Michael Horne
Back in the News

Mary Nohl Home

Neighbors' opposition, which we previously reported, forces relocation of the artist's home.

By - Mar 31st, 2014 11:32 am
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Mary Nohl, 1970s

Mary Nohl, 1970s

In October 2013 I wrote a story for Urban Milwaukee entitled “Mary Nohl vs. NIMBY.” It detailed the decade-long struggle of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center to preserve the Fox Point lakefront home of the artist / philanthropist. Kohler specializes in vernacular environments throughout the United States, retaining them at their original site — in situ — whenever possible, and providing for limited public access.

“With its fantastical sculptures and other decoration,” I wrote, “the home is one of the nation’s premier site-specific art locations. The location, the home, the artist and the art are all one, and you can’t forgive its owner, the $50 million-in-assets John Michael Kohler Art Foundation, for hoping to get approval to open the home on a limited basis to ‘honor Mary Nohl’s desire for her work to be preserved and enjoyed by others after her death.’”

Well, so much for that. In a press release issued on Friday, the foundation announced that the home and related artifacts would be dismantled and moved to Sheboygan due to a failure to reach an agreement with officials and neighbors over a needed zoning change.

“We believe Mary’s artwork is intrinsically linked to its lakefront location and thus we explored many options to preserve the property and artwork in situ,” said Michael P. Cisler, president of the Kohler Art Center’s Board of Directors. “However, after hearing from many neighboring property owners and municipal officials, who would need to approve a zoning change to allow even limited access to the property, we don’t believe there is a solution that would honor Mary Nohl’s wishes and meet the needs of the Fox Point neighbors.”

“I’ve been trying to save Mary’s environment for 27 years,” Ruth Kohler, director of the arts center, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  “We’ve worked with a lot of art environments, from as far away as New York and Louisiana, and we’ve always been able to change the minds of the village or town that the site was in. We’ve never had a complete stalemate like this before.”

Cisler estimated the cost of moving the home would be upwards of $1 million and perhaps as high as $2 million. The lot that will be left behind will be quite valuable, given its location overlooking the lake, but Nohl bequeathed that to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, along with money that created a fund for the arts in Nohl’s name.

Nohl’s home and artistry has won a national reputation and some mention on travel sites. If properly preserved, it might have become something that drew visitors (albeit on a limited basis) to Fox Point, and would have embellished the Milwaukee metro area’s reputation as an art-making place. Instead the Nohl home moves north to Sheboygan.



Categories: Back in the News

11 thoughts on “Back in the News: Mary Nohl Home”

  1. alba says:

    The wealthy residents of Beach Drive don’t like the riff-raff driving past their house.

  2. Max says:

    ”We’ve worked with a lot of art environments, from as far away as New York and Louisiana, and we’ve always been able to change the minds of the village or town that the site was in. We’ve never had a complete stalemate like this before.”

    Certainly says something of the neighborhood…

  3. The “Save Mary Nohl’s Art Environment” Facebook page has gained nearly 2000 members since it was created on March 27th.


  4. jean says:

    Is it open to the public right now? I would love to see it before it relocates.

  5. jean says:

    Disregard my comment- just saw that it isnt open to the public:(

  6. Jan says:

    This is a shame for Fox Point, not to judge all Fox Pointers but Mary was there first. I bet this wouldn’t fly with Georgia O’Keefes and her Abiquii residence? To us in Milwaukee she is a famous Artist and person. I will still ride by and visit the grave site of a beautiful memory.

  7. Brian Fischer says:

    Having been one of the riff-raff ,back in the 60’s I understand hat a pain we were.Mary did deal w/ us simply by coming out ,at night;w/ her white Shepard dog and she wore a full length black druid type robe w/ hood.Of course we goofballs freaked .Kudoz to Mary…I’m sure she was smiling inside that hood.
    As I eventually grew ,still growing at 58;I came to appreciate her art.I always wanted to meet her and apologize.
    Being a home owner I can appreciate the neighbors concerns,wealthy or not.The area is beautiful,quaint and not really an
    area to accommodate large volumes of tourists.
    As sad as a move might be I believe the Kohler Foundation ,and I have never been to the museum;is a godsend in preserving Mary’s legacy and saving the Beach Dr. folks from endless loss of the privacy we all deserve.
    Please excuse my lack of sentence structure…..:-) Bri

  8. John O'Neill says:

    Beautiful neighborhood; ugly neighbors.

  9. Daniel from SF says:

    I don’t think I ever understood that the property was at risk of moving until I found out, yes, its planned to be moved. To the Kohler center, the location of Mary’s property is very important. Lets take this grass-roots energy and really work with the Fox Point neighborhood.

  10. Rob Johnston says:

    This fascinating home and its art should be relocated. I suggest that one of our parks could find room for it and provide easy access to the public. Milwaukee should maintain its growing reputation as a place visitors will remember. Two million is a relatively small investment to make in our city. Why can’t we find a benefactor ?

  11. Alissa says:

    If you haven’t been to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC), you need to make visiting it several times a year a must. The JMKAC has rescued many, in my words, collections of vernacular art that are simply amazing. I am not surprised they are doing this with the Nohl home. They’ve rescued similar collections in the past. While some collections are sensitive in nature and some borderline offensive, they are a breath of fresh air as an arts center by not discriminating collections.

    While I agree it would be best to keep this collection in Milwaukee, if it were placed in a park, I would be very afraid of what vandals would do to anything in this irreplaceable collection. The JMKAC will not only display the collection (Access to this facility is fee free. Donations at the door are never turned down.) but will also make sure it is in the safest environment possible.

    The JMAKC is one of my favorite things (and one of the most underrated art museums anywhere) in my hometown. Good job guys!

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