Mary Nohl's house and garden (all photos by Tina Prigge, captured by Salon Vagabond, unless otherwise noted)

Mary Nohl’s house and garden (photo by Tina Prigge, captured by Salon Vagabond)

MILWAUKEE — From the 1400s to the 1700s, many thousands of individuals, mostly women, were burned, hanged, or drowned as witches in the United States and Europe. The witch represented an inversion of moral order: she was sexually indiscreet, used powders and unguents to elicit disease, ate children, could fly and transform herself into other creatures. The majority of women who were labeled as witches were single (widowed or never married) and older.

Today we think of this as ludicrous. These primitive superstitions seem remote. And yet, witch hunts persist. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is currently battling to save an art environment built, ostensibly, by a witch.

Over a period of 50 years, the artist Mary Nohl transformed her yard as well as the interior and exterior of her cottage into an environment that stands in conversation with the surrounding land, lake, and her childhood memories. Almost immediately after the first cement sculptures materialized in the 1960s, she became known as “The Witch.” Elaborate myths grew from her industrious acreage. Stories of murder, mayhem, and longing were broadly considered fact by a cross-section of the local populous. Nohl worked alone, from her home. Lacking a husband and prescribed social role, she was a very suspicious character, indeed.

Mary Nohl with one of her yard sculptures (photo source unknown)

Mary Nohl with one of her yard sculptures (photo source unknown)

Mary Nohl (1914–2001) graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1937. She grew up in Milwaukee, spending frequent weekends at a small cottage along the shores of Lake Michigan. After college, she taught art at several schools but really wanted to focus on her own work. She moved back home and lived in the cottage with her mother and father, while running a commercial pottery studio.

Once her father died and her mother entered a nursing home, Nohl had full run of the house. From the 1960s until her death in 2001 at age 87, Nohl transformed the place into an expansive work of art that was inspired by her childhood roots in this charmed setting. She mixed concrete from sand and stones from the beach to create the many yard sculptures. She cut out wooden reliefs of swimmers and boaters to attach in patterns on the house. Wind chimes hung in the trees, translating the significant breezes into aural compositions. Nohl used what was on hand for her artwork, being both resourceful and inspired by the process of making something from the land. All of her endeavors, be they jewelry making and painting during the winter months or yard work in the summers, emanated from the inspiration of this particular site.

Inside Nohl's house (click to enlarge)

Inside Nohl’s house (photo by Linda Wervey Vitamvas) (click to enlarge)

Nohl worked in an interdisciplinary manner (before the term was coined), and yet her diverse output connects thematically. Floating figures, fish, and men with top hats drift from silver jewelry compositions into paintings and yard sculptures. Everything inside and outside the home, from the stippled ceilings to the drip-painted chairs, is joyously embellished with designs that suggest the diverse resources of her education as well as her frequent travels: Hans Arp, Surrealism, the cross-cultural theory laid out by professor Helen Gardner. Kitchen compositions made of chicken bones, woven jute figures, faux stained glass windows, carved wooden totems, abstract collages, assemblages, pen drawings, clay figures, and oil paintings re-envision the traditional concept of ‘home’ as a place of infinite creative potential — a place where personal history has solid authorship.

From the time she built the first concrete sculptures, stories began circulating about the curious person responsible. By the 1960s, most of the property along this private enclave of beach had been subdivided into acre lots, expensive suburban homes replacing the original quaint cottages of Nohl’s generation. In sharp contrast to this newly conceived American dream, wherein a surging economy allowed women to stay home, have children, and be ideal housewives, Nohl lived alone at the end of Beach Drive. Most of her neighbors mowed their giant lawns every Sunday in a shared ritual of conformity, a nod to man’s mastery of nature.  In contrast, Nohl wove the sky, lake, beach, wind, and her childhood memories of unfettered play into a self-styled art environment.

