Mary Nohl’s art is staying put AND being restored!

We are overjoyed to report that the John Michael Kohler Art Center has determined that Mary’s sculptures are too fragile to move, they are being restored in place, along with her house.

Jeff Rumage reports:

Mary Nohl’s lakeside cottage is not only staying in Fox Point – it’s being restored for a new tenant…

Neighbors have opposed plans to allow limited public access on the site, which caused the John Michael Kohler Arts Center to consider relocating the Mary Nohl Art Environment to Sheboygan County last year. Those relocation plans were later abandoned because the relocation could have damaged Nohl’s artwork.

With public access no longer being considered, the Nohl house is being restored in its existing location for a new tenant…

Major flooding in July 2010 damaged the foundation and flooring, said Lynn Lucius, a consultant working on behalf of Creation and Preservation Partners. Because the foundation has settled 6 to 8 inches on one side, a new crawlspace will be built to create a level foundation. The organization will also need to purchase a new water heater, furnace and electrical panel as a result of the flood damage.

The house will also be repainted, and the roof will be redone. The wooden art pieces on the exterior of the house have been removed for restoration, and will be returned to the house in the future. Some doors will be repaired, and the steel windows will be replaced. Several diseased trees have been cut down.

Lucius said she hopes the restoration project will be wrapped up in the summer of 2016. The intent of the restoration process is to preserve the environment as Nohl experienced it during her lifetime. [emphasis mine]

“So many decisions had to be made about restoring her environment,” Lucius said. “We are proceeding very methodically to make sure this is an aesthetically respectful process.”

Here is the full article:

And here is a photo gallery from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

News! Mary Nohl’s art might not be moving!

photo by Tina Prigge, Vagabond Visual Concepts

photo by Tina Prigge, Vagabond Visual Concepts

Exciting update from Mary Louise Schumacher from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

She reports:

“The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is reversing its plans to move the house often called ‘the witch’s house’ from its affluent Fox Point neighborhood to Sheboygan County. Recent research by conservators revealed logistical challenges that could put the art and home at ‘devastating risk,’ said Ruth Kohler, president of the arts center.

‘The outdoor sculptures, which are my favorite part of the whole thing, have to be thought of as not moving — ever,’ she said, adding that they’ve been deemed too fragile to move.

The arts center, which owns the property, announced a year ago that it would move the cottage and artworks because it believed Fox Point would reject a zoning change needed for limited public access. Now, the Kohler will shift its focus to preserving the house in place and also will drop plans for the zoning change.

That also would mean, for the near future, that the house would remain within applicable residential regulations, which could hamper public access. The Kohler plans to put in heating and plumbing systems in the coming months, and have the house ready for a live-in tenant by the summer or fall of 2016.”


Reviews are coming in!

Two months until IN MARY’S GARDEN hits the shelves! We would like to share some of our reviews:

School Library Journal

PreS-Gr 2—Children are introduced to a lesser-known contemporary Midwestern American artist in this picture-book biography of Mary Nohl (1914–2001). A spare narrative allows the pictures to describe how, from childhood, Nohl’s imagination soared as she explored the many interests that led her to combine found objects with cement to create fantastical creatures, eventually installed in the garden surrounding the Lake Michigan home she built with her father. World travels provided further inspiration for her non-traditional, sometimes primitive, art, ably represented here mostly in spreads that convey the scope and variety of Nohl’s work. The illustrations combine watercolor with digital painting, collage, and vintage papers, resulting in a soft palette and an uncomplicated, accessible drawing style. Children will delight in the whimsy of the art pieces and their placement in the garden as well as the participation of Mary’s dogs, Sassafras and Basil, in the discovery process. An author’s note, accompanied by two photographs, gives more detail about Nohl’s life and the challenge of preserving her home and garden for public enjoyment.—Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Publisher’s Weekly

In a quiet homage, the Küglers introduce artist Mary Nohl, who transformed her lakeside home into a bestiary of sculptures created from concrete and found objects: “Mary was happiest when her hands were busy making, building, creating things.” Chalky mixed-media collages are punctuated by items of significance—a blue feather, a red wheelbarrow, and a piece of driftwood that Nohl sees as a “marvelous creature.” With Nohl’s triangular nose, crooked mouth, and beady eyes, she almost resembles one of her creations. An ornamental gate encloses her garden, as if to emphasize Nohl’s total immersion within a private, fantastical world. Additional biographical information elaborates on the artist’s life and work. Ages 6–9. (Mar.)


