Among its many oddities—beer, the Bronze Fonz, Bob Uecker—Milwaukee is home to the world’s first museum diorama. In 1890, Carl Akeley, a.k.a. the “father of modern taxidermy,” created a muskrat colony diorama for the then-young Milwaukee Public Museum. The exhibit still stands today, just one of dozens of meticulously crafted, delightfully retro miniature models in the museum’s permanent collection.
Inspired in part by this strange claim to fame, Danelle “D” Kirschling founded National Diorama Month, an only-slightly tongue-in-cheek celebration of the crafty and adorable art form. On Tuesday, March 31 at Lakefront Brewery, the annual celebration will come to a head with the glorious return of the knock-down, drag-out Diorama-Rama competition. This year’s theme? “20/20: A Look to the Future!”
“What does the future hold? What did the past promise us?” reads an event description. “Whether it’s the steam-powered dirigibles of Jules Verne, or the dystopian dreams of Philip K. Dick, what do you think the future holds? Jetsons and jet packs? Alien Nation or alienation? Star Trek or—well not Star Wars because that’s from a long time ago.”
There’s still time to register (for free) HERE. (As always: NO PEEPS.) Below are excerpts from a chat we had with Kirschling back in 2016, preceded by her 2019 appearance on our favorite morning talk show, The Morning Blend.
Milwaukee Record: Before we begin, it should be noted that this is being billed not just as a Milwaukee thing—this is National Diorama Month. What made you decide to go so big right out of the gate?
Danelle Kirschling: Well, Regional Diorama Month just didn’t have the same ring to it, I suppose. [laughs] It’s starting here, but I’m sure it’s going to snowball, and I expect there will be an International Diorama Month in a year from now. [laughs]
MR: Any particular reason why you’re starting it in March?
DK: It’s kind of the end of winter, and not quite spring. It just seemed like a good month to get…I actually started it about five years ago and I have been celebrating it on my own. This is my first year I’m expanding it and including people nationally.
MR: What inspired it five years ago? What was it about dioramas that spoke to you?
DK: I really liked dioramas, and as an adult I didn’t really get the opportunity to make a lot of dioramas. I had gone to the Milwaukee Public Museum, which obviously has a lot of dioramas, and I had also purchased a pair of shoes at that time, so I decided to make a diorama. It just kind of snowballed into National Diorama Month.
MR: So this is something you and your friends did every year?
DK: Um, no. [laughs] I wish I could include my friends! It was just me! [laughs]