accent background image

Colnik Collection




The Cyril Colnik exhibition, located in the second-floor south-wing galleries, is a showcase of metal works made by Milwaukee ironsmith Cyril Colnik (1871–1958). Colnik immigrated to the United States from Austria when he accompanied his teacher Reinhold Kirsch to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. There he met beer baron Captain Frederick Pabst, who encouraged him to come to Milwaukee, a center for German immigrants, and join a growing number of artists and craftspeople contributing to the city’s booming architectural expansion. Colnik agreed. He set up his workshop, called the Ornamental Iron Shop, on North 3rd Street., now part of Mader’s German restaurant. Often called the “Tiffany of wrought-iron masters,” Colnik achieved national fame as one of the foremost metal craftsmen of his time. His work in cast and wrought iron, among other metals, included candelabras, balustrades, entry gates, decorative panels, fireplace tools and lamps in styles ranging from Baroque to Art Deco.

Artisan Blacksmith

The Villa Terrace Cyril Colnik exhibition is an interpretation of the life and work of this artisan blacksmith. The display features outstanding samples of Colnik’s work, as well as the implements of a blacksmith shop, complete with forge, anvil and blacksmithing tools. Also included are reproduction and original photos, drawings and blueprints from the museum’s Cyril Colnik Archive. Storyboards lead visitors through the process of forging and repoussé step by step, to help them understand Colnik’s fiery creation process. Together with biographical and historical information, this exhibition tells the story of this eminent blacksmith who was an integral part of Milwaukee’s architectural history.

The Collection and Archives

The Colnik Object Collection — donated to the museum in 1991 by Gretchen Colnik, Cyril’s daughter — contains more than 200 pieces of ironwork that the artisan blacksmith created over the span of his career. Many of these objects are on display in the exhibit. The Cyril Colnik Archives contain drawings, blueprints and photographs of completed works that span the career of the master ironworker. There are also photographs of Colnik, his family and his Ornamental Iron Shop. Villa Terrace acquired this archive in 2002 as a generous gift from the Kohler Foundation. Over fifty images from the archives are available online at /

Local Resource

The museum thanks Dan Nauman of Bighorn Forge for being an inestimable resource — sharing his knowledge of Colnik and his family, the story behind the collection, and especially in-depth, hands-on knowledge of Colnik’s tools, materials, and techniques. Naumann continues to contribute to the preservation of Colnik’s legacy by restoring and recreating Colnik’s works at his forge in Kewaskum, Wisconsin and bringing blacksmiths from around the world to view the Colnik Collection.