Richard Taylor featured on WUWM's All Things Considered

* To read this article on the WUWM NPR website, please click HERE

New Sculptures Honor Milwaukee Road Railway Workers

By CHUCK QUIRMBACH MAY 16, 2019

The first two "People of the Road" sculptures in the Menomonee Valley.    CHUCK QUIRMBACH

The first two "People of the Road" sculptures in the Menomonee Valley.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH

A series of metal sculptures taking shape in Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley honors the men and women who worked at a now-lost transportation giant. The "People of the Road” monument is a tribute to the thousands who labored for a passenger and freight-rail service best known as the Milwaukee Road.

The railroad was officially known in its later years as the Chicago, Milwaukee, Saint Paul and Pacific. That's because in its heyday it operated on 10,000 miles of track in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. But for much of the carrier’s nearly 140 years, Milwaukee was a key part of the company's success. A huge railcar and locomotive shop at the southwest corner of the Menomonee Valley employed more than 5,000 people. 
When that building closed, and the financially troubled railroad dissolved in the 1980s, it was a mournful time in the city, as captured in the 1987 song Come Bugle Blow by Milwaukee folksinger Larry Penn.

Penn sang, "And what can you play, for a ragged old soul, but taps for the Milwaukee Road? Come bugle blow, for the Milwaukee Road, a rusty old road, a crusty old road. Come bugle blow, for a busted old road, for the Milwaukee Road, bugle blow.”

Forty-two years later, the passing of the Milwaukee Road no doubt remains painful to many. But others are hoping time has healed some of the wounds. Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist recently tried to offer a humorous remembrance.

"I remember the workers coming out of here, going through the tunnel across the river, and then going to the National Liquor Bar to cash their checks," he says.

Norquist spoke this month at an unveiling of two of the five sculptures that are planned for the “People of the Road” monument. The monument is going up along the Hank Aaron State Trail, just west of the 35th Street viaduct. It's in Menomonee Valley Community Park, which is where the railcar shop was. 

In attendance of the unveiling was David Pierce, who briefly worked for the Milwaukee Road.

"I was what you call a gandy-dancer. So, I used an 8-pound maul hammer, and I would pound spikes into the rail and we repaired the track. It was a federal project to repair them from Wauwatosa to Watertown. That was my three-month career with the Milwaukee Road. I was glad to move on," Pierce recalls to WUWM.
Other members of the Pierce family stayed longer. A brother worked for the Road as an electrician, while their father and grandfather were locomotive engineers. David Pierce says he's glad to see the sculptures.

"I think it's important that organized labor is recognized. We were in a union there, and that was a way for the workers to be treated fairly, in safe working conditions. There was always someone to look out for you." Pierce remembered.

The person looking out now for the story of the workers is the creator of the sculptures, Milwaukee artist Richard Taylor.

Taylor says his father worked briefly for the Milwaukee Road. But the artist hopes the monument honors all the workers.

Milwaukee sculptor Richard Taylor stands in his Riverwest studio. Before him is a maquette, or scale model, of the "People of the Road" monument.   CREDIT CHUCK QUIRMBACH

Milwaukee sculptor Richard Taylor stands in his Riverwest studio. Before him is a maquette, or scale model, of the "People of the Road" monument.

CREDIT CHUCK QUIRMBACH

"I know I could have gone in other directions, with the iconography of the locomotives and the railcars, the tracks, and that sort of thing. But I thought the people should really be honored because it was such a rich history. It supported so many workers and families for decades and decades," he says.

Taylor says old photographs of the Milwaukee Road facility inspired the sculptures. One of the artworks features a male worker standing on a small trackside water tower while positioning a part to a rail vehicle. The other sculpture features a c-shaped railroad roundhouse standing on edge. A male worker swinging a sledgehammer stands next to the roundhouse, while a female worker stands on top holding a large monkey wrench.

Richard Taylor operates a metal grinder in his studio.   CREDIT CHUCK QUIRMBACH

Richard Taylor operates a metal grinder in his studio.

CREDIT CHUCK QUIRMBACH

"We wanted to emphasize that there were women who did heavy work, did mechanical work, were employed by the Milwaukee Road in doing assembly and hard work," Taylor said.

The sculptures are in silhouette, meaning they look 2D and you can't make out the workers faces. Deliberate choices, says Taylor.

