Introducing the kids to the "witch's house."
Introducing the kids to the "witch's house."

Goodbye, "witch's house"

No Milwaukee high school experience, including my own, was complete without a trip or two to the "witch’s house." 

At the time, I knew little about the house, other than it was a lakeside cottage in Fox Point with a yard surrounded by barbed wire and packed with whimsical and spooky sculpture. 

I would later find out about (and fall in love with) the creator of the art, Mary Nohl, who lived there until her death in 2001.

At some point, I stopped calling the funky cottage "the witch’s house" and, instead, referred to it as "Mary Nohl’s house." Nonetheless, I was honored to be a part of Joe Skow's 2012, 20-minute documentary "Pilgrimage To the Witch's House."

News emerged today that the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, which owns the home and its contents, will dismantle the house this summer and rebuild it in the Sheboygan area.

Both through word of mouth and personal experience, I learned that the neighbors were not fans of the house because of the traffic it drew to the suburban, residential neighborhood.

Hence, it’s no surprise that these neighbors were uninterested in agreeing to the zoning changes required to open the house to the public.

On one level, I get the opposition. The house is in a residential area. It’s on a dead end street. There isn’t a lot of room for cars and traffic.

But that doesn’t mean I like it. Or that I agree with it.

This is more than a house – it is a museum of one woman’s life work – and it is extremely rare to have objects displayed in the place where they were originally created. Being thus displayed creates an unmatchable energy linking the art to its environment.

This was part of the Hamilton Wood Type & Print Museum's heartbreak when forced to leave its space last year. 

If the house could stay intact and be zoned so that it could open as a museum, there would be finite hours of operation and designated parking. This would eliminate a large portion of drive-by traffic because it would remove the mystique. The barbed wire surrounding the premises and the fact it was off-limits was very much a part of the appeal.

If suddenly the Mary Nohl house were open to the public, it would become more what it should be: an artistic tribute to the incredible work of a Wisconsin artist and not a Halloween-time attraction.


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