A recent getaway with my husband, Ernie, took us east to Sheboygan, thanks to an invitation from colleague and friend Sam Gappmayer, director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.
It’s an understatement to say the past twelve-plus months were challenging and also kept us close to home. Now thankfully vaccinated, we were ready to tentatively dip our toes back into normal – or, more correctly, “new normal”– behaviors.
Sam’s invitation to preview the Kohler Arts Center’s Art Preserve was just the incentive we needed.
Many years in the making, the Art Preserve – scheduled to open officially June 26; welcoming Beta Testers now – is extraordinary and more than a fitting tribute to Ruth DeYoung Kohler (1941-2020), who envisioned it dozens of years ago and steadfastly nurtured and shepherded its development, which Sam and the Kohler’s talented team completed.
A showcase for artist-built environments, the Kohler Arts Center’s words best describe the vision and mission:
The Art Preserve is an experimental space designed to house the Arts Center’s collection of over thirty-five artist-built environments. More than a building, it is a platform for ongoing explorations and investigations into these environments, their makers, and the Arts Center’s role as their institutional steward. It embodies the Arts Center’s conviction that significant, original, and compelling works of art are created everywhere, by people from a broad spectrum of life experiences.
With Sam as our guide, Ernie and I were treated to not only his insights into exhibition highlights and nuances, but also behind-the-scenes glimpses where staff continue to catalogue massive numbers of objects and prepare to welcome larger numbers of visitors safely.
Protocols in place include motion-activated lighting, which also protects fragile, light-sensitive work, and the availability of iPads and styluses, which enable visitors to explore content and explanations based on their interests.
The building, designed by the Denver-based firm Tres Birds, is itself an intriguing work of art that provides an exceptional framework for the collection. Its massive size – 58,000 net-usable square feet – does not overwhelm; instead, it invites you to explore, peek around corners, and delve into the creative and often other-worldly minds and hearts of the artists whose environments encompass the experience.
Our overnight getaway was restorative in the best sense of the word. The Art Preserve inspired us to think differently about artwork created not only in traditional studios or ateliers, but also at kitchen counters and in backyards.
For an unparalleled experience, add the Kohler Arts Center’s Art Preserve along with the Woodson Art Museum, of course, to your must-visit list.