Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum

Visit this attractive Italian Renaissance villa with elegant formal gardens and an eclectic collection of paintings and decorative art works.

Following a trip to Europe in the 1920s, wealthy local Lloyd R. Smith decided to give downtown Milwaukee an Italian flavor. He built a sumptuous Italian Renaissance villa surrounded by formal landscaping and water features on the edge of Lake Michigan. Today, Villa Terrace, which was donated to Milwaukee County in 1966, is home to one of the city’s finest collections of decorative arts.

The villa houses an eclectic range of art. You can admire impressive German, French and American landscape paintings dating from the 17th century in the Great Hall. A major highlight is the Cyril Colnik Collection, detailing the life and work of the eminent local artisan blacksmith. There are over 200 pieces in cast and wrought iron, along with personal effects, photographs and tools. Throughout the building, there are elaborately painted ceilings and old English wood paneling.

There are often a number of temporary exhibitions on display showcasing contemporary local and American talent. Expect anything from ceramics, sculpture and minimalist furniture design to decorative jewelry.

You can lose yourself in the sprawling Renaissance gardens of Villa Terrace. There are plenty of hidden shady spots to stop for a rest, and classical Italian sculpture dotted around the lawns. The garden is framed by wrought-iron fencing and enjoys views across Lake Michigan, making it an attractive spot for a picnic. Take in a gardening lecture or listen to jazz and classical music in the open-air courtyard.

Villa Terrace is located on North Terrace Avenue north of downtown and is open afternoons only, between Wednesday and Sunday. Give yourself around one to two hours to see the exhibits at your own pace, and at least another hour to explore the gardens.

There’s ample street parking nearby, and a bus stop three blocks away.

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