The Paul and Matilda Wegner Grotto
psi at work with a small chisel

 

Vintage photo post card of the Wegner Grotto


Rose Wegner with the Bremen after restoration, 1987

 

The Paul and Matilda Wegner Grotto, Cataract, WI

The legendary Holy Ghost Park, an extensive landscape of sculptures and structures built of highly embellished concrete (popularly known as the Dickeyville Grotto), in Dickeyville, WI, inspired a number of builders in the region to embellish buildings and create entire environments out of similar materials within their own home landscapes. The Paul and Matilda Wegner Grotto is one of the outstanding creative responses to the Dickeyville Grotto.  Paul and Matilda were emigrated from Germany to Wisconsin in 1886. They settled in Bangor and later built a retirement cottage in Cataract, north of Sparta.

In 1929, Paul, Matilda, and their daughter Rose and her husband made the pilgrimage one hundred miles south to see the Grotto at Dickeyville.  Rose recalled that her parents were “transfixed” by what they saw.  Back at their farm, their combined inspiration took shape in embellished concrete sculptures and structures which animated their property with spiritual, patriotic, decorative, and deeply personal expressions. Drawing inspiration from the Catholic devotional nature of the Dickeyville Grotto, the Wegners created a sculptural landscape that was deeply spiritual but ecumenical in nature, a grotto “For Peace on Earth”.

After the Wegners passed away (Paul in 1937, Matilda in 1942), and immediate relatives could no longer maintain the site, it fell into decline for about 35 years. In 1986 Kohler Foundation, Inc. purchased the site and began a major restoration project. Howlett and Stone worked with Tom and Sally Farley and a team of graduate and undergraduate art students to work all aspects of the restoration project, which began in1986 and was completed in 1987.

The Wegner Grotto was methodically conceived and very well built. The project entailed creating a site plan, thoroughly examining all extant elements, and collecting and cataloging parts of sculptures and shards of embellishment. Settlement and lost embellishment were the major conditions that were addressed. All fence posts and sculptures were lifted and received new footings. Plaster walls throughout the Peace Monument and in the Glass Church were re-plastered by a bench plasterer. The Peace Monument required lifting and structural stabilization. The Wegner’s last works, the Bremen and the Anniversary Cake required extensive structural and surface stabilization. The footprint of the house was marked with concrete markers flush to the ground, and noted on the site plan on an anodized aluminum interpretive plaque.

The restoration project was completed in August 1987, and the site was gifted to Monroe County by Kohler Foundation Inc. that September, to be overseen by the Monroe County Local History Room.

As immigrants to the United States, the Wegner’s adopted homeland promised unconstrained expression of personal ideals, and within their extended garden they solidified shared spiritual, political, and personal convictions. The site was brought back from an extreme state of deterioration, and functions today as a site for reflection and celebration, a true peace monument.

Please click here to see a selection of images from the project.