“Ruth was one of a kind. The world of art and especially the world of ceramics has been changed forever because of her positive energy. The primitive art she saved alone would be enough to make her my hero, but her work with The Arts in Industry program and the Kohler arts festival puts it over the top for me. So many of my closest lifelong friends I met because of your big heart and big ideas with the ability to make things happen. (and always for the right reason). Thank you so much for being you and giving yourself to all of us who were trying to make it in the art world. You are already a legend to us. Say hi to Paul Donhauser for me, he’ll show you around for sure. Love you Ruth” – Tony Menzer
“Oh, gosh. The news of her death is such terribly sad news. I’m so sorry. She was a remarkable visionary, wasn’t she? There are so many others in our country who have the means to make meaningful contributions to the nation and to American culture, but who lack the intellect, the drive, and the vision that enabled her to rise to such a high level and wide scope of generosity and achievement. She was an angel.” – Fred C Fussell
“Ruth was one of the most memorable people that I have met over the course of my life. A larger than life personality, a deeply warm woman one is unlikely to ever forget meeting. Her unabiding commitment for unrecognized artists deserving of recognition was such a fitting passion for a woman of such substance and integrity. I can only imagine how much she will be missed.” – Linda Finkel
“Ruth will be missed by artists and art lovers, those who make and those who appreciate—all over the world. It was a privilege to know Ruth, and see her creative mind spinning out new idea all the time. She really did create a Visionary World and we were all privileged to share it with her. We miss you dear Ruth!” – Jane Mandel
“What a great loss to Wisconsin and beyond!. An amazing woman who made art sing and opened eyes to the magic of art. Her commitment to art environments by ordinary people was remarkable. And, Ruth’s commitment to the restorations of art environments is something will last as her legacy for generations to come. Ruth dreamed of an Art Preserve for decades and it is finally a reality. The sad fact is she will not be here for the opening next year; however, she knew her goal was reached when the building was finished this year.
I met Ruth with friends from Milwaukee many years ago. When I first walked into the Art Center I knew it was my kind of place because you immediately were confronted with a large, airy workshop where children and adults were busily creating art. My relationship with Ruth over three decades was delight, from serving on the Board of Directors to enjoying her comments on various exhibitions. Ruth’s humor and connection to her community put everyone at ease and each of us appreciated her intellect and fun. She will live in my heart always.” -Diane Buck
“I never had the privilege of meeting Ruth, but I will always know and admire her for her numerous good works. Saving M.T. Liggett’s signs, Fred Smith’s Concrete Park, Pasaquan and so many other places constitute an enduring legacy that lives on. We are all deeply indebted to Ruth.” – Steve Plattner
“Please accept my deepest condolences for your family’s loss. Ruth will forever be in our hearts.
Su legado es enorme y su espíritu vital queda grabado en las creaciones de los artistas a los que elevó, en la comunidad a la que amó, en los corazones de aquellos a los que pudieron conocerla.” – Ale & Marcos Guevara
“The art world is missing a legend today. I feel lucky to have known Ruth, worked with Ruth, and called her a friend.” – Ellen Clark
“I first met Ruth sometime in the 70’s when I taught a couple of courses at the center. She asked me to show my work— drawing & fibers— in one of the “Perspectives” series shows. She also asked me to judge the summer arts festival show. The first time some of the artists claimed that their work had not been considered so the second time she had me wear a black top hat with a big button that said” Here comes da judge”! No complaints that time! She was an amazing woman & a powerful and creative force in the world. Her accomplishments will continue to benefit and inspire many generations to come.” – Barbara Manger
“I love what Ruth did with her life. My heart goes out to those who loved her as they grieve during this time when they should be surrounded by the MANY lives she touched. I am grateful for the one meal I shared with this iconic and warm soul, and for all she contributed to this community.” – Linda Adams
