From childhood until his death in 2007, Adolph Vandertie (1911–2007) was fascinated by the stories, lifestyle, and material objects of the hobos, tramps, and bindle stiffs that would pass through his hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Starting in the mid-1950s, Vandertie began teaching himself the hobo and tramp art of notch and chip carving, eventually mastering the ball-in-the-cage. He went on to create thousands of such carvings, exchanging his creations for those of others, and eventually co-writing the book Hobo and Tramp Art Carving: An Authentic American Folk Tradition to share his collection and teach others the skills of the craft. In 2001, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center acquired nearly 1,300 of Vandertie’s carvings and some of his archival materials related to hobos and their work.
This exhibition will evoke Vandertie’s in-house museum inside the gallery, primarily utilizing the Arts Center’s collection of his work, augmented by portions of the Ashwaubenon Historical Society’s Vandertie collection. Presenting the five spaces that comprised Vandertie’s original museum—living room, workroom, garage, basement, and porch—this installation will be an immersive environment. Aiming to continue Vandertie’s legacy of documenting, archiving, and sharing the hobo culture, this exhibition will also include a selection of photographs by David Eberhardt. Eberhardt rode the rails throughout the United States for over a decade and poignantly captured the lives of his fellow travelers on film.
In a time of divisive public discourse and social polarization, On Being Here (and There) highlights the roles cultural organizations and artists perform as citizen, custodian, neighbor, and friend. The works presented in this series of exhibitions reveal ways our communities are enhanced and shape by a diverse spectrum of artistic practices and engagement.
With the August 2020 opening of the JMKAC’s Art Preserve, it felt right to revisit the breadth of the work the Arts Center does in preserving, creating, and showcasing cultural assets. Since the 1970s, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has cared for artist-built environments in Wisconsin and beyond, acting locally, nationally, and internationally. Through residencies, exhibitions, and outreach the Arts Center has sought to strengthen connections, open dialogue, and engender collaboration among its various local and international constituencies.
On Being Here (and There) is anchored by a group exhibition titled Between You and Me, which brings together contemporary artists whose practices are intentional acts of care for their neighbors or broader communities.
Complementing Between You and Me are three exhibitions that engage the Art Center’s own history of collaboration, collecting, and preservation. Tokens of Appreciation is a story about the unique relationships that develop between Kohler Co. factory associates and artists participating in the Arts/Industry residency program. Good Road to Follow evokes Adolph Vandertie’s in-house museum to hobo and tramp art and explores the role of grass-roots archiving in the maintenance of histories. Visible Repair uses the 1883 John Michael Kohler home as the container for artwork and objects that speak to intimate, domestic, and personal acts of care and repair.
These exhibitions are supplemented by The Projector Room, a gallery newly dedicated to the showing of film and video artworks that expand on themes pertinent to the Arts Center’s mission, collection and programming. Three films—Who Is Bozo Texino?, Inscriptions of an Immense Theater, and EDM House—broadly examine belonging, questioning some of the invisible structures that help create, define, and destroy our sense of self in relation to the world around us.
This exhibition is supported by the Kohler Trust for Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., the Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.