Over four decades, Mary Nohl kept making and building. Stories took hold, about how she’d murdered her family and buried them under the sculptures, or how her husband had been lost in the lake and the sculptures were to beckon him home. All the stories inserted the “missing” husband and children. The cottage became a frequent late-night stop for teens drawn to the counterculture strangeness of the place. Others came and left notes of gratitude in her mailbox.

Inside Nohl's house (photo by Linda Wervey Vitamvas)

Inside Nohl’s house (photo by Linda Wervey Vitamvas)

Nohl died in 2001. She left nearly $10 million dollars (her attorney father had invested well) to a foundation to award yearly fellowships to individual artists in Milwaukee and nearby counties. She donated her house and all of its contents to the Kohler Foundation, which preserves art environments. Thirteen years later, however, little has been done to secure the site. The Kohler ran into opposition from Nohl’s wealthy neighbors — they objected to even the most restricted use of the house as a museum or study center. The building fell into disrepair and with each new winter has become increasingly fragile, weathered, marooned in uncertainty. Then, in March of this year, the property’s current owner, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, issued a press release stating that it had given up preservation efforts and will move the house and yard sculptures to Sheboygan County, where it is located. The center will sell the land to fund the move.

In the world, there are very few preserved art environments built by women. Two other significant sites are Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village in Simi Valley, California, and Helen Martin’s Owl House in South Africa (which had the benefit of Athol Fugard writing a play about it, The Road to Mecca). Nohl and these two female builders owned their own land, which is not an insignificant detail. Land ownership confers independence and power. Women are still often denied this gentry status. It’s probably the single reason why there aren’t more art environments built by women.

Nohl's house

Nohl’s house (photo by Tina Prigge, captured by Salon Vagabond)

To witness the loss of Mary Nohl’s house and yard is to witness how history is written. Despite decades of feminist thought, queer theory, interest in authenticity and authorship, heightened awareness of exclusionary practice and prejudice, the “domestic” remains a contested, touchy, demeaned place of production. Important ideas cannot emanate and take form from the kitchen or the baby’s room. Art that fully stitches one’s life and daily rhythms to place, home, and domestic labor remains radical, and Mary Nohl’s work rewrites these moral codes of capitalist functionality. When Nohl refused to mow her lawn or buy new clothes (until the old ones wore out), she was thinking independently about the aberrative demands of consumption.

Although not branded a witch, another midwestern artist who works from home, Michelle Grabner (one of the curators of the 2014 Whitney Biennial), was recently criticized in the New York Times for being a “soccer mom.” While Nohl’s work took place outside the art world infrastructure and Grabner’s work resides decidedly at its center, they share a commitment to not sever the meaningful parts of their daily existence from their professional artist roles. Grabner’s 2013 retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland was insistently titled I Work From Home.

Nohl's yard sculptures (click to enlarge)

Nohl’s yard sculptures (click to enlarge)

Mary Nohl liked power tools; she repaired her own roof. When teenagers threw rocks at her house she didn’t get bitter, she just tried to solve the problem. When asked why she had never married like so many of her high school and college girl friends, she said she wasn’t opposed to it but that men tended to be wary of women who could fix their own cars.

A woman is a witch when she bends her role, when caring and tending coexist with inventing and building, when she claims and wields power that has not been granted by a curator, a professional figure, or any other infrastructure.

Nohl never believed that art existed in a separate sphere, corralled into museums, labeled with text or swept into the marketplace of privilege. On Beach Drive, she created a place where any passerby might stop, marvel, and feel a little freer, especially if you are a woman. The power of Nohl’s lifelong endeavor emanates from its site and her personal history there. They might as well burn the witch’s house down, because turning it into a facsimile museum in another county would destroy what makes it monumental — power, authority and difference arising from a single woman who was determined to live inquisitively.

