It came as a surprise to some citizens who only knew Mary Nohl as an apparently eccentric woman living in an oddly decorated home on the Fox Point shore of Lake Michigan, that she was an artist of considerable originality and a philanthropist who bequeathed millions of dollars to create a charitable fund to support other artists. The Mary Nohl Fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation has the mission of doing good for the region’s visual arts and its arts education, with one of its most visible projects being the prestigious Nohl Fellowship Awards administered annually through the Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee.
While she may have been idiosyncratic, Mary Nohl was neither self taught nor an idle art dilettante: she attended the School of the Chicago Art Institute and her paintings, ceramics, jewelry and sculpture were produced over many decades, including a ten year stretch of time when she operated her own production pottery studio. The environment she created in and around her Fox Point home has been recognized by the Kohler Foundation and John Michael Kohler Art Center as one of Wisconsin’s artistic treasures. In fact, prior to her death, the Kohler Foundation had been designated to become caretaker and restorer of the residence, hoping to keep the entire environment in place to serve as a source of inspiration and education.
In her time Mary usually shunned the art establishment which today embraces both her and her legacy. Her work is now seen as being simultaneously child-like and sophisticated, with her art objects celebrating diversity, mystery and joy. Mary Nohl can be said to have blurred boundaries in terms of inner and outer space, academic rigor and childlike freedom, reality and fantasy.
Works by Mary Nohl