Madeline Buol Grotto

Several calls from preservationist Lisa Stone and Art Institute of Chicago professor Jim Zanzi alerted Kohler Foundation to the existence of this little known site: a rare concrete, stone, and glass shard environment of sculptures created by a woman.

An eleventh-hour rescue saved the Dubuque, Iowa grotto of Madeline Buol (1902-1986). Within a year of Kohler Foundation first learning of the site, the property was sold by the Buol family to a local man who planned to renovate and rent the house. The sculptures were destined for removal and most likely destruction, and thankfully, the owner refused an excavator’s offer to take the sculptures for use as fill. Kohler Foundation acquired the collection for a nominal price, as the owner was delighted to see the collection preserved for a museum.

The collection was removed from the site at the end of 2011 in rain and snow. A difficult task under good conditions, the weather made this a challenge. The pieces were moved by staff to the Kohler Foundation work space for extensive conservation treatment over the spring and summer.

Conservation treatment and supervision was provided by International Artifacts of Pearland, Texas. Each sculpture was researched, measured, documented, and photographed. Research was undertaken and documentation acquired through Buol family members. Treatment included stabilization, new bases, loss replacement, and extensive cleaning. The sculptures were gifted to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center at the end of 2012. They are not yet on display, but will likely be placed in an outdoor installation.