Open Wed–Sun 9am–4pm, plus late on Thur til 8pm. • Get tickets.

Open Wed–Sun 9am–4pm, plus late on Thur til 8pm. • Get tickets.

Visit the Museum 608.256.6445 Find Us

Past Exhibits at Madison Children’s Museum

The Milky Way Dairy Bar

Opened February 7, 2018
Closed May 2019

Travel back in time to the 1930s and Madison’s thriving ice cream scene in The Milky Way Dairy Bar. With Schoep’s Ice Cream on the east side and several dairy bars on State Street, kids in pre-war Madison had a lot of good choices where they could find classic flavors like butterscotch, mint chip, and strawberry. Here at the museum, we re-created a vintage dairy bar in our “Window to the Past” space next to the front desk. Find out how much an ice cream cone cost in 1935. Balance as many ice cream scoops on top of a cone as you can. Play the part of soda jerk. Create a wacky new ice cream flavor. And assemble a giant ice cream sundae (invented, by some accounts, in Two Rivers, Wisconsin).

Collections Case: Make Your Own Luck & Tiny Friends and Foes

cloverOpened July 2018

Just across from our front desk, the collections case features a rotating display of interesting toys and curios.

Collections: Make Your Own Luck spotlights the four-leaf clover collecting talent of the museum’s own Gabriella Gerhardt (recently profiled in the Cap Times), including tips on how you can find your own four, five, six, or even seven leafed clovers.

Tiny Friends and Foes: Artwork of Kim Caisse and Friends, located in the Sparkler Cafe, includes cloth versions of various bacteria and microorganisms that inhabit or infect the human body.

A Map of Me Sidewalk Suprise

Sidewalk Suprise: A Map of Me

Opened July 2018

A Map of Me was created by former Madison Children’s Museum Art Studio intern Kelsey Alison Stalker. It was comprised of over 200 hand-made ceramic porcelain tiles, strung together. Ceramics artist Stalker sees clay as similar to the human body. “We are both soft and vulnerable, but become strong with time and patience. Because of these similarities, clay has taught me how to love and appreciate myself as if I were my own work of art.”

“I often try to convey concepts that I can’t use words to explain, with my sculptures. In the past year or so, I’ve discovered the enormous potential clay bodies have to not only absorb emotions but also be able to solidify them into something permanent. This is why you’ll see texture that seems soft and whimsical that’s since been solidified (fired) and, somewhat overwhelmingly, disguised and emphasized by glaze or underglaze. Portraying these delicate and personal nuances through the firing process is what is most interesting to me. Everything else—color, placement in space, and even something as simple as shape of form—are all pleasant surprises along the journey of process that teach me more about myself than anything else ever could.”

Sidewalk Surprise: Farmers: Past, Present, Future

Opened April 2018

SSFarmersLocal and international artist Sarah K. Khan’s installation, Farmers: Past, Present, Future, featured three photographic portraits of a grandmother, her daughter-in-law, and the granddaughter in central India. The Dandu family, located in the Central India, Telangana, represent a long line of shepherds and farmers. The family raises goats, saves seeds, and grows traditional crops like millet, lentils, and leafy greens. They are some of the 98 million Indian women farmers who feed their family and community. Learn more about Sarah’s work.

Collections Case: Teddy Bear Scavenger Hunt

Opened December 2017

Just across from our front desk, the collections case features a rotating display of interesting toys and curios. Teddy Bear Scavenger Hunt featured a donated collection of antique teddy bears, and an accompanying scavenger hunt to locate some of the unique features of the bears.

Sidewalk Surprise: Mini-Capitols

Opened December 2017

Spontaneous and unpredictable, enjoyed whether you’re just strolling by the museum or stopping in for a visit. Our Sidewalk Surprise exhibit features pop-up art in the museum windows with work from kids, local artists, and community members.

