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Ruth Kohler, who made Sheboygan arts center 'internationally recognized,' dies at 79

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Posted at 3:58 PM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-16 19:01:54-05

SHEBOYGAN — Ruth DeYoung Kohler II, who helped make Sheboygan's John Michael Kohler Arts Center a nationally renowned center for artwork, has died at the age of 79.

The Kohler Arts Center, named after Ruth's grandfather, announced Kohler died on Nov. 14 at her home in Kohler, Wisconsin.

Ruth Kohler served as the director of the Kohler Arts Center from 1972 to 2016. Before jumping in to lead the center, Kohler worked as a volunteer and then served as an assistant director from 1968–1972.

"Through her guidance, the Arts Center grew from a local arts center to an internationally recognized institution presenting contemporary art, the work of vernacular artists, performing arts, and the work of art-environment builders," according to the center's website.

Under her direction, the center's art collection grew to include over 25,000 works. That includes the center's famous vernacular art environments, including works by Emery Blagdon, David Butler, Nek Chand, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, and Stella Waitzkin.

Kohler's time as director is also known for her founding of the Arts Industry residency program in 1973, a partnership between the art center and Kohler Co. factory. More than 500 resident artists have graduated from the program since its founding, according to the center.

Kohler further led the center in raising $20.5 million between the years of 1995 and 1999. That money went to adding 69,000 square feet of space to the center's facility, located at 608 New York Ave. in Sheboygan. The “New Arts Center for a New Century" expansion tripled the center's space.

In 2016, Kohler stepped down from the position of director and began serving in the new role of director of strategic initiatives. In that role, Kohler helped secure 38 acres on Sheboygan's west side for a new arts facility. The center says the facility will open in the summer of 2021.

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