Wegner Grotto entrance.

The Wegner Grotto

Field review by the editors.

Cataract, Wisconsin

Paul and Matilda Wegner were German immigrants. They lived normal, relatively obscure lives in Wisconsin for 44 years. Paul worked for the railroad and ran a Ford garage; he and Matilda were farmers who raised five kids.

In 1929 they traveled downstate to visit the Dickeyville Grotto -- and a switch flicked in their formerly practical German heads. Paul and Matilda returned to their farm and immediately began building sculptures and structures of cement and broken glass. Within a few years these two senior citizens had a home surrounded by art.

Ocean Liner sculpture.

The result is today called The Wegner Grotto. It followed the Dickeyville pattern of building something out of cement, then embedding it with thousand of shards of cracked glass and chunks of crockery. The Wegners must've had farm-hardened hands; their world has the texture of a cheese grater.

One of their best-known creations is The Glass Church, a tiny chapel encrusted with shard mosaics of church spires from various Protestant denominations. The front of the building is a billboard for the three big German religions of 1930: Catholic, Lutheran, and Jewish. Despite its itty-bitty size The Glass Church was used for services, and if you call the local historical society that oversees the property you can still get married in it.

Star and heart sculpture.

That's mostly it for established religion at the Wegner Grotto. Paul and Matilda were more inspired by patriotism and family matters. They built a 12-foot-long ocean liner, the Bremen, out of seashells and telephone pole insulators, as a tribute to the boat that had carried them to America in 1885. A big star is a memorial to mothers who lost sons in World War I, as had Matilda Wegner. There's a deer with marble eyeballs (and supposedly a real skull beneath its glass-encrusted head), and a giant concrete and glass version of the Wegner's 50th anniversary wedding cake.

Paul Wegner died in 1937. His funeral was held in The Glass Church. Matilda carried on for five more years -- she even wrapped the Wegner burial plot in layers of crockery -- until she died in 1942. In the mid-1980s the Wegner Grotto was purchased and spruced up by the Kohler Foundation, which then gave it to the county as a park.

Glass shards.

Today the Wegner Grotto is more bucolic than it ever was while the Wegners were alive. It stands in a quiet, tree-shaded patch of rural countryside, small but tidy, its countless thousands of glass shards sparkling in the sunlight. The fanciful concrete entry arch with the word "HOME" now leads to an empty patch of grass.

The Wegner farmhouse is gone, but the artwork that surrounded it has survived, probably because no wayward cow or malicious human, touching one of the Wegner's flesh-scraping creations, would ever make that mistake again.

Also see: Dementia Concretia

The Wegner Grotto

Address:
6025 Hwy 71, Cataract, WI
Directions:
South of town, or nine miles north of Sparta. On the south side of Hwy 71, just west of Hwy 27.
Hours:
Memorial Day - Labor Day
Admission:
Free.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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