Thursday, July 31, 2008

Herman Rusch's Prairie Moon

Gray building with large painted orange letters that read Prairie Moon
Before I even knew I liked folk art, I had stumbled across Prairie Moon.

For those outside the Minnesota/Wisconsin area, it's important to know that the eastern side of the Mississippi north of La Crosse is well worth visiting, and one of the things you'll see along the way is this enchanting sculpture garden created by retired farmer Herman Rusch, just north of Fountain City.

Concrete arch sculpture framing a view of the rest of the sculpture garden
Arches were one of Rusch's primary forms. He worked in concrete, with stones, shells and broken glass embedded as he saw fit for decorative purposes.

Brick and mortar tower with turret and rock decorations
Rusch created his works between 1958 and 1979. The sculpture garden was preserved by the Kohler Foundation (starting in the early 1990s) like much of the other environment-builder art in Wisconsin. It was later turned over to the Town of Milton, and I believe they maintain it and the gardens.

Concrete bust of a man in a blue suit, expressionless, and arch sculpture fading to the vanishing point
These are two of my favorite pieces. There's something about Herman's expression or lack thereof that I find hysterically funny in this self portrait. And the arch at right, which is about 200 feet long, is amazing for its imaginative variation of materials and whimsical shapes.

Close up of a sculpture showing a man attacking a bear with a knife, concrete
I just found out from reading the copy of Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds (which I picked up at the Kohler Arts Center) that this sculpture is not by Rusch, but is actually one he "imported" from another Minnesota artist, Halvor Landsverk. Sublime Spaces was written to accompany the Kohler exhibit of the same name that was up in 2007. (Which I missed, dammit!) I'm looking forward to reading through it to learn more about environment builders.

The big gray building in the first photo used to house Rusch's collection of oddities. I've never been inside -- I believe the town opens it a few times a year, but I've never managed to be there at the right time. Maybe one of these years, I will.

(These photos are from 2006.)

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