Rudy Rotter -- Self-taught Artist
Rudy Rotter (1913-2001) was a
self-taught artist residing in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Rudy created over 15,000
works of art over a period of 45 years. He labored alone and underappreciated
in isolated spaces while creating unique and transcendent art.
Much of Rudy’s life-production
sits in an unheated warehouse in Manitowoc where it has been since the artist’s
passing 16 year ago. Rotter’s visibility and reputation has languished during
this period. Fortunately, a portion of his artwork was previously preserved in
Due to the ongoing costs of
storage, maintenance and a deteriorating structure; the art is at risk of being
lost. What the future holds has become a pressing issue.
The good news is that the
collection is now under new stewardship with the focus on making the work again
Who was Rudy?
Rudy grew up as the son of Jewish
immigrants in a Polish-Catholic neighborhood in Depression-era Milwaukee,
Wisconsin. At home his exuberant extended family spoke in a constant stream of
vivid Yiddish aphorisms. This peasant Eastern European cultural milieu was a
core influence throughout Rudy’s life, the poetic expressions and storytelling
remaining deeply embedded within him.
The children grasped at the new
opportunities America offered. Rudy became first a local museum zoologist and
then trained to be a dentist.
Thus, Rudy Rotter was
a hybrid … a small-town dentist; who at the same time labored daily as a
passionate self-taught artist. Within the community he was viewed as an
upstanding conventional citizen. As an intense serious working artist, he was
largely unseen and ignored.
Family and humanity were Rudy’s constant themes.
vision, seen most often in his early to mid-life work, was typically expressed
as a simple set of characters; man, woman and child groupings.
Early bas reliefs
From early on Rudy included
fantastic elements in his work. Figurative works often had one or more fantasy
figures included. This addition was not calculated, but rather was the
inclusion of a visceral vision of the moment.
Later the core theme of family
was expanded to include the Family of Man. Using this simple image-set as the
basis for his work -- with the added element of fantastic figures -- the art
was able to soar beyond its prescribed boundaries.
Local industrial and commercial
cast-off paper, wood and plastics were his raw materials. These formed the
foundation of his art and add a unique presence to the work. Free materials
gave him the opportunity to produce a large volume of art without restraint.
Rudy's Inventive Spirit
For 45 years Rudy repeated his
ideas and images using this limited subject matter, while at the same time
employing a constant stream of inventive formats. He creating art in series, yet
there was almost no exact duplication of work. Most importantly, given the
repetition of his themes and subjects Rotter’s art never became dull or
stylized. Each work is original, fresh and alive.
As said earlier, the
figurative works often include imaginary creatures of Rudy’s own making. While
the early sculptures and paintings expressed a serenity and spirituality, later
works take on a more mystical quality.
The figures exist in a world unique
Current State of the Collection
Time and handling have damaged some of the art housed in
the Manitowoc warehouse. Fortunately, most of the work remains as it was when first
Despite past support from
the Kohler Foundation; ongoing involvement of Milwaukee’s Portrait Society
Gallery; and earlier donations of work to academic institutions … the art now
needs to be dispersed into the world, into both the private and public realms.
Loss of the art would be a tragic end
to a valued cultural asset.
A Renewed Mission to Give Visibility to this Art
The mission is to preserve the
art of Rudy Rotter and make it accessible.
To that end the
is being curated to provide a clearer view of Rudy's
production. The art, when seen in its breadth and quality, is an important
part of the American self-taught genre.
Where to view the art?
– showcases the art and artist
Mixed media 1990’s
Your Participation is Welcomed
The goal is to
preserve this artwork. To assist, please share awareness of Rudy and his art. If
you have an academic interest in this genre, we'd love to hear from you.
Inquiries from collectors, galleries, museums, and others are welcome.
For more information
The Art of Rudy Rotter -- visit
The Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E.
Buffalo Street, Third Ward, Milwaukee, WI 53202 – http://portraitsocietygallery.com.