The French Connection
A couple’s preoccupation with posters has given rise to a community treasure.
IN 1983, JIM AND SUSEE WIECHMANN were strolling through San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square when a piece of art caught their eye. It was a poster by the 19th Century French artist Jules Cheret, who was “the father of advertising that brought color and form to the block letter for-sale and for-rent signs,” Jim says. And “he treated women beautifully,” showing them as fun-loving creatures who could play music, dance or enjoy a cigarette – a novel idea at the time – Jim says. Susee was already collecting art by Wisconsin women, so the couple began to purchase Cheret posters as well, more than 500 of them, filling up their East Side Victorian home and their children’s houses. In 2012, the Wiechmanns loaned 18 of the posters to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which held a popular “Posters of Paris” exhibit, and in January, MAM announced that the Wiechmanns had gifted the entire collection, giving MAM the largest reserve of Cheret’s works outside of Paris. “When we do an acquisition like this, we’re building the future of Milwaukee as a major cultural repository,” says Marcelle Polednik, MAM director. While that was part of the Wiechmanns’ intention, the other was practical: They’re moving to an apartment Downtown and won’t have the space they once had.
Cheret’s posters (above and left) are known for both pioneering color lithography and attracting a wide range of famous art collectors and fans, including Monet and Degas.