For years I’d driven past the property at 2145 Brown Deer Road thinking it was the home of an artist. There were no signs, only an eight to 10 foot wooden fence with colorful sculptures peeking out over the top.
In the past few years I’ve learned of The Lynden Sculpture Garden but it wasn’t until I got there that I realized it was the same residence.
The gardens were once the home of Peg and Harry Bradley. He and his brother Lynden were the founders of the Allen-Bradley Company. Peg was an avid art collector. She was greatly involved with the Milwaukee Art Museum and donated her collection to create the Bradley galleries on the top floor of the museum. I never met her but I can attest to her excellent taste in art. It appears that she bought art because she liked it and not for its future financial gain. However, as luck would have it, she still gambled well and then generously shared it all with the community.
In 1928 the Bradley’s purchased a 40 acre plot of farm land, named it “Lynden” and turned it into a country garden complete with a lake and adding about 4000 trees.
In the 1960’s Mrs. Bradley began to fill the gardens with the contemporary sculptures that we are privileged to see today. The park opened to the public in 2010 offering guided tours or allowing visitors to stroll the grounds. I prefer the solitary stroll. It gives one the chance to contemplate the works in quiet solitude.
When you arrive, park and register either on line or in the office located in the former house. The office is currently closed but it you knock on the door they will answer and help you register. Take a minute or 10 to look out over the grounds from the patio to see Peg’s vision complete. It is truly lovely and I look forward to visiting in the coming seasons for the experience of seeing natures cyclical changes.
Some of the art work is obvious. There are large pieces visible from the whole of the grounds, and other smaller sculptures that warrant a close up look. Then there are the semi hidden works that require walking off the open yards or paths.
On the north side there is a squared off flower garden containing a couple of benches for peaceful thinking. This section is very close to the highway which can make for a noisy sit. I wondered about this choice before I realized that in the first quarter of the 20th century the road was most likely 1-2 lanes and not as well traveled as it is today.
To the west of the flower garden is a path that runs through some installations hidden in the trees and shrubs.
Further south also hidden from view is a labyrinth for walking. Take a while to walk among the wild flowers. Quiet your mind as you move closer to the center and allow your spirit to absorb the tranquility of nature and your own healing powers.
When you emerge from the labyrinth walk through the grass toward the lake where you’ll find a bench to rest and think about your experience. I brought a sketch book to write down my observations, sketch when the moment came or to write down a poem of two.
As you follow the tree line past the lake you’ll come to a fascinating sculpture set in a stand of pine trees. It seems the surroundings were made for the sculpture more than the sculpture made for the surroundings.
Beyond this point is an installation, sometimes closed for the season, vegetable gardens and a lovely Japanese inspired garden gently curving down a small hill and across a stream. On this day it was filled with spring flowers and new growth just beginning to pop up through the cold hard ground.
From here you will see the rest of the gardens are more open to viewing from a distance. There is a lovely wood bridge crossing the lake, several benches to enjoy the sun on your face and what appears to be an event space or outdoor restaurant surrounded by flower and herb gardens. The fact that the event space itself is sculptural was not lost on my artists sense of great human creativity.
Now is a good time to visit the gardens. The spring flowers are in bloom and the summer plants are beginning to show. There were few people there on a Wednesday morning and for the time being, the admission fees are waived.
I for one am eternally grateful for the generosity of the Bradley family. Not only have they given us a large collection of some of the greatest artists of the 19th and 20th centuries in the MAM, they shared their magnificent country home and gardens.
When you go, drive north on I43 to Brown Deer Rd. Go west about a mile. The entrance is on the left side of the road, enclosed by a high wood fence. It’s easy to miss but if you know what to look for, it’s hard to miss. Drive through the gate and past the barn and house to park and when you leave exit through the drive to the east of the buildings.
The grounds are open every day from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm except Thursdays. Admission is temporarily free due to a gift by the Hertzfeld Foundation. And a personal word of advice. Upon my visit I found the bathrooms closed so I suggest taking care of your needs before you go so that you are able to enjoy your time free of stress.
Overall, I felt the sculptures were place well suited to their surroundings. I can’t say I appreciated all of the works and so I didn’t show many photos of the art work to give you the chance to explore on your own. I also believe that they occasionally change the exhibits and I didn’t want any of you to be disappointed if you saw a sculpture in my photos that you felt you wanted to see in person. That being said, there is much more to see than is shown in the included images. I leave the viewing up to your own sense of discovery.
Thank you for reading and happy spring!