"The silhouettes let each one of us fill in these figures with, who knows? Maybe someone we know who resembles the physiognomy of that person. Maybe a relative. Maybe someone we know who worked on the railroad becomes one of these figures." He continued, "It also let me overlay the figures with a little bit of railroad track, sort of imprint them with the railroad, or second the notion that yes, these are people of the Road."Taylor was recently given the go-ahead to work on the third sculpture. He hopes to have it up by August. The Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail is still trying to raise money for the other two figures. 

Taylor says he understands that the layoffs of thousands of people more than four decades ago still doesn’t sit well with some.

"It is a rather bittersweet topic. But there are wonderful memories. There are people like my father who have great memories and great pride in the time he spent working on the railroad," Taylor concluded.

So, maybe, in a city that likes to offer toasts, that's another way to look at the new sculptures: as a celebration of a vibrant time in Milwaukee. Larry Penn said much the same in another verse of his song.

"So, drink if you like to the railroad men, lusty old men, Milwaukee Road men. And drink if you can in the taverns they been, to the days on the old Milwaukee Road," Penn sang.

Richard Taylor Sculpture Honoring Workers Of The Milwaukee Road Railroad Shops To Be Installed On The Hank Aaron State Trail

The public art project will be visible to thousands daily on the Hank Aaron State Trail at the corner of W Canal Street and W Milwaukee Road. It will be a powerful reminder of the 100+ year legacy of an era gone by, the Milwaukee Road and and its dedicated employees.

Designed by local artist Richard Taylor, the five silhouettes were modeled after actual historical photos of railroad workers, a tribute to them and their impact on Milwaukee and the country. The tallest sculpture which is 14 feet tall includes a solar-powered LED crossing sign which will call attention to the piece at night.

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Richard Taylor in Two Person Show at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum

Strata & Cipher: Barbara Manger and Richard Taylor brings together two artists who work closely with color and layering, and have developed a process-oriented studio practice that transforms surprising source materials into metaphors for their experiences. Manger uses monoprinting techniques to create richly composed images that reference the textures of moving waterways, and Taylor collects found materials to inform his use of shape, color, and surface, creating sculptures reminiscent of weathered urban artifacts.

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CHROMA featured in Milwaukee Magazine - January, 2015

The exhibition CHROMA was featured as a "Best Bet" in Milwaukee Magazine's January issue. Here is what editor Clare Hanan had to say:

Tom Berenz , GARDEN ABOVE THE LAKE, Acrylic, Oil, and Spray Paint on Canvas, 60 x 72"

Tom Berenz, GARDEN ABOVE THE LAKE, Acrylic, Oil, and Spray Paint on Canvas, 60 x 72"

Color Rush

Bright, permeating and myriad colors can often be curative in an oppressively cold environment. This month, works of all shades fill Tory Folliard Gallery, including those of metal sculptor Richard Taylor, along with Jason Rohlf’s geometric, dizzying acrylic paintings and Derrick Buisch’s oil abstractions. Jeremy Popelka’s amoeba-like glass sculptures will provoke and perplex. And Mark Ottens’ multilayered, psychedelic paintings will offer a study in painstaking self-discipline. Collectively, it’s a remedy with just enough burn to get those neurons firing again. (Claire Hanan)

➞ Chroma (Jan. 9-Feb. 28). Tory Folliard Gallery. 233 N. Milwaukee St., 414-273-7311, toryfolliard.com.

Richard Taylor at Gallery 224 in Port Washington - Opening January 31, 2014

Richard Taylor is having an exhibition of his sculpture, including his new "Excavation" series in "Abstract Conversations" at Port Washington's Gallery 224.  There will be an opening reception and Artist Talk on Friday, January 31 from 5 to 7 pm.

Gallery 224 is located at 224 E. Main Street, Port Washington, WI.  "Abstract Conversations" runs through March 1st.

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Richard Taylor – “Marks in Mitchell”

Marks in Mitchell, an aluminum and enamel wall sculpture which measures approximately 45x48x12 inches embodies many of the qualities Milwaukee sculptor Richard Taylor is celebrated for.  Juxtaposing vividly colored, irregular shapes in a dynamic manner makes for a rhythmic and expressive work with perfect blend of abstract sculpture and painting.  Suitable for indoors or out, Taylor’s work makes any location seem special.  Richard Taylor will be presenting new work for our Summer in Wisconsin exhibition which takes place July 1st through September 3rd.  Click to see more of Richard Taylor’s work.