The Outsider magazine

 Published by INTUIT -- The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

The Uncertain Legacy of Rudy Rotter - Winter 2003


Written two years after the artist's passing, this article explores what will become of the artwork of Rudy Rotter from a 2003 perspective. The topic is timely given the 2017 transfer of stewardship of the collection to the artist's son, with the renewed mission to save the artwork and move it into the public arena.

The article's emphasis in 2003 was on finding a local solution to preserving Rotter's work. This possibility of permanently preserving the collection in place ended in 2009 with the disassembly of the dormant museum. The goal now is to achieve a broad distribution of the work either as a collection in whole or in part, or through movement of the art to private individuals and organizations.

Another point of focus is on the artist's earlier wood carvings and traditional scuptures as the valued work in the collection. A strong argument can be made that the diminished physical strength of the artist in his late 70's forced a change from the use of hard and heavy materials to more flexible mediums. The result was the unleashing of a refreshed and expansive creativity which manifested a profuse stream of inventive and ebullent works during the last decade of his production. 


       Rudy Rotter Artist

         Author: Pegi Taylor


Rotter was Wisconsin's and perhaps the nation's most prolific artist. A one-block, 21,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Manitowoc contains around 16,000 pieces of his art, including carvings, assemblages, and drawings. Rotter started creating this huge body of work in 1955, at the age of 43, and continued until his death in November 2001 at the age of 88. ...

[re Manitowoc Museum of Sculpture] Pieces are stacked on the tables and line the shelves and walls of his dusty, drafty, and dark museum. Beth Bergin, director of travel programs for the American Folk Art Museum, included Rotter's space on a September tour. She's been with AFAM for 16 years and says, "I've never seen quite as many pieces." ...

The art world seems to agree that he qualifies as a self-taught artist. Tony Rajer, author of Rudy Rotter's Spirit-Driven Work: The Odyssey and Evolution of an Artistic Vision (self-published through Fine Arts Conservation Services in 1998), describes Rotter's self-taught attributes as "obsessive-compulsive production, serial proliferation, and artistic production outside of the academic realm." ...

Says Leslie Umberger, senior curator of exhibitions and collections at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, "He differs from other artists who embellish and transform their environments in that his interest lay more in making and interacting than in presentation and self-fulfillment." ...

David K. Smith, an art historian who shared studio space with Rotter for about a year in the mid-90s, believes the shiny delights he concocted from parts he got from the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry or Dave's Trophy Company expanded Rudy's creative vision. He became a better artist. ...

[Debra] Brehmer says that what she finds worthy about the space is how it holds the uncritical energy of Rotter's "joyous valuing of life. His message [was] that you don't need much to transform a moment or a day into something that touches on the miraculous." She contrasts Rotter's love of creating with the angst-filled tribulations of many artists, and argues that artists may learn more from visiting Rotter's space than from touring a traditional art museum. ...

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