Mourning Francisco González Gragera, creator of Capricho de Cotrina

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Threatened Environments 16 Items

Help Fund the Ed Galloway Totem Pole Restoration Project!

Posted in SPACES News, Threatened Environments
Galloway Totem PoleGalloway Totem Pole in 1981, Photo by Seymour Rosen

Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park (built from 1937-1948) located within the Rogers State Historical Park in Foyil, OK, is in need of conservation. Although the site, which includes a 90-foot concrete totem pole surrounded by several smaller totems and a small octagonal building, has been restored several times over the years, with the exception of the work sponsored by the Kansas Grassroots Art Association almost two decades ago, none have been of sufficient quality, nor sufficiently durable.

Following a year-long investigation as to how best to restore the top half of the totem, a team led by teachers Erin Turner and Margo Hoover has begun a campaign to raise funds for these efforts. Check out the link and help fund this important restoration project: http://www.totempolepark.org

You can find out more about the project through their recent Kickstarter Campaign page, here.

And, as always, learn more about the site on the Ed Galloway Totem Pole page in our Online Collection, here.

The loss of a site (contributed by Debra Brehmer)

Posted in Threatened Environments

The question looms large:  Why preserve an art environment on its original site if there is money to move it to a location that might be more suited to “public access” and less contested by the neighborhood?

The Mary Nohl (1914-2001) art environment is located in a wealthy, beachfront neighborhood on the shores of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.  Although Nohl’s family acquired the land in 1924 when, due to limited roads, it was rural and inaccessible, the area slowly underwent transformation. First, it became the setting for vacation homes, with small cottages dotting the woods, and a beach area located beneath a steep bluff. From the 1950s onward, with the postwar shift to a suburban middle class, the area became subdivided into large ranch houses and acre-sized lawns. Today, a lakeside home with an unobstructed view on a generous slice of yard might be valued from $600,000 to over a million dollars.

The one constant on Beach Drive through all of this change has been the Mary Nohl environment, which now stands in sharp physical and philosophical contrast to the neighborhood climate. And this has become the problem.

Nohl earned her art degree at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1937 and a teaching certificate in 1939. Most of her classmates graduated, married, and stepped into family roles, but Nohl wanted to make art. She taught at middle schools for a few years and then returned to Wisconsin, opened a commercial pottery studio, and moved back into the cottage home on Beach Drive. She worked in an interdisciplinary manner, taking on new materials with enthusiasm. She melted her mother’s wedding silver to make jewelry, carved logs washed up from the beach, prided herself in mastering power tools, mixed cement, made collages, painted, drew, sewed hemp figures, turned beach stones into rings and amulets, and drip-painted her furniture, carpets, and telephone.

From the 1950s until her death in 2001 at age 87, Mary Nohl transformed the yard, as well as both the interior and exterior of the house, into an expansive work of art that was inspired by her childhood roots in this charming setting. Sand and stones from the beach were used to mix the concrete that formed the many yard sculptures. Cutout wooden reliefs of swimmers and boaters created patterns on the house. Wind chimes once 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 it jewelry making and painting during the winter months or yard work in the summers, emanated out of a direct conversation with this particular site.

Before Nohl died she worked out a contract with the Kohler Foundation, the country’s leading nonprofit foundation dedicated to preserving art environments. She gifted her house and all of her artwork to the foundation for preservation. She also left $11 million to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to distribute to individual artists to help support their abilities to focus on their work. Nohl had been grateful to have had the financial resources to be a full time artist (her father was a prominent attorney who had invested well). She felt that there couldn’t be a more meaningful pursuit, nor a more pleasurable one, than the engagement of making, of using one’s hands, of design and invention.

Her artwork and environment serve as a monument to the reasons why art is important in this world. Many of these reasons become diluted within the professional arena of galleries and museums, when the marketplace creates an alternative value system and channels access according to economic status and education. By its nature, the professional art system narrows the conversation about certain art practices, even as it seeks to promote, display, and distribute them.

Nohl worked outside of those systems. She had discovered early on that by creating her own “museum” on Beach Drive, she could share her work broadly and still receive feedback, engagement and meaningful exchange. Other artists have done the same: Tressa Prisbrey, Helen Martins, and Kea Tawana are all excellent examples. Each of these artists chose to work within their home sphere and integrate their production into a more diverse and lived-in cultural landscape.

People found their way to Mary Nohl’s environment on their own, by accident or word of mouth, and they processed it independently from a guided critique, which is very different than wandering into the frame of an art gallery. There was no one on Beach Drive declaring it “art,” which left a sense of wonder in place. Who did this, and why? Is it a shrine, a cemetery, a staged fable?

