HomeboatJim Schneider (1947)

Status

Non Extant

Address

Sheboygan, WI, 53081, United States

Built

1975 to 1981

About the Artist/Site

From 1975 to 1981, Jim Schneider continually created and lived in a mirrored, wooden structure on the bank of the Sheboygan River called the Homeboat that was surrounded by an imposing and impressive driftwood and found object fence. The City of Sheboygan forced Schneider to move this structure from its original location and eventually destroyed the installation at its second. Though local advocates from the community of Sheboygan and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center attempted to protect the artwork from demolition, the site was torn down, and Ruth DeYoung Kohler, then director of JMKAC, later wrote “the loss was heart-rending.” 

When Schneider was young, he scaled tall buildings and other structures while working as a steeplejack. A bad fall from an outdoor movie platform in 1972 when he was 25 left him permanently disabled. He began combing the local beach for driftwood and other washed up or cast off items which eventually became the building material for Homeboat – a carefully planned structure erected on a short street adjacent to (but not directly on) the Sheboygan River. 

When the city claimed eminent domain in the original area of the Homeboat, Schneider moved the structure to a nearby area that abutted the riverfront on Pennsylvania Avenue. There, Sheboygan residents watched his environment grow into a compound surrounded by a fence “woven” from driftwood, found objects, tires, and fishing nets that was approximately 32 feet tall at its highest point. The black exterior was decorated with carefully placed shards of mirror which must have beautifully reflected the sky and water around him. He was an avid reader with a collection of hundreds of books regarding philosophy, psychology, anthropology, mythology, literature, Greek civilization, law, and more – all contained within the neatly organized Homeboat interior. The structure had no electricity and was lit by candlelight. On especially cold evenings, he would stay at his mother’s house. 

In the summer of 1980, the City of Sheboygan decided it would no longer tolerate Schneider’s public installation and planned for its demolition. The public rallied around the work as did the local arts institution the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, going as far as convincing the Kohler Foundation to fund an attorney to represent the newly formed “Friends of Jim Schneider’s Sculpture” group. The Friends fought with the City for nearly a year; in the end, the local court ruled that the site would be razed due to building code violations. The day the work was taken down, Schneider was seen fashioning a small cross from scrap wood to place at the site as a memorial to his former home. 

Still lamenting this great loss, Kohler wrote in 2007, “I think about Jim Schneider every time I see the manicured park that replaced the Homeboat. Even twenty-five years later, I worry about him and hope I will see a new Homeboat or fence spring up somewhere along the river.”

 

Resources:

  • Ruth DeYoung Kohler, “Taking the Road Less Traveled,” in Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists, Leslie Umberger (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007)
  • https://www.sheboyganpress.com/story/life/2017/01/13/appreciation-grassroots-art-emerges-recent-decades/96549920/

 

Materials

scrap wood, found objects, mirrors, driftwood, fishing nets

Map & Site Information


Sheboygan, WI, 53081 us

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