Artist Profile – Eugene Von Bruenchenhein
1910–1983, lived and worked in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
A sculptor, ceramist, painter, photographer, poet, amateur botanist, and evolutionist, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was a veritable Renaissance man. He may have learned painting from his sign-painter father or his stepmother, a philosophical writer and hobbyist painter, but that was merely one facet of the secret creative impulse that this longtime greenhouse employee and bakery worker harnessed to overfill his small Milwaukee home with reams of writing and artwork. Von Bruenchenhein’s work may be considered in three categories: photographs, paintings, and sculptures.
After he wed his muse and collaborator Eveline “Marie” Kalke in 1943, he created a series of erotic pin-up photos of her. These provocative and carefully posed glamour shots, which often feature the artist’s handmade crowns and jewelry on a nude Marie, reveal a fascinating and ambiguous display of voyeuristic control. The atomic age, and particularly the development of the hydrogen bomb in the early 1950s, inspired Von Bruenchenhein to paint electric-colored, psychedelic paintings from a range of non-traditional implements (including Marie’s hair) that depict phantasmagoric monsters, surreal futuristic cityscapes, and apocalyptic fallout scenes. His sculptures consist of chicken-bone sculptures, usually spires or model thrones erected with airplane glue and then painted, and delicate floral ceramic bowls, vases, masks, and crowns.
After Von Bruenchenhein died in 1983, his loyal friend Dan Nycz scattered his ashes at a local park where the two men had often spent time. Seeking a source of financial assistance for Marie, Nycz first contacted the Milwaukee Art Museum. Ultimately, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center decided to purchase and conserve the artist’s work.