Mukwa Motel Vernacular Environment

The Mukwa Motel/Farmers Retirement Home is a vernacular art environment on Wisconsin Highway 54 west of New London. It’s on the northern edge of the Mukwa State Wildlife Area and was photographed before 1995. An artful bit of rural humor built by farmer John Kraske shortly before his retirement.

According to the Post-Crescent newspaper, he assembled the site in 1991, two years before he retired from farming. Kraske, who died at 96 in 2016, told the paper in 2001, “It’s just something some crazy farmer did who didn’t have anything better to do with his time.”

“Every year or so we add something to it,” he said at the time. “I generally make a tour of all the garbage cans in town and see what people have thrown out. You’d be amazed. I think half my house is furnished with stuff somebody threw out. Don’t tell my wife, though.”

Kraske said he originally planed to call it the Northport Motel after the neighboring town. “But I thought that wouldn’t be right, disparaging the name of Northport.”

He claimed to have run afoul of neighbors only once, over the poor condition of an American flag. And based on the paper’s coverage, the site seems to be viewed favorably.

Google street view shows the place still extant in 2016, although somewhat deteriorated.

Escape to Wisconsin

Grotto of the Redemption — Redemptive Greatness

Father Paul Dobberstein’s Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, is on the way to nowhere, but the right way to go: It’s one of the most spectacular places in the world.

Dobberstein was a parish priest with a vision, and the decades he spent fulfilling that vision paid off. For that we should be grateful not only to Dobberstein, but to the parishioners who tolerated and supported his obsession, which in turn helped spark similarly over-the-top constructions all over the upper Midwest.

The grotto includes a number of mini-grottos and fountains as well as an avenue lined with the Stations of the Cross. Between the exotic materials, the designs and the overall layout of the place, there is plenty to see and be astounded by.

Several other Dobberstein creations are accessible, including The Crucifixion Group, Fay’s Fountain and the War Memorial in Old Rolfe.

Highlight views

The rest of the grotto

Visit the official Grotto of the Redemption site.

Fay’s Fountain — Vernacular in the Park

Another Iowa vernacular masterpiece built by Father Paul Dobberstein, creator of the Grotto of the Redemption. Dobberstein was commissioned to built this memorial, officially called the Liberty Fountain, in honor of Fay Hessian, a young girl who died from tuberculosis in 1912. The fountain was dedicated in 1918 and restored in 2011. It sits in a park in Humboldt, Iowa, with organic shapes and encrustations that make it unlike any city park fountain I’ve ever seen.

Back to the Grotto of the Redemption

The Crucifixion Group: More Grotto Greatness

In an out-of-the-way cemetery in Wesley, Iowa, you can find Father Paul Dobberstein’s Crucifixion Group, a mini-grotto unto itself. It’s another example of the decorative impulse filling every available space with something that looks cool. And like the big grotto a few towns away, it provides an effective setting for the underlying religious message.

Back to the Grotto of the Redemption

Huge Vinyl Sale: Rock, Soul, Blues, Country, Jazz and More

Selling hundreds of LPs next Saturday, Sept. 9, at the big annual Lakewood-Balmoral neighborhood yard sale. 9-4 p.m. rain or shine. Prices shown, or best offer. Contact me early with offers for 10 or more. Or find me Saturday on the 5500 block of North Magnolia, Chicago. Also contact me if you are interested in 45s and 78s. I have hundreds of those for sale as well — punk, r&b, country, rockabilly, etc.
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Chicago Lakeshore Stone Carvings: Highlight Gallery

Here are some of the coolest stone carvings and paintings from Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline.

The final date in each caption reflects the year the photograph was taken. All stone and concrete paintings photographed in 2016 and 2017 were still extant as of mid-2017. Pieces south of Montrose Harbor photographed before that time are gone except those specifically noted as still existing. Pieces located between Belmont and Diversey Harbors and photographed prior to 2015 are gone, unless otherwise noted. Pieces from Montrose Harbor up to Bryn Mawr are all extant, other than paintings and drawings that may have weathered away. Pieces without a specified location are assumed to be lost.

Anonymous Masterpieces: The Chicago Lakeshore Art Story

Coming Soon:

The Lakefront Art Galleries

Lucy Sparrow: All Felt All The Time

Lucy Sparrow makes deeply felt art, literally. She creates facsimiles of real objects in felt, and does so on a massive scale. The current example, a fully stocked all-felt convenience store, opened June 5 in New York and will continue for four weeks.
The individual items — available for sale, of course — are each a treat in themselves. When they fill the shelves and fixtures of a shop, the colors and cultural resonances are wonderful. Sparrow, who hails from Bath, England, clearly wants to delight her audience with good feelings, but she also has some social commentary in mind.

“I want the work to make people think about the loss of community spaces when these small corner shops disappear; to remind them how valuable these corner shops really are and the color they bring to our lives,” she says on her web site.

It’s not exactly a blast at consumerism, but there is a critique lurking in there as well as a commentary on the corner store — an important fixture in many lives. Given that we’re all consumers and that most of us happily consume items exactly like these, a gentle critique might be more appropriate than a scathing assault.

The shop is open 8 to 8 through June 30 at 69 Little West 12th Street. Lucy told me she plans to be there every day. I highly recommend a visit.

Here’s her web site: