Tag Archives: Sheboygan

Sheboygan exhibition recreates the world of artist Mary Nohl

Milwaukee residents of a certain age remember it as a right of passage — and for many it may have been the most significant artistic display they would ever see.

The pattern was a familiar one. A knowledgeable friend, driving through Fox Point’s darkened residential streets late at night, would make a hard right on Beach Drive along the Lake Michigan shoreline and suddenly stop the car.

Looming in the high-beams were bizarre figures and otherworldly sculptures that defied definition populating the yard of what the driver described as the Witch’s House. Those who didn’t know any better had no reason to doubt the moniker.

Many of Nohl's work takes the form of strange statues made of reclaimed materials. "Diver" is made of wood as well as bits of polished glass. Photo: JMKAC.
Many of Nohl’s work takes the form of strange statues made of reclaimed materials. “Diver” is made of wood as well as bits of polished glass. Photo: JMKAC.

The site was, of course, the Mary Nohl House, the residence, studio and original gallery of one of Wisconsin’s most prolific and significant artists. Nohl was born in 1914, and, unlike many of her folk art contemporaries, was formally trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. When her parents died in the 1960s, Nohl inherited a sizable estate, including the lakefront cottage. She spent the next four decades transforming the former family home into what’s now described as an “art environment,” with more than 7,000 catalogued works inside and outside the house.

When Nohl died at age 87 in 2001, all of her art, as well as the home and environment she created, was bequeathed to the Kohler Foundation, based in Sheboygan, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving art environments. The foundation eventually passed the art and estate along to the (unaffiliated) John Michael Kohler Arts Center, where it is now one of two Wisconsin art environments they oversee.

JMKAC recently opened Of Heart and Home: Mary Nohl’s Art Environment, an exhibition that allows visitors a look at some of the works from within the famous lakeside home, which remains closed to the public.

The exhibition, which closes Aug. 21, showcases 20 different works of art, along with a “workshop wall” featuring more than 100 tools Nohl used to create her art. According to exhibit curator Karen Patterson, Of Heart and Home is the first of several upcoming exhibits dedicated to the late artist. Patterson recently shared with the Wisconsin Gazette her thoughts behind the exhibit.

How would you characterize Mary Nohl’s art? 

Mary Nohl was always in conversation with Lake Michigan. There are maritime motifs running through most of her work and she often used organic materials such as driftwood, pebbles and sand in her sculptures. I would say, however, that Mary Nohl refused to be confined by artistic characterization. She was a woodcarver, painter, sculptor, ceramicist, printmaker, potter, writer, illustrator and jeweler. Nohl was also an environment builder, altering her home and yard such that her creations permeated every room and between every tree.

How would you define an art environment?

This unique field of art making involves an individual significantly transforming their personal surroundings, such as their home or yard, into an exceptional, multifaceted work of art. The result of that creative impulse is known as an art environment. It embodies the maker’s life experience and expresses the locale in which they lived and worked.

Often these environments are created without formal plans and are made of readily available local supplies, such as concrete, wood, or found items. As such, every art environment is different in intent, meaning, scale, or material. Ultimately, preservation is about keeping the (artist’s) story alive.

How does the JMKAC exhibit enable visitors to experience the Mary Nohl house art environment?

In the case of this exhibition, I empathized with the viewer, who can’t get into the home. I thought it would be very important for people to see something of the home itself. Since we had to rebuild her workshop, I felt that including the south-facing wall of her workshop in the gallery would reinforce her interdisciplinary work. By the sheer number of tools that were on that wall, you can see that Mary Nohl worked feverishly in a variety of different media. So that became the focus of the exhibition.

The exhibition also begins a conversation about what it takes for an institution to preserve and present an art environment. It also shows some of the preservation decisions that need to be made and shows works in various states of restoration. Lastly, it demonstrates Mary Nohl as a multidisciplinary artist, and I used the workshop wall as inspiration in selecting works that respond to the tools on the wall.

The JMKAC exhibit features a recreation of one of Mary Nohl's tool walls, an unorthodox way to show the many mediums she utilized. Photo: JMKAC.
The JMKAC exhibit features a recreation of one of Mary Nohl’s workshop walls, packed with tools, an unorthodox way to show the many mediums she utilized. Photo: JMKAC.

How did you choose the artwork you put on display? Does it adequately reflect the overall art environment?

There are many ways to talk about Mary Nohl and the environment. I know that one thing people may be disappointed to know is that the Danny Diver graphic novel is not on display. I was thinking about more of a workshop setting and I didn’t think Danny Diver was fitting in a workshop scene, not that I presume to know where Mary did all of her work.

