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While his neighbors dreamt of butterfat percentage and price supports, dairyman Nick Engelbert had visions of an entirely different kind. In Engelbert's dreams, lions roared across the African savanna and monkeys leapt from vine to vine. Fierce vikings plied the North Atlantic swells. And Snow White took company with five (not seven) dwarfs.
Beginning in the 1930s and continuing over a period of 30 years, the immigrant from the Austro-Hungarian Empire crafted his visions in concrete, glass and stone and planted them in the gardens surrounding his farm in the Iowa County community of Hollandale. Although the folk sculptor died in 1962, his work lives on and continues to delight all those who experience its whimsical charm.
At Grandview, as the Engelbert home is called for its fine vistas of neighboring fields, The Kohler Foundation has restored the sculpture garden and created a museum about the life of the man that many still remember as the easygoing local milkman. More than 260 volunteers from the Blanchardville-Hollandale area played some role in helping to make Grandview, now run by the Pecatonica Educational and charitable Foundation, an attraction that would do honor to Engelbert and encourage visitors to tour the area. The house and garden are a mile west of Hollandale on Highway 39.
Grandview's rescue began seven years ago, when the property was purchased by the Kohler Foundation. The organization seeks out properties with "self-taught art" like Engelbert's, buys the site, restores the art, finds a nonprofit group and gifts these improved parcels to local organizations that will run and maintain the property.
Restoring the rundown house and its crumbling sculptures would prove to be a labor of love and time. After Engelbert's death, the next owner of the property did nothing to care for the sculptures, and the three decades of neglect were painfully evident. Polish art specialists from Chicago were brought in by Kohler to stabilize the sculptures' wooden-and-wire mesh armatures. Some pieces could not be salvaged, so copies were made. It took nearly three years to complete the work.
The Pecatonica Educational and Charitable Foundation assumed responsibility for Grandview in 1998. Volunteers replanted the gardens and worked in the house as guides. A class of local 6th graders inspired by Engelbert's art wrote the museum's brochure.
Grandview is open from May 1 to November 1. You can see many of the sculptures from the road, but the museum is well worth a visit. It contains copies of some Engelbert paintings – a hobby that this prolific artist did not take up until he was 70 years old.
For more information, and to book a museum tour, call the Pecatonica Educational and Charitable Foundation at (608) 967-2140.
To make a pleasant day trip, combine a visit and picnic at Grandview with a stop at Yellowstone Lake State Park or Governor Dodge State Park. The Military Ridge State Trail, open to hiking and biking, is also in the vicinity.