Some visitors left notes of approval and gratitude in Nohl’s mailbox. These responses suggested that the site made people feel that the world still held possibilities of independence, invention, and self-definition, in contrast to society’s more confining and controlling forces. Others made up stories about the site, spreading rumors that a witch lived there, that she had murdered her family, or that her husband and son were lost in the lake and she subsequently went crazy and made the art to guide their spirits home. Teenagers came to revel, share an adventure, and scare their girlfriends.

Although the site has been named a Milwaukee County Landmark and recognized as an historic landmark on the Wisconsin Registry of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places, and everything was in place to preserve it, a years-long battle has taken place to keep it whole and in place. Now owned by the John Michael Kohler Art Center’s new nonprofit arm Creation and Preservation Partners, it was abruptly announced in March 2014 that the site will be dismantled and shipped north to Sheboygan County, home to the art center. The artist, however, had gifted the house, yard, and all of the art with the intention that it would truly be preserved in situ. Although she had apparently changed the legal language of the contract at the very end of her life, she had vocalized many times that she did not want her work to be moved. She also had no idea—or at least, never expressed it—that her neighbors would so resolutely stonewall the idea of legalizing public access to her site.

Only a few of the neighbors on Beach Drive vehemently opposed every preservation proposal and effort over the past thirteen years. Their main concern was that the art environment brought additional traffic to this residential enclave, although, of course, they had purchased their houses in the area knowing the draw of the site. As they battled to prevent even limited public access to Nohl’s work, they seem not to have understood its value to the broader world, nor its value as art. Some of the neighbors on Beach Drive see no “magic” in the site or any meaning in the endeavor of this one woman and her wheelbarrow; rather, they consider it an eyesore.

The Kohler Foundation and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center had decided to fight this battle privately and quietly, outside of public input and press coverage, due to the sensitivity and contentiousness of the neighbors. After a flood damaged the heating and electrical systems in 2010, the Kohler removed everything from the house and undertook conservation of damaged objects. But, after much consideration and evaluation, they made the difficult decision not to repair the house at that time. And, with the neighbors intransigent to all proposals regarding public visitation, Kohler has, for the moment at least, backed off. The current plan is to dismantle and re-assemble the house, along with the exterior sculptures, an effort that will be partially funded by the sale of the lakeside property.

However,moving Mary Nohl’s site is not preserving it. It is creating a facsimile, an approximation, a managed and guided experience that is divorced from its most significant context: its place. As Walter Benjamin stated in his essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”

The art world can be an unsettling place where the comforts of social order and rational thinking are rewritten, often in a confusing manner. Most people adhere to the value of the art world only if they are “within” the art world. Nohl’s angry neighbors may very well be members of the Milwaukee Art Museum who take pride and gain enjoyment from the exhibitions and offerings there. The hand of authority guides them. But it may be more difficult for them to understand the value of an unlabeled “environment” built by one independent, unmarried woman who ascribed only to her own system of common sense, invention, and stubborn intellectual curiosity. Anyone who knew her recognized her intelligence and wit. She was not strange or eccentric, although she was often so typecast. Rather, she was smart enough to resist and remain skeptical of social mores and conventions. If she didn’t need new clothes because her old ones were not worn out, she didn’t buy them. Guided by practicality and curiosity, Nohl wanted to make art. And that’s what she did.

And this highlights one of the major components of this crisis: Not only are we losing a globally important art environment, but, as art environments built by women are relatively rare, we are losing one of three of the world’s most important extantenvironments built independently by a woman. In South Africa, Helen Martins’ Owl House has been preserved and is now the pride of the village, although it drew skepticism and derision when Martins was alive. In California, Tressa “Grandma” Prisbrey’s Bottle Village is surviving, but it is not still as secure, stable, or accessible as its distinction warrants. We need monuments made by women to buoy the confidence of other women. We need to respect artists whose creative lives take place in the domestic sphere. Rarely does a work of art have such a profound impact on the people who come to it on their own terms and value it for their own reasons.

