Nick Engelbert's concrete art lives on

Artist’s peculiar vision leads to education today

| November 2008

An organ grinder, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Swiss patriots, a viking in a boat – this motley group welcomes visitors to Grandview, a home outside of Hollandale, Wis., where an artist’s imagination came alive in concrete creations embedded with stones, shells and pieces of glass.

Born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1881, Nick Engelbert immigrated to the United States and became a dairy farmer. The self-taught artist began adding his whimsical works to his yard while recovering from a sprained ankle in the 1930s. By the 1950s, he had created a landscape depicting more than 40 scenes from history, myth and his imagination – enhanced by flowers planted by his wife, Katherine.

The site’s menagerie grew to include an elephant, lion and monkeys. The organ grinder collects donations – a sight inspired by Engelbert’s memory of the grinders he saw in Europe as a child. The artist’s origins also show through in his house, which he built to resemble a European cottage with a Gothic arch. It, too, is covered with concrete embedded with rocks, shells and glass.

The attraction today

These days, not all of Engelbert’s original work remains. The site went into disrepair after his death in 1962, and today, only five dwarfs accompany the lawn’s concrete Snow White, not seven. An ax and a seal of Wisconsin, both located inside the house, are all that’s left from a Paul Bunyan statue.

In 1991, Grandview was purchased by the Kohler Foundation, a private organization that supports arts and education in Wisconsin.

The foundation provided documents on restoring the deteriorated sculptures, and the people of Hollandale helped save the home and farm. The small town, with a population of just 280, not only maintained the site, they were also able to turn it into a center for art education.

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