The Road Less Traveled Exhibition Series


David Rhodes

Jan. 15 - Apr. 16, 2017

Works by an itinerant painter, an inspired dairy farmer, and a contemporary novelist intersected in an exhibition featuring elements from two art environments in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region. The exhibition introduced new angles of approach for The Painted Forest and Grandview sites, and for considering the impact of place.

Explore the exhibition

Ends Apr. 2017

About this exhibition

Art-environment builders Nick Engelbert (1881–1962) and Ernest Hüpeden (a. 1878-1915) both immigrated to the United States from northern Europe. Each created an art environment in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin.

Austrian-born Nick Engelbert settled in Hollandale, WI, in 1913 and purchased the small farm he called Grandview in 1922. In the early 1930s, inspired by a visit to the nearby Dickeyville Grotto, he coated a planter with concrete inlaid with stones and shells. Eventually, he embellished the entire façade of his clapboard house in the same fashion. By 1950, he had transformed the yard around the home into a fantastic landscape with over 40 concrete sculptures of his own making.

In his later years, Engelbert took up painting, and, in 1990, Engelbert’s children gave the John Michael Kohler Arts Center 75 of his works. The Arts Center cares for several sculptures too fragile to remain on site; replicas stand in their place at Grandview.

An immigrant from Germany, Ernest Hüpeden was an itinerant painter working in the late-nineteenth century whose most impressive and well-known work of art is called “The Painted Forest.” The art environment is located in what was once a meeting hall of the Modern Woodmen of America; Hüpeden’s mural paintings cover the walls and ceiling of the hall with allegorical representations of the fraternal organization's values and secret initiation rites.

Acclaimed novelist David Rhodes, a resident of the Driftless Region, contributed a short work of fiction to this consideration of Engelbert’s and Hüpeden’s art environments. In his response, Rhodes offered an account of the people and geography of the region where Engelbert and Hüpeden lived and worked. He revealed a culturally rich landscape that allows idiosyncrasy to thrive.

explore the collections

Nick Engelbert at Grandview (Hollandale, WI), c. 1950.
Ernest Hüpeden, untitled, c.1880–c.1900; wood, metal, and paint; 98 5/8 x 82 7/8 x 26 1/2 in. John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection, gift of Kohler Foundation Inc.


David Rhodes

David Rhodes is an acclaimed author of five books, including the novel Driftless (Milkweed Editions, 2008), a fictional tale set in the Driftless region. Rhodes knows the area intimately as a former resident of Valton, WI, where Ernest Hüpeden’s immersive mural, The Painted Forest, is located. In Rhodes’s response to the exhibition, he wrote about the people who embraced Hüpeden and kept the legacy of the itinerant painter alive. Driftless: Nick Engelbert & Ernest Hüpeden was one of fifteen exhibitions on view throughout 2017 as part of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s 50th-anniversary series, The Road Less Traveled.

“People living in modern urban areas often assume that rural and small town communities—especially in earlier times—had little tolerance for individuality and that conformity reigned with a heavy hand. And while this may have been true in some cases, it fails to acknowledge the need those communities had for information sharing and providing their own entertainment.”

David Rhodes

David Rhodes is a critically acclaimed Wisconsin writer whose 2008 novel, Driftless, was heralded by the Chicago Tribune as the “best work of fiction to come out of the Midwest in many years.” His most recent title is Jewelweed. The author of five novels, Rhodes earned his master of fine arts from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Behind the Scenes

Dig A Little Deeper...

Read a special Q & A from the responder, David Rhodes, in our gallery handout.

If you want to learn even more about Nick Engelbert or Ernest Hüpeden, you can purchase an in-depth publication from our online store or at ARTspace.

Queens and Kings

The Road Less Traveled Conference

Dig deeper into conference sessions, view panelist bios and abstracts, read session descriptions, and continue the conversation in session forums by visiting The Road Less Traveled conference portal.

Through this web portal, you will be able to share new ideas and broaden the collective knowledge and appreciation of this unique style of art making that was the focus of a yearlong series of exhibitions at the Arts Center.

Learn More

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., Herzfeld Foundation and Sargento Foods Inc. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) organization; donations are tax deductible.

The Road Less Traveled 50th anniversary program was conceived by Amy Horst, deputy director for programming. The exhibitions series was organized and curated by Arts Center Curator Karen Patterson. Special thanks to Emily Schlemowitz, assistant curator, for the curation of Driftless: Nick Engelbert & Ernest Hüpeden and Folk & Fable: Levi Fisher Ames & Albert Zahn, and Amy Chaloupka, guest curator of The World in a Garden: Nek Chand and Volumes: Stella Waitzkin.