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‘This is our collective garden:’ Milwaukee artist paints 4,500 square foot Westown mural in 3½ weeks

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MILWAUKEE — There's a garden in downtown Milwaukee that will remain in bloom year round. It's on Wisconsin Avenue. It's called, "Westown in Bloom." It was created by Milwaukee artist Emma Daisy Gertel.

"Daisy has been really committed to west Wisconsin Avenue," said Gabriel Yeager of Milwaukee Downtown Bid #21.

"It just seemed like such an awesome opportunity to be a part of this community," Gertel said.

Milwaukee artist Emma Daisy Gertel takes mechanical lift to the top of a 4,500 square foot wall to wash and prep the surface before painting it.

The mural project was announced in May. However, the selection process began long before that time.

"So, we had a committee of around 12 people review submissions that came through," explained Yeager. "We really had amazing international caliber artists submitted to the project, but we felt really compelled with one. Emma Daisy Gertel really put together a proposal that just really struck a chord with us."

When the project was announced,  it was described as an urban garden — a metaphor for the resurgence in Westown.

"It seemed like it was representative of the efforts that are happening here. The revitalization and renewal efforts. It seemed fitting," Gertel said.

Gertel started painting the mural in June. FOX6 joined her during the 3½ week project of transforming the 4,500 square foot corrugated metal wall on the side of Dunkin Donuts.

"It's our largest mural project to date and probably most visible," Yeager said. "It was a very large undertaking and Daisy definitely rose to the occasion."

Gertel started the project by cleaning the entire wall by hand with scuff pads, soap and water. After that, she worked in columns spray painting everything by hand to create the floral piece of public art. The entire time she used a mechanical lift to reach the top of the wall.

"It's definitely a new experience," Gertel said.

Gertel says she spent everyday in the summer heat to maintain the project timeline.

"Once the sun comes overhead on to this side of the wall, it gets really hot. It's sort of like being in a giant frying pan with this metal wall," explained Gertel.

Despite the heat and battling dozens of seagulls during the process, Gertel says she enjoyed getting to know the people in Westown.

Emma Daisy Gertel chats with Westown resident, Tina LaPrest, who watched the mural take shape.

"It's been a fun experience in terms of getting to know some of the people who are regulars in the neighborhood," she said. "I think that's one of the cool unifying things about art that everybody can enjoy it. And, there's no barrier to that."

The mural was unveiled at the end of July during a ribbon cutting.

"The title of this work, 'Westown in Bloom' is to signify and give credence to the life that we wish to see blossom here.  This is our collective garden. So, I hope that you feel that," Gertel said during the ribbon cutting.

Since then, Gertel and Yeager say there's been a lot of positive feedback about the piece.

"It truly embodies everything, all our energy that we're putting into the revitalization of west Wisconsin Avenue," Yaeger said.

"I hope it continues to make people smile. I hope that people feel inspired," Gertel said.

The "Westown in Bloom" mural is just the beginning. Yeager told FOX6 another property on the same block has asked to partner with an another artist to create piece of public art after seeing Gertel's take shape. Yeagar says it is expected to start this fall.

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