Art environments often exist tenuously amidst friction in a world that turns on routines, assimilation, and sameness. Individuals including Emery Blagdon, Fred Smith, Sabato Rodia, Mary Nohl, Tressa Prisbrey, and Helen Martins, who make something unique, often out of very little, should be considered our contemporary prophets; those who survived the crushing forces of late capitalism. And rather than disparaging them, we need to celebrate the passion and the potency of their work,

It seems fated, now, that despite the Kohler’s tireless efforts, we are going to lose this major art environment. The process of dismantling and relocating the site will be costly, arduous and complex, and it will undoubtedly take many years. But by moving Mary Nohl’s environment much will be lost in the process; the physical elements may survive and become something else in a new location, but the soul of the site will be left behind. To lose this site where the art is woven into the power and history of the land, where we witness a seamlessness of enterprise that we cannot experience in a museum or a re-creation of a site, is to lose something incontrovertibly rare.

Made by a woman who defied the social imperative in the 1950s, Nohl gave us an example of how joy is procured from wood, stone, and a summer day, and how making things with one’s hands may be the most productive and profoundly human activity anyone can ever do. Perhaps this is the worst part of it all. We have so much to learn from Mary Nohl.

Casa de las Conchas

Posted in Threatened Environments

The Casa de las Conchas, in Montoro, some 20 miles west of Córdoba in Spain’s Andalucía province, is for sale. This spectacular art environment, created by Francisco del Rio Cuenca (1926-2010), is ornamented with over 116 million shells from all over the world. (See SPACES’s page on the site at http://www.spacesarchives.org/explore/collection/environment/casa-de-las-conchas-house-of-shells/).

The house has five bedrooms, a small living room, a kitchen, one bathroom, and three patios behind; the last one overlooks the Guadalquivir River, and the bluffs across the river.

The asking price is 210,355 Euros.

Interested parties should be in touch with Manoli, one of del Río Cuenca?s daughters, who lives in Montoro, at + 34 620 107 005 (cell) or +34 957 160 621 (home) [she speaks only Spanish]. She would be happy to show people the home, and we at SPACES would be happy if someone who really appreciated the site and art environments would buy it!

~Jo Farb Hernandez

Update on Josep Pujiula’s art environment, Argelaguer, Spain

Posted in Threatened Environments

In Spain, working on finishing up the edits to the galleys on my book on Spanish art environments, I’ve also been very involved with advocating for Josep Pujiula i Vila’s art environment – what is left of it, that is. For those of you who signed the petition I started on Avaaz last spring, we are most appreciative, and your support is putting pressure on the local politicos to find a solution to save the site. They know that the world is watching!

Last Friday I attended an important meeting with Josep Dorca, the mayor of Argelaguer; Eudald Casadesús, representing the Catalan government in Girona; Antoni Baulida, Director of Cultural Services for the Girona area; and Alex Rocas, representing the Catalan agency in charge of water, the office who had fined Pujiula for his work on the side of the spillway. In addition, Pujiula’s daughter and son-in-law were in attendance.

We all trekked over to the site from the mayor’s office (I don’t think the government officials had realized they would need hiking shoes instead of their regular nice office shoes for that meeting!), so that they could view the installations first-hand. We also presented a wealth of documentation on the site from all over the world, indicating the articles I’d written for Folk Art and Raw Vision, and my most recent book on Spanish arts (Forms of Tradition in Contemporary Spain, 2005). I think they were astounded at the amount of publicity Pujiula has received, and they seemed to all agree that the work had cultural, artistic, and what they call here “patrimonial” work that merits protection. The issue now is how to spin it so that they can maintain their “rules” while still preserving the site.

I think the biggest issue is the safety and security of visitors: as soon as there is a man-made component in a landscape, there are litigious possibilities if someone is injured (more so in the U.S., I think, but still an issue here). They asked me to provide them with information on how other communities have responded to the art environments within their borders, which I have, and I’ve particularly suggested that the mayor speak with his counterparts in other Spanish villages where they’ve learned to appreciate and promote their environments as helpful for local commerce thanks to tourist visits, etc.

In the meantime, some filmmakers from Barcelona are completing a film on the most recent dismantling of the environment, which will premiere at the site this coming Saturday night. They’ll also show my 2005 film on Pujiula, which accompanied the “Forms of Tradition” project, at that time, and the  mayor’s office is helping out with traffic control, lending of equipment, etc. That’s a good sign.