(photo by Linda Wervey Vitamvas)

(photo by Linda Wervey Vitamvas)

(photo by Linda Wervey Vitamvas)

(photo by Linda Wervey Vitamvas)


(photo by Tina Prigge, captured by Salon Vagabond)

View of Nohl's house and garden

(photo by Tina Prigge, captured by Salon Vagabond)

Nohl's sculptures

(photo by Tina Prigge, captured by Salon Vagabond)

Nohl's garage

(photo by Tina Prigge, captured by Salon Vagabond)


(photo by Tina Prigge, captured by Salon Vagabond)

Debra Brehmer is a writer and art historian who runs a contemporary gallery called Portrait Society in Milwaukee, WI. She is especially interested in how portraits convey meaning.

33 replies on “A Single Woman Is a Witch: Battling to Save the Art Environment of Mary Nohl”

  1. outsider art, now legitimized by a market, is the essence of art as personal expression. glad to know about her .. and i think gender has little to do with it .. it’s soul put into form

  2. The venerable Kohler Foundation has been left with no choice but to move it in order to share the riches of Mary Nohl’s environment. The loud and relentless intolerance of her neighbors has been ridiculous (as a current Chicago resident it makes me think of Wrigley Field neighbors when they wanted night games). Simply… she was there first and she and her property evolved. Somehow those residents of the north shore tolerated teens and vandalism back in the day. Now they won’t tolerate scholars, art appreciators and the curious now that she her environment is getting the attention it deserves? Neighbors of hers worked their way into the policy makers of Fox Point. There is the nuance that Elayne M may be referring. Obviously, the burning down of the house is hyperbole. Move it rather than banning access to those listed above is a last resort. As an artist, a born and raised Wisconsinite, and as a human that walks this earth, the behavior of her neighbors in her life and following her death has been appalling. She was first. She created. They should move if they don’t like being the neighbor of a treasure.

    1. It’s amazing how “loud and relentless” a few neighbors can be, but it hardly describes the attitude of Fox Point residents as a whole. Moving/dismantling Mary Nohl’s home/exterior sculptures must be viewed as a last resort after all options have been vetted. As far as I know, this is far from being the case.

  3. I won’t dignify the last comment with a reply but I’d like to mention that Brehmer’s assertion that “Thirteen years later, however, little has been done to secure the site…” is grossly inaccurate. Brehmer is fully aware of Kohler Foundation’s efforts over the years to preserve and secure the site and Nohl’s work. This is not a cut and dried situation, but rather, is filled with practical and logistical complexities, not to mention the tangled community relations that have been the main obstacle to preserving the site in situ.

  4. Sad to hear that they are planning to move Mary Nohl’s work. What she created has much power and beauty…and is a response to her life in that place. Once you are gone, you no longer have control of your work. Then a board of directors at a foundation makes decisions. The preservation of the foundation comes first. Happens all the time….and has nothing to do with gender.

  5. Such a shame! Once again the subjective views of a select few will
    determine the outcome. However, if the site can be preserved (all be it
    moved) and recreated where this wonderful artist’s work shall be
    appreciated and viewed: Hoorah for the foundation’s work! Although I
    consider myself a feminist, this would be the same situation were it a
    man: the problem is not gender but content! I would like to say to
    Boxmug that EVEN a man (and an artist at that) might just have thought
    to leave his money to a foundation before thinking of his own personal

  6. It’s time for the Kohler Foundation to step up to the plate. (With her foundation hopefully)
    Again the problem with Art is money despite its transcendent nature, there is never enough ( ask Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst) . The whole idea of disemboding her living sculpture and move it ; selling the land to pay for it is moronic at best and fraud at worst.
    As they said in ” all the Presidents’ Men , “follow the money”.

    1. There is money to keep it in situ. It is the monied neighbors, with megaphones, that have always insisted on the ousting.

  7. I grew up several houses south of Mary’s, during the 1950s and 1960s. My mother finally sold the house in the 1980s. As a child, I knew Mary slightly, saw her as a friendly neighbor who walked past our house nearly every day, and perhaps more importantly to this narrative, I knew the neighbors young and old and their attitudes toward Mary and her art.

