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SPACES Mourns the Passing of Indian Artist Nek Chand

Posted in SPACES News

Nek Chand, creator of the Rock Garden of Chandigarh in India, died on Friday, June 12, at the age of 90. Mr. Chand started building his beloved Rock Garden in 1957—a breathtaking work that spans 40 acres, and is built entirely of discarded materials. 

nekMr. Chand at age 76. Image via Reuters.

Mr. Chand built the ‪Rock Garden‬ of Chandigarh as his vision of the divine kingdom on Sukrani on a land conservancy gorge near Sukhna Lake. In 1975, at around 13-acres, his guerrilla artwork was discovered by authorities and was in danger of being demolished. Thanks to the public’s advocacy, in 1976, it was designated a public space, and Chand was given a title (Sub-Divisional Engineer), and a salary to continue building and maintaining it, along with a workforce of 50 Laborers. The now 40-acre site is visited by 5,000 people daily, and is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. 

 

The New York Times, in an obituary for Mr. Chand, recalls the artist’s beginnings: 

“The creation story of the Rock Garden has the tenor of a local epic. Mr. Chand was born Nek Chand Saini on Dec. 15, 1924, in the village of Barian Kalan, which became part of Pakistan after partition. He was newly arrived in the city of Chandigarh just after India’s independence in 1947. He worked for the government as a road inspector, according to the Department of Chandigarh Tourism website. But, Ms. Bajaj said, he became fascinated by found objects, including weather-beaten rocks. 

 

“I started building this garden as a hobby” in the 1950s, he said in an interview with Agence France-Presse in December. “I had many ideas, I was thinking all the time. I saw beauty and art in what people said was junk.” By night he slipped onto a patch of land and artfully arranged rocks and construction waste behind a barricade of empty tar drums.

 

“The beautiful stones he set aside, and then he would set them up like a jeweler,” said Ms. Bajaj, who was introduced to the sculptures in 1972, when, she said, the garden was still something of a secret. “When Nek Chand would pick them up and put them in a particular way, suddenly you could see, my God, this is a woman with a child.”

We at Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments (SPACES) remember the important work and legacy of Nek Chand, and are thankful for his contribution to India and the world-over. Mr. Chand’s Rock Garden is an inspiring example of a people and their government not only supporting and sustaining a self-taught art environment, but articulating it as a valuable cultural marker in the region:

“It has made Chandigarh complete,” said Rupan Deol Bajaj, a retired bureaucrat from Punjab who has been an advocate of protecting the garden. “It has given a soul to the city.”

Below, enjoy a video on the on-going conservation of the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. If you have images of, or documentation on Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, and would like to submit that detail for the Rock Garden page on the SPACES Archives Online Collection, please contact us HERE

 

Nek Chand’s Rock Garden - Work In Progress from Alan Cesarano on Vimeo.

SPACES Board now stretches internationally!

Posted in SPACES News

With its increasing emphasis on the international documentation of and advocacy for art environments, SPACES is delighted to announce that Laurent Danchin has joined our Board of Trustees. A renowned thinker, writer, curator, and advocate for art environments, Danchin is renowned all over Europe and beyond for his experience in and passion for this genre of art. Learn more about him HERE 

SPACES Receives Funding from NEH for National Folklore Archives Initiative

Posted in SPACES News

 

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We’re excited to share news that SPACES is one of 25 partner organizations to receive funding for a grant to further support access to its digital collections and archives. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has recommended a second phase of funding for the American Folklore Society’s National Folklore Archives Initiative (NFAI). afs

The NFAI is an effort to document and provide access to archival collections held by folklore programs at academic institutions, community-based cultural and ethnic organizations, nonprofits, and state government-based arts and cultural agencies in the United States. The American Folklore Society (AFS) writes:

“Folklore archival collections constitute one of the nation’s most valuable cultural resources, but scholars, teachers, students, and community members can usually only access these materials with some difficulty. The NFAI is responding to this situation by creating an integrated, field-wide, sustainable infrastructure to make these collections more widely discoverable and accessible, and to help ensure their long-term preservation.”

