Ruth DeYoung Kohler II died Saturday at the age of 79. Kohler served as the director of the Sheboygan’s John Michael Kohler Arts Center from 1972 to 2016. As director, she dramatically boosted the reputation of the center and built it into an internationally-known facility for folk art.
In a profile of Kohler in the August issue of Milwaukee Magazine, Mary Louise Schumacher wrote that, “From the start, the art center’s mandate was an anti-elitist one, to show art that anyone could enjoy without specialized knowledge, from farmers to factory workers to first-graders, without in any way dumbing down the work show. … For Ruth, early on, this meant a turn toward underrepresented art forms.”
Along with growing the center, in 1974 Kohler, along with her brother Herbert V. Kohler, pioneered the Arts/Industry program, a residency program that paired artists and industrial workers. The program has benefited nearly 500 artists, who have been brought to factory floors to work with and learn from industrial craftsmen.
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Most recently, she has been elemental in building the Arts Preserve, a three-story addition to the Kohler Arts Center that is dedicated to artist-built environments.
“The Art Preserve is unlike anything in the world, as far as I can tell,” Schumacher wrote. “It is a unique kind of art institution, a hybrid of a study center for scholars, curated art storage and museum-like venue.”
The preserve is slated to open in June.
The Kohler Art Center has launched a page dedicated to Kohler. The tribute includes a video, articles and a guestbook for visitors to share their thoughts.