Our current exhibit features artistic representations of the Wisconsin State Capitol building, created by local artists out of a number of different mediums and sculpture techniques. This display is part of our Capitol Century project with Madison Community Foundation

Sidewalk Surprise Fire Monkeys

Wire, paper, resin, acrylic paint, LED lights

Opened March 2017

Lanterns made by MCM artists Laurie Rossbach and Jennika Bastian to celebrate the year 2016 as “Year of the Monkey”.

Seymore’s Adventure

Opened January 20, 2017

Seymore’s Adventure won MCM’s 2016 Polling Place election, with 36% of the vote cast by our under-18 visitors. Seymore returns to the museum floor after first appearing in MCM’s Leap Into Lakes exhibit nearly twenty years ago. Come have an adventure with Seymore and learn about fish anatomy and lake habitats while you play! Crawl through Seymore, imagine yourself below the surface of the lake, don a life jacket and catch fish from a boat, try on lake create costumes, learn about water, wetlands and limnology, plus more!

Hardware Department

Montgomery Ward Hardware Department

Opened August 1, 2016

Madison Children’s Museum’s building was originally built in 1929 as a Montgomery Ward department store, selling a wide variety of goods that were also available through its enormous catalogs. This summer we explore our (very) local history by re-creating a vintage Hardware Department as it would have been displayed at Montgomery Ward. Children can put on an apron to play shopkeeper with a cash register or pick up a vintage shopping basket to buy some tools. Play with bristly paintbrushes and real skeleton keys, and look at a display of vintage tools. There’s a balancing scale for practicing equivalencies and measuring; paint cans to help reinforce color and size sorting skills, and a magnetic tool wall where visitors can recognize and match silhouettes. Come in to learn through play in our Montgomery Ward Hardware Department.

Glow Show III

Through May 2017

Back for our third year, Glow Show features the neon work of UW-Madison glass students, who have created neon pieces based upon children’s drawings in our art studio. This year, Glow Show will look to the contributions made by MCM visitors to the Lynda Barry Compbook project, and may well feature celebrated images like a house on fire, a pair of scissors, or a bird. Glow Show will occupy the third floor windows overlooking the Capitol Square.

Shadow Castle

The museum back lot features the newest, largest piece of art at MCM, larger than the Love Birds sculpture on the rooftop, but much lighter, weighing little more than a shadow. Shadow Castle can be seen and enjoyed by visitors from the museum’s rooftop and Log Cabin yard. This whimsical, fantasy representation of the museum’s shadow includes a flying dragon.

This new art replaces the former Funkyard. With the back entrance now closed to the public, visitors to the Log Cabin will enter from the Pinckney Street sidewalk. Shadow Castle will remain for the foreseeable future, until the back lot is developed into a new play space.

Sidewalk Surprise Earth Play

100% natural dyes, cotton

December 2016 through March 2017

This popup exhibit combined playful images and natural colors to create hand printed textiles of modern India. Meeta Mastani is an internationally known print/dye artist, design specialist and community development advocate. She is currently an Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence at the UW-Madison Arts Institute.

Get Small: Miniatures, Dolls & Houses from the Museum’s Collection

May 6 through January 8, 2017 (in Community Concourse gallery)

Madison Children’s Museum was built by dolls, quite literally. MCM’s unique and unparalleled relationship with American Girl for nearly three decades has provided the backbone of our financial support through our annual benefit sale of their seconds and returns, which have been lovingly repaired and sold by thousands of volunteers. Without the support of American Girl, and all of the benefit sale supporters, MCM would simply not exist.

Over the same three decades, MCM has built up a collection of dolls, houses and miniatures and will unveil them for the first time in a new exhibit called Get Small: Miniatures, Dolls and Houses from the Museum’s Collection The exhibit features beautifully handcrafted dolls and miniature environments from around the world, selected from the museum’s extensive doll and dollhouse collection. Several models of MCM exhibits, created as staff designed the new building, will also complement the exhibit.

