German yard art celebrates Strassenfest

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Reen Gutgsell of Jasper poses with her yard characters in a lot outside her home on Wednesday.


JASPER — One plays a trombone. Another holds a bratwurst and a German flag. At the end of the line on a nearby hill, a man holding a beer has fallen on his rear, and a little girl points and snickers at him.

All clad in lederhosen and traditional German dress, a large collection of Reen Gutgsell’s wooden cutouts stand waist-high on an empty lot she owns at the corner of Beckman and Maute streets in Jasper.

She has traced and cut the cartoonish characters from plywood for about six years. In the weeks leading up to the city’s annual Strassenfest, she positions them near the road like you would any holiday decoration.

Gutgsell isn’t the only crafter in the area who makes yard art. The lot display started as a joke, but over time, her handiwork has expanded and symbolizes her connection to her roots.

“It’s just a fun thing,” Gutgsell, who has German heritage, said as she looked out on the colorful cast in the Wednesday morning sun. She added that the purpose of the display is to celebrate the festival, which will takes place today through Sunday in Jasper.

Gutgsell began slicing and painting her creations after receiving a RotoZip saw as a gift from a close friend who has since passed away. Her friend was a classmate and knew Gutgsell always wanted to take shop class in high school. At the time, however, girls were not allowed to enroll in the course.

Formerly a pharmacist, Gutgsell has no art training, but creating the cutouts has proved a positive creative outlet in retirement. She has created a total of 40 that can be seen during other times of the year, like Christmas, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day.

A German wooden cutout lies in Reen Gutgsell's garage waiting to be displayed at her home in Jasper on Wednesday.

When an idea pops in her head, she sketches it out on a pad, and later translates it onto a piece of plywood before cutting and painting it. Some she keeps, and others she gives to family members and friends in her tight-night neighborhood. She also sells her work at a low cost.

Twenty years ago, chemotherapy treatment for Gutgsell’s breast cancer burned her feet, and medication caused the bones in them to begin to break. After multiple surgeries on each foot, a doctor told her he would not allow her to return to work.

Now, it pains her to stand for extended periods of time. She had to find something to do from a chair, and that’s when she discovered her love of making the cutouts.

She also started singing in a church choir and leading religion classes.

“I think I found out that’s what God wanted me to do,” Gutgsell said of her work with the church.

Her most recent cutouts include imitations of Precious Blood’s Father Gary Kaiser — dressed in lederhosen — alongside his beloved dog, Benedict. Next year, she plans to add a fiddler and another character to her ever-evolving display on the lot across from her home.

One of them in particular reminds her of a close family member that left a lasting impression on her, as well as many people in the community.

“One of the guys down here, kind of the heavy-set [man] with his beer, kind of reminds me of my dad when I look at him,” Gutgsell said, comparing the cutout to her late father, Mauri. “And I may have had my dad in mind when I drew him up. My dad wasn’t fat, but he was kind of heavy-set. God, he loved his drinks. And he loved to have a good time.”

The display will come down next week. Gutgsell is very close with her neighbors — they call themselves the “Maute Street Gang” — and recently, they banded together to celebrate the return of a young man who served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

Among the American flags and celebratory decorations that welcomed him home is a portrait of the man in front of an American flag. It was painted on a piece of wood by Gutgsell.

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