This lecture is part of the Divine Disorder Conference held February 24-26, 2015.
“Kohler Foundation, the Journey to Preserve Vernacular Art” by Terri Yoho
Terri Yoho: Let’s get organized. It’s a delight to be here. I’m really pleased to be able to tell you about Kohler Foundation. Kohler Foundation has been around for seventy-five years. We celebrated our anniversary this year. We support scholarships, performing arts, grants, and art preservation. Probably 90 to 95 percent of what we do is art preservation. In terms of environments that we’ve preserved, some of them you may be familiar with. We’ve preserved seven environments in Wisconsin, but outside of the state: Chauvin, Louisiana; Springfield, Ohio; Cushing, Maine; Lucas, Kansas; and right now we’re very busy in Buena Vista, Georgia.
We have a model that we work by, and we stick to it pretty tightly. We identify potential projects and we pull in outside expertise. We research and understand the merit of the project before we go forward. We have a preservation committee, which includes our board members, to really evaluate and decide if it’s something that we as a team feel we should move forward with. We also use outside curatorial support, generally from the John Micheal Kohler Art Center. One of the most important things we do, and you’re going to hear me talk about this a lot today, identifying potential recipients. We can find good art every day of the week, but we can’t find good recipients quite as easily. Because, we when gift something, we want to provide good stewardship into the future, in perpetuity, and that recipient is key.
We acquire either through purchase or gift. I always tell people we much prefer gift over purchase, because then we have more funds to put into the project. We establish a budget. We are completely self-funded. We have a substantial endowment. We never take money from anyone, but we have to maintain a budget. It’s very important to us. And also a timeline, because this is a environment where we are processing projects through and we need a steady flow. Art Preservation Model is required, but then there’s documentation, conservation. We always use professional conservation. The gifting is very important. It’s a contractual agreement. We’ll talk about all these things in a little bit more detail. Everything has to be appraised, because when we gift it, it’s appraised for our tax purposes, it’s valued at appraisal at the point of gift.
Art Preservation Model, relative to documentation, we photograph everything. We measure it. We do condition reports. On this particular slid you can see one of our art conservators, Megan Mackey working on the computer. The young woman in the center, we often bring in outside people to help, it tends to do with budget. She’s a veterinarian, who loves the arts. We figured is she could do surgery; she could help us with cleaning of art that wasn’t highly technical. On the third slide, is Lauren, who is one of our interns. Because we emphasize and focus on education as well as the arts, we love to bring interns into our process; to work as technicians, to help with documentation.
Art conservation, we use an army of professional art conservators. Two of them are here today. You see some pictured, doing their work. We also call upon these art conservators to supervise our technicians, or outside people that we’ve brought in on a community basis. We tend to bring in community people so that there is ownership that they embrace the project that’s going on. Our conservators will supervise when it’s less technical work.
In terms of gifting and the contractual agreement, when we gift art, we require that it never ever ever ever be de-accession or sold. They have to maintain and care for the work. It has to be to museum standards. Of course, those standards are a little different when it’s outside art. They have to make the site or the art available to the public. Here’s the kicker, this is a great assurance when we have donors, if that art is not cared for, if the entity who’s received it can no longer care for it or no longer cares to have it in their collection, it reverts back to Kohler Foundation, for disposition to a non-profit entity with a similar mission. We have on two or three occasions actually taken art back and placed it with other institutions.
Appraising is very important, because I said, as a non-profit foundation; the IRS requires that we gift a certain amount each year. We use professional, certified art appraisers, who base their appraisals off comps. They study actions records, private sales, work with other dealers, to make sure we are properly valuing that art, because we do have to justify that to the IRS. Sometimes we are asking them to appraise that have never been in the market place. One appraiser once told us that we tend to be visionary in our acquisition, so we will often acquire art that no one is familiar with. Sometimes art that no one has seen before.