We’ll see what happens, but I’m guardedly optimistic that these officials will try to find a way to back off the fines and the penalties, and will search to find a way to preserve this site. It has become so identified with the village of Argelaguer that a huge hole—socio-culturally as well as physically—will open if the work is destroyed. Stay tuned…

~Jo Farb Hernández

Josep Pujiula's art environment threatened

Posted in Found Objects, Gardens, SPACES News, Threatened Environments

img2129As many of you know, for 45 years Josep Pujiula i Vila has been building one of the  most spectacular examples of public art in the world. Completely self-taught, he began building for his own enjoyment, yet has come to delight in sharing his work with others. At the height of its existence, his constructions—which were primarily created out of the flexible saplings that he gathered from the nearby river—included eight towers, some approaching 100 feet (30 meters) high, along with a labyrinth that snaked over the landscape over a mile (1.6 km) in length. It was a joyous work of art that was an inspiration to its thousands of international visitors each year, and it has been featured in newspapers, magazines, books, and television programs internationally.

 24-eastern-side-of-labyrinth

I have been studying and documenting Pujiula’s work since 2000. I have published numerous articles about him, and I also featured him in my book “Forms of Tradition in Contemporary Spain,” produced a DVD about his work, and have lectured on him widely in the US, France, Spain, and Italy. He is a dedicated, passionate artist who is involved 24/7 with his work, and although he works improvisationally, having had no training in art, architecture, nor engineering, he has been able to build marvels that have inspired all who have visited them.

 

Yet although Pujiula has asked nothing of anyone but to be left alone to make his art, he has been consistently targeted by the local authorities, who are threatened by his work, as it neither complies with local building codes nor with what this conservative community tucked into the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees understands as “Art.” Three times they have forced him to tear it down—citing fear of fire, concern for public safety, proximity to electrical wires and the freeway. Each time Pujiula has complied but, unable to stop working, he has always started up again. He is the quintessential irrepressible artist whose work has become his life.

 

70-josep15After the second demolition, Pujiula began to work in concrete and steel, using found objects to create numerous sculptures as well as a lyrical cascading fountain, taking advantage of the runoff from a huge drainage pipe installed underneath the nearby freeway. These concrete constructions do not bring with them the same kinds of issues as the wooden towers and labyrinth did: they will not burn, they are not impinging on electrical towers nor the freeway, and, as they follow the slope of the ground, they do not tempt visitors to climb to the heights, so the possibility for public endangerment is low. Yet, although the local authorities had originally indicated that he could retain this portion of his artwork, and could continue to work, they have just changed their minds, and have mandated its demolition as well. Immediately.

 

Works of public art created by self-taught artists are often in jeopardy, but in this case, we can do something about it. I ask your help to sign a petition that will simply ask the local mayor to allow this artist to continue to make his art. At 75 years old, he is breaking no laws and inciting no danger; rather, he is bringing enjoyment to young and old with his creativity and humor. Help us convince the mayor of Argelaguer (population 424) to reverse his edict of destruction, and allow Pujiula to continue to create an art environment that will be remembered and enjoyed for long after he is gone.

 

Click here to sign the petition; you’ll only need to give your name, email, and country of origin:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Save_one_of_the_worlds_great_art_environments/?criVneb

 

Many thanks!!

jo



Welcome to SPACES!

Posted in Just Added, SPACES News, Threatened Environments

We are so thrilled that our new website has finally gone live!

This is a process that is ongoing, for only a very small percentage of the photographs and other materials collected in SPACES archives have yet been digitized. As we digitize more, and write texts based on primary fieldwork and our archives, we will continuously be adding more content to the site. Further, we invite you to help us maximize this resource by sending us your own photos of art environments and other self-taught artistic activity that we can mount as well. Although the archives hold tremendous treasures, there remain numerous gaps, and we look to you to help us fill those in. We have received photographs and texts from contributors across the US as well as Austria, Belgium, France, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and Ukraine to date, and hope to continue to broaden our reach even further!

This year we have been very busy, not only with the website, but with many other projects as well. Last spring I attended the conference sponsored by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training at Northwestern University in Natchitoches, LA, and presented the illustrated lecture “Taking the Art to the Streets: How the Citizens of Los Angeles Saved the Watts Towers.” I was able to use many of Seymour Rosen’s vintage photographs of Watts in the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s for this presentation, in addition to bringing the narrative up to date with current photographs of my own. This text will be published in the Proceedings of the conference, hopefully available later this year. While in Louisiana, I was able to visit and document Juanita Leonard’s art environment outside of Montgomery, as well as Linda Hartley’s signs outside of Natchitoches.

