Thursday, June 29, 2017
Fred Smith John Michael Kohler Arts Center
On a recent trip to Wisconsin, I managed to make it to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. It's a small museum(the woman's bathroom was a tiled wonder https://www.jmkac.org/explore-discover/collections/washrooms-new), and quite lovely. The exhibits that were up were part of a series of 15 exhibits that would allow us to experience artists whose work is their environment. All were outsider artists, all were quirky, fun, and interesting. However, the pieces that moved me the most were work by an artist named Fred Smith(1886-1976). The son of German immigrants, and a lumberjack until the age of 50, he began his sculpture garden on property that he owned that ran alongside Highway 13 outside Phillips, Wisconsin. He worked on it for 15 years, until 1964 when he suffered a stroke and was incapacitated until he died in at the age of 90. The figures all are made of concrete, then covered with broken bits of glass. Most are life sized, or larger. He is quoted as saying, "Them ideas is hard to explain. Nobody know why I made them, not even me". The quirkiness, the dignity, and the power of his figures made me feel that I had come home, found a safe harbor. From what I got from seeing only two sculptures, I can only imagine the pleasure and inspiration for me of actually going to the sculpture garden in Phillips where 237 of his figures exist. Looks like a trip is in the not too distant future.