We are all creators and artists in the making. In order to produce something beautiful, formal training is not a necessity. A vision and a willingness to act upon it are the only requirements. A pair of Wisconsin artists had both.
The Paul and Matilda Wegner Grotto is an acre of utter imagination. The space is a true testament to Paul and Matilda's ingenuity, a husband and wife with a shared desire to create something together. The grotto rests amid the hills and valleys just outside Sparta, Wis. My mom and I visited earlier this month. It was the kind of summer adventure I long for all year round.
Paul and Matilda emigrated from Germany to Wisconsin in 1885. Initially, Paul worked for the railroad. Then the couple bought a farm. As the years passed, farm duties were handed off to one of their sons. Paul and Matilda moved to a new town, where Paul owned a car dealership. When it came time to retire, the farm became the couple's summer sanctuary.
Beginning in 1929, Paul and Matilda began creating their masterpiece. They spent more than seven years melding together masses of concrete and small glass shards. Using their interests, experiences, and creativity as a blueprint, the two retirees shaped a great variety of sculptures.
On the grounds stand a giant replica of a beloved anniversary cake. A deer and a prayer garden. A chapel large enough to worship inside. There is a pulpit and underneath it a small cave designated as a space of peace. Every inch of concrete is covered with bits of colored glass. It is an astounding sight.
After Paul and Matilda died, the family retained ownership of the land. In the 1980s, the site was purchased by the Kohler Foundation. It was given to Monroe County in 1987. All visitors are welcome to explore the grotto free of charge from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The space has been lovingly and carefully preserved.
When Mom and I visited, we were the only ones on the premises. It began to downpour a few minutes after we arrived. We rushed to the car and waited it out. After a quick 10 minutes, the storm passed and the sun was shining. The already beautiful garden of sculptures took own a new sheen. Water drops twinkled on every piece of glass. A place that already felt incredibly sacred became even more breathtaking.
The entrance to the grotto is an archway displaying the word "home," shaped out of small, black pieces of glass. Though I had never been to the grotto before, it immediately felt familiar. It felt like a kind of home. A home for creative dreams. An abode for artistic imagination.
Though Paul and Matilda both passed away in the first half of the 20th century, their vision lives on. It is an oasis in the Wisconsin countryside, and I highly recommend you carve out time for a visit.
For more about the grotto, visit the Monroe County Local History Room & Museum website, www.monroecountyhistory.org/wegnergrotto.php.