    In my opinion, this column is misunderstanding heaped on hostility, piled on a foundation of ignorance, painted with the broad brush of a pre-determined narrative dusted with Otherization of those for whom the author can find no empathy.

    “Stories of murder, mayhem, and longing were broadly considered fact by a cross-section of the local populous.” Oh, please spare us. Ms Brehmer fails to distinguish between the people who saw Mary as a neighbor, and who most certainly did not refer to her as a witch, and those teenagers, mostly from miles away, who drove to Beach Road day and night to view her yard. Some of the latter did call her a witch. The neighbors laughed at the suggestion.

    So far as I can tell, the entire witch narrative is based on the romantic fantasies of teenagers and college students who mostly did not even live in Fox Point, much less on Beach Road. The narrative never distinguishes between high schoolers and adults, or between people who lived in the neighborhood and those from far away. Perhaps such fine discrimination would weaken the narrative.

    “Land ownership confers independence and power. Women are still often denied this gentry status.” Often denied? Still? Really? Can you document that in any way? Exactly which American government at any level denies women land ownership? Mary owned that house and the land under it because she inherited it. She inherited the money which supported it. Exactly who denies women inheritance rights in America?

    “The cottage became a frequent late-night stop for teens drawn to the counterculture strangeness of the place. Others came and left notes of gratitude in her mailbox.”

    Gosh, that sounds benign in this narrative. How about a little more detail, just to flesh out the narrative? Like: teens routinely drove in from several surrounding counties, illegally parking at the turnaround by her house, drinking beer at 2 and three in the morning, leaving notes of gratitude and their beer bottles, beer cans, six pack holders, pop tops, cigarettes, cigarette packs, paper bags, their vomit, and occasionally a used condom, honking their horns and now and then driving on the neighbors’ lawns. Oh, excuse me, the “giant lawns (mowed) every Sunday in a shared ritual of conformity”.

    Now and then, those ever so charming teenage art lovers would use those nasty capitalists’ porches as a toilet, perceptively and succinctly leaving their little piles of brown commentary punctuated with crumpled toilet paper. What fine art commentary on people who objected to drunken teenagers littering and honking horns outside their homes at 2:00 AM. Only art hating philistines could object. “Others”, that is.

    Did you notice the chain link fence in some of the photos? Mary installed that because some of those teenage art critics liked to walk all over her yard without bothering to get permission, and a few of them enjoyed such art critical activities as burning down her driftwood moose and kicking her silhouette fence pickets into splinters. Maybe they did that as a commentary on the bodies she buried around the yard, but I think that if they had believed that story they might have rather avoided offending her.

    “When Nohl refused to mow her lawn or buy new clothes (until the old ones wore out), she was thinking independently about the aberrative demands of consumption.” Did Mary ever say that? How about, “Mary, like several other neighbors, didn’t bother to mow the back yard, and it grew wild.”? Several other neighbors didn’t mow their entire yards either? Oh, dear, including that would weaken the narrative.

    Mary wore clothes until they wore out? How quaint. Mary was a child of the Depression, as were the neighbors. Wearing clothes until they wore out was what people who believed in thrift did, and in fact, still do. We had neighbors who bought cars new and ran them until they were hauled to the junk yard. My father bought a new car and drove it ten years, when he sold the rusty thing to my brother who ran it several more years. That sort of behavior was not unique on Beach Road, so perhaps the author should check her assumptions.

    She might also check her apparent assumption that those conformist neighbors dislike art, or even specifically Mary’s art: Could it possibly be that they do not want the attractive nuisance which routinely brings vandals and partiers onto their lawns at 2:00 AM? No: That wouldn’t fit the narrative.

    I wonder what the real art critics like Ms Brehmer would say about the Nazi headquarters flag. A neighbor, father of a childhood friend of mine, brought it back from the Second World War. In the early 1960s he apparently saw no reason to keep it, and gave it to Mary. Mary then ran a line between two trees on the lake side of the house and hung that flag for all to see. Perhaps surprisingly to Ms Brehmer, the conformist neighbors were appalled. Perhaps Mary liked it purely as a powerful graphic, and as an artist she divorced the graphic from its history and connotations, but neighbors who had lived through the same Nazi era which she had could not. They were shocked, and said so.