Collaboration is really, really key in what we do. We like to think of this a multi-generational. If there isn’t a multi-generational succession plan in place, if the recipients of an art environment are not pulling in youngsters, if they’re not pulling in middle aged people, when we have only grey haired people out there working on the site and caring for it, we have a problem, because twenty years from now that site’s going to need as much or more care than it needs today. On the lower slide, you can see part of our team at Pasaquan. On the slide above, some people getting off the bus at Columbus State. They’re going to be receiving the Pasaquan site and what we love, is the students are already being involved. That’s great. My team in Buena Vista helped pack Thanksgiving bags this year for needy in the area. Not only do we pull in the community, when we live in a community for the time that we’re working, we try to immerse ourselves in that community as well.
We believe that the preferred solution is to preserve in situ, but as we know it doesn’t always happen. So when we can’t preserve in situ we feel it’s the right thing to do, to take pieces off site, preserve them and get them in museums, so that artist’s work is preserved into the future. This is going to be a little bit of eye candy actually. I want to show you some of the sites that we have already preserved, and give you a little history of how we got to where we are today.
Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park, has anyone been there? Woo, I love it, I love it. It’s a great place. Well, here’s Fred. Fred, in the cold winters of Wisconsin and in the summer of course worked on these pieces. There’s about two hundred and sixty glass encrusted concrete sculptures. What’s interesting in Wisconsin, on the sites that we’ve worked, this is a very informal analysis, but we have found that it’s generally a man, very few women environment builders, and men who worked with their hands. They worked hard and they worked hard hours. They retire and what are they going to do. A lot of these sites occurred in the 20s and 30s. There wasn’t ESPN. They didn’t have non-stop access to sports and things on TV, so they couldn’t really spend their winters happily in their Lazy Boy rockers. What they did, was they went out into their workshops, and they start forming heads, and they start creating molds. What happens is, you end up with a place like Wisconsin Concrete Park.
Thankfully Ruth Kohler came across it. She was introduced to it by a board member. I like to use the word smitten. If Ruth hadn’t made that visit, Kohler foundation would not be doing what it is today. She has really been the vision and the driving force for our preservation of art environments. Another shot of Fred Smith’s. Just so you have a point of reference, I want you to see some snow. We get visitor in the winter too. This is a great place where a park system, the county government, through their forestry department, operates this as a park. Then there’s friends of Fred Smith who provide the funds and the programming for ongoing conservation and activities.
Grandview, have we had any visitors to Grandview? Woo, love it. Nick Engelbert’s Grandview is a beautiful place on a hill. Fabulous sculptures. That is operated by the Pecatonica Foundation, which formed from community members to care for this into the future.
Painted Forest in Valton. Anybody visit Painted Forest? I think we might have had some of you on a wondering Wisconsin trip. This a great little site way, way in rural Wisconsin. In this unassuming Modern Woodman building, the interior is filled floor to ceiling and ceiling with murals, that depict some of the rituals of Modern Woodman, for tale of the future. There was a lot of ritual activity that went on there to encourage people to become Modern Woodmen. This is really an interesting and wonderful site. It’s in a community that primarily Amish and Quaker. There were a lot of people in the area, when this was first conserved, that were able to give us oral histories, to help us with the ceiling. There were no photographic documentation records of the ceiling, so that was primarily done through oral histories. Of course, there was good photo documentation on the remaining portions of the building, and it was in good enough condition that it could be conserved.
After twenty years, Sauk County returned this to us. We had to re-conserve it, and it was gifted to Edgewood College, a small liberal arts school in Madison. Upon that we acquired, we purchased an old home in the town, tore it down and built an art studio and study center, because we feel it’s imperative that there be space for programming. Then, after twenty years of trying to buy this surrounding land, this was on a postage stamp piece of property, the land went into foreclosure and we were able to buy the six acres surrounding it. So they now own this beautiful field. Plans are to put in an outdoor wood fired kiln. They’ve done plain air painting in this beautiful scenery. We just believe that for the site to be viable, that Steward has to have the ability to not only care for the site, but to do programming and have activities. It’s what keeps it alive, and let’s be frank; it’s what keeps funds flowing in for ongoing support.
