By Adam Krueger,
photos by Lauren Miller

It is almost impossible to measure inspiration and the weight of all that we can accomplish when we work together.  But for Abby Campbell of Riverwest I would say a fair estimate is twenty tons. 

Abby Campbell wants to put pressure on things that you aren’t supposed to push back on.  That includes herself and her creations.  As a manager of the Riverwest Co-Op she wants to lead, not to climb ranks. She loves the non-hierarchical structures of her work as she hopes to help move our community forward together rather than just rise above it.  She was always attracted to the inclusive nature of the café and providing more vegan meals to the neighborhood.   Progress is never easy and doing it through the store means more personal accountability to the co-op and to the community.  The pressure of learning and managing a new role can be a lot at times but she loves the work.  She has always gravitated towards leadership roles, but from her role as manager to artist it is clear she isn’t doing all of this for herself.  It is for those around her, in particular those of us in Milwaukee.

She also wants people to push back on her art—literally.   After graduating from UW Milwaukee with a BFA in sculpture and a minor in art history she has turned her focus towards creating interactive steel sculptures.   Most of them are simple but engaging.  They are broken up pieces of a human sculpture strung across a series of frames and wires.  They are broken and foreign faces, ones made of literal shapes and sounds with wind-chimes serving the latter effect.  They are balls on circular tracks and designs that look like doors to other dimensions.  But here both words and pictures will fail to capture all that they can be.  For that you need to be there at the 20 Ton Studio.

Campbell had experimented with performance art for years but now she wants to bring that experience to her work with sculptures.  She hopes for her audience to push, pull, and play with her creations.  In time this will destroy what she has made, especially for the large metallic barrel with water in it.  It will eventually erode and rust the metal.  The more you play with it the faster it dies.  But that’s the point, she explains to me.  She says it’s funny.

We look at art as a process of mental correspondence between artist and audience, but the truth is it can be a lot more than that.  This is what she hopes her art to reveal.  Art can be physical, it can become part of us, attached to our various motives and whimsies of how we play with her creations, matter connecting with matter.  The art will die faster.  But the connections it can foster as it helps teach us how to navigate through the physical world around us are worth that price.  Often in life what makes something beautiful is that it does not last forever.

Of course these higher concepts may not be for everyone.  When children play with these pieces they may simply have fun with them.  But that is also part of her point.  It is a rare gift to actually physically connect with another piece of art and to break past the typical boundaries of signs in art museums and studios across the world that tell us we cannot touch them.  Abby Campbell wants to change that and with the help of those in 20 Ton Studios they are doing that and so much more.

Abby in her studio

The studio space is in equal parts massive and old and beautiful.  Above it when you enter is the twenty ton crane that provided the name of the building.  It was built in 1911 and has had three owners.  None of them have changed much of anything in the actual building.  Stepping inside will call to mind all the images of factories from old pictures, books, and film.   Now it serves the arts.

Keenan Lampe, a sculptor and his brother Ryan Lampe, an architect, bought it not long ago and have transformed it into an art collective.  Keenan is now renovating a house he bought with another one of the artist working at 20 Ton Studios.  She is Jacqueline Joyce and together they are building a home for artists from all over to stay at while they contribute what is being made and made possible at 20 Ton Studios.  One can only imagine the art and ideas that are yet to come from this space and for all of Milwaukee.

Thankfully for us here in Riverwest a future goal of the studio is to employ interns and host visiting artists.   With this we have the opportunity to help, to contribute, and to appreciate the art being made here in Milwaukee. 

20 Ton Studios is at 2000 W North Ave, Milwaukee and can be contacted at  And Abby can be found trying to make Riverwest a more inclusive place for all of us at the Riverwest Co-op