    Perhaps Mary took some heed, or perhaps not, but in any case she took down that Nazi headquarters flag. Then she used it as a bedspread.

    I liked Mary’s art, and still do. Whenever I get to Milwaukee I try to drive by. I’ll be sorry if it is all taken away and the neighborhood will be the poorer, but unlike the author, I can empathize with the neighbors.

    1. You are very welcome, Boxmug.

      I want to be clear, and perhaps I wasn’t: I have no reason to think Mary was a Nazi or a sympathizer. But even for an artist, flying a headquarters flag where every passerby could see it, and then using it for a bedspread, strikes me as at best utterly clueless.

      At that time a very large part of Fox Point’s population was Jewish, many of whom must have known family members murdered then less than twenty years earlier. I don’t remember if any of the immediate neighbors at the time were Jewish, but certainly within a very few years there were. It didn’t make a huge impression on me as a child, because then what little I knew of Nazis was that they were simply the Bad Guys who some of my friends’ fathers had fought, but for an adult to fly a headquarters flag?

      How much more clueless could an artist be?

    2. Thank you Tom for the truest story.

      I read the Brehmer piece, not knowing anything and thought what a lot of cobblers. Especially the first paragraph which is an historically inaccurate repeating of the persecutory propaganda that came from the Catholic Church, but moving on.
      I thought, “This is just bad fiction dressed up as journalism”,.. but I persevered and getting to your refutation, the ‘Artiste’ of Nohl finally came to life. Now I can see an incredibly ‘fortunate’ woman who was extremely poor in many other ways, not least in talent, meaning, subtlety and compassion. My own assessment as an arts practitioner engaged with the world around me may not sound fair to her legacy and dubious fan base but, restricting myself to the initial premise of the article; that of the Kohler foundation moving the whole shebang to another county, I have to say there is no reason why any of Nohl’s efforts will suffer from interpretive loss by such a move.

      Her work is as entirely ignorant of the landscape around her as her Nazi flag stupidity demonstrates she was entirely ignorant of her neighbours.
      To be so utterly insular is completely at odds with producing meaningful or valuable art and seen in light of the Nazi flag incident her main motivation was not in fact art at all, but absolutely decoration only for it’s own sake and hers. What a blissfully ignorant and selfish ‘individual’ in the truest sense of that word and how dare Brehmer slot her into the horrific history of matriarchal persecution and destruction of the Inquisition in Europe, which apart from the single Salem incident barely touched the white Americas since it was white America that was inflicting that holocaust on the natives and imported Africans in it’s own interpretation of the scriptures.

      If I was to suggest that burning it all down and crushing the sculptures into rubble for the driveway would be the simplest solution to the Kohler foundations troubles the main reaction would be from other fantasists such as Brehmer whose own attributions layered onto it like cake icing are wherefore the ‘art’ has any value. There is no inherent value, only that which is falsely and nostalgically attributed to it. By all means move it to some other place where it causes less nuisance but in my view it’s a waste of time and money better spent elsewhere.

      1. Hi Simon, you are a bit rougher on Mary than I am, but that is one of the pitfalls of being an artist, or of being presented to the world as such.

        The flag thing is a strange one for me. Again, I have no idea what Mary’s political, racial, or religious beliefs were, and I prefer not to speculate without more evidence than the flag. At the time it made little impression on me -although enough to remember it, perhaps because as a boy at the time I was very much into playing Army with the neighbor boys on the beach and on the bluff behind the houses, and some of our gear like helmets and web gear was the real thing- but in looking back, something which made little impression then does seem bigger today.

