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Ornament Trail features MIAD alumni, faculty, students

For decades, Milwaukee has hosted an annual Holiday Lights Festival. To commemorate the festival’s 25th anniversary, Milwaukee Downtown will also host the new Ornament Trail this year. Five Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) alumni and one instructor, who teamed up with both students and alumni, produced giant ornaments for the event.

The Ornament Trail stretches across Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street and includes work by 15 artists with ties to Milwaukee. On view until January 6, 2024, visitors can follow along with the free Ornament Trail Activity Guide, which includes activities for kids and coupons for businesses along the route.

Brad Anthony Bernard ’93 (Painting), associate professor in Fine Art + New Studio Practice, worked with Lindsey Greene ’23 (Fine Art), Shelbey Smith ’26 and Grace Gasser (Marquette University) to create “Dwennimmen.” Inspired by the West African Andinkra symbol, “Dwennimmen,” or “Ram’s Horns,” symbolizes humility and strength—a life principle that Bernard finds “important to embody during the holiday season.” Visitors can view “Dwennimmen” outside of MIAD’s Gallery at The Ave, the college’s new offsite gallery and consignment space.

An additional five alumni independently created ornaments for the exhibition. Nova Czarnecki ’81 (Painting), CERA (Janson Rapisarda) ’12 (Printmaking), John Kowalczyk ’10 (Painting), Monique Machut ’18 (Illustration) and Josephine Rice ’10 (Interior Architecture and Design) and all contributed artwork to the project.

Czarnecki works as an artist and local muralist and contributed Botticelli-inspired “The Four Graces” to the Ornament Trail, echoing his “Primavera” goddesses Joy, Light and Bloom. Czarnecki added the goddess Time to the mix as well. “I hope that anyone who passes by these ornaments feels the love that was put into them,” she says. “How cool that the city of Milwaukee and businesses here are willing to support and fund a project like this!”

Machut thought about the prompt provided by the organizers—what does the holiday season mean to you?—and created “Merry in Pink,” a new and welcome challenge when it came to painting in 3D. “I wanted my ornament to include subtle nods to what I enjoy about winter in Milwaukee: the arts (Nutcracker), the Bucks (Small Deer/Buck) and the community of giving during the season (present),” she explains. “I hope it gives a reason for people to travel downtown during the winter … the art will brighten up the sidewalks with so many wonderful designs! I’m very excited to take a walk down Wisconsin now that they’re installed.”

Faced with the same prompt, Rice considered another direction in her work. “‘Winter Reflections’ is an acknowledgment of the holidays being a hard time for many,” she says. “It’s a lovely season of togetherness and cheer but can also be painful with reminiscing about the past.” Rice also invites Milwaukee residents to explore the Ornament Trail: “[It] is a great activity for everyone to get outside and explore the gallery of art. Adding pops of color to Milwaukee this cold time of year is extra special!”

View a CBS58 interview with Bernard, explore the full list of participating artists and locations and learn more about MIAD Gallery at The Ave!

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