In 1912 the Division of Municipal Recreation and Adult Education of the Milwaukee Public Schools was formed as a result of a law passed by the Wisconsin Legislature which permitted school boards to use school facilities for adult evening classes, vocational schools, reading rooms, clubs, and accommodations to meet the needs of the entire community. Milwaukee then became known as the "City of the Lighted Schoolhouse," thus establishing community-based education.
By 1934, weaving centers were created all over the city, mostly in the public schools. These centers eventually consolidated, forming a single All-City Weaving Studio located at Wisconsin Avenue School. Looms at the studio were created by workers from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and it was run by the MPS Recreation Department. Arts and crafts flourished during those years and the Weaving Studio was the largest in the Midwest, with 64 looms in operation.
During the late 1980's, Wisconsin Avenue School needed the space occupied by the Weaving Studio, so it was moved to Lincoln Center's lower level. the educational climate started to change in the late 1980's as well. Monetary support dwindled for classes which dealt with personal growth and emphasis switched to classes that focused on providing people with a means of income. Soon weaving classes were not advertised or listed in the Recreation Guide.
Alice Bertschy Kadish - Benefactor
Kadish had been a kindergarten teacher for MPS. She started weaving at Wisconsin Avenue School in the 1970's, after retirement. A remarkable woman, she was also an avid traveler. She and her husband had established the Halbert and Alice Kadish Foundation. Upon Halbert's death, Alice continued as a benefactor to Milwaukee by supporting the UWM Science Brown Bag program, the COA Youth and Family Centers, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Milwaukee County Zoo, and the Betty Brinn Children's Museum, just to name a few.
Alice soon became deeply involved in the weaving program. She began paying a teacher and took over managing the Studio program. Her interest, enthusiasm and sheer will power paid off. The program continued and attracted more students. Alice would visit the teachers in the school and encourage them to tour the Studio with their students. She also actively generated an independent learning program in weaving for two interested students.
Alice wanted weaving in Milwaukee to survive and flourish. She frequently talked about how the program could be sustained when she was no longer with the studio members and got us to begin thinking about the future. When Alice passed away, her family informed us that they would like to work with us to ensure that Alice's wishes to provide weaving with a permanent home were realized. A temporary site was established for the weaving program at Burnham Field House for our fall, winter and spring classes. During the summer, we packed our looms away to provide space for the children's programs.
Continuing work to find a site, generous funding provided by the family Foundation, and subsequent approval by the Milwaukee School Board led to the selection of a large site on the lower level of Gaenslen School which could be remodeled and serve as a permanent location.
After more than a year of planning and remodeling, a dedication ceremony was held and the new facility was officially opened for classes in May of 2000. We had truly created a weaving center for Milwaukee via a collaborative arrangement with MPS Gaenslen School, MPS Recreation, Wisconsin Handweaver' Inc., the Studio Weavers and the Kadish Foundation. The Alice Bertschy Kadish Memorial Weaving Center exists to make weaving and fiber arts education available to people of all ages.
The Center - A Place Where Artists Can Weave Their Dreams
The ABK Weaving Center is located on the lower level of Gaenslen School and is accessible by both elevator and stairs. We are a fully-equipped weaving studio run almost totally by a staff of volunteers, many of whom are from the Wisconsin Handweavers' organization (WHI). In addition to classes, the Center has developed and participated in outreach programs at Gaenslen School, as well as other schools in the area. You will find our volunteers out at the Wisconsin State Fair, as well as demonstrating and educating the public at cultural programs around the Milwaukee community. Other programs include exhibitions and sales at various venues in the area as well as fiber arts displays.
Our Center houses many of the original records and books from the old Weaving Studio as well as the WHI Fiber Arts Library, which serves as a resource for inspiration and education. We currently have over 100 looms of various types and sizes including floor, table, rigid heddle, and inkle looms. We have, in addition to the Studio, a classroom area for classes, workshops and off-loom teaching such as dyeing and braiding. This area is also used for finishing projects woven on the looms.