        My recollection is that the flag flew for no more than a very few days before Mary took it down. Perhaps not even that long. I suspect the neighbor who gave it to her was embarrassed by her chosen use. At least two other of the men south of Mary’s were also WWII vets. One of them had been a glider pilot during the Invasion of Normandy, and almost certainly witnessed horrific carnage. I doubt any of the three (and perhaps more were vets, but I don’t know) would have found anything amusing about Mary flying that flag.

        In looking at the photos of the yard again, it looks like none of the early driftwood figures have survived. As I mentioned, one night somebody burned down her more or less life size driftwood moose, but other pieces may have simply rotted away.

        However, the photos also show Mary’s engagement with the street side viewers: most of the sculptures are facing the road. If she had wanted to prevent people from seeing them, it would have been easy to plant a hedge of white cedar or something similar. In a few years there would have been nothing to see from the road. Instead, she chose to put up nothing but a chain link fence, perfect for viewing, and positioned the figures for viewing from the road.

        Another indication of engagement with the street: those couples seated on rocks. In the third photo from the bottom there is a couple depicted with empty faces ( empty heads? I don’t know if that was intended), while in other photos are a man/boy with his arms around a (cold?) fish. There used to be a big rock at the turn around, and couples did like to sit on it, either looking at the lake or at Mary’s yard. Sometimes necking, or sometimes, perhaps, the guy was trying to but he had his arms around one of those cold fish.

        As for the origin of the fish, I suspect from their shapes that they were inspired by alewives. People today have no idea just how awful they were for a couple summers in the 1960s as their numbers exploded. Instead of a few dozen on the beach, drying in the sun and pecked at by crows and grackles, they died by the millions and formed a stinking soup of rotting fish ten or fifteen or twenty feet from the beach outward. There were tons of them in front of every house. Coho salmon were introduced to eat them, and successfully. Until then, though, for a couple summers the stench was overwhelming, even inside. then back to normal, and a few dead alewives at a time dried on the shore, perhaps to inspire Mary.

        I have grown quite impatient with the recent harping on Mary’s reputation as a witch. It seems to be the foundation of every article about her, with little to no mention that her reputation as a witch, and all the lurid rumors about her, were the romantic notions of teenagers, not the adults.

        The narrative seems to have become: Mary = Woman = Victim = Mary.

        The stories make it sound a bit like the community was on the verge of chasing poor, poor, Mary, victim of the conformist, lawn mowing patriarchy, up the ravine, waving pitchforks and torches as they pursued her through the night.

        As a marketing angle, that may work just fine. As history, well, that isn’t the way I remember it.

        Of course, that be a result of a spell she cast…

  8. I grew up 5 miles from this house. Each visit I made there as a young man haunted me with strange allies of beauty and mystery. The landscape of sculptures — which dream in communion with Lake Michigan and with the woods of the area — was a crucial antidote to the terrors of conformity that we confronted as youth. The proposed move is very sad.

    1. Hi danletras. “The proposed move is very sad.”

      I agree. There is no way the house and Mary’s art will not be terribly diminished by the move. I don’t remember how much of the driftwood sculpture has survived, but there was at one time a great deal of it, and it was among her earlier work in the yard. Mary picked up much by beach combing in the area, and as I recall most of the stones she used were from the beach as well. The location of the house is intrinsic, and it will be very sad when moved.

      Still, the neighbors have a point, too, and that is something delegitimized all too often: there are other sides to the issue, and they too are legitimate. Those who hold them deserve better than facile Otherization by critics. Too many proponents of leaving the house there appear to refuse to engage with those perspectives: they simply deny legitimacy so that they don’t have to address them: trash, noise, vandalism. It isn’t the few people Kohler would allow in every day, it is the unintended side effects of the house remaining there.

      Otherization: using terms derogatorily to make other’s opinions too far outside to need addressing: ‘a shared ritual of conformity’, ‘Stories took hold’ among teenagers, but context lets one think “among nearly everyone”, ‘wealthy neighbors’ objected but we aren’t told why: they must hate art, they are snobs, they don’t want proles in the area. ‘she was thinking independently about the aberrative demands of consumption’ apparently in contrast to her wealthy conformist neighbors who do not all mow their lawns.

