Many moons ago we visited Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden and Museum but our return visit this past Sunday after being at the Alma Music and Arts Festival was special. Prairie Moon has a new ‘face’. It wasn’t old and tired looking as I remembered it but Sunday it shone brightly. Let me tell you its story…
To begin with if it wasn’t for Herman Rusch, there would be no Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden and Museum. After working his family land for 40 years near Arcadia, he retired in’52 and rented, eventually buying the Prairie Moon Dance Hall which he turned into a museum. A museum he filled to the brim with oddities. In contrast though, the grounds were empty.
In 1938 Rusch decided to do something about that emptiness surrounding the museum and built a concrete and stone planter. This was just the beginning as it was followed by many more sculptures and flower beds during the next 16 years as he continued to scour quarries for different kinds of stone and his masonry skill grew.
It took a year to build a 260 ft arched fence on one side of the property. Notice how intricate each piece of the fence is as it’s embellished with mirrors, glass, rocks, bricks and pottery shards.
Sometimes he added color to the cement / would paint it.
When we originally visited , the sculptures had seen better days as its colors faded and sculptures were disentegrating after years of the Wisconsin elements.
Structures of all scales sprinkle the grounds like castles, towers, a Hindu Temple, a Rocket to the stars, even a windmill etc…
There were even people and animals. I spied a snake, dinosaur and a bear like the one below.
Anyhoo, on with the story .. By age 89 Rusch had created 40 sculptures and even purchased 4 .
The Walker Art Institute even included his art in one of their major exhibitions. This one time farmer had found fame in his later years. At 94 he auctioned off the museum selling off most of its contents. Imagine its new life as the new owners converted it to a dog kennel for 13 years.
Rusch died soon after his 100th birthday but his sculpture work lived on. Unbeknownst to us in ’92 it was the Kohler museum on the other side of the state who purchased the property and began “restoration with an ongoing commitment to the preservation of significant art environments by self-taught artists. The conservation of sculptures required structural stabilization; surface repairs and cleaning; paint analysis including stereoscopic microscopy; and painting to re-establish the original palette.
Gardens were revitalized and the Museum is filled with memorabilia along with additions from other area folk artists over the last couple of decades.
We were witnesses to years of this transformation.
Kohler donated the site by the town of Milton with the condition it would be maintained.
And Prairie Moon ‘shines’ again thanks to the Kohler Museum and its care today by the Friends of Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden.
*An aside: It was the Kohler Museum who also revitalized my neighbor Mary Nohl’s property in Fox Point, one of Wisconsin’s top folk artists. Here’s an older blog entry: https://chaseburg.blogspot.com/2014/05/bewitched.html