When Kohler Foundation preserves a site, we hand it over in perfect condition, but we do not provide and endowment. That responsibility for ongoing care falls on the recipient. That is the model that allows us to keep doing this. If we had to provide the feeding and caring for of all these sites, our resources would be consumed. Because we pass the baby on for adoption, we’re able to adopt a new baby, conserve it, preserve it, ready it for programming.
The other thing that we do is we will continue to hunt down art after we have preserved a site. Over the last seven or eight years, we’ve probably acquired a dozen or more pieces by Ernest Hupeden, the artist that did Painted Forest, so we can place those in museums. It’s a very strong feeling of ours that if we can, a least one piece of art or ancillary pieces should be placed in museums, because outdoor sites are subject to natural disasters. At the Chauvin site we preserved, they’ve already had a couple of hurricanes since we’ve left. Wisconsin Concrete Park had a wind shear incident that practically destroyed the place. So we have to be very conscious of that. We do feel it’s very important to have some of the art placed indoors in museum settings.
Prairie Moon, this is the site that we preserved along the Mississippi. We’ve had a couple of floods there. Again, we’re very conscious of caring for the art and keeping it safe. If I recall the artist and his wife did this two hundred plus foot fence in one year. This is along the bluffs of the Mississippi. It’s a great little site. This is a vintage photo.
James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden, that’s one we’ve done in, I think we did that in 2000, so this is a relatively recent site for us. The recipient here is the John Micheal Kohler Art Center. Although much of the movable, portable art that we do goes to them, they’re probably our largest client, but not our only client. This is the first time that we’ve actually given them an art environment, because that it is in the same town. This is the man that was inspired from his hospital bed to create sculptures. He saw religious sculpture from his hospital window and then went back, another man who worked with his hands, and began working in the basement, making forms and things in the winter. Anybody been to Tellen? One. Shane is actually a conservator that’s worked on Tellen. I don’t know if that counts. This is just off Lake Michigan. It’s just a beautiful piece of property.
This statue of Saint Peter had been commissioned and was on a trout farm, probably in late 1930s, maybe 1940s. Poor Saint Peter lost his head, and I think some kids knocked him over into the muck, and he was under water. We tried to acquire him for many years. A pattern that you will see with us is we ask once and someone says no, well, it takes about 50 no?s before we slow down. We finally managed to acquire Saint Peter and had to pull him out of the muck and put him back. We repatriated him with his brothers and sister on the Tellen site. So, he was not original and we, of course, have documented that. But we were able to bring the signage and the statue of Saint Peter from the muck in the trout pond. There’s a Boy Scout house on the property and we also restored that, so that there’s an efficiency apartment upstairs and programming space downstairs, again key to our model. We want the stewards to be able to use the sites to draw people in, to bring funding in, to keep things alive and moving. There was also a log cabin that was created by the artist and a couple of other little buildings.
Kenny Hill sculpture garden, which I know we’re going to hear spoken about later. I believe Deb Cibelli is here. This was my first site that I worked on fifteen years ago. We received a call, a cold call. I do answer every phone call that comes into my office. It was from Dennis Sasporski, a professor at Nicholls State University and he was a photographer. I thought photographer, he’s probably got a good eye, send us some photos, send us a couple of photos. We immediately went down and acquired this site, because this is the most amazing place. It is on a tiny little piece of property, and incredibly dense. I’m not going to go into the stories, because I know you’re going to hear those later, but beautiful places.
New challenges for us. Believe me, this girl from Wisconsin, never had to deal with the army core of engineers to reclaim twenty feet of land into the bayou. That was a new one. You can see how the water was encroaching on the sculpture. We don’t like that. There’s now a bulk head and plenty of space. Another thing we’ve learned. We put a chain link fence around the property. We didn’t think it was a real good idea, the university said, “You know we’ve got to mark our space. Lot lines in Louisiana have a tendency to migrate a little bit.” I didn’t know that chain link fences work just like colanders. So, when you have a hurricane and the refuse comes washing in, it protects the art. You learn something new on every site. This is a self-portrait of the artist, and his self is interspersed throughout the sculptures. That is one of the monumental sites and you can see the shrimp boat behind.