    1. Thank you, Kal-Ell, for demonstrating my point above about Otherization of those with whom you disagree. You are apparently unwilling to engage with people’s arguments, or of empathizing with their perspective in any way: you simply put a label on them, then you can ignore anything they say, because you have turned them into an Other to be dismissed as human beings.

      Or worse.

    1. To call it sexism and have only that to say is intellectual laziness.
      It’s not sexism that is the deeper issue, though it may have been for the teenage wanderers of this story who labelled her a witch and so doing re-enacted the utterly sexist Christian orthodoxy of the Inquisition, which certainly is reflected in the ‘unattainable single woman as witch’ misogeny. Nohl’s art reflects the sexist, racist, culturalist whatever-ist-you-can-think-of attitude that sees nothing of value in the ‘other’ and everything of value within the ‘self’, which at base is the great western cultural bequeth of the Inquisition which Nohl’s art is symptomatic of.

      Her work barely notices the environment around her and rejects completely the culture around her as did the orthodox churches of colonialism. Her privileged life knew no torment other than the clash of purpose with other selfish people whom she largely very successfully ignored, which is pretty much the definition of orthodox capitalist success in which the concept of art as personal decoration is at its zenith.

      As ‘outsider’ art it could maybe have aspects of the quaint and ridiculous as valuable and desirable and by all means it does deserve preservation if for that alone, like any good kitch, but as I said it’s not in anyway really truelly tied to it’s natural context in a way that prevents that interpretation suffering if it was relocated. The beautiful treed garden in which it reposes could be easily recreated in time with any species of tree in any landscape, much like the wire mesh fence around it, long before the concrete crumbled of it’s own accord. It does not in my opinion have anywhere near the same cultural and natural context of the ‘outsider art’ evident in Shaker furniture and textiles for instance and they were far more orthodox than Nohl was.

      Her art does not say anything other than ‘look at me’, which is by and large a symptom of the orthodoxy of the pilgrim culture based in property inheritance, itself based in ethnic genocide and denial of the ‘other’ that is eliminated from consideration. She inherited a great deal and all she left is a yard and house full of decorations. It has been belaboured with a feminist narrative which in all likelihood would have mystified Nohl as much as the complaints of Nazism from the neighbours. You and any number of others can layer meanings and subtleties onto the art as much as you like but they were ignored by Nohl as much as the mute figures happily ignore it now. That you do ascribe meaning and subtleties which although incredibly important and valid in any number of other worthy contexts aren’t actually anywhere to be found in Nohl’s art is itself a symptom of the elevation of ‘self’ above ‘others’ that she ignorantly carried through life.

      I say that because in your mind it represents that which you find important (the lone woman as champion of feminism, I am guessing) but the application of feminist principals, at base, first asks the subject and object if that so ascribed can find it important or valid too. If not then your assessment is just as subjective and objective as you complain of. The feminist narrative is critical to the survival of the world in my opinion but it’s got nothing to do with Nohl or her art, as much as she apparently had nothing to do with it or anything else really other than pleasing herself in languid and easy comfort.

      The vitality of feminism is the fact of its complete inclusiveness of all humanity and the environment, which suffers if it’s falsely ascribed to that which is patriarchally exclusive, privileged, ignorant and intolerant of others. When you see powerful women working against the sisterhood, or immensely wealthy white woman swanning in ignorant leisure do you still call them strugglers for the feminist cause? Just because Nohl chose to wear her clothe to rags and make endless representations of a pouting face doesn’t negate the fact that she was a multi millionaire very probably at the expense of thousands of labourers in whose companies her father’s investments accrued. There’s a theme in some of the writing here than talks about the oppression of women as artists and commentators. All very real in another context but totally invalid for Nohl because she appears to have lived a life of total obliviousness paid for by her fathers ‘canny’ investments. She was no more oppressed than any other extremely wealthy white woman with no other concerns but their own pleasure in indulging their ‘tastes’ and fantasies.

