THE INITIAL GIFT. The Cedarburg Art Museum and 49 paintings were donated to the people of Cedarburg in a trust fund left by Ozaukee Bank. Ozaukee Bank was a popular financial services company that invested in Cedarburg and opened for business in 1975. In 2007, after 32 years of successful business and many of its 400 stockholders nearing retirement age, the Board of Ozaukee Bank agreed to merge its business into BMO Harris Bank.
The Bank’s founder, Chairman M D “Mal” Hepburn, wanted to do something for Cedarburg to acknowledge the support that Ozaukee Bank had received over the years from the community. Forty-nine artworks were chosen from the Bank’s larger collection, and $1.5 Million was set aside for a future art museum as well as other cultural, artistic, and service groups in the community. The fund, Ozaukee Bank’s Gift to the Future, has the mission of “Supporting Cedarburg…Now and Forever.”
A MUSEUM AND ITS COLLECTION EMERGES. In late 2012, when the Wittenberg-Jochem Mansion was available for sale, the Ozaukee Bank’s Gift to the Future Fund was utilized for purchasing the Cedarburg main street property for an art museum. By June 2013, the doors of the Wittenberg-Jochem mansion opened as the Cedarburg Art Museum. The inaugural exhibitions in 2013 featured the 49 artworks of the Ozaukee Bank art collection that became the original artworks of the art museum’s permanent collection. Prominent Wisconsin artists working in the mid to late 20th Century such as Phil Austin, Gerhard Miller, Max Fernekes, Doris White, Lee Weiss, and Harold E. Hansen were featured from this initial collection. Other highlights of Ozaukee Bank’s initial gift to the museum include eleven paintings by Edmund G. Schildknecht illustrating his 1927 summer in Cedarburg. In addition, the earliest and largest oil painting of the initial collection, Bernhard Schneider’s “Exposition Center, Milwaukee” dating to c.1887-1893, commands a permanent display location on the museum’s second floor overlooking the grand, open staircase.
PLEIN AIR PAINTING. Another important asset of the Ozaukee Bank art collection included in the Cedarburg Art Museum permanent collection is the “Best of Show” collection of paintings from Cedarburg’s annual plein air painting event. Ozaukee Bank and the bank’s later Gift to the Future Fund have sponsored the Best of Show purchase award from 2001 to the present, thereby enabling periodically displayed, award-winning plein air paintings at the Museum and as long-term museum loans of plein air paintings to the Cedarburg Public Library.