In the 20th century, self-taught artists proliferated in Wisconsin. Using common materials such as scrap metal, wood and lots of concrete, they built grottos, carved sculptures and more. Luckily for us, much of their work still exists. Here are just a few of the many sites scattered around the state.
Drive Time* 2 hours, 30 minutes
› Father Matthias Wernerus built this collection of colorful concrete shrines between 1925 and 1930. His parishioners contributed too, bringing mementos from their travels to the site for Wernerus to encrust in concrete, preserving them for future generations. Free; open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon-Sun.
* From Milwaukee.
WISCONSIN CONCRETE PARK
Drive Time 4 hours, 10 minutes
› Former lumberjack Fred Smith sculpted visions of local lore and the world beyond. Included in the park’s collection of more than 200 quirky concrete statues are depictions of Paul Bunyan and Abraham Lincoln. Free; always open.
MUSEUM OF WOODCARVING
Drive Time 4 hours, 40 minutes
› Joseph Barta, a former teacher, carved sculptures from pine two-by-fours. His most elaborate work – an ode to The Last Supper – took him nearly five years to complete. Adults, $6.75; children under 12, $4.75; open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon-Sun.
Drive Time 2 hours
› Born in Austria, Nick Engelbert went from dairy farmer to artist after a trip to the Dickeyville Grotto inspired him to begin sculpting life-sized figures embedded with sea shells, buttons and pieces of glass and china. Free; grounds open dawn to dusk Mon-Sun, museum open by appointment.
PRAIRIE MOON SCULPTURE GARDEN AND MUSEUM
Drive Time 3 hours, 50 minutes
› Fred Schlosstein and Halvor Landsverk constructed colorful concrete sculptures at this site. They were further ornamented by farmer and fiddler Herman Rusch, who built a 260-foot arched fence, as well as many sculptures, a temple, a watchtower, a tiered fountain and other architectural oddities – working until he was well into his 90s. Free; open dawn to dusk Mon-Sun. ♦
Tune in to WUWM’s (FM 89.7) “Lake Effect” July 7 at 10 a.m. to hear more about the story.
‘Hit the Road’ appears in the July 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
Find it on newsstands beginning July 3, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.
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