On August 15th, I drove to the Rudolph (Wisconsin) Grotto Garden and Wonder Cave for the third time. http://www.rudolphgrotto.org
It is included in the “Wandering Wisconsin” map put together by the John Michael Kohler Art Center:
As with most outsider art environments, part of the pleasure is getting off the beaten track to find it. If you want to get there in the least amount of time, you end up primarily on major highways. But west of Steven’s Point, you need to turn onto County Road C. The world changes immediately, with a herd of fifty bison, odd stuff in people’s yards, interesting road kill, aspen trees with leaves quivering, and birds on a wire. Will I ever find enough time in my life to do a road trip devoted to using side roads? Erin Dorbin’s book “uncommon spaces and & everyday places” reminds me of how the journey matters as much as the destination.
The Wonder Cave is my daughter’s favorite outsider art site in the state. It is adjacent to St. Philip’s Catholic Church. It was built under the direction of Father Wagner starting in 1919 and was completed in 1983. The site has over thirty elements, including Wisconsin in Miniature, a waterfall, and beautiful garden spaces. However, the wonder is the Wonder Cave. It is a one-fifth of a mile underground passageway with 26 shrines fashioned after the catacombs in Rome. The largest area shows Jesus praying in the Garden of Olives.
You absolutely do not need to be religious to adore the Wonder Cave. Here’s why:
–The cave is mesmerizing and creepy. Perfect for any child over the age of ten, and perhaps younger depending on the child.
–The cave was constructed entirely by hand. It is not a natural cave, yet there are all these manmade stalactites. Father Wagner figured out how to build it with the help of the congregation as he went along. It is a DO IT YOURSELF inspiration and masterpiece.
–There are dozens of signs on sheets of tin created by punching thousands of holes using a hammer and nails of differing sizes (though later a drill was designed to make the task easier). These signs are backlist with colored light bubs.
–The combination of the cave with the eerie light and signs and bible scenes featuring ungainly marble statues is so incongruous. You simply have to see it to believe it.
It is open seven days a week, 10-5, from Memorial Day until mid-September. Many communities detest outsider art environments. Another glory of visiting is to witness how the community embraces the grotto and fastidiously cares for it.