For Danny Diver fans, JMKAC will present more of the Mary Nohl environment during its 50th anniversary (in 2017), and I simply had to hold some things back for that exhibition.

At one point there was talk of dismantling the cottage and moving the whole environment to JMKAC. What changed those plans?

It is always best to keep an art environment where it was built. Keeping it in situ is pivotal to its reception. We do have relocated art environments in our collection and we also have select components of existing art environments in our collection — whatever we can do to keep the story alive is what we want to do. Ultimately, after many discussions and research, the decision for the Mary Nohl art environment was to keep it where it is.

Is it difficult to curate an environment outside of the gallery proper?

The vast majority of my job is to curate environments that I do not have access to, and I find that inspiring. It requires me to balance a variety of research methods with creative problem-solving. I do not want to create a Disney World experience. I want the public to understand that this is an art environment and it is a unique style of art making worthy of examination.

Nohl's work also includes small figures built of sticks, which were used as ornamentation inside and outside her home, and, especially in her later years, mesmerizing paintings depicting similar figures. Photo: JMKAC.
Nohl’s work also includes small figures built of sticks, which were used as ornamentation inside and outside her home, and, especially in her later years, mesmerizing paintings depicting similar figures. Photo: JMKAC.

Of Heart and Home: Mary Nohl’s Art Environment will be on display through Aug. 21 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 608 New York Ave., Sheboygan. For more information, call 920-458-6144 or visit jmkac.org.

Wisconsin sheriff defends hiring convicted killer

A Wisconsin sheriff has defended his decision to hire a man convicted of killing and dismembering his girlfriend nearly 40 years ago in Texas.

Rafael George Macias has worked as a radio technician for the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department since 2011 after performing similar duties as a contract employee for 10 years.

Macias was a 20-year-old airman at Carswell Air Force Base in North Texas when he pleaded guilty to killing and dismembering his live-in girlfriend, Julia Adams, in 1977. Macias was sentenced to 40 years in prison, but released after 13 years.

While at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, Macias earned an associate degree as a radio technician. He eventually moved to Wisconsin and ended up working at his cousin’s radio shop.

Macias told The Associated Press on Thursday that he never lied about his past and was upfront with Sheriff Todd Priebe when he wanted to bring him on as a regular employee. Details of the case resurfaced when an anonymous letter was sent recently to media outlets, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, questioning why Sheboygan County employees had to work with someone who committed such a horrible crime.

Macias said he’s not sure what the motivation was in bringing up his crime to the media, but knows he has Priebe’s support.

“You can’t change what happened. It happened,” Macias said. “What you can do is change what you do in the future and don’t put your life to waste.”

Priebe said Macias has proven himself as a trusted employee and is a rehabilitation “success story.”

Macias said through faith, anger management counseling and maturity he has become a better man.

“As far as I’m concerned, that guy is dead,” Macias said referring to his younger self, adding, “It was a fit of rage.”

Priebe said he will meet with the county board’s law committee at its request to discuss the hiring, but the committee does not have the authority to overrule his decision.

Photography, science, spiritualism collide at JMKAC

Ask Alison Ferris about the purpose and power of photography, and the curator for the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan may come off sounding more professorial than poetic. 

But Ferris’ tone is very appropriate for two new arts center exhibitions — one pending, the other already on display — that illustrate a juxtaposition between the camera’s use as a scientific tool and photography’s evolution as an artistic medium.

Photography and the Scientific Spirit, opening on Oct. 30, focuses on 72 images from 17 photographers that illustrate scientific methods in artistic ways. The exhibition is one of a four-part series that operates under the tagline, “Life Lit Up: Science and Self as Seen through the Lens in Four Exhibitions.” 

Seeing is Believing: Photographs from the Collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a smaller exhibit that opened on Oct. 11, offers a series of 15 images from the Sherlock Holmes creator’s personal archive. The images, from the early 20th century, purportedly prove the authenticity of ghosts and visitations and are from a time when public interest in spiritualism was at its height, making it uniquely appropriate for the Halloween season.

WiG caught up with Ferris to find out more about Photography and the Scientific Spirit and Seeing is Believing.

How did Photography and the Scientific Spirit come about? Does its title have a specific meaning? I started noticing that a number of contemporary photographers were creating very compelling images incorporating science. When I started researching, I just kept coming across more photographers working this way.

The title was inspired by a quote from Walt Whitman: “I like the scientific spirit — the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine — it always keeps the way beyond open — always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake — after a wrong guess.” 

