Wisconsin couple’s ‘Mewseum’ gives ‘rescued’ cat figurines a home

When Shawn Redner told his wife, Hilary Siegel-Redner, that he wanted to turn their Menomonee Falls, Wis., home into a museum for cat figurines, she had a predictable response: “We’re gonna do what?”

Redner’s Rescued Cat Figurine Mewseum held its first open house in 2020, a few years after the couple started amassing their collection of second-hand — or “rescued” — cat figurines.

Redner told UPI in a recent Zoom interview that the collection started as a result of “boredom.”

“I was just sitting here, and we weren’t doing anything, and I remembered a friend of mine collected mushrooms about 20-something years ago,” Redner said, “We would get all those from second-hand shops and antique malls. I said to Hilary, ‘Come on, we’re gonna go find some cats!'”

The collection began that day with a dozen cat figurines and a picture they purchased from local thrift stores.

“It just became our thing to do. We’re pretty lucky we have probably 10 to 15 Goodwills within 50 miles of here. So we can just make a whole day of it,” he said.

The couple said that, aside from about 12 items, the entirety of their more than 13,000 pieces came from thrift stores, antique malls and, more recently, donations from fans.

Making a ‘Mewseum’

Redner said he was looking at some of his figurines one day when he suddenly came up with the idea of opening the house to the public.

“I looked around and I was like, ‘I’ve got a great idea,'” Redner recalled.

Siegel-Redner was skeptical initially.

“Her mouth fell open and she said, ‘We’re gonna do what?'” he said.

It was the idea of collecting donations for local cat rescues that convinced Siegel-Redner that her husband’s plans had merit.

“That’s what brought me on board: Raising money and helping cat shelters,” Siegel-Redner said.

She said seeing the house transform into Redner’s Rescued Cat Figurine Mewseum reassured her that they were doing the right thing. They installed display cases, painted walls and installed track lighting to give the house a museum-like atmosphere.

‘Crazy cat ladies’ and beyond

The Mewseum opened officially in 2020, with open houses scheduled on the third Sunday of each month, or the fourth Sunday if there’s a holiday. Visitors are asked to make a suggested $5 donation, all of which is donated to cat rescues.

Redner said the couple averaged about 30 visitors per open house in the spring months. He said there was some drop-off in the summer, but they are less concerned with the quantity of visitors than they are with the quality of the experience.

“The response from the people has just been fantastic. Like, it’s ‘I can’t believe this place is real,’ or ‘It makes me so happy,'” Redner said. “We had a woman come in here on Sunday that just started bawling.”

The museum attracts a wide variety of visitors.

“We’ve had college students, we had a biker here the other day, we’ve had firefighters, we had a girl here with green hair — punk rockers, goth people, all kinds! We had a woman who was here in June, and in July she brought her 90- and 89-year-old parents,” Redner said.

The couple said even small children seem entranced by the museum.

“We have four mice dressed in their Sunday best hidden among the cats, and if the kids can find the mice they win a prize,” Redner said.

“Kids love it,” Siegel-Redner said.

Redner said he’s “surprised we haven’t had more crazy cat ladies,” leading Siegel-Redner to dryly add: “We’ve had a few.”

The couple said their museum is a unique experience.

“I believe the cat museum in Poland has like 2,500 things on display, and we’ve got that beaten in like a room and a half. It’s crazy,” Siegel said.

Redner and Siegel-Redner still buy cat figurines from thrift stores, but a large part of their collection’s growth comes from donations from visitors and fans who learned about their project from news reports or online.

The collection has grown so large that they now keep thousands of items in storage, which is part of why they are now looking to find the museum a new home.

Cats and coffee

The ultimate goal is to relocate the museum out of their home to a combination coffee shop, museum and temporary home for adoptable cats. They said trying to find a new venue to host their collection comes with its own challenges — primarily, trying to find a property for rent in the Milwaukee suburbs that is suitable and affordable.

“The whole plan with the museum is that the coffee has to pay the rent,” Redner said. “The coffee and the pastries. Because, with the museum, the idea was to always donate that money.”

A larger venue will allow the couple to not just display the figurines, but also tell the stories of where they came from.

“That’s the plan, to try to keep everyone’s stuff together,” Redner said. “It’s their stuff, it’s part of their lives. I don’t want to just wrangle it all together and call it a bunch of cats, because it’s much more personal than that.”

Another benefit of a new venue would be to persuade strangers to visit a museum because inviting them to tour the inside of a home can be a hard sell, the couple said.

“I can’t make it [sound] as cool as it really is, because it’s just some weird dude telling you, ‘We have a house full of cat stuff,'” Redner laughed.

He said even his own friends often are skeptical until they visit the museum.

“I understand it’s weird going to somebody’s house,” he said. He said he repeatedly asked a co-worker to come, and when they finally showed up. “they’re like, ‘I owe you an apology,’ and I’m like. ‘Why?’ and she goes, ‘Well, I thought it was going to be like Hoarders.'”

Once visitors see the inside of the museum, they’re hooked, the couple said.

“It takes probably a good hour, hour and a half to go through the museum, but if you get hooked to one of the cats, you’re here for quite a while,” Siegel-Redner said.

Redner and Siegel-Redner said they will continue to operate the museum, whether at home or in a new location, for as long as they are able.

“At some point, we’re going to have like a Willy Wonka contest when we get too old to do this,” Redner laughed.

He said he would never sell the collection, especially the donated pieces. They would much rather pass management of the museum along to a new generation.

“Hopefully, in 40 years, we’ll meet some 20-year-old who is like, ‘Yeah, cats!’ and I’ll be like, ‘Here you go, pass it on,'” Redner said.

Redner’s Rescued Cat Figurine Mewseum will hold its next open house from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 18. Private tours can be scheduled by contacting the museum on Facebook or by emailing [email protected]