On a quiet country road, a few miles outside of Sheboygan WI, James Tellen turned the property surrounding his summer cottage into a mystical fantasy world that integrates beautifully with the setting. Unlike some other sites like last week’s Glenn Stark Yard, which has a claustrophobic cluttered feel, Tellen’s 30 odd pieces are spread out over a larger area, creating a very peaceful serene feeling.
James Tellen crafted his site, dubbed the Woodland Sculpture Garden, between 1942 and 1957. He got the idea at the age of 62 to start building while sick in the hospital. He was inspired while looking out his hospital room window at the statues at the Catholic grotto across the street. Over the next 15 years, he built the statues on the grounds around the summer home and along the windy path through the woods behind the house.
There is not a cohesive theme to the concrete sculptures. Some are painted, some left raw. Around the house on the large front lawn there are fantastical creatures like tree elves and musical dwarfs in mid-silent concert, as well as less fantastical creatures like Abraham Lincoln. There is also a tableau of miniature people at a tavern, various full size people not at a tavern and along the front of the street, there is a group of three Native Americans straddling a log fence. Many of the pieces blend in seamlessly with the wooded area. The long concrete fence looks just like a mangled fallen tree.
The Woodland Sculpture Garden is one of the stops on the Wandering Wisconsin trail. I talk all about the trail in a previous post. This art environment is a real gem and while not as heavily populated with sculptures as some other sites this is actually a benefit as it gives the place a calm, mystical serenity, almost like something out of a fairy tale.
How to visit:
James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden is located at 5634 Evergreen Drive
Town of Wilson, WI, on the outskirts of Sheboygan. If you are using Google Maps type in Sheboygan instead of Town of Wilson. Sheboygan is about one hour drive north of Milwaukee. The environment is open to the public during day light hours year round and is totally free. There is a parking lot next to the house. Tellen has a couple of cabins on the property that are only open during special events. This site is very popular with mosquitoes who appreciate the realism and level of detail Tellen has instilled in his sculptures, and/ or just being in the woods. Come prepared.
There is no gift shop and no bathrooms (depending on how comfortable you are peeing in the woods). But I highly recommend you hold it in till you get to your next stop, the John Michael Kohler Art Center….
In the Area:
Tellen’s site is less than five miles away from another spot on the Wandering Wisconsin route, the John Michael Kohler Art Center, who incidentally are the caretakers of the Woodland Sculpture Garden.
The museum has an amazing collection of outsider/self taught/folk/ vernacular art including pieces from various art environments across the country. If you are a fan of environments then you have to go to the museum. In front of the building are the relocated statues from the Carl Peterson Rock Garden. Peterson was a Swedish immigrant who had built several miniature buildings in front of his house in Minnesota. While Kohler was unable to save the site in situ – on the premises -they were at least able to save some of his statues.
My only gripe with the art center is that I wish it were bigger because they do not have their permanent collection on exhibit. They have really interesting and offbeat temporary exhibits, but I kept reading about all these great things that the center is supposed to have and when I got there none of it was on display, it was all in dumb storage (booo).
Hopefully, they have a cool exhibit when you are there. Also, they have great bathrooms. Remember, this is the same Kohler family that made your kitchen sink, so it is only pipe fitting that the museum has artsy toilets. Every bathroom in the place is cool.
I suggest that you go to the museum with a member of the opposite sex. That way you can have have your fellow traveler check their corresponding restroom out and give you the all clear when it’s empty, and then you can see how the other half lives. I am a brilliant strategist.
The museum is free. For the most up to date info for hours and upcoming exhibits at the John Michael Kohler Art Center click here.
I am also a sucker for regional classic food. If a town is known for their special variety of barbecue, pizza, burgers or hot dogs you will find me eating there. When in Sheboygan you have to eat a Sheboygan bratwurst. It is a delicious, greasy German sausage served with pickles, onions and mustard on a heavily buttered roll. Two places in town known for their brats include The Charcoal Inn, which has two locations and Gosses. I had the double brat at the south side Charcoal Inn. The sandwich was dripping in butter and was delicious in a horrifying, embarrassing way. Make sure to get a few cheap Wisconsin beers and one or two of their famous tortes for desert and then go spend the rest of the night sitting quietly in your hotel room while holding your belly and rocking back and forth.