First published: Summer 2016
Ruth DeYoung Kohler, the visionary director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, since 1972, has retired to focus on her dream project called The Art Preserve – a new museum and park nearby that will be devoted to environment builders.
The art centre, near the shore of Lake Michigan, one hour north of Milwaukee, was established in 1967 by the Kohler Foundation, the charity established by Ruth Kohler’s family from the success of her family’s eponymous plumbing and bath fixtures business. Kohler took the reins of the small museum and expanded it from a concentration on craft to acquiring and presenting the work of self-taught artists. There are now approximately 20,000 artworks in the collection. The foundation, a separate entity from the art centre, has become a leader in the restoration and preservation of visionary environments. Ruth Kohler also helped shape the direction that the family business would take in supporting art by suggesting a residency program at the company foundry. While these organisations have different boards and functions, there is a synergy that has benefitted the art world, and specifically the field of outsider art, immeasurably.
During an interview in Kohler’s sunny office earlier this year, she spoke about what drew her to the work of vernacular artists. The administrative wing of the art centre is on the second floor of the old family home where Ruth’s father was born. The art centre expansion in 1982 connected the brick Italianate mansion to the gallery spaces. Visible from Ruth’s desk near the door was a handwritten sign, a quote by the author E. B. White: “I wake up every morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”Is this her credo? “It is how I would like to feel”, Kohler said.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #90