Milton Mizenberg and his Oakland Museum of Contemporary Art

Another great day.  The rains of the night before gave way to one of those perfect midwestern spring day, as we pulled up to on the south side of Chicago and self-taught sculptor Milton Mizenberg’s Oakland Museum of Contemporary Art.  An outdoor sculpture garden that has thrived and changed a neighborhood, bringing it back from it’s lowest point 20 years ago to today, where people have returned to the pride that once filled this neighborhood.  

Milton Mizenberg, Sculptures
c. 1945
Chicago, IL

Milton has overcome seemingly insurmountable odds fighting a life threatening disease, multiple myeloma (a.k.a. myelomatosis), a cancer that attacks the bone marrow. It has been his drive and passion for sculpture that not only revitalized the neighborhood, but his life. 

 The Oakland Contemporary Museum of Art brings the interactive experience of outdoor art and the artist to a neighborhood that traditionally would be over looked by the art community.  Milton recounts with great pride that not only do the folks in the neighborhood feel fiercely protective of the art (never in the 20 years has it been vandalized) but the kids are exposed to art on a daily basis and are accepting of knowing an artist, with the same common comfort as knowing a city worker, shop keeper, or teacher. (And that he is, as well)

Financial constraints kept Milton from pursuing an art education, but that couldn’t keep him down.  When he and his wife, Grace, saw the row house many years ago and fell in love with it, they had to buy it, despite the monetary constraints and somewhat  questionable location.  Slowly, they rehabbed the house into a remarkable expression of personal style and hard work (Milton learned the plumbing, electric, carpentry from friends, family and masters of the craft who “appeared” just when he needed them most.)

At the same time he began to claim and clean the trash filled vacant lots that surrounded his building, cutting down and carving the trees into gorgeous abstract sculptures.  People in the neighborhood stood by and watched him sculpt the first piece, at first skeptical, and soon charmed and protective of the piece and respectful of the creator.

This weekend, the city is dedicating a bronze sculpture, Milton’s first, in the park across the street from his outdoor art museum.  This sculpture was began when he was in the depth of struggle with his disease, and it’s brutal treatments.  But his excitement to create his first bronze and see it poured, motivated him to get up each day and work.

 Today, he is in remission.  And now it is nowhere but UP!

Milton and his wife Grace, in the background, quietly checking out our crew.