Rudy Rotter Self-taught artist


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 public institutions. 

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 accessible. 

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. His basic 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

The Art

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 unto themselves.



                                Late works                                                 

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 created. 




Manitowoc, Wisconsin


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 artwork 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

        Facebook| Instagram| Twitter | Pinterest




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 –


Randy Rotter

[email protected]

(206) 855-9625