“In a medium-sized town in Wisconsin, a wealthy woman, Ruth Kohler of Kohler bathroom fixtures, created an amazing museum dedicated to those who made/make art outside of the normal pathways in the brain and in society. Many of these people were/are poor and/or marginalized who create fantastical art that sweeps us in with their powerful visual communication. She created a gallery home for imagination and gave her region of Sheboygan, Wisconsin experiences in dance, music, and theater as well as visual art. I went to a book signing once. It was a small gathering. She was obviously a powerhouse with an outsider vision that she shared with so many of those she championed. Thank you, Ruth for your beautiful legacy of protecting and encouraging the art of those who don’t always fit in–chicken-bone sculptures, “The healing Machine” by a Nebraska farmer, bunches of art environments preserved where they were created in yards. People like you should never die. Your genius is a treasure for humanity. I love your museum, thirty miles north of me—one of the best parts of moving to Wisconsin. Tears of awe for who you were, and gratitude for what you created and left for us. “Be open to detours and side roads—often they lead to the richest experiences.” Quote by: RUTH DEYOUNG KOHLER II” – Nancy Camden
“It has been a gift to both know Ruth and share time with her. Notable was the “Road Less Travelled” Seminar and the evening dinner to honor her in celebration with other professionals, friends, colleagues and family. Years before I had been in the (Hot!) July Outdoor Art Fair. In the evening, Ruth had a Barbeque Picnic Supper for the artists who were vendors in the sale. She was always inventing new ways for artists to benefit from one another! I came two years ago when the plans for the Art Preserve were given to the public and again, I had a chance to talk with Ruth. This coming June, I will sense her enormous spirit when we celebrate the opening of the Art Preserve. Thank you, dear Ruth!” – Sister Karlyn Cauley
“Ruth Kohler built the best museum. Her story, and her work to preserve outdoor art environments while working with local communities to support their ongoing maintenance and stewardship of those sites is transporting and visionary; further evidence of her genius is the resident program to invite studio artists into a commercial industrial workplace to learn, teach, and expand the scale and scope of their productions. Throughout the programs and exhibitions I have seen at the Kohler runs a spirit of generosity and learning. The Kohler invites and instructs without condescension or exclusion. This doesn’t happen by accident; those values are baked in.
I never met her, and always hoped to, but I am certain I have felt Ruth Kohler’s influence through the demonstrable goodness of the JMKAC. I am ever grateful to her.” – Tracy Honn
“Ruth Kohler is a true champion of the arts and we will miss her dearly. She had a solid belief that the arts make for a better world and acted on this with all her pursuits, time, and energy. She set the intentions and energy of the JMKAC which in my experience is one of the most visionary, do it yourself, artist run, and deeply meaningful art centers in the world.
My architecture firm, Tres Birds, had the privilege to work side by side with Ruth over the last 4 years on designing the Art Preserve. Ruth set the tone immediately that the art is to be primary and the artists uplifted. Ruth continually motivated us during the design process with her progressive thinking and years of experiences within the establishment of the arts and her personal relationships with the artists that are featured at the art preserve. My work with her convinced me that creativity is infinite, art can make for a better world, and to always come to design discussions with options. We feel blessed for our time with Ruth and will activate what we learned from her into all our future thinking, projects, and life.” – Michael Moore
“Ruth had a fantastic eye for hidden artistic talent and was much revered for her talent. We will remember her passionate and charismatic persona and the achievements she has accomplished. She will be missed but most certainly not forgotten.” – Julie Wicklund
“When I met Ruth for the first time, she told me she felt like she knew me her entire life. We became friends immediately. We’d chat from time to time. If it wasn’t for Ruth and her dedication to the Arts Center, I would not be the artist that I am today. She encouraged me, and appreciated my work. She was amazing!” – Mary Deehr
“Ruth, you will be so missed by all who knew and loved you. You were so amazing in your work and made countless, wonderful contributions to our community. You always remembered us and our names. It was a gift to know you and to spend time with you. Well done, Ruth. God bless you and rest in peace.
Sincerely and our sympathy to your wonderful family and friends, Paula and Jeff Solinger” – Paula & Jeff Solinger
“To the Kohler Family,
We were disappointed to hear of Ruth’s passing. Ruth was a woman of great intellect , vision and passion.
Ruth will be missed by family, friends and the entire community.