Mary Nohl, “a little girl with big ideas,” lives in Wisconsin, where she helps her father mix cement and build a cottage on Lake Michigan. In school, she takes shop class instead of cooking. She studies art in college and then travels the world, constantly drawing in her sketchbooks. As an adult living in the childhood house that she helped to build, Mary and her two dogs gather driftwood, stones, and scraps on the beach. She uses these oddments imaginatively, making large concrete creatures in her garden. Through simple words and satisfying illustrations, the husband-and-wife team expresses Mary’s creativity, determination, and practicality. The pictures, created with watercolor, collage, vintage papers, and digital elements, capture ideas as varied as the feel of a long, cold Wisconsin winter; Mary’s active engagement in making sculpture; and her dogs’ satisfaction in helping her. An appended biographical note offers details about Nohl, who died in 2001, and her locally controversial artwork, but the picture book itself is simple, immediate, and well attuned to children. This quiet, engaging offering celebrates the artist’s vision and her idiosyncratic work. – Carolyn Phelan

Kirkus Reviews

A portrait of Wisconsin folk artist Mary Nohl (1914-2001) and her sculptures. As a child, “[w]hile the other girls [take] cooking classes,” Mary learns woodworking and makes an airplane. She helps her father build a house on Lake Michigan’s shore and realizes that she loves to create things with her hands. Collecting driftwood, feathers and rocks, Mary employs her building skills—mixing cement with beach sand, as her father showed her, and spreading it over a support of wood, wire and piping—to create a massive, playful-looking creature. The Küglers use watercolor, digital painting, collage and vintage papers to portray Mary’s world and sculptures. Some of the illustration has a stylized folk-art feel, blocky and angular in mild colors, while Mary’s dogs have rounder lines. Mary’s sculptures vary in scale, so the illustrations play with scale too. In one example, Mary and her dogs discover “a marvelous creature washed up on the sand.” The purple, wavy-limbed object looks enormous—until the following spread reveals it to be a small, beige piece of driftwood. That driftwood becomes an antler on Mary’s huge, sculpted creature. An author’s note explains Mary’s eccentricities—melting silverware, painting on indoor carpeting—and the controversy of her neighborhood’s refusal to allow public visitors into her garden of odd, fantastical creatures. A friendly chronicle of an offbeat artist. (author’s note, photos) (Picture book/biography. 6-9)

Mary Nohl’s property still in danger, no known progress


Photo by Tina Prigge, Vagabond Visual Concepts

What if Mary Nohl was “The Treasure of Fox Point” instead of “The Witch of Fox Point?”

If you have been following this story, sadly there has been no known public discussion or developments between the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and the Fox Point village board, despite the packed public forum held last summer.

Mary-Louise Schumacher of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote a follow-up article, “Should Mary Nohl’s ‘witch’s house’ be dismantled without a public vote?” meaning, does this handful of affluent, vocal opponents in Fox Point get to decide the fate of a integral piece of Milwaukee’s history? She writes, “It hurts to think about what this site, famous for attracting countless onlookers and now showing visible signs of deterioration, embodies: a rejection of artistic vision and difference. It has been loved as an oddity but unrecognized for what it is: an integrated work of art and cultural treasure….From where I sit, many of the stakeholders are waiting for others to make a move, from cultural institutions like the Chipstone Foundation, based in Fox Point, elected members of the village’s board, cultural leaders in the region, supportive artists and residents in Fox Point, the long list of artists who’ve received Nohl grants (she left $11 million to support local artists) over the years, and others. A significant response could give this community pause. Why not propose the overlay and let it play out?”

For more about the JMKAC’s proposed overlay and the reaction from certain Fox Point residents, see this 2013 article by Michael Horne. He writes, “The Kohler’s proposal is simple enough. It asks for a ‘Cultural Overlay District Zoning’ to permit limited operation of the site despite the single-family zoning in the neighborhood that has caused the site to be idle for years, right up to this day. The center would like to remove the ugly chain link fence that surrounds the property, and replace it with an iron fence, amply landscaped. It asks to remodel the home — one of the few remaining lake cottages in the area — and to create a few parking spaces, also lushly landscaped, to the west of the property. The home would be open on a limited basis ‘by both size and days of the week.’ Groups would be accepted on an advance-basis reservation system, including scholarly symposia and small member fundraiser events. Visitors would be shuttled to the site, which is to be ‘NOT open to passers-by.’ [Emphasis original.] The center would continue a $17,000 annual payment to the village in lieu of property tax. You’d think that 99 per cent of people might enjoy having a nationally recognized cultural destination nearby, but this is east-of-Lake Drive Fox Point, home of the one-percenters. And they aren’t buying it, according to one attendee who spoke to Urban Milwaukee off the record. ‘When they mentioned shuttle buses, you could hear a groan go through the audience,’ the observer said. ‘People voiced concerns that the visitors would harm the neighborhood, bring an undesirable element, and things like that.

