Spotlight on Black History Month: Elemental Puppet

The Elemental Puppet

This February we’re celebrating Black History Month through shining a spotlight on exceptional projects like the “Elemental Puppet.” Through this project, students paid tribute to local black history and honored Alice’s Garden, as well as their wider neighborhood.

“Elemental Puppet” was created by youth from Neu-Life Community Development and artists Gabrielle Tesfaye and Katie Loughmiller. This project is located in Alice’s Garden Urban Farm (2136 N. 21st, Milwaukee), in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood. The teens’ art work honors the history of the Underground Railroad in the neighborhood, as well as giving life to the future of Johnson’s Park, the land that Alice’s Garden is on.*

Lead Artist Gabrielle Tesfaye said the teens learned a lot during the process and discovered “puppetry and storytelling as an art form.” The interactive puppet gives visitors to the garden a chance to read poems the teens created to personify each limb of the puppet and share their own stories.

“This puppet shows the elements to build up a garden – fire, water, air and earth – and those are the same elements to build up a community,” said Destiny, a Neu-Life teen. Justin, another teen involved in the program said, “The puppet demonstrates progress, promotes healthiness and uplifts the community.”

Neu-Life Teens, Alderman Stamper, Artists Gabrielle Tesfaye and Katie Loughmiller, and Venice Williams at the Elemental Puppet Celebration in June 2017

Venice Williams, executive director of Alice’s Garden, spoke at the celebration, along with Alderman Russell Stamper II, they both encouraged the teens to continue creating and making a difference in the community.

Zephaniah, a Neu-Life teen closed out the celebration by saying, “this is a great way to honor the history of our past and honor our present.”

This project was supported by Safe & Sound, and funded by The Zilber Family Foundation, a Racial Equity and Inclusion grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, MPS Partnership for the Arts, and the Mary L. Nohl Fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

*More information on the history of Johnsons Park and the Underground Railroad- “Johnsons Park is located on Fond du Lac Avenue, between 17th and 20th Streets.  It is a historic area which played an important role in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. The park, named for C. L. and Cleopatra Johnson, community business leaders and benefactors, was once part of Samuel Brown’s farm. In July of 1842, 16-year-old Caroline Quarlls, a runaway slave from St. Louis, was hidden there. Her arrival inspired local Abolitionists to organize an “underground railroad” to assist and protect fugitive slaves and Caroline became its first “passenger.” Wisconsin became an Abolition leader and Wisconsin’s Supreme Court was the only one to rule the Federal Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.” (information provided by