Our sincerest condolences.” – Ed & Jacque McKelvey
“A fond farewell and a heartfelt THANK YOU to Ruth DeYoung Kohler II, longtime and innovative director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, in Sheboygan, WI. Ruth died at the age of 79, on Saturday. Her legacy as one in the forefront of her field is without question an enduring one. She made the museum an international art destination, and- for someone like myself who has visited a lot of museums- it was truly one of my favorite spaces to visit. The shows there were always visionary- ahead of their time and timeless- much like the art they specialized in presenting and preserving: vernacular, outsider, self-taught, whatever you want to call it, the art was- like Ruth herself- always unique. I honor her memory and will be forever grateful to have been within the gravitational pull of her orbit.” – Lewis Koch
“My prayers and sympathies to Ruth’s family. I met Ruth in 2007 when she invited two residents from Safe Harbor to join her at the Weil Center to see the traveling NRP show. I was one of the two women chosen to attend the show. Ruth was a joy to be with and we had a lovely visit with her. I had the opportunity to connect with her again a few years later at a show at the JMK Arts Center. She remembered me from the previous visit which was a surprise to me! She was truly a gem! M. Laura K.” – M. Laura Kooger
“Ruth was a force of nature and a gentle soul sincerely interested in making real connections. She is the cornerstone and savior of folk art environments. She will be missed. I am sure Tony Rajer is greeting her in folk art heaven.” – Christine Style
“The death of Ruth DeYoung Kohler is a major loss to the art world and to those who knew her. Her vision was bold, prescient and uncompromising. Under Ruth’s influence, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center became a leader in the study and presentation of often ignored self-taught and outsider artists, particularly those who created outdoor art environments. Many of these artist-built environments have been preserved throughout the country due to her tireless efforts, enriching the communities where they reside. We can also thank her for bringing much-deserved attention to important artists such as Albert Zahn, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein and Mary Nohl through world-class exhibitions and scholarship. Perhaps most important, Ruth and the JMKAC illustrated, on a grand scale, how anyone, regardless of training or education, can both create and enjoy great art, the same ideals upon which Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art is founded. I’m so grateful to Ruth for her leadership and friendship.” – Debra Kerr, president and CEO of Intuit
“I will sincerely miss this incredible visionary and creative soul. Being fortunate to have worked closely with her on marketing efforts for JMKAC, I will always remember that cunning smirk as her mind drew up inspiring and impactful insights and ideas that one could always say pushed outcomes for the better. She was a bold, brazen, boss lady that I will always admire.
Rest well Ruth.” – Jamie Haack
“Rest peacefully, dear Ruth. Oh what a ride!” – Anne Stauber Tritz
“Ruth was a great champion for the Arts in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. I appreciated the honor to meet her and work with the Art center. I’m honored to know her and call her a friend.” – Timothy Decke
“Ruth was a year ahead of me in high school but I considered her a dear friend. She was shy so to read of her accomplishments is a very pleasant surprise. She definitely had “it in her” all the time. Her dad was such a nice, unassuming man and he clearly was a brilliant man and a loving father to Ruth and Herb. Although it doesn’t say anything in this tribute about Ruth contributing to the Koehler product line, I often wonder when I see the unique designs of their products, if the love of art and it’s impact on our everyday lives doesn’t run through the generations of family that have followed. She was a special person and I’m proud to have known her even for a short time in high school. PS the picture of her in the video is her high school senior photo which is a nice remembrance too. Thank you for this wonderful tribute.” – Joyce (Mesenbrink) Standish
“I meet Ruth with I was 13 doing summer theater at the art center. She has always been an inspiration to me. She will be truly missed.” – Laura Marie Wigg
“I never met Ruth, but I knew of her through work. I did not know the depth of her involvement in the Arts program. I now understand her passion and commitment to the Arts and the community. really a remarkable person. My sympathy to the family and friends of Ruth.” – Micheal Fasse
“I feel so honored and blessed that Ruth was my friend. She was such a visionary and a guiding light for both the staff and board. She was witty, interesting and interested in whatever others had to say. When she asked me to join the board and I said that the only thing I knew about art was what I liked. She told me that she’d educate me and she did! Whoever would have though that EVB would be one of my favorite artists with his chicken bone sculptures. RIP, dear Ruth. I will miss you.” – KC Nemschoff
“Ruth was a force of nature and a gentle soul sincerely interested in making real connections. She is the cornerstone and savior of folk art environments. She will be missed. I am sure Tony Rajer is greeting her in folk art heaven.” – Christine Style
“I was fortunate to have met Ruth and experience her dedication through my work on the Rhinestone Cowboy and Emery Blagdon conservation projects among others. Her clarity of vision and confidence in all those she met to achieve seemingly impossible goals was an inspiration that has guided me in my own career over the past several decades. She will be dearly missed.” – Jim Deyoung
“Back in 1985, I worked as Project Engineer at Ametek, Plymouth Products Division. One afternoon, Ruth called me and invited me to the Arts Center to share our Hmong culture and way of life to the community. The Hmong were refugees from Laos after the Vietnam War era ended in 1975. There were many good people and great companies who wanted to know more about their new neighbors. My meeting with Ruth was the creation and the birth of the “Partner for Community” project that involved many of the minority communities who chose to make their living in Sheboygan, not by choice, but by the humility and great heart of the Sheboygan people. Under Ruth Directorship, I was invited to serve on the board in multiple terms and got the Hmong Community involved with Arts meddling with our thousands years of culture. The Sheboygan Community at large learnt to know and accept the Hmong Refugees because of JMKAC. I was proud and highly honored to be called by Ruth her “Friend”, and I am so grateful for her kindness and her support to our Hmong community, especially she got so many Hmong youths to get involved in the Arts. We will miss you for ever.” – Vue X. Yang
“I grew up in Weyburn Saskatchewan in the 1950s. I lived beside the rail yards on the east side of town. There was a bit of prairie between us an town were we used to play. In those days there was a mixed train of freight and passengers called The Mountaineer that went from Chicago to Calgary and then on to Banff.
