John Michael Kohler Arts Center
Mary Nohl found conventional boundaries unrewarding and pursued her own creative path as she transformed her lakeside home and yard into a multifaceted art environment. This exhibition embraces Nohl’s broad artistic practice, presenting paintings, sculptures, and illustrations from the Arts Center collection.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.
Whether or not you go, Mary Nohl: Inside & Outside offers the first comprehensive look into the unusual life of a remarkable artist whose surroundings stand as a monument to her creative personality. Outsider artist, sophisticated naïf, and witch are all labels that have described Mary Nohl (1914–2001), creator of a magical and mysterious site on the shore of Lake Michigan near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here she constructed huge concrete heads, stone-encrusted creatures, and imposing driftwood figures to fill the yard surrounding a modest cottage where she spent most of her life. Carved heads hang from the eaves, wind chimes tinkle in the trees, and pebbles at her doorstep spell “Boo.” The cottage is painted and embellished inside and out with wooden fish, boats, animals, and leaping figures. Wire, hemp, chicken bones, egg shells, aluminum pans, broken glass—almost any castoff materials available—were used by Nohl to create her art and ornament her surroundings.
Establishing Nohl as a notable “outsider” artist, Barbara Manger and Janine Smith offer an inside look at an artist whose idiosyncratic art—pieces whose allure is only heightened by the intrigue and legends surrounding their creator—attracted generations of visitors who peered through the fence at Nohl’s wildly decorated yard but rarely caught a glimpse of the elusive artist.