Playing with dolls and miniatures has been a huge part of early childhood for centuries, in nearly every culture around the globe. While some might think of it as just a leisure pastime, doll play helps children develop in significant ways. Playing with dolls and miniatures helps children develop cognitive and fine motor skills, language skills, nurturing and caring skills, and an ability to practice dealing with strong emotions. Most important, it helps children bring the large world into manageable size, where they can exert some measure of control. This helps them gain confidence in their abilities to solve problems and successfully interact with their environment.

Get Small featured dozens of dolls, large and small, including several from the museum’s American Girl collection. Dolls are made with a variety of materials including wood, cornhusks, apple cores, nuts, stone, fabric, china, plastics and more. Within the exhibition, children looked behind the scenes at the world of miniatures in five separate doll houses that were painstakingly restored to their original glory. Two of the dollhouses are replicas of existing houses in Madison; an additional house was made by Madison artist (and MCM Art Studio manager) Laurie Rossbach, and another by a Madison girl and her father. Additionally, children had an opportunity to design their own interior environment, moving around furniture, accessories, and rooms to create their dream house.

The show was centered in the Community Concourse, but also spilled into other parts of the museum, including Possible-opolis, the Art Studio and the Rooftop, where kids played with miniatures or created miniatures in each setting. In the Art Studio for example, a new miniature station was added, where visitors created miniature furniture, accessories and objects for a community created doll house.

Sidewalk Surprise Ser•i•cul•ture

Clay, engobe, and cord

August through November 2016

The practice of rearing silkworms for the production of silk is called sericulture. Artist Rachelle Miller says she is “fascinated with the process of growing and changing, to remember where we have been and to know where we are going. In the case of silkworms, their cocoons are a product of this transformation which is the inspiration of my piece.”

The Polling Place

October 7 through November 8, 2016

Welcome to The Polling Place, where the people have the power to decide. In the spirit of this election year, the museum asked for your help to make important decisions about upcoming exhibits, scheduled to open in 2017.

The three candidates were:
Seymore’s Adventure
Crawl through a larger-than-life bluegill named Seymore and learn about the fascinating story of fish anatomy. Feel yourself immersed in Seymore’s underwater world, swim with his lake friends, and see what creatures you can catch from the fishing bridge.

Magical Mirrors
Turn yourself upside down with convex and concave mirror fun. Try on your neighbor’s hairdo, skirt or t-shirt with our magic disguise mirror, or see yourself larger than life in an assortment of funhouse mirrors.

Cars! Cars! Cars!
Take a seat behind the wheel of a souped-up Chevy and imagine yourself racing around the speedway. Design your own race car, and race miniature hot wheels cars against one another on our large-scale racetrack.

The winning exhibit, Seymore’s Adventure, will open to the public on inauguration day, January 21, 2017.

The polling results:

Seymore’s Adventure: 471 votes
Cars! Cars! Cars!: 428 votes
Magical Mirrors: 411 votes

Referendum: Should MCM celebrate National Poop Day? 571 yes; 350 no

Sidewalk Surprise Birthday Party

May through August 2016

Tyanna Buie is a young accomplished artist/printmaker hailing from Milwaukee who received her MFA from UW-Madison in 2014. She is currently working in Detroit as an assistant professor of printmaking at the College for Creative Studies. Tyanna’s piece Birthday Party is a printed image of a child’s birthday party, and is reflective of much of her work that stems from her own life.

Back to Babytown

November 2015 through July 2016

Drawing inspiration from Montgomery Ward’s nursery department, Madison Children’s Museum created a replica 1930’s era nursery, including baby items and furniture as featured in the Ward catalog. Children can play with life-sized baby dolls and accessories, such as a bassinet, stroller, high chair, baby bath, scale and other items. There was also a display case featuring baby books, clothing and nursery items from the 1930’s.

