Eugene Von Bruenchenhein

From 1954 to 1963, Von Bruenchenhein created around 950 paintings. Each successive painting provided an opportunity to further develop his painting skills. Notably, 1954 marked a major moment: he began to paint with his fingers. Carefully manipulating oil paint with his fingers and tools, like sticks, leaves, combs, cardboard, burlap, tar paper, and crumpled paper, Von Bruenchenhein established his own distinct process.In 1954 Von Bruenchenhein shifted his focus from photography to painting. Restrained by a limited budget, Von Bruenchenhein displayed remarkable thrift in the development of his skills and the production of his paintings. Notably, he often painted “at his kitchen table on Masonite or discarded cardboard-box panels salvaged from the bakery.”During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Von Bruenchenhein continued exploring architectural forms and symbols of royalty in his enigmatic bone sculptures. Once again displaying remarkable ingenuity, he found purpose and function in the discarded – in leftover chicken and turkey bones. Architecturally imposing bone structures resulted.His paintings from this period investigated the power of nuclear energy. Within his canvases, Von Bruenchenhein created fantastical scenes of exploding bursts. His imaginative lexicon came to include “underwater flora and fauna, bulging-eyed beasts and serpents, and fantasy architecture.”

Edward Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was born on July 31, 1910 in Marinette, Wisconsin. The second of three sons, Eugene was only seven years old when his mother, Clara Von Bruenchenhein died. Soon after his father, Edward, married Elizabeth “Bessie” Mosley, a schoolteacher. A woman of literary and artistic ambitions, Bessie “became a model of creativity and intellectual exploration for the young Eugene.”His ceramic collection also reveals a shift in focus from more realist botanical shapes to more imaginative constructions. Crowns and headdresses began to appear. Von Bruenchenhein’s regard for royal regalia points to his belief that his family “was descended from royalty from the German region of Lower Saxony.” Revealingly, in one self-portrait, he offered the words “Edward the First, Kind of Lesser Lands + Tie Cannot Touch” as a self-proclaimed caption.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910–1983) was an American self-taught artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Over the course of fifty years, from the 1930s until his death in 1983, Von Bruenchenhein produced an expansive oeuvre of poetry, photography, painting, drawing and sculpture. His body of work includes over one thousand colorful, apocalyptic landscape paintings; hundreds of sculptures made from chicken bones, ceramic and cast cement; pin-up style photos of his wife, Marie; plus dozens of notebooks filled with poetic and scientific musings. Never confined to one particular method or medium, Von Bruenchenhein continually used everyday, discarded objects to visually explore imagined past and future realities.
From the mid-1960s to late 1970s, Von Bruenchenhein turned away from painting and dedicated his time to sculpture. Nevertheless, in the late 1970s, he returned to the medium. This time, however, his paintings were informed by the decade he spent constructing architectural bone sculptures. His later paintings offer up vast open scenes of architectural towers and clouded skies.

From the late 1960s to the early 1980, Von Bruenchenhein dedicated himself to developing his craft as a skilled manipulator of clay. After locating a few clay deposits from nearby construction sites, he began a series of sculpted “foliate forms,” ranging from delicate pink blossoms to leafy greens. These forms soon began to take on a more sophisticated structure. Leaf pots soon evolved into a collection of more complex “foliate vessels.” Vase-like forms evolved from conjoined florets.
Now a prominent figure in the world of “self-taught” art, Von Bruenchenhein remained anonymous to the larger artistic community for the duration of his career. Remarkably, he produced thousands of pieces of art within the confines of his home-turned-studio. During his lifetime, only close friends and family knew of their existence. Although Von Bruenchenhein’s pieces remained out of sight, it is not for want of trying. In an effort to sell and exhibit his work, Von Bruenchenhein repeatedly approached local galleries, but to no avail. It was only after his death on January 24, 1983, that Daniel Nycz, a close friend and supporter, got the attention of Russell Bowman, the director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. In September 1983, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, began cataloguing the entire collection.After soaking the bones in ammonia and drying them on his stove, Von Bruenchenhein would glue them together to create towers and miniature thrones. In their color and stature, these structures suggested regal grandeur. Some towers reached five feet in height. He lacquered his chair sculptures in gold and metallic hues. As a collection, the sculptures highlight Von Bruenchenhein’s skillful ability to create elegant “lacelike” forms out of webs of bones and glue.

In 1984, the Kohler center launched its first ever exhibit of Von Bruenchenhein’s work. Now, Von Bruenchenhein’s work is garnering newfound attention. Notably, in 2010 Von Bruenchenhein’s work received “its first in-depth museum exhibition” at the American Folk Art Museum. The exhibit, entitled “Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Freelance Artist—Poet and Sculptor—Inovator—Arrow maker and Plant man—Bone artifacts constructor—Photographer and Architect—Philosopher” displayed over 125 of Von Bruenchenhein’s photographs, sculptures, paintings, and drawings. Brett Littman, the executive director of the Drawing Center in Soho, was the guest curator.
In 1939 he met the woman who would become his future wife and muse – Evelyn Kalka. She was 19, he was 29. In 1943 they married and Evelyn came to be known as “Marie,” a name she took on in honor of one of Eugene’s favorite aunts. While Von Bruenchenhein worked at a bakery, he and Marie moved into his father’s former storefront at 514 South 94th Place. It was here that Eugene and Marie established an “all-encompassing” world of their own – a world where stages of exotic theaters were mounted, where everyday items fueled his creativity. For the next forty years, Von Bruenchenhein not only made his home the site of his artistic production, but also an integral part of his creative process. After his death, it stood as “a patchwork of pastel colors and applied architectural ornament,” which was “guarded by mask-like concrete monuments within lilac bushes on the periphery.”

Von Bruenchenhein’s work is represented in various museum’s collections, including: American Folk Art Museum, New York; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; John Michael Kohler Arts Center, (Sheboygan, Wisconsin); Milwaukee Art Museum; New Orleans Museum of Art; Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago; Newark Museum; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
After graduating high school, Eugene worked for a florist and cultivated a growing collection of exotic plants and cacti at his father’s home. His passion for horticulture would later be visible in his repeated use of floral motifs and leaf patterns.Von Bruenchenhein began his prolific career as an amateur photographer. In the early 1940s, after setting up a darkroom in his bathroom, he started to photograph his wife, Marie, at home. Nevertheless, his photographs extended past the walls of their bedroom. Using leftover materials as backdrops and props, Von Bruenchenhein created transformative stages for Marie to pose on; he invited her to dress up in exotic costumes. Many of these portraits evoke the “pin up” girls of the 1950s. As the main object of attraction, Marie coyly confronts the viewer to question the relationship between photographer and subject, husband and wife, artist and muse. By the mid 1950s, these intimate shots had reached the thousands.Despite being his least well-known medium, drawing holds a significant position in Von Bruenchenhein’s collection. It connects two seemingly disparate studies of his work: his floral constructions and his architectural structures. From 1964 to 1966, Von Bruenchenhein used small swatches of wallpaper as his canvas for ink drawings. Seemingly “products of an open-ended, generative experimentation,” the drawings include expanding spirals, zig-zagging scaffolds, and exploding diamonds.These galleries provide a look at some of EVB’s more compelling work. Most of the paintings we selected were completed from mid 1956 to 1959. Of his earlier paintings, a number of pieces from 1954 appear. In 1955 and into early 1956, EVB’s output was prodigious, but the relative quality of these pieces is lower, and that group is more thinly represented. Between 1960 and 1964, both the quantity and quality of EVB’s work declined. With a few notable exceptions, this period is also thinly represented.

It is now twenty-four years since Eugene Von Bruenchenhein ‘s works came into public light, and since that time our examination of his work still has not had the time to fully comprehend the many facets of his artistic vision, within the many mediums in which he worked. The works themselves are journeys into their meanings, but the artist ‘s writings less well know than the paintings, sculptures, and photos add yet another dimension to his world. Von Bruenchenhein formulated elaborate Bruenchenesian theories, postulating on the complexity of nature and our ability to know it. In one selection he suggests that only one of natures planes is visible through a scientific lens:
American Folk Art, NY. Traveled to: Philadelphia Museum of Art: March 10-May 17, 1998; High Museum of Art: July 14-September 20, 1998; Amon Carter Museum and The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth: October 31, 1998-January 24, 1999; Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester: February 20-April 18, 1999; Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University: May 15-August 15, 1999; Museum of American Folk Art: September 19- December 11, 1999Eugene Von Bruenchehein, Freelance Artist, Poet and Sculptor, Inovator [sic], Arrow maker and Plant man, Bone artifacts constructor, Photographer and Architect, Philosopher, never really found contentment in the real world, except in his love for his wife Marie. His was the world of dreams, ideas, of escaping, traveling to far off undiscovered worlds beyond Earth. Von Bruenchenhein spent hours looking at drops of water through a microscope, and was equally concerned with a macrocosmic order, evident in musings and paintings about the worlds beyond ours. He made exceptionally convincing paintings of Lines of Force Contained and Lines of Force Released, pictorializing what science could only express in numeric formulae. Now, one only needs to pick up a New York Times daily newspaper in which a recent photograph by the Hubbell Telescope is featured revealing some amazing new cosmic cataclysm or phenomena to convince us that, indeed, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein had already traveled there. In that vein of awe and respect, the Carl Hammer Gallery re-visits the art work by this amazing personality in hopes that we may thus honor him and his unique vision. Confronted once again with his limitless ability to interpret organic potentiality in paintings and photographs, and sculptures of clay, bone, and concrete, Von Bruenchenhein ‘s works remind us that the mirror has another dimension. And thanks to his remarkably expansive mind, we too can marvel as we travel with him in journeys to the edge of the universe.Dreams, Lies and exaggerations: Photomontage in America, University of Maryland at College Park. Traveled to John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI

Beginning in the 1940s, von Bruenchenhein made thousands of black-and-white photographs and color slides featuring his wife, Marie (born Evelyn Kalka). The images, which often mime the aesthetics of contemporary pinup photography, catalog a vast array of feminine roles, from exotic seductress to glamorous star. Marie poses coquettishly against floral backdrops, nude or wrapped in shining fabric and adorned in flowers, pearls, and handmade crowns of ceramic or metal. Other images use double exposures surreally to duplicate Marie’s visage or superimpose it over leafy landscapes. While von Bruenchenhein mythically conflates femininity, erotic desire, and nature, Marie’s own touch shows through, not only in the hand coloring she applied to some of the photographs but in the enigmatic contribution she made while embodying each pose.
Littman, Brett. Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: “freelance artist, poet and sculptor, inovator [sic], arrow maker and plant man, bone artifacts constructor, photographer and architect, philosopher.” New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2011.From the first posthumous exhibition of works from his estate, von Bruenchenhein steadily gained a national reputation, particularly for his photographs, which resonated with art world currents of the 1980s.

Eugene von Bruenchenhein spent his days laboring in a bakery in Milwaukee and his nights working on his multifarious artistic creations until he retired in 1959. He then devoted himself fully to his calling. Although he yearned to show his expansive body of work to the public, going so far as to petition Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson for recognition, it was not until after his death that he found a significant audience.Along with making photographs, von Bruenchenhein painted, sculpted, wrote poems, and formulated scientific theories. He created an eccentric array of objects, such as a series of crowns out of materials ranging from radiating twirls of metal to clumps of clay decorated with paint, glitter, and foil. His writings were similarly eclectic, weaving together diverse fields from astronomy and botany to evolutionary science. Initially inspired by his stepmother, who painted floral still lifes and penned New Age treatises, von Bruenchenhein increasingly adopted an encyclopedic range of forms of expression, filling up every corner of his home, which was itself covered in painted decoration.

Edward Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was born in 1910 in Marinette, Wisconsin, and raised with two brothers in Green Bay and Milwaukee. After graduating from high school, Von Bruenchenhein, who went by his middle name, worked as a florist and later at a commercial bakery, where he was employed until the late 1950s.After Von Bruenchenhein’s death in 1983, the entirety of his oeuvre was transported to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, where it was documented for the benefit of the artist’s estate. The Arts Center later purchased a representative selection and in 2019 acquired all works remaining with the artist’s estate, including paintings, sculptures, and thousands of Von Bruenchenhein’s original photographic portrait slides.

