Eight artists respond to Mary Nohl’s life and work


July 9, 2018
Sheboygan, WI

Contact: Patricia DuChene
Media Relations Coordinator

The John Michael Kohler Arts Center presents Mary Nohl and the Walrus Club, an exhibition of new work by eight artists responding to Wisconsin artist Mary Nohl. On view through June 23, 2019, the exhibition features  Cecelia Condit, Sheila Held, Robin Jebavy, Anne Kingsbury, Sarah Luther, Kim Miller, Maggie Sasso, and Sonja Thomsen, and works by Mary Nohl  from the Arts Center’s collection.

When she died in 2001, Nohl left a $9.6 million bequest to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to ensure creative growth in the Milwaukee area. Arts Center curators collaborated with Polly Morris, executive director of the Lynden Sculpture Garden and administrator of the Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists, in selecting eight past recipients of the Nohl Fellowship to participate in the exhibition. Ninety-six fellowships have been awarded since 2003, providing funds for established and emerging artists to create new work or complete work in progress.  

The exhibition plays off the principles of one of the social organizations to which Nohl belonged, the Walrus Club (1921–1970). The Walrus Club was dedicated to furthering fine art in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mary Nohl and the Walrus Club honors the importance of artist networks and the resonance that Mary Nohl continues to have within the art community.

Nohl’s house was at the core of her creative practice, serving as her studio and the space for her site-specific work. Artists Kim Miller, Sarah Luther, and Cecelia Condit reflect on the idea of home and draw connections to their own work. Miller’s videos address the idea of a failed utopia, a reminder that although Mary had an idyllic setting for her work, she was challenged with recurring theft and vandalism to her property. Luther focuses on Nohl’s concrete sculptures, interpreting them through her own fabrications and inviting visitors to interact with them. With her photography, Condit looked outward from the shoreline of the Nohl property and crafted an abstract view of Lake Michigan from multiple photographs seamlessly laced together. Embedded within the waves and rocks are Condit’s personal treasures and her selections from Nohl’s archive, providing various moments of discovery.

Light, reflection and shadow are the foundation for Robin Jebavy’s and Sonja Thomsen’s responses. Jebavy’s kaleidoscopic painting continues her Plate with Wreath series, in which interwoven glassware goblets, patterns, light reflections, and shadows atmospherically encircle the canvas. This iteration also includes references to Nohl’s miniature glass figurines. Deeply inspired by the lake view through Nohl’s second-story bedroom window, Jebavy absorbed the fluorescent pinks, oranges, yellows, and red-purples she observed dancing across the water’s cool expanse.

Thomsen’s acute vision of balance is achieved through extensive research and problem solving, and articulated through a site-specific installation responding to the gallery space. Photography combined with sculptural elements and a wall mural—stimulated with shadows, angles, and reflections of Nohl’s mobiles—characterize her mastery of capturing light.

Nohl was a process-driven artist who often revisited projects, rarely considering a work as complete. Sheila Held, Anne Kingsbury and Maggie Sasso exemplify this spirit. Held, an accomplished weaver, created a psychedelic tapestry with an anonymous figure, possibly Nohl, signaling to what the artist describes as water guardians. A re-creation of her own studio space anchors Kingsbury in the exhibition. Cubicle shelving borders one side, housing masses of her collections, supplies, and objects paired with Nohl’s. Kingsbury’s intricate beadwork, along with her journals and Nohl’s diaries, show parallels of creative practice between the two very different women. Sasso took this opportunity to embark on her first tapestry weaving, her interpretation of a Walrus Club banner. In addition, she crafted a series of badges and ribbons representing a number of the clubs Nohl participated in, incorporating various materials, embroidery, and even Nohl’s silver jewelry.

The John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 608 New York Ave., Sheboygan, Wis., is open daily except major holidays. Admission is free. For more information about this and other exhibitions now on view, visit jmkac.org or call 920-458-6144.

Mary Nohl and the Walrus Club was organized in collaboration with Polly Morris, executive director of the Bradley Family Foundation and administrator of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation's Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists program. The exhibition is Mary Nohl and the Walrus Club is supported in part by grants from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., and the Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust.


About the Artists

Cecelia Condit's work addresses the fears and displacement that exist between ourselves and society, and ourselves and the natural world. Her work has been shown internationally in festivals, museums, and alternative spaces, and is represented in collections including the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and Centre Georges Pompidou Musee National d'Art Moderne in Paris, France. She has received numerous awards including grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, American Film Institute, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fellowship established category in 2004. She is a professor emerita in the Department of Film, Video, Animation and New Genres at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Through tapestry weaving Sheila Held attempts to access the point where magic, science, religion, art, and nature intersect. She strives to initiate a dialogue with her audience and to speak to a variety of interpretations. Held has shown her work consistently for the past thirty years, most recently in a solo exhibition at The Green Gallery in Milwaukee, WI,and her work is in a number of public and corporate collections. She has also received a number of grants and awards including Fiber National Juror’s Award, Wisconsin Arts Board Individual Artist’s Fellowship, and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fellowship established category in 2013.

