Take shelter and find warmth in Wisconsin’s winter art scene

by Jamie Randall

There’s something about art that makes you feel warm and enlightened — even when it’s 8 degrees below zero. 


We all know how frigid and harsh Wisconsin winters are. With that in mind, we also know we must embrace the chill and carry on with life.  A way to do that is to learn and enjoy art. Art can be viewed from anywhere by anyone. It propels the human experience by telling a story in many forms, leaving us with perspective, appreciating what we knew before and what we just learned. 


“Art is a wonderful educational tool that aids in the understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Art provides the viewer with new perspectives on life and new ways of thinking and seeing. It serves as a jumping-off point for inspiration and new ideas. Art enriches and enhances the soul,” says Avery Pelekoudas, programming coordinator of the Warehouse Art Museum. 


These exhibitions around Wisconsin offer various pieces that can be enjoyed this winter.

"Gleam," an Olbrich Gardens exhibit, is seen here in 2021 and features a decorated path. Photography by Olbrich Gardens.


Olbrich Botanical Gardens, located on the north shore of Madison’s Lake Monona, includes 16 acres of outdoor display gardens and a 10,000-square-foot conservatory. It also features year-round art exhibitions. While summer is a favorable season for Olbrich, winter can be just as enjoyable. 


The gardens’ fall “Gleam” exhibit gave the community an opportunity to see the gardens from a whole new perspective after dark. 


“It’s introduced a lot of people to Olbrich who have never been to the gardens before,” says Missy Jeanne, special projects manager of Olbrich Gardens.  


Olbrich is prepared for its annual December exhibit Holiday Express, Flower & Model Train Show from Dec. 3 to Dec. 31.


The exhibit is unique as it involves special designs with plants and a new theme every year. This year’s theme is carnival. In addition, the exhibit creates tradition, welcoming back families and visitors. 


“It’s a great place for anybody to just get away and relax, whether it’s from school, work or other life stresses … We see familiar faces all the time of people enjoying [our] classes and workshops for all ages. Some are more art based, some are based on plant biology, it’s just kind of endless all the different ways that you can learn and engage at the gardens.”

Address: 3330 Atwood Ave., Madison
Phone: 608-246-4550
Exhibit information


The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, known as MMoCA and located in downtown Madison, displays and collects a variety of contemporary art, including work from local, national and international artists. MMoCA has an exhibition of pieces from UW–Madison professor Faisal Abdu’allah known as “Dark Matter.” It portrays cultural representation and shows Abdu’allah’s most celebrated works.


“With his exhibition, he’ll be doing some of his live salon performances and perhaps inviting community members who are barbers,” says Christina Brungardt, the Gabriele Haberland Director at MMoCA. “He is himself a trained barber, and he sees no distinction between barbering and his creative arts process.” 


Along with “Dark Matter,” which will be on exhibit until April 2, 2023, art by Wendy Red Star, an Apsáalooke (Crow) contemporary artist, made its way to the museum on Nov. 12. Red Star’s work offers accounts of American history that rectify the frequently flawed narratives about Native people. In bringing the exhibition to Madison, Red Star expressed interest in sharing and highlighting Wisconsin American Indian Nations and Tribal Communities, and their histories.


“A key piece of the exhibit is that she has historically partnered with her daughter to create engagement. One of the things she wants to do is make sure you feel engaged with art and see the moments where you can reflect and learn from art,” Brungardt says. 


A barber chair with leather and gold plating is on display at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Madison. The piece is part of Faisal Abdu’Allah's exhibition called “Dark Matter." Photography by Perri Moran.

The exhibit displays multigenerational works of reclaiming a language that was almost lost. This will give families, educators and students a chance to look at meaningful history from a new perspective. 


“It’s really about starting conversations and having more meaningful conversations with children that may not know how to approach the conversation of the histories that are missing in our textbooks, but this is a supplement that will give kids that moment with their families,” Brungardt says. 

