Jessica Joslin’s Love Letter to Wisconsin

Please welcome guest-blogger and wunderkammer artist Jessica Joslin’s formal addition to our Staff Page! – Ed.

One of the things that I love about living in Chicago is that it’s merely a hop, skip and a jump away from Wisconsin. For those of you on the coasts, that statement may make little sense. Still, I am wholeheartedly convinced that there’s magic there. Wisconsin’s had far more than its share of brilliant eccentrics, outsider artists and charming crackpots. From Alex Gordon’s jaw-droppingly magnificent House on The Rock –a place whose wide-ranging wonders utterly defy description— to the architectural gems of Gordon’s sworn enemy, Frank Lloyd Wright, to the strange and beautiful man-made grottos that dot the countryside, Wisconsin is a treasure trove of wonderful weirdness.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910-1983) was a true Wisconsinite, in the very best (and most eccentric) sense of the word. He lived in a world of his own making, hidden away in a modest house in Milwaukee with his beloved wife and muse Marie. During the days, he worked as a baker, but in his own words, he was a “Freelance Artist, Poet and Sculptor, Inovator [sic], Arrow maker and Plant man, Bone artifacts constructor, Photographer and Architect, Philosopher.” In each of his chosen disciplines, Von Bruenchenhein was incredibly prolific. When his work was discovered shortly after his death, his home was literally stuffed to the gills with his creations. His paintings are vivid, apocalyptic explosions of color, swirling with mysterious monsters and elusive, organic forms. The distinctive surfaces are partly a result of his process. Since brushes were often an unattainable luxury, he used his fingers, twigs or bushes made of  his wife Marie’s hair. Marie herself is a lovely enigma. Eugene clearly adored her. She was his one and only model in a series of photographs influenced by the pin-up imagery of the time. In his images, he turned her into a queen, a goddess, a siren… constructing crowns out of tin Christmas ornaments and adorning her with wreaths of pearls.

Left: one of Von Breunchenheim’s bone chairs. Right: A photographic portrait by Von Breunchenheim of his beloved Marie.

It was Von Bruenchenhein’s bone chairs that first caught my eye. They are tiny and intricate, constructed from the detritus of many a chicken dinner. Apparently, he ate a lot of chicken, because he also constructed wonderful little bone towers. They look almost like architectural models of the Watts towers.

I am also fascinated by a snapshot of a wall in his home, probably in the basement, scrawled with his philosophical musings. “Death haunts men forever and finally wins” is written directly underneath “Electric meter” and “Water and Gas.” It’s as if he felt that his revelations needed to be put somewhere permanent, somewhere that could not be misplaced like a sheet of paper. It’s like having the rare chance to peer into his head. Next to a pin-up in a bikini, ever the romantic, he writes: “All go down the drain. Collect yourself. Tomorrow it is too late. Make love worth ALL” – and above a dark water stain, there is “Love is a fire ever bright.”

To see more, visit his extended biography at Kinz + Tillou and view a great collection of photos at the Hammer Gallery site. More images after the jump!

14 Responses to “Jessica Joslin’s Love Letter to Wisconsin”

  1. Phoenix Marie Paris Says:

    What a lovely and brilliant introductory post! My household is cheering your new spot on board.

    Wisconsin is truly the only thing that makes living in the Windy City bearable for me during my stay (and our new WI farm share has breathed life back into our sad fridge). I’ve almost finished editing two years of House on The Rock photos to post in my gallery later this month. It’s a daunting task that’s taken all summer. You can drown in them, so much to see, it’s magically infinite! I’m not from the area, however, have only discovered a few SE Wisconsin wonders and artists so far, and Eugene Von Bruenchenhein is new to me. What a revelation, thank you for sharing this. Truly inspiring (and anything made from bone is doubly so in my book)!


  2. TempestedBird Says:

    I do love Wisconsin. I visited last summer and absolutely fell in love with all of the greenery and all the random stuff I encountered there.

  3. vaerlina Says:

    Some very good reasons why I live in wisco!

  4. Vivacious G Says:

    Wonderful post and welcome to the team! Thank you for sharing Wisconsin with us. :)

  5. John Klima Says:

    Oh how I miss my home state!

    You should definitely look up the late Milwaukee artist Mary Nohl when you get a chance.

  6. Slackety Pants Says:

    Ms. Joslin,

    So glad to see you here! I’ve been a big fan of your work for years. I couldn’t be happier to be one of the lucky ones who gets to see what inspires you.



  7. Jessica Says:

    Thanks everyone!!! :D

    Phoenix Marie: I’d love to see your pics from House on The Rock…send me a link when they’re online!

    John: Thanks for the tip on Mary Nohl, I’ll check it out next time I’m in that area. It’s fabulous that her house is still extant! I find it so sad that Von Breunchenheim’s house was demolished…

    Slacks: I’m deeply flattered, thank you! :)

    Also, a couple of my earlier posts, on the sculptors Franz Xaver Messerschmidt and Andy Paiko can be found here:

  8. Jessica Says:

    P.S. Slacks: I’m even MORE flattered now that a little bird told me who you are…SUCH a talented lady!!! Hope to see you perform some day! :)

  9. Mer Says:

    Gleeee! So glad you’re officially on the roster, dearie!

    Cause I need a leedle Jessica in my bowl.
    I need a leedle Joslin on my roll.

    *hee hee hee*

  10. ignotus Says:

    Great post. I was introduced to von bruenchenhein (and mary nohl) in an exhibit at the Kohler Art Institute called “sublime spaces and visionary worlds” full of sculptures, illustrations, and yard environments created by mostly Wisconsin outsider artists. The whole thing was completely mindblowing. All that remains now is the catalogue ( ), an eminently coilhouse-y book.

    I grew up in WI, and have visited many of its surreal rural attractions; I’ve definitely come to feel that the state has some strange power to make people crazy in all the right ways. Looking forward to more cool stuff!

  11. Jessica Says:

    Mer: Yaaaay…long-distance love bites!!! YUM.

    Ignotus: That book looks wonderful, thank you for the recommendation!

  12. Jessica Says:

    Mer: Yaaaay! Long-distance love bites!!! YUM.

    Ignotus: Thank you for the recommendation, that book looks wonderful!

  13. ChristopherR Says:

    Former Chicago resident who moved to Wisconsin (Superior) as a young boy. It is a truly haunted realm with a very profound geomagnetic anomaly. Things happen there.

  14. Joseph Says:

    There’s a feature film on the Fox Point Witch’s House currently in production! Check out the Facebook page for more information…