How do science and photography — and for that matter art overall — intersect? When the camera was invented in the 19th century, it was believed to be a machine that, in part, produced an empirical form of pictorial representation for scientists. The use of photographs, they thought, eliminated problematic human interference in sciences that required objectivity. Whereas earlier pictures such as drawings or paintings were believed to be willed into existence, photographs were understood as just the opposite, obtained or taken like natural specimens found in the wilderness.

The creative process manifests in science and art in the same way. The scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer wrote, “scientists live always at the edge of mystery.” So too, of course, do artists. Both artists and scientists thrive in the state of the unknown because it is from there that the idea or the form originates.

How many photographers and their works were considered for the exhibition? I don’t honestly have numbers, but I can say that I looked at a lot of work before making the final selections for the exhibition. The selected works characterize invention and imagination as it relates to science and art — and that’s a lot of territory to cover in an image! 

All the photographs in the exhibition are contemporary and most have been made in the last 10 years. The show opens with a selection of Berenice Abbott’s scientific photographs from the 1940s to 1960s. She was a pioneer of sorts in using photography to illustrate scientific phenomena. Many of the photographers in the exhibition cite Abbott’s work as informing their own.

Is there a connective thread, either visually or conceptually, that runs throughout the exhibition? The artists express the relationship between science and photography in a number of different manners. For some, the artists themselves take on the role of scientist — indeed a number of the artists studied science or are practicing scientists in addition to being photographers. They perform creative scientific experiments and capture them using photography. 

Caleb Charland expands upon a classic grade school science project: the potato battery, creating electrical current by inserting a galvanized nail into one side of a piece of potato and a copper wire in the other side. In one work, Charland electrifies a chandelier hanging in apple trees using the power of the fruit. In another, he lights a floor lamp in a field by using the potatoes growing underground.

David Goldes’s images are inspired by his research into pre-photographic 19th century drawings of electrical experiments performed by scientists such as Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday. Goldes’s photographs explore electrical experiments of his own invention that use simple household objects. 

Other artists work directly with scientists and make art in response to their discoveries. For example, Rachel Sussman’s series is the result of research and work with biologists, and travel in remote parts of the world to find and photograph objects as The Oldest Living Things in the World — her series title — explains.

A number of artists invent or alter photography’s chemical or mechanical processes and even build cameras, as in the case of Chris McCaw. McCaw’s hand-built, large-format cameras are outfitted with powerful lenses typically used for military surveillance and aerial reconnaissance. Instead of film, McCaw inserts expired vintage, fiber-based gelatin silver photo paper directly into the camera. 

Pointing the lens at the sun, McCaw exposes the paper for periods of time ranging from 15 minutes to 24 hours. Such long exposures intensely magnify the sun’s rays, which literally burn through the surface of the paper, thus making tangible, in scored markings, the trajectory of the earth’s orbit around the sun.

What aspects of the exhibition may be most surprising to viewers? Perhaps what will be most surprising is how visually stunning the works in the exhibition are! I hope that viewers leave thinking about how both art and science are creative enterprises.

What can you tell us about Seeing is Believing? I also curated that smaller exhibition, which features spirit photography. There’s an interesting connection between the two exhibitions because spiritualists viewed the camera as an objective scientific tool that could produce evidence of the spirit world. 

A description of the exhibit notes that the images are from the collection of the famous British author Arthur Conan Doyle, now held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. In this selection, viewers will see disembodied heads hovering in the air above photographic subjects or glowing on the sleeves of the sitters’ jackets. In even more unusual photographs, we see “evidence” of ectoplasm produced by a female medium. 

Ultimately, this exhibition shows that it was not simply faith in the veracity of the scientific photographic process that led to the kinds of credulity spirit photography enjoyed; it was a desire to believe in the existence of ghosts. Doyle, a committed spiritualist in the early 20th century, amassed hundreds of these photographs, which he believed substantiated the existence of the afterlife. 


Photography and the Scientific Spirit runs Oct. 30 – Feb. 21 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 608 New York Ave., Sheboygan. The concurrent exhibition, Seeing is Believing: Photographs from the Collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, runs through Jan. 17 at the same location. Visit jmkac.org or call 920-458-6144 for more details.

Camille A. Brown & Dancers

In her in-process work Black Girl, Camille A. Brown draws on motifs from Melissa Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen, imagery from Alice in Wonderland and the photography of Carrie Mae Weems. The result is a multimedia project that explores the complexities of black female identity in urban America. Brown and her dance company will perform that and other works at a John Michael Kohler Arts Center concert sure to impress.

