The House on the Rock: Imagination’s Wonderland

Horse Woman

A surreal carousel figure stands to greet visitors.

Bizarre. Ostentatious. Macabre. These may be just a few of the words that come to mind while exploring the maze-like halls and rooms of Spring Green, Wisconsin’s The House on the Rock Attraction. The brainchild of designer Alex Jordan, Jr., HOTR was originally opened to the public in 1959, although it would continue to be developed and expanded for decades to come.

The House itself is very reminiscent of something that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright might have designed, making frequent use of exposed stonework, Asian themes, low ceilings, and angular construction. Jordan and his father were rather enamored of Wright’s work, in fact, although some rumors claim that the house was built to spite Wright after he rejected the elder Jordan’s aspirations to pursue architecture.

Japanese Garden

One of the site’s lush Japanese gardens.

 

Japanese gardens and covered walkways offer periodic contrast to what is largely an indoor experience, and sweeping views of the surrounding countryside are possible at several points as well, most notably from the Infinity Room, an engineering wonder that extends high above the treetops for over 200 horizontal feet without underlying supports.

Living Area

Low ceilings and natural stonework abound throughout the main residence.

 

 

The rest of the complex centers around buildings designed to house Jordan’s extensive, eclectic collections – everything from dolls and doll houses to antique mechanical musical instruments. While many of these collections are impressive enough on their own, what makes HOTR truly unique is the way in which they are displayed or presented. Visitors won’t find sterile museum-style display cases in brightly-lit galleries; rooms are typically shadowy and lavishly decorated to accent what is being featured.

Infinity Room

A multitude of windows offer breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.

Streets of Yesterday offers a reconstruction of a fictional 19th century street, complete with storefronts (used to display various collections), street lamps, cobblestones, and more. The Heritage of the Sea features a massive multi-story model of sea creatures in battle, and The Carousel Room delights the senses with what has been billed as the world’s largest indoor carousel.

Doll Store

One of Streets of Yesterday’s many storefront. Dolls and dollhouses abound throughout the attraction.

The Organ Room is a veritable wonderland filled with strange, steampunkish machinery, mannequins, stairs that spiral upward toward dazzling umbrellas of colored lights, and winding, twisting pathways and ramps that lead to and fro. While many of the items in the House’s collections are real antiques, many others are carefully-designed replicas or recreations designed to stir the imagination and enhance the perpetually fun, whimsical atmosphere.

Heritage of the Sea Battle

This massive, multi-story model is Hertiage of the Sea’s centerpiece.

I really had no expectations regarding HOTR when I stopped there on the way back from a business trip a month or so ago. The attraction had been recommended to me by several friends, and I knew that it featured a large indoor carousel as well as a number of unusual collections. Several different self-guided tour options were offered, allowing visitors to see as much (or as little) as they would like: I opted for the “Ultimate Experience,” which included all areas open to the public.

Music Machine

One of HOTR’s mechanical musical machines.

 

The layout of the attraction allows one to be brought into Mr. Jordan’s world rather gradually; the Visitor’s Center and Alex Jordan, Jr. Center offer glimpses of what is to come, but do not plunge visitors headfirst into completely unfamiliar terrain. The main residence is a fascinating piece of architecture, but it wasn’t until I had reached the Mill House that I found myself completely captivated by the place.

The vision and originality that pervades HOTR is undeniable. Love it or hate it, Mr. Jordan clearly knew what he wanted to achieve, and was unapologetic in doing so. I think there’s a very powerful creative or artistic lesson to be learned from that. Had he simply followed tradition and presented his collections simply as collections, rather than using them to create something far grander and more imaginative, I doubt Jordan’s work would have been nearly as effective as it is. Instead, he created something very personal, and the result is even more inspiring and energizing.

I like to think of HOTR as an experience, rather than a place, because it is so much more than its component objects and buildings. It evokes a reaction, and although it may not affect each visitor in the same way, I think that was Jordan’s overall goal.

Organ Room Machinery

Whimsical machines are strewn throughout the Organ Room.

I found my mind wandering back to it during the rest of my drive home and afterward, and my only regret is that I wasn’t able to spend more time learning about its creator when I visited the Alex Jordan, Jr. Center. Perhaps next time: I think The House on the Rock Attraction has definitely earned a return trip.

The Carousel Room

The Carousel Room is a visual and audible wonderland.

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Welcome to My Blog

Hello and welcome! The title of this blog may be “Art and Artistry,” but my goal is to explore those terms in a broader way that may not always fit with traditional concepts or definitions. Categorizing the creative efforts of a painter or sculptor as art may seem entirely natural to many of us, but what about less formal pursuits like preparing a meal and decorating one’s own home? Are these things inherently less artistic by nature? I would argue that they are not – it all depends on the perspective of the observer. I think that art can be found in many endeavors and areas of life, and can be both intentional and unintended. A writer who sits down to craft a novel may be intentionally striving to produce a work of art, but a musician serenading his or her friends beside a campfire one evening may yield something no less beautiful without specifically thinking of it as an artistic act.

One of the reasons I love to travel is because it puts me in touch with places, people, and things that I haven’t experienced before. Everything has its own beauty if you’re willing and able to look for it, even if it’s not immediately obvious. This blog will explore the beauty that I’ve found throughout my travels, as well as those very close to home. My hope is that you can share in these experiences and offer your own insights and thoughts as well.

“Creativity is …

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” – Steve Jobs