Wisconsin is a folk art hotspot and our back roads boast a collection of eclectic and quite eccentric sculpture gardens. In each case they are the unique vision of an untrained artist using available materials, often inexpensive concrete or recycled machine parts.
To lovers of "outsider" art they are places of wonder. We will take you to them all summer long on a folk art road trip featuring a new Quicktime panoramic tour and profile of a garden each week.
We begin in Dickeyville at its famous Grotto. Started in the 1920's on the Holy Ghost Parish grounds by its priest, Father Matthias Wernerus, the Grotto celebrates devotion to God and country. The Grotto itself contains a statue of the Blessed Virgin, and the grounds feature numerous shrines including one to patriotism that features Christopher Columbus.
The construction technique is the same troughout: concrete structures with embedded shells, rock, broken glass, even china plates. Local and more exotic rocks, even petrified wood, show up everywhere, and the grotto has attracted its share of geology classes in addition to art lovers and religious pilgrims.
Much of the colored glass was created by Father Wernerus himself by melting it down in his furnace, dyeing the molten glass, and then shattering it into hundreds of little pieces.
The name of the church must be fitting to Grotto Manager Marge Timmerman who feels the Holy Spirit guided Father Wernerus. "When I walk through that garden I feel such peace that I've never found anywhere else," Timmerman says.
"The people that come here sense that spirituality and peace. they really do, because they come back again and again. They bring their children, their grandchildren. They come by the busload so it's got to be something more than just looking at the rocks."
Though just looking at the rocks is pretty good, too. Try it on our panoramic tour.