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Mary Nohl House, Milwaukee, WI

The wealthy Lake Michigan beachside suburb of Fox Point boasts a curious sculpture garden created by the artist Mary Nohl who was born in 1914 and passed on in 2001. The crude appearance of the concrete statues of fish, monsters, and humans might, at first glance, have the appearance of naive, or outsider, art. But Ms. Nohl was no outsider. She was trained at the Art Institute of Chicago. Local urban legends quickly sprang up about the residence, which came to be dubbed “the Witch’s House.” After several acts of vandalism, the yard was fenced in.

After Ms. Nohl’s death in 2001, neighborhood residents who considered the site an eyesore tried to have it demolished. But in 2005, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site is currently under the care of the Kohler foundation. The grounds are currently not open to the public but can be seen up close from the street. The Mary Nohl Art Environment, also known as the Fox Point Art Yard, Fox Point Witch’s house or Mary Nohl’s house, is a residence in the city of Milwaukee suburb of Fox Point, Wisconsin. The property, which is filled with folk art created by artist Mary Nohl, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mary’s father Leo, a Milwaukee attorney, and his wife Emma bought the lot along Lake Michigan in 1924, and the family enjoyed summers there in a prefab cottage through the 1920s. In 1940 the parents expanded the cottage into a year-round home, adding the house between the cottage and the garage. Shortly after, Mary moved back to Milwaukee and moved into the house with her parents. After a couple years of teaching art in Milwaukee she resigned, and settled in to producing art at her pottery studio in Whitefish Bay, and at her jewelry studio in her parents’ home.

After the death of her parents, a sizable inheritance left Mary Nohl the chance to create artworks. She used concrete and found objects such as driftwood, wire and glass to build sculptures. In addition, the exterior and interior of the house are colorfully decorated. Hundreds of works have been cataloged. In addition to her home and artwork, her estate of over $11 million was left to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which administers the Mary Nohl Foundation to provide arts education for children, and the Mary Nohl Fellowship artists’ scholarships among other activities. A biography, Mary Nohl ‘Inside and Outside’, designed and written by Janine Smith and Barbara Manger, respectively, was published in the year 2008.

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