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Mary Nohl's House

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Mary Nohl's house in Fox Point, WI features a yard filled with concrete figures of people, animals and dinosaurs. The house itself is trimmed with wooden reliefs of fish and other figures. The property is partly fenced by human profiles. This is all much to the dismay of residents of the upper class neighborhood in which the house is located. Nohlís reclusiveness kept her from being a commercial artist and her art school background also kept her from Outsider Artist status.

Born in 1914, Nohl graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938 and spent several years teaching art at junior high schools. She then opened her own commercial pottery studio for 10 years.

Her mother died in 1968 leaving the house and a substantial inheritance to her (Mary was single and had no living siblings). This enabled Mary to make art full time. She began making the sculptures, most from cement and stone, others from tree trunks. The figures include mythic animals, fish, swimmers, Easter Island-influenced massive heads, groups of stylized figures and architectural structures. Panels hold driftwood figures and brightly painted, cut-out wooden patterns decorate the facade of the house. Homemade windmills and wooden silhouettes dangle from tree branches.

Nohl used things that washed up on the beach nearby as well as tree roots, beach sand, stones, glass and tile to make the concrete sculptures. Inside the house, there are hundreds of Surrealistic-influenced oil paintings, mixed media sculptures, and homemade stained glass windows. Walls and carpets are stippled or patterned with a drip technique.

Dubbed "The Witch of Fox Point", rumors spread that she had killed her family and buried them in the sculptures. The fact that she never married or had children added to her "witchy" reputation. High school students from all over began to taunt her and vandalize the property. Mary was forced to surround her property with barbed wire topped chainlink fencing and to put metal grates over her windows. She also chained down many sculptures.

Nohl died in 2001 and left $9.6 million to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to support local visual arts and arts-education programs. Shortly before her death, she transferred the title to her home and hundreds of finished works to the Kohler Foundation, which has conserved many other art-related sites by other Wisconsin "outsider" artists like Fred Smith. Many of Nohl's sculptures are now in storage at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI. In 2014, it was announced that the house and remaining art pieces will be moved to Sheboygan.

For more, see these websites: 1 and 2. There's also a book about Mary Nohl.

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