Phase I of the National Folklore Archives Initiative (2011-2013) led to the creation of the Folklore Collections Database (FCD), a framework hosted by Indiana University Libraries at www.folklorecollections.org, where participating archives can catalog and share metadata from their collections. For Phase II (2015-2017), AFS will receive $250,000 from the Preservation and Access Division of the NEH to enable the 25 archival partner organizations to start the process of cataloging their collections and building accessible content to Folklore Collections Database. Jo Farb Hernández, Executive Director of SPACES, says:

“As SPACES has already made an impressive start in the process of digitizing our archival materials in order to increase accessibility by the general public, we are well poised to hit the ground running in support of this important new initiative, and we look forward to collaborating with our colleagues across the country to broaden access even further.”

SPACES is thrilled to be included in this grant alongside other impressive cultural organizations like the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, NYC’s CityLore, the Louisiana Folklife Program, and the Philadelphia Folklore Project, to name just a few. We greatly look forward to developing increased awareness and access to our unique collections through the Folklore Collections Database in the coming years, and are thankful to the American Folklore Society and the National Endowment for the Humanities for making work this possible.

 

'Singular Spaces' Exhibition at the Fowler Museum, UCLA

Posted in Just Added, SPACES News

 

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We’re pleased to share news of the upcoming Singular Spaces exhibition at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, featuring photographs by SPACES Executive Director Jo Farb Hernández which document eight self-taught artists from across Spain. The exhibition, which opens on April 12, and runs through September 6, 2015, explores Hernández’ extensive study of Spanish environmental artists — she crisscrossed Spain from 2000-2014, traveling tens of thousands of kilometers to meet and interview artists and document their work.

 

06-roof-terrace9520-r6vJosé María Garrido (1925-2011) Rooftop terrace, Museo del Mar, with protest signs Photo: Jo Farb Hernández, March 2009

Comprised of intriguing and idiosyncratic sculptures, gardens, and buildings, the artists developed environmental sites organically without formal architectural or engineering plans. Often highly fanciful and colorful, the sites are frequently characterized by incongruous juxtapositions. This is the result of the artists finding inspiration in their surroundings and making do with what is available. The environments these artists create become a visual cradle-to-grave accounting of how their creators have spent their lives and what was important to them.   

 

greenPeter Buch (b. 1938) Building in the shape of monumental head, El Jardi de Peter Photo: Jo Farb Hernández, August 2011

Featured artists include José María GarridoJosep Pujiula, and Francisco González Gragera, among others. Hernández says of the exhibition:

“I wanted to break down the compartmentalization of genres and reveal how these artists fuse their creations with daily existence in a way generally unmatched in the art world. The sites show complete commitment to the work and serve as a self-reflection of the maker’s life and concerns.” 

 

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On Thursday, April 16, at 7:30 pm at the Fowler Museum on the campus of UCLA, Hernández will discuss her photographic survey of these elaborate fanciful art environments and idiosyncratic sculptures of self-taught Spanish artists. Hernández, who is a professor at San Jose State University and Director of the University’s Thompson Art Gallery, spent close to fourteen years researching this project and writing the almost 1200-page book complementing the exhibition.  A 6 pm concert of Spanish guitar music and light refreshments precedes the talk. RSVP to the event on Facebook.

 

 

SPACES Recap: NPS Divine Disorder Conference at The High Museum

Posted in Just Added, SPACES News
breakDivine Disorder participants gather between presentations. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

Every four years, the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training puts together a rare convening of folks with both a professional and personal interest in the preservation of art environments and self-taught artistic work. The second annual Divine Disorder Conference on the Preservation of Folk and Outsider Art met February 24-26, 2015, drawing ethnographers, art historians, art conservators, historic preservationists, and museum and archive professionals alike to Atlanta, Georgia’s High Museum of Art.