After Kenny deserted this site, he does suffer from some emotional issues. We received a call from his sister-in-law and brother, and the last known piece that Kenny Hill made, was on their property pouring water into this Kohler bathtub. If you’re familiar with the Chauvin site, you would recognize that this is a much older, more filled out Kenny, but it definitely is him. We were able to acquire this from the relatives and he now sits comfortably at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan. Here he is almost post-conservation, cleaned, stabilized. It was interesting to try to ship that from rural Arkansas.
Hartman Rock Garden in Springfield, Ohio. This is the only site that we bought sight unseen. I was having some health issues and was unable to travel. We were up against the wall, because it was going up for auction. We literally only days or weeks to do this. So, we made a decision, and we made it quickly and said let’s do it. It looks great. We are so glad that we did. We came into a really, what use to be probably a lower-middle class working neighborhood and has deteriorated over the years. Springfield is kind of a sad place, because they’ve lost the steel industry. It was wonderful to bring our team in and begin working in this residential neighborhood, and see the community come to life. Not only did we watch this site that was really in derelict repair at this point come back to life, we saw the community come together. For us, that’s really important. Has anyone been to Hartman Rock Garden, besides Shane? Yes, love it. Do you like it?
Audience participant: Oh, yeah.
Terri Yoho: We think it’s great. This one has a lot of religious influence, and we generally, not as a rule, but generally stay away from anything to overtly religious. The artist home was on the property and that has been fixed up. Much like that boy scout house at Tellen, with an efficiency apartment upstairs, display space and programming space on the first floor. An interesting element to see the picket fence looks like wood, doesn’t it? That is a concrete fence that was leaning. Our conservators had to trench, this is why we like to get outside help, but they were there trenching too, had to be trenched and carefully lifted up and straightened. You just can’t believe that that’s a concrete fence when you walk by the property. Again, you can see that this is a very tiny, very dense set site, but it draws a nice number of people.
The icing on the cake, S. P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. This is the largest project that we’ve ever took on. If we hadn’t conserved S. P. Dinsmoor’s Garden, I don’t think we would have responded in the fashion that we did when we were asked to preserve Pasaquan. The scale and enormity of this, and asking people to work on a site where they had to be on a boom lift in forty to fifty mile an hour winds, it was daunting. True Shane?
Terri Yoho: It was nice we had that piece of equipment, because we were able to get some great photography. Interesting on this site for the conservators in the audience, where you see color on that American flag, those are pigments in the concrete, nothing was painted. Way back in the early 1900s, a professional journal that focused on concrete and cement actually wrote up S. P. Dinsmoor’s work, with pigments in coloring concrete. There were stabilization issues. Thankfully it had never been ravished by people taking bits and pieces away. It was quite intact, but not very stable. I imagine a few of you have been to S. P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden? Yeah. I don’t like to give away the punch line here, but in the mausoleum to the back, is where his mummy is. This was our first experience having to work on a mummy. But, we handle whatever comes our way. Thankfully, our conservators had faced mummies in the past.
A couple of before and after pictures. You can see how things brighten up the lichen and biological growth on these things, after decades, because very, very little had been done. Here you can see how the American flag came to light. It looks painted. It is not painted. This is a situation where we moved right into Lucas, Kansas, rented homes for several months. I think we were there about five months actually, five or six months. A little bit of that nasty lichen growth. The project at Lucas, Kansas, the Garden of Eden, really brought us quite a bit of publicity. We have always been a foundation that tried to keep things very quite. We’re being a little bit more open about it now because we realize if we sound our horn a little bit, people find us that have projects. It’s a very circuitous route, where people are left with things, artist’s body of work, a relative’s body of work. It usually takes them a few phone calls to actually find us. Thankfully the internet makes it a little easier. You may see us publicized a little more than you have in the past. This is my favorite picture, and we used this as a Christmas card at the foundation. Those are his original lights.