‘They even complained that as things stand people already drive on this public road just to look at the lake!’”


Photo by Tina Prigge, Vagabond Visual Concepts

The JMKAC never formally submitted the proposal for their modest overlay, having been being beaten down by these few vocal opponents, who bought their grand Fox Point homes on Beach Drive after Mary’s art, and the visits from onlookers, had been in place for years. Yes, Mary’s creations generate a bit of street traffic from admirers, but then, why on earth buy a house there if you are bothered by it? Furthermore, the JMKAC overlay plan would have alleviated the issue of street parking and controlled the public’s access to the site. Based on the massive wave of support from the Milwaukee art community, should the JMKAC formally submit their proposal, instead of dismantling this beloved site?

Debra Brehmer, an art professor at MIAD who wrote her Master’s thesis on Mary Nohl, just wrote a very powerful article entitled, “A single woman is a witch: Battling to save the Mary Nohl Art Environment.” She writes, “Nohl never believed that art existed in a separate sphere, corralled into museums, labeled with text or swept into the marketplace of privilege. On Beach Drive, she created a place where any passerby might stop, marvel, and feel a little freer, especially if you are woman. The power of Nohl’s lifelong endeavor emanates from its site and her personal history there. They might as well burn the witch’s house down, because turning it into a facsimile museum in another county would destroy what makes it monumental — power, authority and difference arising from a single woman who was determined to live inquisitively.”


Photo by Tina Prigge, Vagabond Visual Concepts

With people discovering Mary Nohl through our book, many have asked us, “What can we do?”
All we can suggest is to communicate to both parties involved, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and the Fox Point Village Board, the importance of Mary Nohl’s life work being preserved and protected in place. Be civil, be polite. Tell the JMKAC not to give up, tell the Fox Point Village Board what a treasure they have. It is our sincere hope that they can work together to find a solution to save Mary Nohl.

Fox Point Village Board
7200 North Santa Monica Boulevard
Fox Point, WI 53217

John Michael Kohler Arts Center Board
608 New York Avenue
Sheboygan, WI 53081

All photos courtesy of Tina Prigge, Vagabond Visual Concepts.

Mary Nohl’s Art Environment in danger

Our book IN MARY’S GARDEN is the story of Wisconsin artist Mary Nohl (1914-2001). We have been working on this book together over ten years, we believe Mary’s story needs to be shared with the world.

However, there is suddenly a new sense of urgency to Mary’s story: due to the ongoing opposition of a handful of wealthy neighbors, the John Michael Kohler Art Center (entrusted with preserving and protecting Mary’s work) is planning to dismantle all of Mary’s work and move it to a new location outside of Milwaukee. Debra Bremer writes, “…moving Mary Nohl’s site is not preserving it. It is creating a facsimile, an approximation, a managed and guided experience that is divorced from its most significant context: its place.”

According to this article by Michael Horne, the JMKAC had a perfectly reasonable proposal for allowing limited public access to Mary’s property, but was met with continuing opposition from a few vocal neighbors. “With a different mentality from its residents and political leaders, Fox Point could turn Nohl…into [a] worthy destination for limited tourism.” 

Why isn’t the Village of Fox Point fighting to keep this treasure in their community? Are they unaware of the major cultural significance of Mary’s creation, which has become a beloved touchstone for generations of Milwaukeeans? Is the City of Milwaukee aware of what will be lost? Why are only the voices of these few wealthy neighbors being heard? Also, Mary’s other legacy is the Mary L. Nohl Fund, she gifted the Greater Milwaukee Foundation with $11 MILLION to support the Milwaukee art community. Shouldn’t Mary’s art stay in Milwaukee?

We are hopeful a compromise can be reached between the Village of Fox Point and the JMKAC to keep Mary home.

On July 10th, there will be a public forum at the Milwaukee Art Museum, if you are in the area, please attend and show your support for Mary’s work. Thank you! #SaveMaryNohl