The High, home to one of North America’s great collections of folk and self-taught art (including a room dedicated to the works of beloved Georgia artist Howard Finster), was a fitting gathering space for two days of contributed papers, followed by a field-trip day to Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens in North Georgia. 

jo at divine disorderSPACES Director Jo Farb Hernandez speaks at 2015 Divine Disorder. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

Presentations covered the range of discussion on conserving, preserving, documenting, and interpreting art environments and self-taught works. SPACES Executive Director Jo Farb Hernandez spoke on curatorial roles and responsibilities in working with art environments, while photographer Fred Scruton spoke about his work documenting the “personal iconography” of Niagara Falls artist Prophet Isaiah Robertson’s church and home.

Finster HighA Finster piece at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

Others presented updates and best practices on conserving/restoring art environments, or in building local support for the preservation of a site. This included dispatches from the preservation efforts surrounding the E.T. Wickham Stone Park in Palmyra, Tennessee, Margaret’s Grocery, built by Rev. H.D. Dennis’ in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, North Carolina.

Most notably, Terri Yoho, Director of the Kohler Foundation, a Wisconsin non-profit with a dedicated focus on the preservation of art environments, presented Kohler’s current project: The multi-stage restoration of Pasaquan, St. EOM’s seven acre art environment in Buena Vista, Georgia. Art conservators working on the Pasaquan project also spoke to the unique process of restoring such an expansive site, leaning on the wealth of primary documentation and local knowledge of the site to aid their work.

PG1Divine Disorder participants tour Finster's Paradise Gardens. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

 

The third day of the conference took participants up to Summerville, Georgia to see, first-hand, the renovation of Howard Finster’s hallowed art environment, Paradise Gardens. The Paradise Gardens Foundation assumed leadership of the site in 2012, in partnership with Chattooga County, Ga.

Director Jordan Poole led a tour of the snow-covered Gardens, and spoke about the site’s renovation process, largely supported by an Art Place America grant, but further supported by local investment in the Gardens as a key platform for economic development, cultural tourism, and public programming. 

 

Many thanks to the NPS’ National Center for Preservation Technology and Training and the High Museum of Art for facilitating an important and rare gathering, with representation across the disciplinary spectrum.

Folks who could not be at the 2015 Divine Disorder conference are able to access abstracts of each presentation on the NCPTT conference website, and will soon be able to stream videos of the presentations. The next conference is tentatively sheduled for 2019. Be sure to mark your calendar now.

carHoward Finster's decorated car. Photo courtesy NCPTT.PG2A presentation by Norman Girardot at the new gallery expansion to Finster's house. Photo courtesy NCPTT.jesus savesDetail at Finster's Paradise Gardens. Photo courtesy NCPTT.divine-disorder-conference-attendees-02-15Participants of the 2015 Divine Disorder on the steps of Finster's home at Paradise Gardens. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

 

 

 

 

SPACES Archives Welcomes New Communications Coordinator

Posted in Just Added, SPACES News

Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments (SPACES) is pleased to welcome Jennifer Joy Jameson as our first Communications Coordinator, where she will use SPACES’ mission and goals to help the organization build new audiences and partnerships.

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Originally from Southern California, but based in the South, Jennifer also serves as the Folk and Traditional Arts Director at the Mississippi Arts Commission, where she administers grants, provides consultation to artists and organizations, and develops special initiatives and documentation projects related to a wide range of cultural arts. She has an M.A. in public sector folk studies from Western Kentucky University and a B.A. in folklore and ethnomusicology from Indiana University. Jennifer has worked with museums, archives, festivals, and arts and cultural organizations on the federal, state, and local level, including positions with the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Traditional Arts Indiana, the Kentucky Folklife Program, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Folkstreams, a national preserve of films on traditional culture, and the Tennessee Folklore Society. Her academic studies have focused on material culture (including art environments) and traditional music in the American South, having spoken or taught on those topics within and beyond the Southern states.

