Art Environments

Collection Series

Ernest Hüpeden


Ernest Hüpeden, untitled (six-panel painted cabinet), c. 1880–1900; wood, paint, metal. John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection, gift of Kohler Foundation Inc.

Ernest Hüpeden, The Painted Forest (site detail, Modern Woodmen of America Lodge #6190, Valton, WI), c. 1899–1901. Photo: David Umberger.


c. 1850/60–1911

In 1878, Ernest Hüpeden (c.1850/60–1911) arrived in the United States from Germany, bringing with him little more than a set of paints he had received as a gift. He worked all over the United States as an itinerant painter, carrying stacks of white paperboard and piles of magazine images from which he created pictures in exchange for room and board. A job in Valton, Wisconsin, was his masterwork: a series of murals now known as "The Painted Forest," produced in and for the Modern Woodmen of America Lodge #6190. Hüpeden was initially hired to paint just the stage curtain, but the Woodmen were so pleased with the painted scene that they invited him to stay on and undertake the interior of the entire lodge. Hüpeden proceeded to depict a pine forest inspired by the landscape surrounding the lodge. His murals became populated by figures illustrating the rites and themes of the organization and grew to cover every inch of the lodge's walls and ceiling.

Kohler Foundation, Inc. (KFI) acquired and preserved the Painted Forest between 1980–82 and gifted the site to Sauk County. In 2001, with the county no longer able to care for it, KFI did additional work to restore and upgrade the site and added an art studio facility on an adjacent parcel of land. In 2004, the Foundation gifted the site to Edgewood College, who cares for and programs the site today.