Organizers of Milwaukee’s Inaugural Boat Parade Hope It Floats For Years To Come

Oct 6, 2017

A collection of artistically decorated pontoons, some carrying artfully adorned people and puppets, will launch  tomorrow (Saturday) from the Bruce Street Ramp. They will converge with boats and paddlers for the inaugural Milwaukee Boat Parade. It is part of another first-ever event, Harbor Fest.

Local actress Deborah Clifton and artist Karen Lindholm-Rykweiwicz came up with the boat parade idea. Within a matter of months they formed Water Art Parade MKE.

Clifton and Lindholm-Rykweiwicz were inspired by an annual event in the Netherlands, called the Bosch Parade. It came to life in 2010 in honor of 15th century Dutch artist Hioronymus Bosch.

Both Lindholm-Rykweiwicz and Clifton are big fans of the artist and the boat parade that honors him.

“I went on YouTube and I looked at the video and it’s just fantastical and amazing and I said, 'Sure, why not?'” recalls Clifton.

Linholm-Rykweiwicz created what she calls Giant Fish Monster in the driveway of her Wauwatosa home. She says the design (and making sure it can move through the water) has been a trial and error experience.

“The original idea was that I was going to have a sturgeon-like fish and it was going to be in three pieces made with those big 50-gallon drums," explains Linholm-Rykweiwicz. "So I’m thinking let’s do a test and we’ll use a trolling motor and it will be great.... It’s 45 minutes and I haven’t gone a tenth of a mile."

Big Monster Fish installation in progress.
Credit Karen Lindholm-Rykweiwicz

She regrouped. Now her creation is anchored to a pontoon boat.

Harbor District Inc. and Milwaukee Riverkeeper are hosting  the boat parade.

“I believe I’ll be leading the parade in our Milwaukee Riverkeeper boat and we’ll have a fish puppet we found in the attic,” says Milwaukee Riverkeeper's Cheryl Nenn.

All three hope the parade will become an annual tradition attracting more and more floats.

“One of the things we try to do is try to protect the river, to restore the river, but we try to connect people to the river and I think this is what this does - get more people to fall in love with it and hopefully help us become stewards of it,” says Nenn.

Deborah Clifton says future parades will celebrate local artists and, she hopes, inspire broad community involvement. “I think that we could come up with the different ways of propelling, even towing, whatever! I think this can be engineering fun."

For now though they’re concentrating on successfully launching Linholm-Rykweiwicz’ Giant Fish Monster.

Want to join in the boat parade?

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