“Patterns of Meaning: The Art of Industry by Cory Bonnet” blends  
historic steel mill artifacts with painting and sculpture in first-of-its-kind museum exhibition

Industry and art merge at the Grohmann Museum at MSOE in a first-of-its kind museum exhibition that blends historic steel mill artifacts with painting and sculpture. “Patterns of Meaning: The Art of Industry by Cory Bonnet” features salvaged pieces that are monuments to industry created from glass, ceramics and other materials. These massive objects honor the innovators and workers that built our modern world.
The exhibition includes large scale paintings to monumental sculpture and chandeliers, all made from enormous wooden casting patterns used in steelmaking during the late-1800s and early-1900s. Collaborating artists featured include Angela Neira, Nate Lucas, Brian Engel, AJ Collins, Mia Tarducci, and Andrew Moschetta, and specialize in wood, furniture, design, abstract painting, glass, ceramics, and light.

“When I first discovered the art of Cory Bonnet and the contributions he is making to the canon of industrial art, I found his work both novel and of great caliber,” said James Kieselburg, director of the Grohmann Museum. “In reclaiming historic wooden foundry patterns and industrial artifacts and redeploying them for the creation of art, Bonnet is breaking new ground in the appreciation of historical workways as they relate to the work of the contemporary artists. It is the perfect exhibition for the Grohmann Museum to showcase as the blockbuster to open 2024.”

Bonnet and a Pittsburgh scrap dealer acquired the collection of 6,000 floor-to-ceiling wooden foundry patterns, which were stored in an Ohio barn, in 2021. The patterns were hand built to spec, then packed in foundry sand to create the molds to cast steel parts, including massive gears, crankshafts, valves, railcar wheels and more—all of which were used to build the infrastructure of the late 1800-early 1900s industrial world.

“This exhibition reminds us of what human beings are capable of when we put our minds to it and work together to contribute to something bigger than ourselves,” said Cory Bonnet, artist and preservationist. “When workers built these patterns, they started with nothing. From design to assembly, everything was hand-drawn and made. Too see the obstacles they faced and the problems they solved, with none of the technology and advances we have today, is a testament to human spirit and ingenuity. When they went to work, the idea was not just to work for themselves but for the next generation to make things better. That’s an idea we need to resurface.”

“Patterns of Meaning” is open through April 28, 2024 at the Grohmann Museum, 1000 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI.