Eugene Von Bruenchenhein

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was born in Marinette, Wisconsin, in 1910, a year when Halley’s Comet came back into the near Solar System. His mother died when he was seven. His father, a sign painter, married again to a woman who not only wrote treatises on evolution and reincarnation but also painted on canvas. It seems likely that Von Bruenchenhein learned to paint from both of them at an early age. He attended Catholic schools in Green Bay and Milwaukee through the tenth grade, then dropped out to work first in the small family grocery business, then later in a greenhouse and flower shop. He married Eveline Kalke (who called herself Marie) in 1943, and a year later went to work in a commercial bakery. He stayed with the bakery until it went out of business in 1959, then spent the rest of his life in semi-retirement.

Shortly after his death in 1983, it was revealed that he had spent much of his life making art in seclusion. Thousands of drawings and paintings were discovered in his home, along with odd floral ceramic pieces, miniature furniture and towers made from gilded chicken bones, large cement sculptures, dozens of poems and written works, and hundreds of photographs of his wife Marie in exotic costumes and settings. She and his close family had kept his immense output a secret for decades. Although his early works were more traditional depictions of flowers and landscapes, among them was found a vast series of apocalyptic finger paintings, begun in 1954 in reaction to the development of the hydrogen bomb. Later works reveal interests in evolution and the origins of life, outer space, and futuristic cities. Throughout his house he had placed messages to himself, some in pencil scribbled directly onto the wall, and some on gilded homemade plaques. One in the basement said, “Create and Be Recognized!” while a plaque in the kitchen testified: “Eugene Von Bruenchenhein—Freelance Artist, Poet and Sculptor, Inovator [sic], Arrow maker and Plant man, Bone artifacts constructor, Photographer and Architect, Philosopher.”

The above biography is taken from ‘The End is Near! (American Visionary Art Museum exhibition), with kind permission of the author Roger Manley.


The Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne; The John Michael Kohler Museum & Arts Center, Wisconsin; The American Folk Art Museum, New York; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Milwaukee Art Museum; New Orleans Museum of Art; Newark Museum; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C


Eugene Von Bruenchenhein
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