Growing Crystals: The Wisconsin Crystal Growing Competition

February 1 through May 2016

This exhibit featured the award-winning crystals from the Wisconsin Crystal Growing Competition, put on by the UW-Madison Chemistry Department for middle and high school students in Wisconsin. Last year high school students made crystals using Blue Vitriol, or copper sulfate pentahydrate CuSO4.5(H2O). These large blue crystals of cupric sulfate are nicely shaped, easy to grow and inexpensive. Cupric sulfate is a common pesticide, and helps fight fungal infections in both plants and animals. Because of its vibrant blue color, it is also used in pottery, coloring glass and fireworks.

Wisconsin middle school students made crystals using potassium alum, or KAl(SO4)2.12H2O. This colorless compound has a sweetish taste and can be found on a spice rack at a grocery story. It is safe, grows quickly and produces large, white beautiful octahedral colorless crystals. Potassium alum is a commonly occurring mineral mined in Italy, Tennessee, Arizona, Philippines, and Australia. It has a wide range of uses from deodorant to fire retardant for textiles to preparation of Swiss cheese and water purification.

The Compbook Art of Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry

October 2015 through April 3, 2016

Grand Opening: Friday, October 2, 5 – 9 p.m. at Gallery Night.

The Exhibit: At the core of the exhibit are 20 composition books featuring Lynda Barry’s sketches and writing. These “compbooks” — part-diary, part-sketchbook — have never been shared publicly, so this provides a rare glimpse into the artist’s life and how events, musings, and memory become art. The exhibit has many interactive elements, including:

  • A giant compbook for visitors to pose for photos, bringing them into the artwork
  • A “magnetic poetry” style area for creating stories with various words and images
  • The Magic Cephalapod Writing Station, where visitors will  share quick stories about themselves
  • The Wheel of Chance, where a quick spin determines the subject of a one-minute drawing exercise

About the Artist: Local cartoonist and world renowned writer Lynda Barry loves to draw fast and slow, scribble, collage, cut, paste, write, question and most of all—inspire others, young and old, to find their creative voice. She reminds us that by simply PLAYING AROUND, keeping our hands moving, drawing on our own memories and experience, and not worrying about the final “product,” we can unleash ourselves, keep focus and create incredible images and stories.

Farmyard Friends
Finn Jackson

October 2015 through January 2016

Grand Opening: Friday, October 2, 5 – 9 p.m. at Gallery Night. Meet and visit with artist Finn Jackson, as well as animals from Heartland Farm Sanctuary.

The Exhibit: Located in the Community Concourse, Farmyard Friends will showcase a number of drawings and paintings inspired by the artist’s visits to Heartland Farm Sanctuary – the only animal sanctuary for farm animals in Wisconsin.

About the Artist: Eleven-year-old Finn paints and draws portraits of the animals that reside at Heartland Farm Sanctuary and donates proceeds from sales of his artwork to the farm. Heartland recently launched a fund-raising campaign to renovate its 18,000 square-foot barn. A portion of sales from Finn’s work will be directed toward improvements to help keep his beloved animal friends warm, safe and dry.

Finn started his painting and philanthropy when he was just seven years old and got the idea of combing painting with helping animals after reading about a young girl who raised money to help birds injured in the Gulf oil spill. Finn has raised over $3,000 since he began.

Liberia at Play/The Don and Suzanne Granger Collection
June 3 – September 13 2015

This beautiful collection of objects, art and artifacts from daily village life in Liberia during the early 1960’s has recently been donated to the museum by long time Madison residents Don and Suzanne Granger. Mr. Granger lived and worked as a teacher in Liberia in the early 1960’s as a member of the International Voluntary Services, a precursor to the present day Peace Corps.

The exhibition centers on play and family life of children in Liberia, and  features toys, games, basketry, clothing, utensils, cultivation equipment, and assorted objects from daily life. Objects will be displayed side by side with contemporary photographs, introducing children to the idea that all cultures solve similar problems in unique ways, while showcasing the amazing ingenuity of Liberian craftspeople.

