A child sleeps in the street*

Joe Boblick’s concrete sculpture at the Port Washington library has a message about empathy for the homeless
Ozaukee Press staff

Sculptor Joe Boblick of Port Washington will create busts for people, but there’s a catch.

Before a model sits for hours for Boblick to work his magic, he wants to get to know them.

“I paint and I sculpt, but I like hearing people’s stories,” he said.

Boblick heard some of those stories from people who found themselves homeless at one point in their lives.

“Sometimes, you wouldn’t know it. Sometimes, they’re brilliant,” Boblick said.

That was the case with one model he worked with who would “once in a while lose it and live under a bridge.”

Homelessness is the focus of his latest piece, which sits behind a bench outside of the W.J. Niederkorn Library in Port. The sculpture is of a child sleeping on the street.

“The concrete is part of the message because it’s the street,” he said. “If you had to lay on the concrete, you’d become more like it too.”

The sculpture weighs around 350 pounds. Chocolate Chisel owner John Reichert helped him put the piece in place.

Boblick said he hopes to  sell a few of the homeless sculptures, which are available in bronze as well as concrete. Half of what he makes is donated to a homeless shelter.

The child-in-the-street sculpture will be at the library until March 1. Boblick is working on another homeless piece as well.

Often, Boblick said, homeless people have an underlying mental condition such as schizophrenia that isn’t apparent unless they go off their medicine.

He can name a number of famous people who have been homeless, including Ben Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald. Col. Sanders and Steve Jobs.

Boblick referred to the Bruce Springsteen song “We Take Care of Our Own,” and said, “That’s something we have to think about and fall in line with.”

Now living in the wealthiest county in Wisconsin, Boblick and his family used to live next to two of the poorest ZIP codes in the state.

“What happened in those other two ZIP codes influenced us,” Boblick said of his family.

Boblick has taught at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design since 1996 and rents space at Orlandini Studios in Milwaukee, where he honed his plaster and crafting skills doing restoration work.

He has worked on Mansion Hill Inn in Madison, the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Mitchell Building and Central Library in Milwaukee and Stone Manor in Lake Geneva, among other buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Boblick was born on the Fort Leonard Wood Army base in Missouri. He moved around as a child, living in Tennessee and La Crosse before coming to Milwaukee, where he graduated from Rufus King High School. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degree in art at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

One of his painting teachers, well-known artist Tom Uttech of Saukville, once asked his students, “What keeps you up at night?”

Boblick thought about that.

“When I am in the half awake, halfdreaming state, I come up with some great ideas,” he said.

That’s when Boblick said he figured out how to get all the rebar needed to fit into the correct locations to have the figures standing for a sculpture he did at the Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee.

Boblick grew up always interested in art and his mother, an artist, made sure he had paints to pursue it.

His father was an engineer who designed equipment for railroads. Boblick said he thought he would become an engineer as well but decided to go into art.

One of the things Boblick said he likes about art is its ability to communicate.

“You can make something and say something with it. You don’t have to be there. The person who sees it won’t know you,” he said. “But you can still tell them how you feel. It makes us very human.”

Boblick has been influenced by many people and artists throughout his career. He used to work for the Milwaukee Public Library and talked to everybody, from those wearing rags to mayors, former mayors and everyone in between.

He talked with the late acclaimed artist Joseph Friebert at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. Some of Friebert’s favorite subjects were refugees and those persecuted, and he did paintings of people and neighborhoods during the Depression.

Boblick said Friebert told him, “This is how I see the world.”

Another one of his influences is the late painter and sculptor Adolph Rosenblatt, whose family, Boblick said, treats him like family. When Boblick was looking for work in the newspaper at the Oriental Pharmacy in Milwaukee, Rosenblatt hired him to build sauna seating and a lazy Susan for a standing figure for his sculpture “Sauna.”

Boblick, who has been teaching online since spring due to the pandemic, spends time drawing every day, inspired in part by the famous cellist Pablo Casals, who said he practiced for hours each day into his 90s because “I think I am making progress.”

For more information, visit joeboblick.com.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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