You can reach Jennifer with any new media and communications inquiries at communications@spacesarchives.org

 

SELF-TAUGHT ARTIST JOSEP PUJIULA HONORED FOR ELABORATE INSTALLATIONS

78-YEAR-OLD ARTIST RECEIVES LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL HONORS

Josep Pujiula i Vila, whose labyrinthine installations outside the village of Argelaguer (Girona), Spain have been featured in books, films, articles, TV, and radio, has simultaneously been honored by the regional government as well as by one of the most prestigious juries for public artworks internationally.
 
On October 16, 2014, the Consell Comarcal (the regional government of the county that includes Argelaguer and environs) voted unanimously and across party lines to declare Pujiula’s work a “Bé Cultural de Interés Local,” a local cultural heritage site.  This official designation builds on the legalization of the site, which took place the preceding July, and confirms that the regional government will work to protect and preserve what remains of Pujiula’s works. The government was impressed not only by the efforts of the Argelaguer community to save this important public art installation, but by the receipt of a petition begun by SPACES’s Director Jo Farb Hernández, which received more than 1100 signatures by art admirers living in 38 countries around the world.
 
Josep Pujiula, known as “Garrell” or the “Tarzan of Argelaguer,” has spent almost forty-five years improvisationally constructing a variety of structures, including towers reaching close to 100 feet in height and labyrinths approaching one mile in length, all out of materials found locally. No formalized or written plans ever existed for his elaborate constructions. The constructions were full of personal histories, connections, and experiences, and this fusion of his art with his life became a total synthesis that dominated his days.  Yet he was forced to completely dismantle his structures three times due to governmental regulations or mandates; nevertheless, he always returned to the site and began to build again, each time creating a unique and complex series of structures that evidenced his increasingly refined aesthetic and technical abilities. Over time, Pujiula’s work has become known as one of the most unique, most monumental, and most compelling art environments worldwide.
 
At the same time that the regional government was formally acknowledging the importance of Pujiula’s work, the larger art world was also taking notice. In 2013 Hernández nominated him for the International Award for Public Art, a joint venture of Chinese and American public art curators and administrators. Although nominations came in from all corners of the world, only 120 of the most promising were selected for full research, apportioned to seven global regions. In the fall of 2014, it was announced that Pujiula is one of seven finalists for this award, representing all of Europe, including the Russian Federation. While other self-taught artists have been considered in previous years for this global honor, none before has achieved the status of being one of the final commended seven. Pujiula plans to attend the award ceremony in New Zealand in June 2015.
 

Singular Spaces book wins American Alliance of Museums Design Award!

SPACES is delighted to announce that the book Singular Spaces: From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, has received the second place award in the books category in the annual Museum Publications Design Competition, sponsored by the American Alliance of Museums.

The jurors sought out the best in graphic design in 12 different categories. Among the highlights of this year’s winning entries were an interesting mix of risk-taking and classically designed books and catalogs and layouts and font selections that were legible and complimented the content.

For more than 25 years, the Alliance has recognized and encouraged excellence in the graphic design of museum publications through this competition, the only national, juried competition of its kind. Winners are chosen for their overall design excellence, creativity and ability to express an institution’s personality, mission or special features. The panel of judges includes graphic designers, museum professionals and publishers.

Special congratulations are due to Jo Farb Hernández, Director of SPACES and author of the book, and to Marquand Books, Inc., of Seattle, designers. The book was published by Raw Vision in conjunction with SPACES and the Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery at San José State University.



Latest News from Jo Farb Hernández

I am about a month into my annual summer fieldwork trip, and have already seen some wonderful art environments and have been heartened with some positive movement toward our general preservation goals.

