Builders Research

In June 2014 I spent nine days on a solo road trip through Wisconsin, searching for art environments. I visited folk art environments scattered throughout the state, and paid visits to the Kohler Foundation and the John Michael Kohler Arts Centre, two organizations dedicated to the preservation, maintenance and display of art environments around the world. I was lucky to be granted access to the collections in storage at the Kohler Foundation and JMKAC, and was able to see works by Mary Nohl, Madeline Buol, Stella Waitzkin, Emery Blagdon, Eugene Von Bruenchenheim among many others.

I visited eight different environments all around Wisconsin:

Mary Nohl’s house in Fox Point, Milwaukee
Dr. Evermore’s Forevertron in Baraboo
James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden
Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips
Herman Rusch’s Prairie Moon Museum in Cochrane
Nick Englebert’s Grandview in Hollandale
The Dickeyville Grotto in Dickeyville

The trip immersed me into these environments and practices of making, which I’ve been researching for the past year and a half. This preliminary research will eventually evolve into a devised theatre piece based on these environments and their makers for my MFA graduating project.

Below are photos from Mary Nohl’s House, the Forevertron, Prairie Moon, Wisconsin Concrete Park, and James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden. All photos © Megan Stewart

Road trip!

After a lot of time thinking and sort-of-but-not-really planning, I made the trip I’ve wanted to take for the past two years real. And I booked a ticket. To Wisconsin.

You read it right.

I’m going to this lost sock of a state to visit folk art environments – homes and properties and spaces that people turn into incredibly imaginative realms through sculptures, structures, murals, and bricolage works that they build, often out of found materials. I first got turned on to this kind of art making a couple years back, in Ashfield, when a tiny voice in my heard started reminding me, ‘You should look into Maud Lewis…remember her?’ and I did and then I fell into a whole world of this kind of art/environment making. I researched it all through my time at Double Edge, especially during my advanced internship, and eventually I thought, couldn’t this type of research fuel some MFA level work? And that was one of the reasons that pushed me into grad school.

So here I am, finally taking this trip. Most people I’ve told think I’m a bit nuts, but I’m really quite excited.

Here’s the basic itinerary:

Arrive in Milwaukee on June 9. The next day, sneak over to Mary Nohl’s house in the suburb of Fox Point, which is currently inaccessible due to disputes with the neighbours and plans for its eventual move to Sheboygan, where it will one day be open to the public as a museum.

(photo: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mary-nohl-house)

After Milwaukee, I’ll head to Sheboygan, WI to visit two places that have preserved and supported these kinds of environments over the decades: the Kohler Foundation and the John Michael Kohler Arts Centre. I’ve made some connections with the staff here, and hopefully I will get to glimpse into their storage and collections to see works by Nohl, along with Stella Waitzkin, Madeline Buol and other artists.

Nearby is the James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden. I’ll visit here while in Sheboygan.

James Tellen

(Photo: http://www.jmkac.org/index.php/artist-environment-builders/james-tellen)

A couple days later, I’ll drive four hours north to Phillips, WI to see one of most expansive environments around, Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park.

Fred Smith

(Photo: http://www.jmkac.org/index.php/artist-environment-builders/fred-smith)

The next stop is the Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden in Cochrane, WI.

Herman Rusch

(Photo: http://www.jmkac.org/index.php/artist-environment-builders/herman-rusch)

I’m especially excited about this next one. The Forevertron, created by Tom Every in North Freedom, WI. It’s apparently the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world, according to Wikipedia. There’s a bit of a performance element to this one, as Every also created a character/persona, “Dr. Evermore”, to go with this environment. Dr. Evermore is a Victorian era scientist, inventor and visionary. The Forevertron is designed to catapult you into the heavens via magnetic lightening force. Yes please.

Tom Every(Photo: http://www.jmkac.org/index.php/artist-environment-builders/tom-every)

My last stop, before returning to Milwaukee to fly on to Montreal, will be Nick Engelbert’s Grandview.

(Photo: http://www.jmkac.org/index.php/artist-environment-builders/nick-engelbert)

Flying solo on an eccentric, roadside America road trip. Wisconsin, it will be good to meet you, see your arts and also eat your cheeses.