Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Why Mary Nohl Home Must Be Moved

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel picks up on the controversy, but the story and its handling is rather bizarre.

By - Jul 17th, 2014 01:14 pm
Mary Nohl Lakeside Art Environment

Mary Nohl Lakeside Art Environment

Last week Thursday, there was a fascinating forum at the Milwaukee Art Museum about the fate of the Mary Nohl home, which Michael Horne covered for Urban Milwaukee Dial the next day.

Four days later the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel finally reported on the forum, and not for its general newspaper audience, but only for readers of its North Shore NOW publication. (The story first ran in print today.)

Reporter Jeff Rumage adds some new information to the story, namely that the village of Fox Point took the Kohler Foundation to court in 2005 “because the organization held fundraisers, tours, bus tours and operated the house like a museum. The village won on the grounds that a museum does not comply with the residential zoning of the area.”

“Also in 2005,” Rumage tells us, “85 percent of households on the same street as the Mary Nohl House signed a statement in opposition to a museum. In 2006, more than 100 residents showed up to a public hearing wearing buttons that said ‘no museum.’”

That’s about all the new information in the story. Rumage gives a cursory summary of speech by Ruth DeYoung Kohler, which was the main event at the forum, with by far the most impact.

And he allows Milwaukee historian and weekly Journal Sentinel columnist John Gurda to get the last word in his story.

You could chalk all this up to an interpretive difference between two reporters, or conclude the story was really written more to serve the residents of Fox Point, in a weekly supplement that distributed only to North Shore readers.

The more troubling question is why the state’s largest newspaper would think the story only of interest to a small minority of its readers. Mary Nohl is an artist of statewide or even national interest among arts lovers and the home, it appears, will have to be moved to Sheboygan by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. That’s a dramatic story, surely of state-wide interest, treated here as though its merely relevant to Fox Point. That would seem to buttress the insular position of the Fox Point powers that be, whose main concern seems to be pleasing the residents living along the lake.

0 thoughts on “Back in the News: Why Mary Nohl Home Must Be Moved”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am an art guy, but wonder about this case.

    So you live next to an eccentric woman who puts out a lot of bad art in her front yard (art you don’t like). She doesn’t like your silver globe you got at Home Depot. That’s ok, this is America, and private property. But now an art institution owns it, that’s a different story. Art Museums are forever. That’s why there is zoning. It would be something else, a cult church (which is not much different, in this case, of Mary Knoll for some).

    I personally would not have a problem with having the Knoll site in my neighborhood, but I understand why others might feel differently.

  2. Anonymous says:


    You’re not just “an art guy,” you’ve been a curator at a major American museum (Milwaukee Art Museum) so one would presume that you’d take a much larger view of the situation (and at the very least, spell the artist’s name correctly). In addition to private property, the very relevant issues of freedom of expression, acceptance of cultural and artistic diversity, tolerance, and a basic sense of generosity toward ones’ neighbors should come into play, but an apparently small percentage of the neighbors have instead blocked a plan for VERY low visitation at the Nohl site (fewer people, who would be shuttled in, than a Saturday night dinner party at any of the neighbors’ homes), and the neighbors who expressed their support of the plan to keep the Nohl site in situ (in survey studies) have, to date, remained silent.

    Whether you appreciate Nohl’s aesthetic or not is one thing, but to imply that her yard environment is comparable to a cult church (with the thinly veiled distancing of this as your opinion by writing “for some”), is truly offensive.

    I imagine you would have fought valiantly against efforts to suppress or censor of works of art in a museum exhibition, perceived as “difficult” by the public. Would that more curators would stand up for works of art that exist outside the confines of a museum, that take place in the sphere of ordinary life, that are challenging.

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