Special thanks to Don and Suzanne Granger for the donation of their collection. Exhibit generously supported by Endres Mfg. Company Foundation and the Wisconsin Arts Board with the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Liberia at Play was curated and designed  by Lynne Harper, Nancy Bellinger and Sandra O’Connor

Glow Show, II
May – September, 2015

MCM transforms the corner windows facing the Capitol with a full array of handcrafted neon artwork created by UW-Madison and Art Institute of Chicago glass students. Kids and students in the Art Studio will create works of art that will then be transformed by art students at both campuses, into beautiful neon sculpture that will light up the corner of our building.

View photos from our Gallery Night Opening Reception

Picture, Picture by Bernadette Witzack
June 3 – September 13

Please join us for a closing reception during Free Family Night on Wednesday, August 5. 

Bold, bright colors in geometric and organic shapes form a world of wonder in this new site-specific installation by artist Bernadette Witzack.

A note from the artist: I am an improvisational, process-oriented artist. I usually draw and paint on wood, so working with transparent materials was a big challenge for me. One of the special things about the Sidewalk Surprise gallery is that viewers can actually see through the artwork. I have never been in the position to experiment with light in this way,  and so I was excited to work with transparent materials. The bold, bright colors and graphic elements in this piece are inspired by children’s blocks, toys and books as well as the basic shapes in the world all around us. I hope you enjoy finding all the little shape moments and color stories hidden in Picture Picture.

Bernadette Witzack holds a MFA in Art & Design from the University of Michigan and a BA in Studio Art from Beloit College. Bernadette has apprenticed as a puppet designer for Bread & Puppet Theater in Glover, Vermont and Skylark Productions in New York City. Bernadette Witzack’s artwork has been exhibited nationally at venues including the John Michael Kohler Art Center, Museum of Wisconsin Art, Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, Portrait Society (Milwaukee), Zhou B. Arts Center (Chicago), Gallery Project (Ann Arbor), University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) and Wayne State University (Detroit).

Curious Stories by Olive Earley

Olive Earley, one of Madison and MCM’s’s (she’s a former volunteer!) home-grown talents has been making art since she was a baby, or maybe before that time. Her beautifully crafted soft sculpture dolls depict historical figures, people she knows and imaginary people too. Olive got her start at an early age, as the daughter of two prominent Madison artists, but has found a style that is uniquely her own. Ms. Earley’s collection is impressive and extra-ordinary, especially when one considers that she is just a high-schooler.


Laura Anderson Barbata, El Senor de Aztlan

January 15 – May 15, 2015

This exquisite costume made by renowned Mexican artist Laura Anderson Barbata will hang in the Community Concourse/ Possible-opolis exhibit area, as part of the kick-off to Barbata’s year-long arts residency at UW Madison Arts Institute and throughout the community. The piece is made from diverse textiles, thread, yarn, cd’s, fiber, aluminum and polycarbonate. Barbata will be working on costume making in the Museum’s art studio during her tenure in Madison, in preparation for STRUT!, the community wide mutli-cultural parade.
View photos from workshops led by Barbata 


Lessons from Penguins

January 17 – May 5 2015

This stunning collection of 120 photographs by award-winning photographer J.J. L’Heureux celebrates the penguins of Antarctica.

The photos of these often playful, exuberant birds will be accompanied by a word or two reminding visitors to sing, play, and seize the day!

Exhibition organized through Katharine T. Carter & Associates and supported by Endres Mft. Company Foundation. On display in the MCM Community Concourse and Mendota Stairwell through March 30, 2015.
View photos from the exhibit grand opening.



Play, Back in the Day

December 2014 – June 2015

This winter, Madison Children’s Museum is introducing a new way for kids to learn through play with a vintage toys exhibit called, “Play, Back in the Day.”

Each month through June, a “new” vintage toy collection will be featured for visitors to enjoy while lounging in the Window to the Past space—an area setup to resemble a living room.


© 2024 Madison Children's Museum | Privacy Policy
Madison Children's Museum