The next project after the Garden of Eden was Cushing, Maine. Beautiful mid-coast Maine. Here’s the original site. The artist working on one of his creations. He worked in wood. Bernard Langlais, a very well respected artist in New York, abandoned that and headed to Maine, and created this menagerie of enormous, enormous animals, and some assimilable work, paintings, smaller pieces. That is kind of the quintessential Bernard Langlais piece. As you enter the site you see the Trojan horse. You’re seeing beautiful weather. This is Christian of Andrew Wyeth fame. Andrew Wyeth painted just down the peninsula.
What’s deceiving here, in this beautiful greenery, is that there’s only about five minutes of summer in Maine. Nobody told us that. When Shane, our conservator, was on the property the first time he said, “You better tent these things for the winter,” and we told him to go away. Well we tinted this year and I think this is the third year. We can’t get anything to dry out. We have ended up tenting sculptures that we can’t move, removing sculptures that we could take apart and move, and we’re renting space in enormous warehouses with heat to try to dry them out, so we can actually finish this project up. What’s very interesting about the Langlais project is it is a collaboration of not only the arts and education, but of land conservation. The recipient of the site and the ninety acres of land, some which is waterfront and the major sculptures is the Georgia’s river land trust, who will put it into preservation and will do conservation programming on the site. Some of our tents. Those are the bears, and that’s how they are spending their winter. This snow picture was taken a couple of weeks ago. The snow is now up to the roof. We had to shovel three feet of snow off the roof. We really are having nightmares that we are not going to be able to get back in until July. It’s very frightening.
I spent my summer flying to Maine and heading to Georgia. We are so happy to be in Georgia. Fred Fitzel called us and we gave this a lot of consideration. We had been approached several years ago. The timing was not right, we were on other projects. We hadn’t done the Garden of Eden. This project would have just been too daunting for us. In that time frame, we’ve also developed a closer relationship with Parma Conservation out of Chicago. I believe that I’m not overstating when I can say they’ve done thousands of works for us, paintings. We have such great confidence in them, and great confidence in International Artifacts, who does our concrete work. The sun and the moon and the planets were all aligned and we said yes. Though the generosity and graciousness of the Pasaquan Preservation Society who has cared for Saint EOM’s work, they gifted it to us, which enabled us to put the amount of money in. This is not he kind of project that’s low in cost to preserve. This is a multi-million dollar project.
This is how we found it on the first day I visited. The conservators are going to talk more about their work, so I’m doing this more as eye candy and just to lead in. Here’s our conservators on day one, when they had access and began evaluating. It’s posed, but I thought it was a nice picture. So, Peter did the most amazing thing. He ran to the dime store and he bought poster paints, because he had to estimate how long the re-painting would take. How else do you provide an estimate to a client who lives and dies by numbers. So they practiced painting. When we saw that we just thought, you’re going to see this place from outer space by the time they’re finished.
Here’s our contractor, Tim Gregory, who has proved to be an amazing asset, understands preservation work like I can’t believe, gets what we do, and does everything with the respect we require be shown to our artist. Tim’s supervising most of the time, but we actually got a shot of him working. This is an interesting shot of the overhang on this car port. All those beams were carefully notched by the conservator, by the artist, so he as contractor had to find a crafts person who could do the same carving on those rotten pieces, because they had to be replaced. There’s a close up. Here’s where I had my first introduction to the snakes in Georgia. I was told make noise and look down before you step in. Nobody told me to look up, where the five foot snake was. I had seen a little squiggle out of my peripheral vision and I thought it was an electrical cord until I realized there was no electricity in that building. When I looked up, I saw a five foot snake.