      Rejection of nostalgia and the worthlessness of a particular cultural baggage that is so obviously founded on cultural genocide and symptomatic of the denial of the existence of others, is not sexism because the proponent happens to be female.

  9. I don’t believe this article is over intellectualized at all. It’s actually one of the best critiques I’ve read in a long time. As a long time art educator I have personally witnessed the devaluation of art and artists that do not kowtaw to industry, regional, social, and museum standards. Like alot of things, the type of art we value as a society today is (in the end for many) about money on a large scale. Combine that with the fact that social norms placed on women artists at the time and still in many ways today have not changed that much. Bias and sterotypes are so deeply im bedded in our culture that they are almost impossible to recognize.

    1. Umm. Nohl’s art kowtows to no one. It doesn’t even acknowledge them, and this critique is full of factual errors.

  10. Hmm, this is not clear to me. On the one hand, the articles tates that the neighbours are rich, powerful people who dislike art, on the other we are told by posters here, that the house attracted (still attracts) teenage vandals and drunken partiers. Sorry, but attracting vandalism is NO reason to move the art or demolish the house. Surely the artist’s intention was to keep the house and the art in situ. If the problem is the petty crime, deal with petty crime don’t destroy /remove the art !

    1. Hi Smith 99: “attracting vandalism is NO reason”

      I agree with you that the artist’s intention is extremely important, and that moving the house and sculpture will severely impact that vision. There is no question that moving them will be a real, and permanent loss.

      However, to say that no other issues are even legitimate seems a bit exclusive. If we believe we value diversity, doesn’t that require at least respecting other people’s perspectives, even if we don’t agree with them? If we can accept that people who we ask to put up with noise and vandalism have legitimate concerns, we might not rank those concerns the same, but it seems a bit classist to dismiss them merely because they are held by Others.

      Is there even a possibility you would modify your position if it were your house, yard, and sleep being messed with on a regular basis, year after year after year? What if this were not a rich neighborhood, but a poor or middle class one, one of people who you understand have to get up and go to work every morning, no matter how their sleep has been disturbed again? What if the neighborhood included a large number of people with religious objections to representations of the human form? Would you be so quick to denounce the neighbors concerns as illegitimate? One doesn’t have to agree with the neighbors that their concerns should be accorded greater weight than yours, but it seems a bit intolerant to say they aren’t even legitimate.

      1. Hi Tom, I don’t think you are quoting me exactly. I think it was other posters who were saying this. I apologise if i gave the impression I was uninterested in the concerns of the neighbours, but the article doesn’t mention the vandalism and drunken partying at all, so being unaware of the situation I don’t know the whole facts.

        My point is that anything in the world can become a target for vandals or badly behaved youth. We can’t make this a reason to destroy it. Surely the pririty should be prevention. I don’t know the location, so I can’t comment on how to achieve this. But suppose it was St Marc’s square in Venice or the Taj Mahal which was attracting this type of behaviour ? You wouldn’t advocate destruction in that case.

  11. Milwaukee residents don’t realize or care what they have
    Right in their own neighborhoods. Mary Nohls residence
    Is a true treasure and should be restored and appreciated
    Right where it is. I had the privilege and honor to meet the
    Artist herself and tour her home through the introduction
    Of Sr. Thomissita Fessler., then the head of the art department of
    Cardinal Strirch College.
    I also own Mary Kohls biography “Inside and Out” which
    Is very accurate in depicting her life and background. The
    Property was purchased by her parents for its surrounding beauty
    And proximity to Lake Michigan, and there it should remain.
    Any residents of the area should have realized the notarity
    Of the the property before they decided to relocate there, and that
    The Nohl property was established long before they even knew
    It existed.
    Perhaps a university can acquire the property as a study
    Center or private studio accommodation
    For artists.
    Either way it should stay intact where it is,
    As Mary Nohl would have wanted.

Comments are closed.