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John Michael Kohler Arts Center

608 New York Avenue
Sheboygan, WI

Phone: 920 458 6144

Statement of Purpose:

The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is a 40-year-old, nationally acclaimed visual and performing arts complex in Sheboygan devoted to innovative exploration in contemporary American art.


Its exhibitions, all created by its three curators and exhibition staff, focus on a wide range of art forms, with particular emphasis on sculpture, photography, crafts, new genres, installation art, ongoing folk traditions and the work of self-taught artists.

The performing arts emphasize dance, music and theatre performances from around the world.

Programming also includes a renowned Arts/Industry residency program, a Connecting Communities commissioning program, classes and special events.

The 100,000-sq.-ft. Arts Center is comprised of twelve galleries, an intimate theatre, a flexible interdisciplinary performance space, studio-classrooms, meeting space, the ARTspace shop and the ARTcafe.

The Arts Center programs two adjunct sites: ARTspace, an exhibition space and shop in the Village of Kohler and the James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden in the town of Wilson.


JUNE 24, 2007 ----JANUARY 6, 2008

SUBLIME SPACES & VISIONARY WORLDS: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists  

Home is masterpiece, trash is treasure and life is art in the exhibition SUBLIME SPACES & VISIONARY WORLDS: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists, which opened June 24, 2007 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and continues through January 6, 2008. The 16,000-sq.-ft. exhibition of the works of 22 artists who transformed their homes, yards and other available spaces into large-scale, multifaceted works of art is the largest and most in-depth ever mounted by the Arts Center. Several thousand paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs from the Arts Center’s permanent collection of nearly 10,000 works by artist-environment builders come together in a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.

Emery Blagdon’s rarely seen “Healing Machine” from the plains of Nebraska debuts in the collection with some 400 individual, awe-inspiring wire, foil, wood and painted components. More than 100 glass- and ceramic-inlaid concrete figures by Nek Chand, maker of the “Rock Garden of Chandigarh” in India, are presented in an evocative and poignant installation. A three-wall section of Stella Waitzkin’s Lost Library, formerly located in New York City’s Hotel Chelsea, also debuts. And the largest exhibition of ceramics, paintings, bone-sculptures and photography by Eugene Von Bruenchenhein of Milwaukee, Wisconsin—including many color photographs never presented before—reveals his quiet brilliance.

“In the hands of these little-known artists, patches of wasteland became transcendent kingdoms; empty lots and sheds were gateways to healing and the heavens; and homes and yards simultaneously became museum and masterpiece,” said Arts Center Director Ruth DeYoung Kohler. “Visitors will enjoy mysterious machines, concrete menageries, thrones of bone and towers of steel, and two complete installations, recreated exactly as the artists, or ‘environment builders’ as they are sometimes called, initially envisioned them.

Since the 1970s, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has worked to preserve the art of “artist-environment builders,” and has since become the world’s leading center for the research and presentation of works by these artists. As the Arts Center worked extensively to preserve these environments, the curators realized many of them could not be retained on their original sites. As such, the Arts Center made caring for large bodies of inter-related objects from dismantled art-environments the primary focus of its collecting efforts. The artworks on view in this exhibition offer expansive views into the lives of the artists, including the time, era and place in which each artist lived and worked.

Admission to the exhibition is free. For more information, call (920) 458-6144, or visit


Dr. Charles Smith, Horn Players: Louis Armstrong Series, c. 1985–1999; concrete, paint, mixed media; 32 ¾ x 9 ½  x 13 ½ in. and 35 x 10 ½ x 15 in.; John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection.




Nek Chand, untitled (seated saddhu). c.1975–1999; concrete, glass, ceramic shards, metal; 28 ¾ x 27 ¼ x 10 ¾ in.; John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection.



Tom Every, The Forevertron, North Freedom, WI. photo: Ron Byers.



Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Han Imperalis, No. 626, 1957; oil on Masonite; 25 ½ x 25 in.; John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection.




Emery Blagdon inside The Healing Machine, Garfield Table, NE. photo: 1979, Sally and Richard Greenhill.



Nek Chand, Rock Garden of Chandigarh (site view, Chandigarh, India), 1958–present. photo: c. 2004–2006, Iain Jackson.



Fred Smith, untitled (white man), c. 1948–1964; concrete, glass, paint, mixed media; 76 x 40 x 32 5/8 in.; long-term loan to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center from the Price County Forestry Department and The Friends of Fred Smith.


Fred Smith, Wisconsin Concrete Park (site view, Deer Fight, Phillips, Wisc.), 1948–1964. photo: 1995, Ron Byers



James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden (site detail, Native American family tableau, Black River, Town of Wilson, WI), c. 1942–1957; John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection. photo: 1997, Ron Byers.


Throughout this series of four exhibitions, the featured artists conflate fantasy and actuality in works of art that call into question what is genuine. Constructing alternative versions of reality with both sincerity and a sense of humor, the artists transport viewers into another realm or confront beliefs and perceptions.


Everything Changes: Abandon
by David Meanix    (color photograph; 30 x 40”)

Stretching the Truth—Group Exhibition
February 10 through May 3, 2008

Focusing on photography, this exhibition will feature works by artists who demonstrate this medium’s rapidly expanding boundaries.  With a basis in models or sets of constructed images, or with the employment of innovative processes including multiple exposures, repeated or layered negatives, digital augmentation, or collaged prints in both two-dimensional and sculptural form, the works manipulate the medium to present a new reality that questions the “truthfulness” generally associated with photographic representation.

Underwater Garden by Didier Massard (chromogenic print; 37 x 47").

Carlos Ferguson
February 17 through May 31, 2008

Interested in the relationship between vision and psychology, Carlos Ferguson creates interactive dioramas and viewing apparatuses that use photography and digital technology to suggest other realities or ways of seeing. Little World, for example, allows a viewer to guide a small remote control car/camera through a constructed space of disparate environments (suburbs, city streets, an empty beach), allowing for a slow journey that is a "mars-rover-strange way of seeing."

LITTLE WORLD, detail, by Carlos Ferguson (mixed media) Loaned by the artist.


Valerie Hegarty
February 24 through June 7, 2008
Valerie Hegarty creates installations of foamcore, paper, paint, glue, and gel medium that challenge notions of time and space and play with perception and reality. Overseas (Fireplace with Harpoons) is simultaneously the construction of a domestic space with a painting and fireplace and a “re-imagining of the sea as a transformative force that is unleashed.” With a seascape as its central focus, this installation combines elements of history, anthropology, and fantasy into a dramatic metaphor for turbulence and change.

Overseas (Fireplace with Harpoons)
by Valerie Hegarty (Foamcore, paper, paint, glue, gel medium; approx. 10' x 8' x 8').


Chris Sauter:  Domestic Archaeology
March 30 through June 14, 2008

San Antonio, TX sculptor Chris Sauter deconstructs walls and objects and recycles the materials in order to construct something new. Addressing the contrasting relationships between nature and culture and the body and architecture, Sauter instills each original object with multiple meanings by constructing visual metaphors.

The Known Universe
, detail, by Chris Sauter (telescope fabricated from constructed bedroom, 144 x 144 x 144")

The Arts Center is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.–4 p.m.




Call (920) 458-6144 or visit for more information, including staff, classes, performing arts events, workshops, our world-famous Arts/Industry residency program, annual outdoor Arts Festival, and more!


Key Personnel:

Ruth DeYoung Kohler, Director
Lisa Golda, Public Relations Associate/Writer.

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