Sometimes the train would halt in the yard before going into the small station. At twilight often I could see the passengers looking out while I looked at these people I would never see again on their way to somewhere. We have all experienced this on buses, subways, cars, trains, wondering about a person you just saw and will not see again ever. I might have seen a young Ruth with her father heading to Banff for summer painting classes. And she might have seen me staring at her.
I learned this when having lunch at the Kohler with Ruth when I spent a week appraising a large Palmer Cox collection Ruth had acquired. I had become the Brownie guy and expert and worked on her enthusiasm she had acquired to the best of my ability. We thought we should ‘do something’ with the collection which did not quite fit in with the socially conscious schedule with which I had considerable sympathy being from democratic socialist Saskatchewan.
Not too long ago my wife and I drove to Minneapolis for a Conference and our route back allowed us to stop at the first outdoor folk environment preserved by the Kohler Foundation. I left a note on the Kohler Gallery site about it and she called me.
We had a great one hour talk.
Being of the same age and commitment I do wish we had kept up a discussion about the social responsibilities of museums that we both espoused.” – Wayne Morgan from Grimsby, ON
“My husband Tom Spleth and I met through Ruth and we will always be indebted to her for that chance encounter! Ruth was the most imaginative, forward thinking, hard-driving, visionary leader I have met in my 45+ years in the art world. Her creative drive and unceasing flow of ideas surpasses anything I could dream up. What a force of nature and what a loss. You are missed my friend.” – Jean McLaughlin and Tom Spleth
“Ruth was a postcard collector. I was the Image and Licensing Specialist at the Curt Teich Postcard Archives for 23 years. We spoke the same language. She was an inspiration, a force, someone I will never forget. She left an incomparable legacy” – Debra Gust
“Thank you, Ruth for sharing your passion for the arts with new generations. Visiting the JMKAC throughout my childhood and early adulthood helped inform my decision to become an artist. Throughout my art education I was always ahead of my professors when it came to new artists to watch because I had already seen their work at the Art Center. Thank you for leaving this legacy. It’s above and beyond any other art space, hands down. Sorry, MoMA. JMKAC will always be the best and it’s because of Ruth!!!” – RAINA BELLEAU
“It’s through people like Ruth Deyoung Kohler that I’ve been able to justify the good in all people. A life very well spent…travel softly into that good night!” – Allan Loeffler
“I remember Ruth fondly because I was an artist who exhibited at JMKAC before I actually worked there as an installation assistant. I lived in Sheboygan from 1981-82. I was young just out of art school and I appreciated all the things I learned there. Rest in peace Ruth.” – MARKUS DOHNER
“Spending time with Ruth while participating in the Arts/Industry program was a wonderfully memorable time. The generosity and pursuit of an authentic vision will be her legacy. Thank you for all!” – Debra Sherwood
“I just learned of Ruth’s passing last November. My sincere condolences to Ruth’s family and friends. Like many others, I’m SO thankful for people like Ruth who are so very involved in their communities and beyond, bringing people together through the arts as well as the preservation of history and architecture. Because of her legacy, I know Ruth will never really be gone from our lives. She will continue to live on in the decisions of those who were lucky enough to be influenced by her energy and love of the arts while working with her; in the experiences of every one who will continue to learn from and experience the various historical sites and arts programs Ruth and the Kohler Foundation has and continues to support; in friends who hold her close in their hearts; and most clearly in her family who were able to enjoy her on the most intimate of levels and through whom her influence shines brightest.” – Kelly Brinkman
“It was such a pleasure to meet Ruth when I was part of the Arts/Industry program in 1987 coming from California. Ruth was so entertaining and warm taking the artists out to dinner. What a life well lived. What she has accomplished is remarkable, and JMKAC is somewhere I regularly send our students for the magnificent exhibits.” – Elaine Scheer
“Read the article in the Chicago Tribune about the Art Preserve grand opening. What a wonderful mission. “Be open to detours and side roads – often they lead to the richest experiences” so true. We look forward to attending.” – Claudia George
“Very interesting exhibit including the insight to the original home. Her schooling is very intriguing as well. Thank you for sharing with us.” – Rebecca S