There are a lot of structural elements, so there’s architectural preservation going on in addition to stabilizing, painting and all the art conservation. The executive director even gets up on the roof once in a while. I’m just going to flash through a few before and after pictures. We have fabulous photo documentation, which is really helpful. A lot of science behind what’s being done in terms of analyzing the residual paint. In this picture, you can see a couple of guys, who are from Buena Vista. Young men, who have a learned a lot about getting to work on time, not being on the cell phones during work times, working a full day, and after not too much time, suddenly having a huge appreciation for the art and what was being done. I can see that we’ve probably turned a couple of lives around. A little difference, isn’t there? Must be a lot of lime in the water here, because we have a lot of leeching. When we took on Pasaquan, it was announced in Raw Vision, which we were very excited by. They actually followed with a featured article, which we are very, very proud of. You will see when we talk about our sites; we generally will talk about the artist and the recipient, because that recipient is so critical to us. Every time we post anything on Facebook about Pasaquan, we get a huge spike.
So that’s a little bit about what Kohler Foundation does. I just have one quick story for you, that I think sums it up. We conserved the work of Dr. Charles Smith some years ago, an African American whose entire body of work speaks to African American history. We brought his work up to Kohler, Wisconsin, working on the conservation, brought him up to see it. Do you know how frightening it is to have a living artist come and look at conservation work? So, I’m nervous, and I said, “So, Dr. Smith, what do you think?” He said, “I love it.” He was so excited. I said, “You absolutely made my day.” He grabbed my arm and he said, “You made my life.” Thank You.
Kohler Foundation is known nationally for their preservation of art and art environments, including seven environments in Wisconsin, plus the Kenny Hill Sculpture Garden in Chauvin, LA; the monumental S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden in Lucas, KS; Hartman Rock Garden in Springfield, OH; and most recently, and still in process, ST. EOM’s Pasaquan in Buena Vista, GA and the Bernard Langlais Estate in Cushing, Maine. The preference is to preserve these fragile vernacular art forms in situ, but when this is not possible, art has been removed and placed in museums, libraries, colleges, universities, and other non-profit institutions for its long term care and preservation.
Executive Director of Kohler Foundation, Terri Yoho, will present a brief history of Kohler Foundation’s work, beginning in the 1970s with the preservation of Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park in Price County, Wisconsin. The first question is can it be saved and should it be saved in situ? Over the years, a model has been developed for approaching preservation of art environments and collections of work by self-taught artists. While the model for preservation is relatively consistent, the challenges presented by these environments are ever changing and varied. Beyond financial and esthetic considerations, the foundation must deal with unusual and sometimes hazardous materials, ethical issues, municipal zoning, safety concerns, political considerations, programming needs, and more. Just as each site is unique, the receiving stewards each have specific needs, skills, and resources that must be considered.
In every case, the success of these sites hinges on collaboration. Without it, preservation of the site is not possible Discussion will also focus on past collaborations and how they contribute to the ongoing viability and vitaslity of each site and how the preserved sites come alive through programming and community involvement.
Presenter: Terri Yoho, Executive Director, Kohler Foundation, Inc.
Terri Yoho has been the Executive Director of Kohler Foundation, Inc. since 1999, and is also the administrator of the Kohler Trust for Arts and Education, a strong supporter of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, and the Kohler Trust for Preservation.
Terri manages the foundation’s preservation program which includes the preservation of art environments and objects created by self-taught artists, folk art and architecture, and other collections of historic, aesthetic, and/or cultural interest.
She has been responsible for the acquisition of several art environments and thousands of art objects. She has managed the preservation efforts at the Garden of Eden (KS), Hartman Rock Garden (OH), Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden (WI), and the Kenny Hill Sculpture Garden (LA). She has facilitated gifts of art to more than 150 art museum sand non-profits across the country.
Terri holds a BA degree in business administration from Lakeland College, Sheboygan, WI and a MS degree in applied economics from Marquette University, Milwaukee WI. She serves on the boards of the Friends of Wade House, Friends of Fred Smith at Wisconsin Concrete Park, and the Random Lake Educational Foundation.