Robin Jebavy is a Wisconsin artist who has been exploring glassware imagery in painting for many years. Jebavy draws inspiration from still life artists including the seventeenth-century Dutch Masters, Paul Cézanne, Giorgio Morandi, and Janet Fish; and contemporary figures like Josiah McElheny and Beth Lipman. She first experimented with the representation of glass at Bennington College, where she received her BA in visual arts and philosophy in 2004, and continued that work at the University of Iowa, where she earned her MFA in painting and drawing in 2008. Recent showings of Jebavy’s work include exhibitions at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, Portrait Society Gallery, and Iowa Contemporary Art. She was a 2014 Robert Johnson Fellow at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and a recipient of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fellowship in the emerging category in 2016 that culminated in a 2017 fellowship exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art.

Anne Kingsbury is an artist and community activist. She taught at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee before co-founding the Woodland Pattern Book Center, a nonprofit literary arts center with her husband, Karl Gartung, in 1979 and retired in March, 2018. Kingsbury had been a working artist since the 1970s. Her practice includes working with woodblock prints, combinations of ceramics with thread and fibers, and complicated beaded work on leather and fabric incorporating text from personal journals and lists. In 2008, Kingsbury was inducted as a fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. She has received three grants from the Wisconsin Arts Board, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and received a Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fellowship in the established artist category in 2014. Her art has been featured in national craft publications and numerous major exhibitions in addition to being included in several museum collections.

Sarah Gail Luther is a Milwaukee-based artist who explores and documents the familiar, the average, or the forgotten. The results of these inquiries manifest in drawings, performances, public events, and distributable objects. Through her work, she strives to build an understanding of the subject, not necessarily to elevate but to appreciate its intricacies, humor, or humanity. She received a Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fellowship in the emerging artist category in 2011.

Kim Miller moves across the fields of video and performance, exploring ideas around action, power, and agency. Miller received her BFA from Cooper Union in New York City and her MFA from Vermont College. She has performed live and shown video at Anthology Film Archive in New York, The Suburban in Illinois, the Green Gallery in Wisconsin, Museum of Modern Art in New York, and MASS MoCA. She received a Greater Milwaukee Foundation Mary L. Nohl Artist Fellowship in the emerging category in 2009 and a Puffin Foundation Ltd. Grant, and was an artist-in-residence at Compeung in Thailand and Lynden Sculpture Garden in Wisconsin.

Maggie Sasso produces conceptual bodies of work that express universal ideas through microcosmic detail and examines the role of material culture in relationship to our collective past. She’s had numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and Canada. Sasso received her MFA from University of Wisconsin–Madison and her BFA from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, where she was born and raised. She was a visiting artist and instructor at the Oregon College of Art and Craft and currently works at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design as the Sewing Lab technician and an adjunct lecturer. Sasso received a Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Artist Fellowship in the emerging category in 2015.

Sonja Thomsen is a Milwaukee-based artist whose multifaceted practice combines photography, sculpture, interactive installation, and site-specific public art to create spaces reflective of our own perceptions. Since earning an MFA in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute, she has exhibited with Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin, Soccer Club Club in Illinois, Higher Pictures in New York, DePaul Art Museum, Center for Photography at Woodstock, the Reykjavik Museum of Photography, New Mexico Museum of Art, and Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Thomsen's work resides in numerous institutional and museum collections. She received a Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Artist Fellowship in the established category in 2011. Thomsen is a member of the international photography collective Piece of Cake and currently a lecturer in the Photography Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

About the John Michael Kohler Arts Center: Founded in 1967, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is dedicated to making innovative arts programming accessible to a broad audience that ranges from artists and academics to families and youth of all ages. Central to its mission is promoting understanding and appreciation of the work of self-taught and contemporary artists through original exhibitions, commissioned works of art, performing arts programs, community arts initiatives, and publications.

The Arts Center’s collections focus primarily on works by artist-environment builders, self-taught and folk artists, and works created in the Arts/Industry residency program. Since the 1970s, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has preserved, studied, and exhibited artist environments. Today, with well over 20,000 individual works of art by 30 different art-environment builders in the collection, the Arts Center is the world’s leading center for research and presentation of this work.

Looking to the future, the Arts Center continues to generate new explorations in the arts that foster creative exchanges between an international community of artists and a diverse public. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is supported by corporate and foundation donors, government grants, and its many members. The Arts Center is not an entity of Kohler Co. or its subsidiaries.


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