Nick Engelbert's Grandview.
Teenaged Ed Engelbert (as a monkey) hangs out with a beverage-sharing hobo.

Nick Engelbert's Grandview

Field review by the editors.

Hollandale, Wisconsin

Among Wisconsin's many venerable folk art sites -- and there are some impressive survivors -- Nick Engelbert's Grandview stands out for its creator's sense of humor. His artworks were never meant to be entirely normal. They included, at various times, Uncle Sam plowing with an uncooperative donkey and elephant, Paul Bunyan hanging out with Snow White, and the Engelbert family as a pack of monkeys.

Nick Engelbert's Grandview.
Cement tribute to Wisconsin's Viking settlers.

Engelbert, who owned Grandview Dairy Farm, began filling his front yard with hand-made sculptures in the 1930s, possibly inspired by a family trip to the nearby Dickeyville Grotto. When Nick reached retirement age he really picked up the pace, and by the time he'd grown too old to continue, in the early 1950s, he'd completed over 40 sculptural groups. He'd also covered his entire farmhouse with walls of concrete, encrusted with colorful shards of glass, beads, buttons, sea shells, and broken crockery from the Engelbert kitchen.

Nick's usual statue-making technique was to wrap wooden boxes with metal nets, slather the mass with cement, shape it into whatever he had in mind -- a Viking, an organ grinder, a mermaid -- then embed bric-a-brac.

Nick's motives, he said, were partly patriotic. "It is because of my deep appreciation for what the United States has given me that I am constantly working on this historical barnyard," he's quoted on one of Grandview's many interpretive plaques. "If a man can't be happy on a little farm in Wisconsin, he hasn't the makings of happiness in his soul."

Nick Engelbert's Grandview.
Mermaid in Neptune's Fountain has glass-shard scales and mirrors for eyes.

Nick, according to another plaque, frequently welcomed hobos and tramps into the family house, and subsequently immortalized one as a sculpture. Titled, "Bacchus, you made a monkey out of me," the inebriated guest, holding a whisky bottle, sits on the ground, propped against a "Family Tree" on which are perched the amused simian Engelberts. The monkey smoking a pipe is Nick.

Nick Engelbert's Grandview.
Organ grinder holds the guest register at Grandview's entry gate.

Engelbert died in 1962, on his 81st birthday. His house and yard were abandoned, and for decades suffered the ravages of morons and Wisconsin weather. Uncle Sam, Paul Bunyan, and other sculptures vanished (only Paul's big feet remain), while others crumbled under the onslaught. The future looked grim -- until the property was bought in 1991 by the artsy Kohler Foundation. It spent six years restoring Grandview, then donated it to the local PEC Foundation, which added the plaques and reopened the site to the public in 1997.

Grandview today is as peaceful, sleepy, and rural as it was when Nick was building his statues, some of which have been carefully rebuilt using old family photographs. The Engelbert farmhouse has been turned into a small museum of Nick's life and work, open during limited hours in the summer. It's a bucolic spot when the weather's nice, but even the newer sculptures look old and slightly ravaged, with worn-away paint and cracked cement. "The statues take a beating in the winter," notes one plaque, "so we're always repairing and restoring."

Nick Engelbert's Grandview

Address:
7351 Hwy 39, Hollandale, WI
Directions:
On the south side of Hwy 39, about a half-mile west of Hollandale.
Hours:
Yard open daily. Museum open Summer only, Th-Su 1-4 (Call to verify)
Phone:
608-967-2322
Admission:
Free, donations appreciated
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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