The nonprofit, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, named for the company’s late founder, and the Kohler company have hosted artists in residence since 1974. Each year the arts center selects 15 to 20 artists, who work alongside Kohler craftspeople. “The projects are a two-way street,” says Leslie Umberger, senior curator of exhibitions and collections for the arts center. “The artists gain technical knowledge and a body of work, and the artisans helping them learn what parts of their job are creative.” The “Babel” exhibit (by Jim Neel) so perfectly embodied the possibilities of the residency program, she says, that the arts center ended up purchasing it, with help from the Kohler Foundation, Inc.
Working side by side with industrial staff who are producing plumbingware and engines, the artists use the materials and technologies to create sculpture, installations, murals, and public commissions not otherwise possible.
For many years the Arts/Industry residency has been hailed as one of the most unusual and fruitful collaborations between the arts and industry in twentieth-century America, and has been featured in media from Japan to Chicago.
— Ruth DeYoung Kohler
On the wall, just above his army of monkeys, the museum posted this quote from Jim Neel:
I just put my head down and made sure I got those two monkeys finished every day and as many arms and legs as I could. –Jim Neel
Eleven weeks. Two monkeys a day. And as many arms and legs as I could.
That’s so much more concrete than my usual, “I’ve got to work on this book.”
Jim Neel successfully finished his project within his 11-week residency because he committed himself to slow and steady progress: two monkeys a day. It’s not very sexy, but it works.