After his death in 1983, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center worked with his widow to acquire a substantial portion of his oeuvre. In 2017, working with Kohler Foundation, Inc., the Arts Center received the remaining works in his estate, making it the largest holder of his output.
In 1943 Von Bruenchenhein married Eveline Kalka, whom he called Marie in honor of his favorite aunt. Despite the couple’s dire financial situation, and perhaps because of it, their need for fantasy and escape was amplified. Over the next forty years, their home in West Allis, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee, was trans-formed into an astonishing art environment—though very few experienced it firsthand.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein sought inspiration in both the macro and micro forces that he believed influenced the world. In hundreds of works of art, across media, Von Bruenchenhein remade the entirety of his West Allis, Wisconsin, home into a kingdom for himself and his wife, Marie. His initial sustained creative venture was to photograph Marie; ultimately, he made thousands of elaborately staged pinup portraits of her, experimenting with double exposures and montage printing in his bathroom darkroom. In the 1950s, Von Bruenchenhein began painting vivid, surreal subjects ranging from atomic mushroom clouds to mythical creatures and futuristic metropolises. His sculptures include elaborate towers and miniature thrones made from chicken bones. He also fired colorful ceramic crowns, vessels, and flowers in his parlor wood stove.
Around the mid-1950s, the artist began to make abstract paintings using his fingers, sticks, combs, leaves and other makeshift utensils to push oil paint around the surfaces of Masonite boards or pieces of cardboard taken from packing boxes at the bakery where he worked. Von Bruenchenhein’s hallucinatory, abstract images offer explosions of vibrant color and evoke the forms of strange plants or fantasy creatures and architectural structures. Later in his art career, Von Bruenchenhein used clay to produce home-fired crowns and vases. He used chicken and turkey bones to create mysterious sculptures resembling towers or thrones. During his lifetime, only his closest family members and friends knew anything about his artistic pursuits and the works he had conjured up in private. In 1983, after the artist’s death, one of his friends called the attention of the Milwaukee Art Museum to Von Bruenchenhein’s extraordinary oeuvre. Later that same year, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, began to document Von Bruenchenhein’s, at that point, sizable body of work.Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was a prolific creator of a diverse range of distinctive images and sculptural objects, who produced his art in private over a period of about fifty years at his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His large and unusual body of work was not discovered until after he died.In 1939, at the age of 29, Von Bruenchenhein met Evelyn Kalka. She became his wife and muse. Eugene worked at a bakery, and Evelyn, who was nicknamed “Marie,” served as his model. She was the subject of thousands of erotic photo-portraits, which he shot and printed himself in a darkroom he had installed in their home. For these photo images, which emulated girlie-magazine pin-ups with an offbeat air, Von Bruenchenhein designed and created his own background set-ups and costumes for his wife and muse Marie.

“Von Bruenchenhein belongs among the great American outsider artists whose work came to light or resurfaced in the last three decades of the 20th century…”

On the occasion of a survey of his work, which opened at the American Folk Art Museum in New York in 2010, New York Times art critic Roberta Smith wrote:
We are interested in obtaining images of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s paintings, along with whatever documentation and anecdotal information may be available. If you own an EVB painting, please consider providing us a photo. We continue to add paintings to the Collection archive, so if a painting is changing hands, we may have an interest. contact us “Eugene Von Bruenchenhein” is sponsored by The Magazine Antiques. The exhibition is also made possible by support from Jacqueline Fowler. Additional support is provided in part by the Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. & Erna D. Leir; the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; and with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State’s 62 counties. Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910–1983) was one of the most complex and multifaceted American self-taught artists. Born in Marinette, Wisconsin, he was from an early age self-identified as an artist. Over a 50-year period, between the late 1930s until his death in 1983, Von Bruenchenhein produced expansive bodies of work in poetry, photography, ceramics, sculpture, painting, and drawing. This exhibition marks the first New York museum presentation of his work across all disciplines. Organized by guest curator Brett Littman, executive director of the Drawing Center, New York, it comprises approximately 100 objects culled primarily from the American Folk Art Museum’s extensive holdings, as well as loans from several private collections.“Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: ‘Freelance Artist—Poet and Sculptor—Inovator—Arrow maker and Plant man—Bone artifacts constructor—Photographer and Architect—Philosopher’” focuses on the formal leitmotifs of leaves and floral patterns as organizing principles in Von Bruenchenhein’s multidisciplinary oeuvre. The exhibition highlights the evolution of these forms from the fabric and wallpaper featured in the early “pinup” photographs of the artist’s wife, Marie, to hand-built ceramic flowers, vessels, and crowns. These ideas are further abstracted in vertical chicken- and turkey-bone towers and thrones and in paintings of spires, castles, and visionary buildings. The installation culminates with a book of drawings housed in a wallpaper-sample book and 34 rarely displayed ballpoint-pen drawings, unifying the two structural strands. Made in the early- to mid-1960s, those works range from studies of arabesque curves to architectural designs.WHO ?? Be prepared to be astounded and amazed by this quirky work created by a strange man. The show of work by Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was a total surprise and joy for me when I visited the American Folk Art Museum. The show continues through October 9th, 2011 on 53rd Street next to the Museum of Modern Art.