I began in Paris in May, speaking on SPACES and the curation of art environments for the annual meeting of the European Outsider Art Association (giving my standard rant about problems with the term outsider as part of my presentation [sweetly, of course, grin]), and I actually think that there is—finally—some growing unease with this term in Europe. So it was a good opportunity to thrash out some of these issues with a receptive audience…jo-speaking-nk7

My own lecture, per their request, was about curating/documenting art environments (the entire theme of the conference was “Curating Outsider Art”), so it was an interesting opportunity for me to think a bit more broadly about what I do in this regard, while at the same time providing some specific information (how to’s) for those facing similar circumstances in terms of threatened sites. I of course directed their attention to the SPACES website in general, but also specifically in terms of how to document art environments.  I also showed some pages from the Singular Spaces book CD, including the site plans, using them as a model of how we’d ultimately like to document all sites.

document-imageAntoni Macià, Zoo de l’Empordà, Regincós, Spain

I was particularly pleased that John Maizels, editor/publisher of Raw Vision, was so enthusiastic about our good work continuing Seymour Rosen’s legacy at SPACES after hearing my lecture. I was also delighted to have the opportunity to finally put faces with the names of folks with whom I’ve been corresponding and working for so many years, and, also, of course, meeting many new folks who are working in group-photothe field.

As part of a post-conference field visit, Laurent Danchin and I, along with several others from Finland, France, and Italy, went down to Roger Chomeaux’s site near Fontainebleau forest. It is deteriorating and the sculptures have been removed for safekeeping, but the structures themselves still appear to be amazingly strong and stable. We were met there by Marc Botlan, Inspector General for Historical Monuments for the French Department of Culture and Communication, who is exploring the possibility of adding this site to the “patrimoine” of the country. Laurent and I spent the afternoon with him (along with my husband Sam, and Chomo’s daughter Geneviève), and he was very interested to hear about SPACES. We also discussed different models from all over the world for how these kinds of sites can be preserved. I’m guardedly optimistic that perhaps the French government might be able to add Chomo’s site to their group of registered art environments and ultimately support its preservation.

Back down in Spain, I was pleased to see that the Regincós site of Antoni Macià has been cleaned up and the architectural structures and sculptures are now much more visible than they were during the time I was doing my in-depth fieldwork for the Singular Spaces project.field-image

I was also so very pleased, on my first visit this year to Josep Pujiula’s site near Argelaguer, to see that he has continued to work very hard over the winter, and there are many new, positive changes. The lovely cascading fountains and pools are still there (these had been under attack last year by the governmental agency that regulates natural water sources), but there is also a new cupola-topped tower accessible by ten different labyrinthine tunnels created out of his signature bent branches.

 

But even more impressive, he has returned to the cave areas that he had begun picking out several years ago, and is now rapidly digging out tunnels, ovoid interior windows, and passageways within the cliff, as well as ornamenting both interior and exteritunnelsor walls of the rock face with figurative and abstract designs—all with little hammers and chisels. An outrageous amount of work! It is now a wonderful play space for both children and adults, but it will ultimately be the place where his ashes will be laid.

josep-x4mJosep has been getting some good publicity locally as the new film, Sobre La Marxa, directed and edited by Jordi Morató, has been showing in film festivals from Canada to the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain, and racking up a few prizes along the way. His film includes footage from the film

Sam and I worked on in 2005, part of the Forms of Tradition in Contemporary Spain project. Just last weekend I introduced the film and Josep’s work at the Mostra Cinema Frontera film festival in Portbou, a small seaside village just south of the French border, to an appreciative audience.

jfh-rb7I am looking forward to visiting the Aragon site of Julio Basanta again next week, as well as a site fairly nearby which will be new to me. And we are continuing our efforts to preserve Josep Pujiula’s work, efforts about which I remain guardedly optimistic.

In the meantime, back on the home front at SPACES central in Aptos, we are adding new environments as well as new texts and photos for earlier-posted environments every week to our website, so continue to watch this space. And remember, if you have materials to share, please send me an email at info@spacesarchives.org and we’ll add them as quickly as possible.

 

Have a good summer!
jo

 

 

 



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.

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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