“You added so much to our story and the story of this community. We had been married for 4 days when we met you, and then came to work at the Art Center a few weeks later. You welcomed us like family and we’ll never forget the opportunity. It’s been 24 years and our lives have been filled by the love and friendship of many, and the chance to create good work ever since. Thank you!” – Pamela Butler Channel
“Ruth’s creative genius is reflected in the JMKAC and its new Art Preserve, but from the moment I met Ruth it was immediately apparent that she was to be one of those people whose counsel was to be sought and cherished. Whether in public settings or personal conversations her insights and enthusiasm were informative and inspirational for a young executive director of a not-for-profit navigating organizational growth and cultivating an important family legacy. Always sincere, but at times ranging from serious to silly to sanguine Ruth’s leadership’s lessons continue to guide me and my work. Thanks Ruth for recognizing the bounty and beauty of life in all of us! Buddy Huffaker, Aldo Leopold Foundation” – Buddy Huffaker
“I value the friendship and memories Ruth and I had over many years. We enjoyed dinners, movies and visits to various venues around Wisconsin. She seemed to always be happy and ready to try different things. She was very special and is greatly missed.” – Steve Malsow
“Ruth was an amazing artist snd person! She truly believed in the power of Art! Her beliefs in me as an Artist helped me grow. I appreciate every conversation we had together. She was and still is a great leader among Artists.” – Tim Decker
“Ruth gave her heart to the Art Center, but she always kept a little back for her furry little friend. She cared deeply for her dogs! Each one had a personality she would tell you about, or if you were lucky enough you got to see it! I believe all dogs go to Heaven, and Ruth is with them today!” – Patrick Mueller
“I’ll never forget traveling down the old county trunk highway S, down from Sturgeon Bay, many, many years ago. I saw the deserted home of Albert Zahn as I got further south and pulled over to marvel at the building that still was enhanced by the carved birds by this “Birdman of Door County”. At that time, I exclaimed that it was a shame that this man had yet to be recognized enough for his home to be subjected to weather and vandalism. It was not much later than that event, that I did discover someone who also heralded the work by this self-taught artist/visionary. Her name was Ruth Kohler and the Kohler foundation was hot on the mission of salvaging the body of work still left intact and elevated it to museum status amongst the artists and art works at the Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan. In my eyes, as I was an avid collector and gallerist which similarly built my reputation on representing other “outsider” artists (Bill Traylor, Joseph Yoakum, Simon Sparrow, Lee Godie, etc.), Ruth Kohler became an instant heroine in her efforts to reveal and celebrate the genius of the artists from this particular genre, elevating them to levels of stardom which these artists in their lifetimes never expected to occur. That to me was pure heroism! Ruth will go down in my pages of true stardom as having championed the true genius of the innately visionary artists that these people were/are.” – Carl Hammer
“What a gem of a place! The repurposed nature of the artwork (and, the setting) drew us here.What an amazing place. We will be back.” – M Aguilar
“Thrilling. Competing for my favorite museum with The Museum of Poplar Art in Mexico City. I cannot wait to come back.” – Mary Simpson
“So great to hear Ruth’s wonderful infectious giggle. I first met her through the National Crafts Planning Project organized by Eudorah Moore out of the NEA in 1981. I was so entranced by Ruth that I asked if I could do my internship for the University of Michigan’s Museum Practice Program at JMKAC instead of in New York. Many people thought I was mad going to Sheboygan Wisconsin. But the nine months spent working with Ruth on the Basketworks exhibition was life-changing and ultimately inspired me to do a Ph.D. in anthropology at U.C.L.A to better understand world arts snd culture. Ruth’s eye for detail, sense of wonder as well as the absurd, was amazing. It was both why you wanted to work for her and why that could be incredibly frustrating at the same time. Life was never dull when Ruth was around. Deadlines were nail-biting and terrifying as you never knew if she was going to change her mind and take a project off in a different direction or sideline you for another one of the zillion projects she was engaged in. Being with Ruth was an adventure. Her passion for arts environments was only equaled by Seymour Rosen who I also worked for later in California. Ruth, I can’t wait to see the environment you created to honour the environments you were so passionate about. You always were and always will be larger than life❤️” – Louise Jackson