He built sculptures from turkey bones, made pinup photographs of his wife, created ceramic sculptures, drew complex ballpoint pen precursors to spirograph art, made books, built furniture, and arrowheads, and….
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910–1983) was one of the most complex and multifaceted American self-taught artists. Born in Marinette, Wisconsin, he was from an early age self-identified as an artist. Over a 50-year period, between the late 1930s until his death in 1983, Von Bruenchenhein produced expansive bodies of work in poetry, photography, ceramics, painting, objects made from chicken and turkey bones, and drawing. This exhibition marks the first New York museum presentation of his work across all disciplines. Organized by guest curator Brett Littman, executive director of the Drawing Center, New York, it comprises approximately 100 objects culled primarily from the American Folk Art Museum’s extensive holdings, as well as loans from several private collections. The Anthony Petullo Collection of Self-Taught and Outsider Art is one of the premier collections of its kind in the country. Comprised of nearly five hundred pieces, two-thirds of which are European, the collection consists of works ranging from the early twentieth-century to the present, and includes many of the most renowned American artists in the field such as Bill Traylor, Henry Darger, and Minnie Evans. The distinguishing characteristic of the collection, however, is the strong emphasis on the work of European outsider artists including Adolf Wolfli, Alfred Wallis, Scottie Wilson, and artists from the Gugging psychiatric hospital near Vienna. Nearly every one is represented by multiple pieces, illustrating the depth of the Petullo Collection. Von Bruenchenhein’s H-Bomb series of varnished paintings reflect his interest in science. He explored many media and used his fingers and various tools—including combs, a hairbrush, sticks, and leaves—to scratch pigment onto cardboard and Masonite coated with white enamel. After his death, a friend of Von Bruenchenhein’s, a police officer named Daniel Nycz, brought his work to the attention of the Milwaukee Art Museum, which in turn contacted the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. His work is now in the collections of many museums across the United States and was recently highlighted in solo exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum in New York and Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago.

Although unrecognized for his art during his lifetime, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was well aware of his many talents. The plaque above his kitchen door read, “Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Freelance Artist—Poet and Sculptor—Inovator, Arrow maker and Plant man—Bone artifacts constructor—Photographer and Architect—Philosopher.” After working in the greenhouse and bakery by day, he devoted his evenings to creating thousands of works: photographs, paintings, poetry, delicate sculptures formed from fowl bones, and ceramic masks and vessels made from clay that he dug and fired in his own hearth.

Born in Marinette, Wisconsin, Von Bruenchenhein was raised by his father, a sign painter, and his stepmother, a former schoolteacher who wrote pamphlets about philosophical and spiritual topics and who painted for pleasure. In 1943 he married Eveline “Marie” Kalk, who became the subject of glamorous photographs in which she donned ornamental and exotic costumes, including crowns and jewelry made by the artist. Von Bruenchenhein’s perspective is intimate and adoring, and he occasionally layered two negatives to soften the image of his muse. His collection of slides and photographs of 1940s pinup models and atomic tests in the Marshall Islands also inspired him.
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„Kunstforum ist ein Magazin, das so gut wie jedes Thema, das wichtig ist, beackert hat, und es ist so umfangreich, dass ich manchmal noch einmal in Heften von vor zehn Jahren schaue, und nicht selten erweist sich Kunstforum als eine Fundgrube…“ – Kasper KönigVon Bruenchenhein wurde im Jahre 1910 geboren, und die Stationen seines Lebens (normales Elternhaus, zehnjährige Schulbildung, Jobs in Gewächshaus und Blumenladen und einer großen Bäckerei) passen kaum zu der gängigen Vorstellung davon, wo herausragende Kunst ihren Ursprung hat. Zu der Zeit seiner Eheschließung im Jahre 1943 begann Von Bruenchenhein, Fotos von seiner jungen Frau Marie zu machen, und…