jewish museum milwaukee

Annette Hirsh

My name is Annette Zolin Hirsh, and I was born on October 20, 1921, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Isidor and Ruby (Riegelman) Zolin.

I’m an accomplished metalsmith, have had a lifelong passion for art, and this is my story.

It was sort of a lonesome life, being an only child, and I worked with my hands and did drawings to keep me occupied. When I was about ten or eleven years old, I took the streetcar alone to a drawing class at the Milwaukee Jewish Center on 1025 North Milwaukee Street. This was my first art class and instilled in me a lifelong love for art. There was only one other student in the class, a teenage boy who enjoyed drawing ancient war scenes. That teenager’s name – Robert Bloch, the future author of Psycho! Needless to say, I focused my talents on painting scenes while looking out the Center’s windows.


One group that I belonged to during my youth was B’nai B’rith Jr. Girls – East Side. This group was a service organization open to teenage girls, where we’d raise money for worthy causes, along with having several social events. This photo is from one of the group’s Purim parties in 1938 or 1939 at the Milwaukee Jewish Center. You probably notice that everyone in the photo is wearing a costume. Purim is a celebratory Jewish holiday told through the book of Esther that recalls when Jewish people in Persia were saved. That’s me in the middle row on the far right.

I studied art at Milwaukee State Teachers College (now UW-Milwaukee) for three years but never did metalwork there. I would learn that skill on my own many years later.

Before meeting my husband, I started working at Gimbels in the advertising department and did watercolor drawings for the local newspapers earning $15 a week. My husband Julius Hirsh was born in Germany and dropped out of school after 8th grade to attend a trade school where he took up upholstery. Even back then, immigration to the US was very difficult, and a trade was more important than education for admission to the US. Julius managed to escape Germany in 1938 and went to live with his aunt Freda Leser in Milwaukee. He did not hear from his parents August and Bertha Hirsch for an entire year until they escaped to England, where they were promptly imprisoned on the Isle of Man as potential spies. They finally immigrated to Milwaukee in 1940 only because dear relatives lent us the money for their passage.

Notice the pictures of their 1939 passports where August has a second name of “Israel,” and Bertha has a second name of “Sara.” Due to an Executive Order in August of 1938, all German Jews with first names of “non-Jewish” origin were required to adopt the additional names of Israel and Sara. Later that fall, all passports were stamped with a large red “J” signifying that person was Jewish.

How did I meet my husband? As I mentioned, he was living with his aunt and across the street lived my aunt, Irma Riegelman. She informed me that this nice young man who was a German refugee was her neighbor. He visited my aunt’s house and reupholstered an antique chair, and mentioned he was learning English by taking night classes and listening to the radio.

We were married in 1944 and moved to Chicago, where I worked at Goldblatt’s Department Store making $50 a week. We moved back to Milwaukee in 1946 where Julius opened Slipcover Studio, a custom slipcover and drapery business. From upholstery covering, he had learned how to do fine custom slip covering. No one in Milwaukee was doing this type of work, and the business took off right away. I also started showcasing artwork at the business, including my own sometimes, and would get the newspapers to do a review of the shows. When Julius died in 2004, we had been married for 60 years.

In 1953, I was a featured artist in a Milwaukee Sentinel article.  There was never a dull moment, and I am quoted in the article stating, “Our family cooperates in keeping our home an interesting place, an outlet for creative energies, whether they be paint-splattering the kitchen linoleum, weaving a dining room rug, or having a birthday puppet show.”

During the 1960s, I started experimenting with metalwork. My husband bought me an acetylene torch and I began making small jewelry. I began taking evening classes at the Shorewood Opportunity School to learn how to use heavy equipment. I worked in the lost-wax process of casting, where I used a dental centrifuge, making my original model in wax, burning it out and then forcing molten metal into it. My husband and children built a casting machine and a vacuum for vacuuming the bubbles out before putting the jewelry into the kiln to melt. Believe it or not, I was still using a blowtorch into my 90s, and was very disappointed to learn that Chai Point wouldn’t allow me to take my heavy equipment when I moved there!


Below, you’ll notice my wedding ring that I created. It contains the Hebrew letter “Chai” (meaning Life) and is a yellow gold band.

Annette's wedding ring

                                                                                                                                                                                                          During the 1990s, I moved on to doing bigger works, working on large religious wall plaques, and taught myself etching. One of the first works I created was a large mizrach with the signs of the zodiac around 1990. I donated this piece entitled “Zahor” (Remember) to the Jewish Museum Milwaukee in memory of my husband Julius Hirsh. It is made of etched pewter, plexiglass and weathered wood from Door County.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Besides the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, my work has been on display at Ovation Jewish Home, Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee Art Museum, Mizel Museum of Judaica and numerous synagogues.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          *Annette Hirsh passed away in 2020. JMM is very fortunate to have a number of pieces of her work in our collections.
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Members of the Tribe
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • To Learn and to Teach
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • The Creative Spirit