Monday, July 14, 2008

Outsider Artists in Sheboygan

Wow, Sheboygan is a great place to visit if you like outsider art.

Wisconsin is lousy with "environment builders" -- self-taught artists who spent decades making sculptures or modifying their houses and yards to reflect an intense personal vision. Over the years, I've visited:

If you want to learn about all of them in one place, though, you've got to visit the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. (Yes, that's Kohler as in Kohler sinks and fixtures, which is headquartered nearby.) I'm a little unclear on the details, but there is also a Kohler Foundation, which purchased many of these sites and works to preserve them, and coordinates its work in some way with the Center.

During this visit to the Center, I learned about two more environment builders. First is James Tellen, who lived in the Sheboygan area and created a Woodland Sculpture Garden of concrete in the mid-2oth century. Aside from a dreadfully high population of mosquitoes, the sculpture garden was a very restful and contemplative place.

Four concrete figures, close up
Tellen cast the faces of his figures, building the bodies out around wire frameworks, and then attaching the heads.

A black and white concrete skunk
The skunk really appealed to me.

The second new name I learned was Carl Peterson. He had lived and worked in St. James, Minnesota, up through the early 20th century. I think all of his pieces are at the Kohler Art Center, and fortunately for me, they are all outside where you are allowed to take photos of them (unlike most of the rest of the collection, which is indoors). Here are a few of Peterson's works.

A small building with pointed cone shaped cupolas, faced with small stones
Whimsical doesn't begin to cover it.

A small central-halled house, stucco, with balls on top of its turrets
Peterson was born in Sweden, and Swedish architectural motifs reverberate in his work.

A Seussian tower faced in small stones
This is the greatest piece of them all, I thought (out of dozens and dozens of pieces). If you click on it, you'll the photo a bit larger.

And I have to add that the Kohler Art Center has placed all of Peterson's pieces in a beautiful perennial garden, which is contained by the walls of a former Carnegie Library building.

Over time, I plan to post more pictures from the sites I've visited. Guess that means it'll need its own category -- Environment Builders. Update: 9/3/08 -- I've decided to rename the category Art, because I keep thinking of posts that are about art, but not specifically about Environment Builders... So look for future Environment Builder posts in the Art category.

1 comment:

Patricia Cumbie said...

I love your blog and especially this post. You do such a great job finding, describing and photographing some great Americana. I'm entertained and educated.