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17

Nov
2010

This Article appears in:

Et cetera
Modern

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Glorious Grottos

On 17, Nov 2010 | No Comments | In Et cetera, Modern | By man-admin

Sometimes, the Google Gods are kind and relentless clicking turns up something unique and inspiring.

So it is with the discovery of a number of fantastical grottos smack dab in the middle of middle America.   Just as with Chartres’ famed Maison Picassiette and Los Angeles’ Watts Towers, these outsized, outdoor mosaics are the products of extraordinary personal visions.  Out of the dozens that exist, we have selected three to show you here.  We find them absolutely spectacular and definitely worthy of a road trip.

Right up front, we want to say thank you to Debra Jane Seltzer whose website, www.RoadsideArchitecture.com is a virtual treasure trove of stop-the-car-and-grab-the-camera stops along America’s highways.

The Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend Iowa

Billed as “The Largest Grotto in the World”, The Grotto of the Redemption was built as a tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Father Paul Dobberstein.  While a young seminarian, Father Dobberstein became critically ill with pneumonia.  He vowed to the Virgin that if she would return his health to him, he would build a shrine in her honor.

Father Dobberstein worked for almost 50 years, from 1912 to 1954, on the Grotto.  It is almost the length of a football field.  There are actually nine individual grottos in the shrine, each one showcasing a hand-carved statute of Italian marble.

 Father Dobberstein embellished his grotto with the jewels of the earth; azurite, geodes, jasper, petrified wood, quartz crystals and more.  Some of these materials he sourced in the US, traveling from town to town enlisting the aid of locals in finding the most perfect specimens.  Other materials were imported.

Here is a video clip from The History Channel’s Weird US.

For our Facebook likers, the link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlrMYQ6z-Yk

Father Dobberstein’s remarkable accomplishment was the inspiration for more Midwest grotto-building.

The Dickeyville Grotto, Dickeyville Wisconsin

The Dickeyville Grotto was the creation of Father Mattheus Wernerus, a German immigrant and pastor of the Holy Ghost Parish.  Father Wernerus dedicated his labor of love to two themes:  Love of God and Love of Country

Like Father Dobberstein, Father Wernerus studded his concrete substrates with beautiful natural specimens; stalagmites and stalactites, sea shells, starfish, petrified sea urchins, fossils, corals, agate, crystals, amethyst, Fool’s Gold, coal and more.  
Along with their labor, Holy Ghost parishioners contributed additional materials to the project — molten glass, wooden rounds, broken ceramics, tile, costume jewelry and memorabilia.
 
 
Here is a lovely video produced by WPT on the Dickeyville Grotto:

Direct link to video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJXX8Jqg7oc

Finally, we visit the work of more German immigrants . . .

The Wegner Grotto, Cataract Wisconsin

The Wegners built their very personal grotto on their summer farm in Wisconsin after a trip to Dickeyville spurred them to create this roadside attraction.

“Unlike church-sponsored grottoes, the grotto garden the Wegners made is not overtly religious. There is a small chapel, and a prayer garden, but there are also family monuments, animal sculptures and birdhouses that are simply playful concrete constructions without overt spiritual purpose. The Wegners seemed more concerned about creating a democratic and inspiring roadside attraction than the traditional meditative grotto of spiritual mystery. The space they created is a visual embodiment of their progressive political and religious ideals, from the Peace Monument to the American Legion plaque to the multi-denominational Glass Chapel.”  http://www.wurlington-bros.com/Museum/Grotto/Wegner1.html

 Photo courtesy http://www.RoadsideArchitecture.com/

We find these grottos to be enormously inspiring.  The people who made these things had little if no formal art education or building experience.  There is a spirit in all of them that speaks to us of what we feel are the basic foundations of the American psyche:  vision, will, ingenuity, steadfastness, faith, love and joy in the making.
Who is making grottos now?
Enjoy — Nancie 

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