At 608 New York Ave., Sheboygan. Tickets are $29 or $24 for members/students for Thursday’s performance; $16 or $12 for Tuesday’s. Visit jmkac.org for tickets or more details.

6:30 p.m. April 21, 7:30 p.m. April 23

Far-right Sheboygan alderman resigns amid charges of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy

A Sheboygan alderman has resigned following accusations he was sexually involved with a 15-year-old boy.

Sheboygan Press Media reports the city clerk’s office confirmed it received a resignation letter from Kevin MatiChek. The now ex-alderman didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, but some local media reports have quoted him as saying that he and the boy were “dating.”

In 2010, MatiChek, a right-wing Republican, challenged incumbent state Rep. Mike Endsley in a failed primary race for the state’s 26th Assembly District.

Posts on MatiChek’s Facebook page promote fundamentalist Christianity and right-wing ideology. One person posted on the page, “I see Kevin attended Sheboygan Liberty Coalition meetings — that’s where all of THE most extremist righties in the County gather to share conspiracy theories and hate on Obama.”

In his resignation letter, MatiChek said, “In light of the criminal accusation against me, it is clear that I am currently unable to effectively serve in my position as alderman for the City of Sheboygan. Because I do not want the charge to detract from the City’s business, please accept this letter as my official resignation as Fourth District Alderman on the Sheboygan Common Council.”

MatiChek is charged with repeated sexual assault of a child. He allegedly gave movies and a cellphone to the teen he met last summer.

According to a criminal complaint, MatiChek acknowledged having a “friendship” with the boy and kissing him but denied any sexual contact. His defense attorney has said he is presumed innocent.

MatiChek is scheduled back in court Feb. 18.

Brawny bearded brewers bare nearly all for charity

A group of brawny, bearded brewers from the Sheboygan, Wisconsin, area has posed mostly nude for a calendar that is raising money for charity.

The 2015 Brew Men Calendar features 11 brewing professionals from 3 Sheeps Brewing, 8th Street Ale Haus and Plymouth Brewing Co. Proceeds from the calendar, which can be bought online or at various bars, grocers and liquor stores in Wisconsin and northern Illinois, will be donated to the Movember Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on men’s health issues, including prostate and testicular cancer.

Unsurprisingly, the idea came about when they were enjoying a few beers. After Kurt Jensen, owner of 8th Street Ale Haus, began talking to some of his brewing buddies about doing charity work, the group of beer-lovers eventually came up with something similar to a swimsuit calendar.

Grant Pauly, founder of 3 Sheeps, said he hopes the calendars will raise awareness and stimulate conversations about men’s health, he told Sheboygan Press Media.

“I was down in Chicago when someone who saw the group photo on our Facebook page came up to me and we ended up having a 20 minute conversation,” he said.

The photos were shot in early October by a professional photographer who doubles as a beer enthusiast. Each month of the calendar depicts a different step of the brewing process.

Jensen said convincing the guys to take off their clothes for a good cause was easier than he expected, and Pauly agreed.

“Putting the calendar together, that was pretty easy,” said Pauly. “We have the most difficult part ahead; getting the word out.”

The calendar marks the first fundraising effort of Brewers Against Bad Things, a group that Pauly and Jensen recently founded to raise money for charitable causes.

‘The Better Half’

Lucky Plush Productions, a Chicago-based dance company with an emphasis on contemporary cultural commentary, goes to Sheboygan’s John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 608 New York Ave., with The Better Half, a twist on the 1944 noir classic Gaslight. In that film, Ingrid Bergman plays a woman slowly driven insane by her manipulative husband. In The Better Half, Lucky Plush’s performers invoke similar feelings of claustrophobia and need for escape, while requiring its couples to put trust in each other nonetheless. Tickets are $14 on Tuesday night and $29 on Thursday. Go to jmkac.org or call 920-458-6144.

6:30 p.m. on Tues., March 11 and 7:30 p.m. on Thurs., March 13

Taiko project

The ancient drum art of taiko has been a part of Japanese culture for at least 1,500 years. Taikoproject, the United States’ premier taiko group, takes that heritage and revitalizes it, blending the classical drums with next-generation choreography and innovation. The result: a fusion of Japanese and American sounds that makes for an electric evening. At the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 608 New York Ave., Sheboygan. Tickets are $14 for Tuesday’s performance and $29 for Thursday’s. Order at 920-458-6144 or jmkac.org.

6:30 p.m. on Tues., Feb. 18; 7:30 p.m. on Thurs., Feb. 20