Precession of a Day: The World of Mary Nohl
Sung by Marielle Allschwang & The Visitations
Marielle Allschwang & The Visitations present a multimedia exploration of the life and work of Mary Nohl (1914-2001), creator of a legendary Wisconsin art environment. Featuring a song cycle set to footage from Nohl’s home, Allschwang and her band take a deep dive into a little-known and astoundingly prolific, complicated artist deserving much more renown.
June 22, 2019 // John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI **Premiere**
September 19 // UW-Madison PAC, Madison, WI
September 21 // Milwaukee Film @ Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee, WI
January 18^ // The Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN
^w/ Chris Rosenau
a precession story:
One summer when we were very small, my best friend and I took a bucket of wet sand and poured it onto the edge of the cement patio behind my parents’ house. We chose a section next to a large quartz rock I could barely wrap my arms around. (My Grandmother told me the stone was from the Age of the Dinosaurs, thusly presenting me with a time a portal between future and prehistoric worlds and charging the yard with wonder.) Without anticipating the results of our efforts, we each set of our palms into the sand, and we crouched there, exchanging stories, for hours. We spent the rest of that long summer day leaping and digging for ancient artifacts in a backyard that was our wilderness, our sand reliefs cheerfully forgotten.
The next day, we revisited the site of our experiment and found our hand prints embedded in the sand, as if fossilized. We rubbed the soles of our shoes against the grainy surface, expecting the sand to crumble away. But the forms held fast. We were amazed.
Evidence of an afternoon continued to survive decades of Wisconsin sun, snow, ice, and rain. I often project myself to the place where I grew up, as most of us do: In the backyard that was my wilderness, I place my hands upon the impressions left there. My grown-up hands eclipse and dwarf these imprints now, while the blazing sun and surrounding centuries-old pines, encrusted with sap, dwarf me. My adult mind can comprehend the science we first experienced as magic, but a part of me is still astounded that our imprints didn’t just...wash away.
One morning about five years ago--I remember it was Easter Sunday--I was heading down Lake Drive and realized how close I was to Mary Nohl’s house. I first encountered the otherworldly sculptures of her yard in my childhood, when my father drove us past her house on rare occasions. They had since then occupied a magical zone in my memory alone. By this moment, on early Easter morning, I had been keeping up with reports that her entire property--an artist built environment she created (and recreated) into her 80s with every material readily available to her, including Lake Michigan sand and driftwood, salvaged metal and cloth (included the family silver), brushes made of her own hair, and ceramics from a pottery shop she once owned on Green Bay Road, each assisting her to create a mysterious visual vernacular all her own--might be entirely uprooted and dispersed. It all could disappear.
I seized what might’ve been my last opportunity to revisit her work. Maybe I wanted my eyes and body to assure me that those magical sculptures outside her house were real, that the past could be reunited with the present and that art really does exist in a realm beyond time.
I pulled over and looked around: everyone was asleep or at church. I climbed her fence. I skirted the barbed wire that had once protected her from vandals. I jumped down into another dimension.
I could never have guessed that a few years later I would be in her yard again (with proper approval this time), filling my eyes up with everything I could find and, better yet, getting it all on video. I also never thought I would write a song cycle about anyone’s life and work, much less about someone I’ve never met. But “Precession of a Day: The World of Mary Nohl” is the offering I would have wanted to leave at her gate, but needed years to compose. That Easter Sunday when I was drawn to her house like a magnet, the relativity of time and the sea-like vastness of memory was palpable: Those few hours my best friend and I left our hands in sand and the countless hours Mary Nohl worked with sand from the same shore to make clusters of uncanny companions that, thankfully, still guard her home, all ancient and alien and whimsical and wild, circle in and out of time, to find each other.
“Precession of a Day: The World of Mary Nohl” will be performed for the first time on June 22 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (site steward of Mary Nohl’s home and art works, and lead commissioner of this project) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. It will be sung by Marielle Allschwang & The Visitations, with guests Erin Wolf and Caley Conway. Adam Michael Krause and I directed the film; Krause took on the great task of editing beautifully. We hold an incredibly deep well of gratitude to Heather Hass for joining us on cinematography duty, to Kelly Bolter for snapping pics to document the shoot, and to David Ravel for his support and guidance from the very beginning of this project’s creation.
At its core, "Precession of a Day" aims to explore of the act of co-creation with our environment and our memories, and the act of creation itself. What drives us to make our work? And what is that feeling or energy of the infinite we so often recognize in the act of making? It's something I recognized there, exploring Mary's yard, all thought and time obliterated by the crashing waves of Lake Michigan. “Precession” is as much an offering to that infinite source as it is to an artist who served it every day of her life.
-Marielle Allschwang // June 2, 2019 // Milwaukee, WI
for booking inquiries contact:
davidcharlesravel [at] gmail [dot] com
June 19 6:30 pm // No Studios, Milwaukee, WI | 1037 W.. McKinley Ave.
June 20 (time TBA) // John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI
this song cycle has been recorded
and is available as a Deluxe Double LP with Hardcover Booklet, featuring lyrics, images of Mary Nohl’s artwork & environment, and an essay by Polly Morris. Limited edition of 250. Find it online here and here, and at Acme Records and Rushmor Records in Bay View, WI.
about the film
“Precession of a Day: The World of Mary Nohl” was filmed by Marielle Allschwang, Heather Hass, and Adam MIchael Krause. Edited by Adam Michael Krause. Filming took place at Grant Park and at the Mary Nohl Art Environment site in Fox Point, WI. The site is part of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection, gift of the Kohler Foundation, Inc.
We thank Aidan Brusubardis, Margaret Muza, and Mark Borchardt for lending their voice acting talents to read letters written to Mary Nohl (originally penned by people we do not know, extracted via “Mary Nohl: Inside & Outside” by Barbara Manger). Titles by Ethan Krause. We thank Independent Studios for post-production assistance. Special thanks to Alex Gartelmann for graciously and generously hosting our site visits.
Our film “Precession of a Day” is part of the live performance of our song cycle. Not quite an “live accompaniment” and not quite a video backdrop, we created the music and film concurrently and complementarily, as an homage to/inspired by the immersive world of Mary Nohl.
Lyrics for “Precession of a Day: The World of Mary Nohl” can be found here.
Precession of a Day: The World of Mary Nohl has been commissioned by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Milwaukee Film, Wisconsin Union Theater/UW Madison, and the Cedar Cultural Center. Additional funding has been provided by the Mary L. Nohl Fund of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.