Mary Nohl and the Walrus Club

Mary Nohl and the Walrus Club

June 22, 2018 — June 23, 2019

This 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 with 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.

Arts Center curators collaborated with Polly Morris, executive director of the Lynden Sculpture Garden and administrator of the fellowship, in selecting eight past recipients of the Nohl Fellowship to participate in the exhibition: Cecelia Condit, Kim Miller, Sonja Thomsen, Sheila Held, Sarah Luther, Anne Kingsbury, Maggie Sasso, and Robin Jebavy, and Mary Nohl pieces from the Arts Center’s collection.