Address: 227 State St., Madison
Phone: 608-257-0158

Dark Matter, Faisal Abdullah

Children of the Large Beaked Bird, Wendy Red Star

National Ice Sculpting team "Flozen: Less Latitude More Attitude" won second place in the Lake Geneva Winterfest 2022 with their sculpture "Cherry Blossom Beauty." Photography by Lake Geneva.


From summer swims to fall happy hour, there’s nothing like being on Lake Geneva in southeast Wisconsin when the seasons change. In the winter, Lake Geneva hosts the annual Winterfest, which runs from Feb.1 to Feb. 5. 


“[There is] a lot of community pride in hosting this event,” says Deanna Goodwin, vice president of marketing, communications and development for VISIT Lake Geneva. “It’s so incredible. The crowds of people that come here and how happy everybody is when they’re here. It’s a lot of work leading up to it, but it’s fun work.” 


For nearly three decades, Lake Geneva’s Winterfest has hosted the annual U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship. Fifteen teams of three come from around the U.S. and participate in three days of craft, where 15 10-foot sculptures rise along the shore of the lake. After the sculpting, the final result is an art gallery of lakefront sculptures for the community to enjoy. 


“Winterfest is so larger-than-life when it happens. And to see so many smiling faces and kids in awe of how big these sculptures are because you get up really close to them,” Goodwin says. “You’re just within a couple feet of them actually working and doing the sculptures. And then when you see it all said and done in the detail, in the artwork, it’s just phenomenal.”

Winterfest is free and available to the public. While Lake Geneva’s population is only around 8,500, the five-day Winterfest brings in around 60,000 people.


“Our team spends the better part of a year planning for [Winterfest],” Goodwin says. “We work with a lot of our local partners, our hotels, our restaurants. We have so many local sponsors, supporters and investors in this event … The teams are here and they’re sculpting away and carving away and we can just enjoy the amazing work that they’re doing.”


The sculptures’ fate falls into the hands of Mother Nature. The weather will determine how long they are on exhibit. 


“It could be a two-week art display. It could be a two-day art display. One year I was here and they were melting by Sunday,” Goodwin says.

Address: 201 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva
Phone: 262- 248-4416


The Warehouse Art Museum, called WAM, is a new addition to Milwaukee that opened its doors in 2018. Located in a historic warehouse in the Menomonee Valley, the mostly woman-run museum showcases three to five exhibits every year. The common misconception about WAM, according to its programming coordinator Avery Pelekoudas, is that people think it’s a gallery because it’s so small. The artwork on display is all from the private collection of the co-owners and co-directors of WAM, Jan Serr and John Shannon. 


“They have been collecting for about 40 years or so, and that’s essentially why they created WAM, was to display their collection because they had so much work sitting around,” Pelekoudas says. “They were like ‘Well, might as well do something with it. So time to show everybody.’” 


From Jan. 13 to March 31, WAM will showcase art by Ruth Grotenrath, a Milwaukee local. The artwork will be more cheerful and family-friendly than what is currently on display. 


“It’s gonna be super bright, colorful, fun … we like to do that for the harsh gray Wisconsin winters,” Pelekoudas says. “So having a fun, colorful show during that time is always nice. Yeah, that’s one of the main draws for the exhibition during the winter.” 


The exhibition will feature Grotenrath’s life drawings, casual sketches and full-color paintings, showing her long and impactful career. There will also be artwork that has never been seen before, along with well-known prints and textile patterns. The exhibit, along with WAM, is free to the public. 


“Well, I personally think a huge draw for us is that we’re always free,” Pelekoudas says. “So that’s definitely a huge part of our mission as a way to make it accessible and open to everyone.”


Address: 1635 W. Saint Paul Ave., Milwaukee
Phone: 414-252-0677

A couple gazes at William Kentridges exhibit called "See for Yourself" which will be on display until Dec. 16. Photography by Warehouse Mueseum.

Featured photo by Perri Moran.