. In it I documented the river from its headwaters in Germantown to its confluence with the Milwaukee River near Lake Michigan. Although it’s a short river, it’s significance to the City of Milwaukee is hard to overstate, particularly its presence at the center of the Metropolitan area and in the Valley that came to be its industrial powerhouse. Today, the Menomonee River and the Valley have a new significance as a symbol of cultural diversity, environmental restoration, and economic revitalization. The Hank Aaron Trail is the thread that ties it all together.
The story of the Menomonee Valley is one of continual transformation at the hands of we humans. The original marsh was filled in to make way for industries. When the industries moved out they left behind a legacy of blight and contamination. During the latest phase, along with new business developments, the river is being resuscitated and new park lands created, as well as new recreational opportunities—including the Hank Aaron Trail—which is something unprecedented for the Valley. The placing of public art works along the Trail has provided another opportunity to engage with the community. The purpose of the public art project has been to draw people to the trail and to link the landscape with its history, architecture and cultural diversity.
When I first saw Arlene Shechet’s sculpture, “Tilted Channel,” on Wisconsin Avenue as part of the Sculpture Milwaukee display last year I was struck by its whimsy and humor. Situated among the staid architectural monuments, it seemed like an anti-monument and antidote to the traditional man-on-horse public sculptures one is more likely to see lining Milwaukee’s main street. The down side, I thought, was that the diminutive sculpture was a little hard to see in that location.
What a treat it is to have it find a permanent home in the Menomonee Valley, along the Hank Aaron Trail in Stormwater Park, where it can take pride of place. I think it’s ideally situated, surrounded but not overwhelmed by the monuments of the Valley, such as nearby industries and the 35th Street Viaduct. Its combination of a chimney-like structure with a bird-like form is a perfect match for the tensions inherent in the effort to revitalize the landscape and architecture of the Valley.
“Tilted Channel” sits within sight of the spot where the two monumental chimneys of the former Milwaukee Road shops once stood. A bit of serendipity that no one would have anticipated. And, as another plus, for anyone who takes the short walk along the Hank Aaron Trail from one to the other, it creates a dynamic dialogue with the other newly installed public sculpture by Richard Taylor, called “People of the Road.”
The image of a bird is particularly apt. If you stand near “Tilted Channel” long enough I have no doubt that you will see some of the many bird species that have taken up residence along the Hank Aaron State Trail now that the recently created park land has matured into a sustainable habitat. The avian legs that appear to protrude from the chimney base of the sculpture remind me of road runner cartoons, with their combination of good humor, persistence and resilience.
Press release and illustrated tour of public art on the HAST
New public sculpture permanently installed along Hank Aaron State Trail
Feature from Sculpture Milwaukee 2019 finds a new home in the Menomonee River Valley
Tilted Channel, a piece featured in Sculpture Milwaukee 2019, was installed on the Hank Aaron State Trail in Stormwater Park along Canal Street just west of the 35th Street viaduct overpass on August 5, 2020. The piece, crafted by Arlene Shechet in 2018, is from a series of works entitled Full Steam Ahead, commissioned by Madison Square Park, New York.
Shechet (pronounced “Sheh-ket”) is known for creating ceramics that contrast with the intimate, domestic, useful objects of the home typical of the medium, bringing the material to the wider world of sculpture. Her works are intended to make a visitor pause during their daily hustle and to celebrate other images, species, and ideas of our world besides the traditional male and warrior monuments that dominate the sphere. The series, Full Steam Ahead, is inspired by the words of Union Admiral David Glasgow Farragut when he ordered his naval troops to break the Confederate blockade at Mobile Bay—“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” His phrase suggests going for broke, doing the right thing—principles that Shechet seeks to embody in her work.
“We are proud to have Arlene Shechet’s work join the cultural landscape of the Hank Aaron State Trail, where nature and art create a vibrant and unique experience for visitors,” remarked Marilu Knode, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Education at Sculpture Milwaukee. “Part of Shechet’s work was produced during her Arts/Industry Program residency through the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, meaning Shechet’s work is also a nod to our state’s history.”
Shechet’s sculpture will provide yet another meaningful piece of public art along the Hank Aaron State Trail and in the Menomonee River Valley. Thanks to the Anonymous Fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Tilted Channel is the newest public art installation on the Hank Aaron State Trail.
The Hank Aaron State Trail is a 14-mile continuous trail that runs from Lake Michigan to the Milwaukee/Waukesha county line. Thousands of people use the trail each year to exercise, commute, and enjoy nature. Tilted Channel joins many other art installations along the trail including People of the Road, A Place to Sit, the Valley Passage and Kelmann Restoration Murals, restored streetcar shelters, the Bridge sculpture, and many more.
Named after baseball legend Hank Aaron, the Trail connects people to nature and each other throughout the city and county. The Trail passes by or near many of Milwaukee’s top tourist attractions including the Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World, Lakeshore State Park, Harley-Davidson Museum®, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, Mitchell Park Domes, Miller Park, VA Grounds, Pettit National Ice Center, and State Fair Park. Users can even access the Milwaukee County Zoo from the Trail through a new ramp to Hwy 100 and a dedicated bike lane.
To hear the audio version of Eddee’s introduction and learn more about Tilted Channel, go to Sculpture Milwaukee.
Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining, promoting, and enhancing the Hank Aaron State Trail. The 14-mile paved multi-use trail runs through the heart of the city and is within a 15-minute bike ride for over 400,000 Milwaukeeans. The Friends support the Trail by raising funds for trail maintenance, improvements, and scholarships for youth bike camps in partnership with the Wisconsin Bike Fed. Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail is a partner to A Wealth of Nature.
All images by Eddee Daniel, who is a board member of Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail and Preserve Our Parks. In addition, in 2014 Daniel served as Artist in Residence in the Menomonee Valley, thanks to Menomonee Valley Partners and Zimmerman Architectural Studios. You can see many more images from the Menomonee Valley in his Artist in Residence website.