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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Extra! Art Preserve expands a legacy of originality in Sheboygan

Critic At Large

New offshoot of John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Sample of works around every corner at the new Art Preserve in Sheboygan. (Warren Gerds amalgamation)

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (WFRV) – A respected art museum in Northeastern Wisconsin is making news this week.

What is opening Saturday, June 26, is an offshoot of the illustrious John Michael Kohler Arts Center in downtown Sheboygan.

Called the Art Preserve, the $40-million, three-level facility will exhibit and house more of the Kohler Arts Center’s acquisitions.

If you scratch your head when it comes to displaying art in your home, imagine what Laura Bickford faces every day.

She is curator at the Art Preserve, and she has 25,000 objects to work with.

Her workspace is 56,000 square feet versus 1,600 square feet for a typical house.

What is on display is a vast variety.

The artists can come from anyplace on the globe.

Some exhibit areas are of one person’s lifetime of work.

Other areas are of a specific type of art produced by a single creator.

And then there are displays of one-offs that are single works by individual artists.

The philosophy of the facility basically is anything goes.

Laura Bickford. (Warren Gerds)

That means if you are a self-taught artist, a trained artist or not even an artist, something imaginative you create might strike the fancy of the center.

The place has a talent to amaze, space after space after space.

The Kohler Arts Center’s quaint ways have caught wide attention, and now the center is really spreading its wings.

Basic information and a whole lot more – photos, background, bios, etc. – are at the website  

The Art Preserve is located at 3636 Lower Falls Road on Sheboygan’s west side. The project is in tune with the natural setting on 36 acres.

“This is not really a standard museum,” Laura Bickford said during a recent media tour. “This is really a laboratory.”

She shies from labels. “Contemporary” is the closest she is comfortable with – just.

John Michael Kohler Arts Center, located three miles east of the Art Preserve, grabbed wide attention with its collection that includes complete and partial environments by more than 30 vernacular, self-taught and academically trained artists.

One of the memorable residences, known as that of the “Rhinestone Cowboy” for its gaudy and sparkly look, is being moved and re-created in the Art Preserve. It may as well be called “Curator’s Headache 101” for all the minutia and detail required in the move.

Something new and/or exotic is around each corner in the Art Preserve.

Displays will change, sometimes to rest works on paper or fabric. The Art Preserve also is a storage facility.

Some living artists have been commissioned to create work on site to add to the collection of their work.

Visitors will notice one of the talked-about features of the Kohler Arts Center is carried through at the Art Preserve – the artistic washrooms. Installations include floral, patterned and fantastical imagery.

Some people acquire an object as a conversation piece. The center and preserve are crammed with conversation pieces – so much to see and talk about.

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