The University of Wisconsin Press

Art / Biography / Wisconsin & Midwest


Mary Nohl
Inside & Outside
Barbara Manger and Janine Smith


“A keenly fascinating journey into the mind of the sometimes misunderstood but always marvelously creative Milwaukee painter, sculptor, and potter, Mary Nohl. Manger’s text has recreated Nohl’s life as it deserves to be presented.” —Martin Hintz, author of Day Trips from Milwaukee


Outsider artist, sophisticated naïf, and witch are all labels that have described Mary Nohl (1914–2001), creator of a magical and mysterious site on the shore of Lake Michigan near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here she constructed huge concrete heads, stone-encrusted creatures, and imposing driftwood figures to fill the yard surrounding a modest cottage where she spent most of her life. Carved heads hang from the eaves, wind chimes tinkle in the trees, and pebbles at her doorstep spell “Boo.” The cottage is painted and embellished inside and out with wooden fish, boats, animals, and leaping figures. Wire, hemp, chicken bones, egg shells, aluminum pans, broken glass—almost any castoff materials available—were used by Nohl to create her art and ornament her surroundings.

Mary Nohl: Inside & Outside offers the first comprehensive look into the unusual life of a remarkable artist whose surroundings stand as a monument to her creative personality. Establishing Nohl as a notable “outsider” artist, Barbara Manger and Janine Smith offer an inside look at an artist whose idiosyncratic art—pieces whose allure is only heightened by the intrigue and legends surrounding their creator—attracted generations of visitors who peered through the fence at Nohl’s wildly decorated yard but rarely caught a glimpse of the elusive artist.


“Extensively researched, well written, and lavishly illustrated, Mary Nohl: Inside & Outside takes the reader into the world of a unique Wisconsin artist whose life revolved around the making of art. More than a biography, this insider story of Mary Nohl reveals her insatiable desire to create a personal environment on her own terms.” —Tom Lidtke, executive director, Museum of Wisconsin Art


“A bold and beautiful act to reclaim Mary Nohl’s life and home from the endangered list. Manger captures the rich complexity of the aesthetic of a compulsive creator, an artist who eschewed labels and denied influence, a woman whose life story is one of innovative transgression. A cultural history of Wisconsin would be incomplete without this beautifully wrought story.” —Barbara Lawton, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin


Barbara Manger has taught collegiate-level printmaking and drawing for many years and remains a practicing artist. She is also the founder of Artists Working in Education (AWE), a non-profit Milwaukee-based organization providing art experience for at-risk children. Janine Smith is an award-winning book designer who owns and operates Designsmith, a graphic design company in Fox Point, Wisconsin.


Distributed for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation


•  Royalities from the sale of this book will be directed to the “Mary Nohl Collection” of the John Michael Kohler Art Center

• Includes 310 images

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

The cover of Manger's book on Mary Nohl is illustrated with a colorful photo of her house, which is surrounded by concrete sculptures..

May 2009

134 pp.   10 x 10  
165 color images

145 b/w or sepia images

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Paper $29.95 t
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Updated February 11, 2011

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