This 1911 home turned museum contains a world-class art collection that spans more than 2,000 years and includes Classic antiquities, Renaissance bronzes, Asian ceramics and decorative arts.
In many ways, the story of Charles and Sarah Allis is the story of Milwaukee. It’s one of migration, industry — and generosity. Both Charles and Sarah’s families left the East Coast to settle in Milwaukee. Charles’ father arrived in the very year the city was established in 1846, while Sarah’s family arrived shortly thereafter in 1851. Charles and Sarah decided in 1908 to commission a residence on Royall Place and Prospect Avenue — in the heart of Milwaukee’s “Gold Coast” — to house what had become a world-class art collection. They built the mansion with the intention of bequeathing it and their collection to the people of Milwaukee. The house that architect Alexander Eschweiler built for Charles and Sarah is strongly influenced by the English Tudor style, with symmetrical bay windows and a steeply pitched English slate roof. Construction began in 1909 and was completed in 1911. The mansion was constructed with poured concrete, with the intent of fireproofing the residence and its art collection. The outside walls are surfaced with mauve-brown Ohio brick trimmed with Lake Superior sandstone. The former coach house was located to the west, fronted with a semicircular drive and enclosed by a brick wall and a wrought-iron fence with gates designed by another Milwaukeean, Cyril Colnik. Charles resided in the mansion until his death in 1918. Sarah continued her residence in the home until her death in 1945. At the time of the Allis gift, the Milwaukee War Memorial was being planned, and the city was unsure how the Allis mansion and art collection fit into its plans. It was finally decided that the Milwaukee Public Library would receive the gift for use as an art library and museum — the Charles Allis Art Library. In 1979, the house and its contents were transferred to Milwaukee County and renamed the Charles Allis Art Museum.
Today, the museum is jointly operated with the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum by its own non-profit through a public private partnership with Milwaukee County. The mansion still houses the Allis collection of Asian porcelains, European bronze sculptures, American and European paintings, and fine furniture, as well as Charles’ art history library.
Tour the mansion on our website
Support the Allis: Becoming a member of the Charles Allis Art Museum is a great way to support us during these challenging times. A donation of a dollar or two goes a long way in helping sustain our exhibitions, programs, and historic spaces. Thank you for your continued support! Donate here
Virtual Programs & Exhibitions:
It is in the spirit of curiosity that our exhibit “Delight, Inspire, Educate” presents a room of objects – from the depths of our collection and archive storage areas – to appreciate from a new perspective. The objects/artifacts here are intentionally unlabeled in order to incite a purely visual response and curiosity, much the same way you might encounter collected objects at a friend’s house. Because Charles and Sarah Allis’ voices are now silent, we are left to wonder about the stories they would tell about each artifact in this room. Rather than listening, we find ourselves asking questions. With this in mind, we invite you to spend time in our “cabinet of curiosities” and formulate a few inquiries of your own!
In July 2020 the Charles Allis Art Museum became one of 16 cultural institutions in Milwaukee to join Google Arts & Culture to celebrate Milwaukee’s cultural DNA through stories exploring street art, food favorites, local artists, regional history, performing arts, and more. Together, these cultural institutions paint a picture of a thriving and creative city.
Exhibit Catalogs Weeks of closure earlier this year gave us the opportunity to digitize a number of exhibition catalogs from the Charles Allis Museum’s past. Explore the catalog for photographer Lois Bielefeld’s 2017 exhibit “All In: Shorewood Girls Cross Country”
This exhibit, “Echoing Concerns,” features works by Chilean printmaker Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez and contemporary artist Colin Matthes.
The Charles Allis and Villa Terrace Museums have stored important documents, photos, books and more since they joined Milwaukee County in 1979. The vast collection includes treasured items such as sketches by Sarah Ball Allis and blueprints of the mansions. After much planning, Executive Director John Sterr, Senior Curator Shana McCaw, and Assistant Curator and Collections Manager Jenille Junco launched the CAVT archiving project in 2017. They have been assisted by interns Deanna Moore and Audrey Tarvainen as well as Ann Hanlon and Abbi Nye, who are both collections and archiving experts at UWM Libraries. The project will process and catalog all of Charles Allis’ and Villa Terrace’s stored files, documents, and other historic materials.
Chilean printmaker Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez was one of two artists featured in the 2017 Charles Allis Museum exhibition “Echoing Concerns”. This essay, written by Hermosilla’s granddaughter, Liliana Hermosilla Rosenthal, and her husband Joel reflect on her grandfather’s artistic and social legacy in a world overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.
If you are planning an unforgettable event, look no further! Catch a tour of the Allis Mansion by our rentals manager Megan on our Instagram page’s highlights.