img4867Leonard Knight, Salvation Mountain, January 2012

Current circumstances are also taking up a significant portion of our resources. We have been working with and advising a group of individuals who are forming a nonprofit organization to help preserve Salvation Mountain (Niland, CA), now that artist Leonard Knight has moved to an assisted living facility and will no longer be returning to the Mountain to work. I spoke to media from NPR as well as local papers about the site, and this has helped to provide visibility for the need to advocate for the Mountain, leading to offers of help from all over the country. You can see some of the documentation HERE. We are also in contact with people in Spain, for Josep Pujiula’s environment is once again threatened, and he is beginning to dismantle this new iteration of his masterpiece, no doubt for the last time. At the same time, however, he is also expanding the fountain component of the site, created from concrete and steel, which will last longer and which does not pose the liability risks of the wooden labyrinth and towers that the local government so feared.

img4316Josep Pujiula i Vila, Poblat Salvatge, 2011

I am continuing to finish up my comprehensive book on Spanish art environments. I provided a preliminary lecture on the topic at San José State University in April, published a chapter on the O Pasatempo park in Betanzos for the 2011 issue of the Follies journal (Birmingham, UK), introduced several of the artists at a conference sponsored by the Patrimoines Ireguliers de France in July, and will have an article on Jose Maria Garrido in the inaugural issue of the forthcoming International Journal of Self-Taught and Outsider Art. I have moved into the editing stage of my book manuscript, and hope to see publication during the fall of 2013—although I am still continuing to do follow-up interviews and fill in some of the gaps in the fieldwork with the support of several archives and libraries in Spain. I have been studying and documenting some of these Spanish sites since 2000, yet every year I seem to find new ones. I imagine that as soon as the first book is done, it will be time for volume two!

Speaking of books, I am particularly pleased to announce the publication of two new books on art environments that we have recently received:

1) Gabriele Mina’s Construttori de Babele, Milano, IT: Elèuthera, 2011
is the first comprehensive book on Italian art environments, featuring
almost forty sites that have never before been published. The paperback is
packed with color photographs and accompanied by text that provides
important information about each artist and their work. Here is a teaser
video you can watch on this project:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqqa8XKExJI, and you can order the book at
www.eleuthera.it.

2) Bruno Montpied’s new book Éloge des Jardins Anarchiques, Montreuil,
France : L’insomniaque, 2011. This new paperback, with more than 250
photographs, is a suite of short monographs on around thirty sites. Going
beyond the typical emphasis on the masters Ferdinand Cheval (Palais Idéal)
and Raymond Isidore (Maison Picassiette), it includes a significant
bibliography and filmography for French art environments as well. It has the
added attraction that it is accompanied by a 52 minute DVD called Bricoleurs
de Paradis by director Rémy Ricordeau, co-written by Montpied. This work is
available at www.insomniaqueediteur.org. 

Thanks to Gabriele and Bruno for their gifts of these new books to SPACES
archives.

Thanks also to our intrepid Dutch correspondent, Henk van Es, who introduced me to Klaas van den Brink’s art environment near Amsterdam this summer. My new photos have now been added to SPACES archives.

We are most appreciative of everything that all of our friends have done to support SPACES over the years, and are delighted that now, with this new website, we will be able to make our holdings more easily available to a wider public. I encourage you to continue to provide us with information and photographs on art environments so that we can make the archives as comprehensive as possible.And thanks again, to you, for your continuing interest in and support of our projects and activities. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thanks again!

jo

Jo Farb Hernández, Director
SPACES – Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments

Browse Blog Archives by Month
Highlights

Conservator-in-Residence Position, Hartman Rock Garden - Ohio
Preservation News

SPACES Honors Watts Towers Committee Founding Member Jeanne Smith Morgan on her 90th Birthday!
Preservation News, SPACES News

Remembering Josep Pujiula i Vila (1937-2016)
Just Added, Self-Taught Arts in the News

Dispatch from the Field: Jo Farb Hernández in Spain
Just Added, SPACES News

Materializing the Bible. by James S. Bielo (Miami University)
Gardens, Religious, Devotional & Spiritual

Call to Action: Preserve Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village in California
Threatened Environments

Mr. Imagination exhibit at Intuit named one of 10 best in the United States
Self-Taught Arts in the News

SPACES Director to Present Singular Spaces at Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum
SPACES News

Margaret’s Grocery listed as one of Mississippi’s Historic Trust’s 10 Most Endangered Properties!
Preservation News, Threatened Environments

Watch 1990s Jarvis Cocker Travel Art Environments All Over the World in This BBC Mini-Series
Found Objects

The SPACES website allows you to save your favorite art environments and share them with your friends or colleagues. Create your own portfolio of your favorites from environments in the online collection.

Send them to your friends, post them on Facebook or to your Twitter account!

Look for this button on pages that can be saved:

Add Page to my spaces