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Residents of Wisconsin and readers of this fine magazine well know that the state offers countless natural delights – great state parks and forests, thousands of enchanting lakes (containing hundreds of thousands of elusive fish), scores of wild areas safeguarding rare plants and animals...yes, we could go on. Even your average citizen south of the border in the Land of Lincoln quakes before Wisconsin's utter magnificence.
Bombast aside, there are intriguing aspects of Wisconsin that remain somewhat hidden from view. Tucked away in small museums and galleries, the state's history, art and culture await your inquiring eye. Here are several places you might have missed in the Milwaukee area. Afterward, we'll tell you how to find more gems around the state.
Betty Brinn Children's Museum – Betty Brinn spent most of her childhood in foster homes and orphanages around Wisconsin. As a successful businesswoman, she helped underprivileged women and children in Milwaukee secure health care. Today, families learn and play together at the museum created in her honor in 1995. Six permanent exhibits and several travelling programs offer exciting, hands-on fun for kids 10 and under. Open year 'round. 929 E. Wisconsin Ave. (414) 390-5437. Visit: Betty Brinn Children's Museum
Thomas A. Green Memorial Museum – This place rocks: More than 75,000 fossils and nearly all the minerals known to humanity are housed here. Admission is free, but call ahead for viewing hours. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Dept. of Geology, 3209 N. Maryland Ave. (414) 229-6171.
Brooks Stevens Gallery of Industrial Design – Located in the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, this gallery highlights the thought, artistry and skill that go into creating the products we use every day. This is where you'll find out how your toothbrush and your lawn mower got those clean, sleek lines. Permanent exhibits feature the work of Stevens, the pioneering, innovative designer who influenced the style and function of vehicles, boats, appliances, toys, buildings and more. He also created the Oscar Mayer WienerMobile. 273 E. Erie. (414) 847-3350. Visit: Brook Stevens Design
Bradley Sculpture Gardens – Works by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and more than 40 other noted sculptors grace the home of collectors Harry and Margaret Bradley. Please call one week in advance to make an appointment for a tour from mid-April through mid-October. 2145 W. Brown Deer Rd. (414) 276-6840.
Harley-Davidson Engine Plant – Here's your chance to find out what really goes on inside a Hog. Free hour-long tours will captivate even those who don't know a socket wrench from a screwdriver. Call for a tour time. 11700 W. Capitol Dr. (414) 535-3666.
The Anthony Petullo Collection of Self-Taught and Outsider Art – More than 450 works from the 1890s to the present by artists with no professional training or by artists living outside mainstream society are on display. As Petullo says: "Some works are childlike and others so sophisticated it is difficult to distinguish the work from that of a trained artist. Some are so inventive and unique that famous trained artists have been inspired by the art or even adopted a similar style." Call for an appointment. 219 N. Milwaukee St., 3rd floor. (414) 272-2525
Museum of Beer and Brewing – The MBB has had a somewhat frothy existence, relying on traveling exhibits to display a growing collection of breweriana while it sought permanent digs. Students of suds can now rejoice: The museum dedicated to Wisconsin's favorite beverage has found an interim home at the Milwaukee Brewing Company, 613 S. 2nd St. in Walkers Point. For progress updates and exhibit schedules, visit: Museum of Beer & Brewing
For the most "complete guide to all Wisconsin has to offer," pick up a copy of Anton Rajer's Museums, Zoos & Botanical Gardens of Wisconsin: A Comprehensive Guidebook to Cultural, Artistic, Historic and Natural History Collections in the Badger State (2006, Fine Arts Publishing/University of Wisconsin Press). Rajer, a former Wisconsin State Capitol conservator, includes listings for the smallest local historical societies and collections to the largest and most famous of the state's museums in this 304-page paperback. See our review in the December 2006 issue.