Mary L. Nohl (1914 - 2001)

Birth date: 1914 Death date: 2001  
Birth location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin Death location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin  
Media: Ceramic , Metalsmithing , Painting , Sculpture Web site:
Comprehensive (file rating) - Major Wisconsin artist file that includes comprehensive documentation on artist's life that can be researched on site at MWA.


Mary L. Nohl              

Born   1914   in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Died   2001   in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

To many, the work of Mary L. Nohl is a mystery. Known for her “quirky lakefront home” that is decorated inside and out with her own brand of art: stained glass windows, mobiles, wooden reliefs of fish and other creatures and her yard overflowing with concrete figures of Easter-Island like sculptures and dinosaurs, Nohl filled her life with exploration of materials, form and design.

Mary L. Nohl was born in Milwaukee, the daughter of a well-established lawyer and his wife. When she was 10, the family built a summer cottage on the Lake Michigan shore in Fox Point. In 1945, the home was enlarged and in 1948, when snowplows were newly available, the family moved full time to the Beach Drive location. In 1938, Mary graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago and taught art at Milwaukee junior and senior high schools. She was a painter, silversmith, sculptor and owned a production pottery studio that she ran for 10 years.

In 1968, Mary’s mother died, leaving her a substantial inheritance. This enabled Mary to focus on her art full time. With her home as her canvas, Mary experimented. She covered every surface, walls, floors, windows, doors, furniture, kitchen cabinets, even her mother’s prized chandeliers with brightly colored paintings, fanciful wood sculptures, colorful mosaic patterns. She stipple-painted walls and ceilings, and drip-painted furniture and carpets. Mary’s art spilled out into her garden. She used found objects, stones, and wood from the shore, TV dinner containers, and old electrical cords to weave, construct, assemble patterns and sculptures that were the product of her need to continuously explore and to delight her senses.  Mary said, “Good design is what I am interested in.”  Nohl traveled widely. Reviewers have noted influences of Picasso, Duchamp, Calder and Nevelson in her art. Yet her style is distinctly her own, creating design that is at once child-like and sophisticated. Her work as an artist and as an environment builder has been nationally and internationally recognized. Her work is of particular significance because of her gender. Most environment builders are men.

Mary lived frugally. She bequeathed $11.3 million to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to provide continuing support for visual arts and art education programs in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area.


John Michael Kohler Museum, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Retrospective    University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, Wisconsin

 Sources - Mary Nohl:

Rohde, Mary, Artist’s Legacy Lingers. February 25, 2005. JournalSentinel: Lifestyle.

Gould, Whitney, Artist’s Wonder House Amazes. February 18, 2007.

© 11/1/2007 Museum of Wisconsin Art                                                                          6/2/2010

Wisconsin Affiliations

Wisconsin Art Organizations

No art organizations were found.

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