Ping-pong balls flew in every direction on Friday night at SPiN where sports fans and art lovers alike came to celebrate the Brewcity Bruisers, Milwaukee’s all-female roller derby league.
The Gallery Night event at the Third Ward ping-pong themed bar, owned by Susan Sarandon, put the spotlight on the Brewcity Bruisers, featuring artwork for roller derby players, about them, and by them.
The Gallery Night flag whipped around in the rain and wind outside SPiN, but the bad weather did not deter curious eyes and minds from checking out the Brewcity Bruisers event. Organizers expected a big crowd – and that’s what they got. Hundreds of people turned out for the free event.
The Brewcity Bruisers are Milwaukee’s all-female roller derby league. The league was formed five years ago and is made up of four teams: the Crazy 8’s, the Shevil Knevils, the Maiden Milwaukee, and the Rushin’ Rollettes.
Brewcity Bruisers artwork was displayed immediately inside the entrance to SPiN. A few photographs and posters gave a preview of what filled a larger private party room in the back of the bar.
The private party room featured the majority of the artwork. The orange and taupe walls were covered in derby themed art. A scuffed-up pair of vintage roller-skates adorned a table near the entrance to the party room.
“This is the history wall,” said Nasty Canasta, a Brewcity Bruisers player, pointing to the wall above the vintage roller-skates. “We want people to see the history of the sport as soon as they walk in.”
Women’s roller derby dates back to the Great Depression but grew in popularity in the 1950s and 60s. By 1970, roller derby gained acceptance as a form of sports entertainment.
Next to the vintage roller-skates was a laptop playing black and white footage of old derby bouts. The 1950’s derby girls wore chiffon neck scarves, dark lipstick and short dresses.
Derby attire hasn’t changed much since those days aside from the skirts getting a little shorter. Canasta pointed to a large painting on the wall, adjacent to the entrance of the private party room. It was a picture of a derby player in her uniform.
“This is a fantastic piece,” Canasta said. “This is one of our current derby players. Her boyfriend painted it.”
The piece was titled EmFatale and painted in cartoon-y fashion. The subject of the painting, Emily Radzins, explained how her boyfriend, artist Paul Eells, created the piece.
“I told him, ‘Hey, you should do this for gallery night,’” Radzins said. Eells painted the portrait only a few weeks earlier specifically for the Brewcity Bruisers event at Gallery Night.
Using stock photos from the Brewcity Bruisers website, Eells chose his favorite image of Radzins and recreated it in his painting. Unlike most other pieces on display, the EmFatale painting was not for sale.
Radzins is a first year player for the Crazy 8s. The team is enjoying a successful season this year, unlike last year, when they didn’t win a single bout. Radzins thinks the good team chemistry plays into the team’s victories this season.
“We all get along really well and work well as a team,” she said.
The Crazy 8s record is 2-1, and the next day was a big day for them. The Brewcity Bruisers semifinal bouts were scheduled to take place Saturday at the US Cellular arena in downtown Milwaukee. The two winning teams would go on to meet in the finals, which is scheduled for May 14th.
Radzins said the crowds at the bouts have been huge this season. “We outgrew the Franklin Sports Complex, where we used to play. Every bout this season has had over 3,000 fans.”
A total of 16 artists had their work on display at SPiN for the event. Other notable pieces included shadow light boxes titled “Rejected Seoul” made by Brooke Thiele, and collages on a glass vase titled “Is It the Women You Fear?” by Dani Schmidt. The theme in these works, as well as many others, was female empowerment.
Hanging a few feet away from EmFatale was a skateboard decorated for the Brewcity Bruisers. The background was white with “Brewcity Bruisers” written in red cursive script at the top. Underneath there was a heart-shaped box of chocolates. The bottom read, “I love you! (Heart), Sky High.” This piece combines both the femininity of the female derby girls with their “tough chick” derby personas.
Sky High is a skateboard shop located in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee. The skateboard was designed for and dedicated to the Brewcity Bruisers.
Kellie Mae, or Tootsie McSlootie, is a derby player who displayed non-derby themed art. Mae presented a number of paintings of flowers, as well as pictures made of glass.
Christina Tekus, or Trash Talkin Tina, had her photography on display for the event, which was not derby themed. A large picture of a 1950’s style car was titled “Nite Owl Car.”
Art lovers and Brewcity Bruisers supporters began to fill the room as the night went on. Many walked slowly, observing each piece of art on display. Others held drinks and chatted in corners. And naturally, others picked up paddles and played ping-pong on one of the four tables in the private party room.
Former derby player Jesse Maltz said she was pleased with the turnout.
“The league has been around for five years now,” she said. “It’s nice to see so much support from the community.”