The Painted Forest
Valton, Wisconsin

A Modern Woodmen
of America
Historic Site

Painted Forest

The Painted Forest

Tucked away in a small Wisconsin town is a unique reminder of Modern Woodmen of America's past and a slice of rual midwestern life that would have been forgotten except for the restoration of a Modern Woodmen camp hall, now called The Painted Forest.

A step inside the Painted Forest puts you back in the late 1890s when Modern Woodmen Camp 6190 was a vital part of the lives of the residents. The camp flourished for nearly 20 years, providing the people of Valton with life insurance protection and fraternalism. The camp hall, itself, served as a community gathering place.

Murals, painted on the walls by an itinerant folk artist, depict Modern Woodmen's rituals and the life of people in that community around 1900.

The Building Itself

On the outside, Modern Woodmen of America camp hall, Camp 6190, is like the hundreds of camp halls built for Society members as a place to hold local camp meetings and ceremonies. The 60'x24', simply designed building has the usual open room with a tall, arched ceiling, a small foyer and a second anterior room.

Inside the camp hall, members were totally surrounded by the painted environment. Numerous functions and activities of Modern Woodmen Camps were vividly and symbolically portrayed. Frightening scenes that symoblize death were contrasted with peaceful fellowship.

Tall trees climbed upward into the arched ceiling, mingling with blue sky and fluffy clouds.

The Valton Camp flurished for nearly 20 years, providing local residents with life insurance protection and fraternalism. Following the demise of the camp, the camp hall continued to be used as a community gathering place for social and political functions.

About the Artist

Traveling landscape painter, Ernst Hupeden, came into Valton in 1897, just as the camp hall was nearing completion, Modern Woodmen camp founders knew Hupeden's reputation as an excellent painter and hired him to paint their stage curtain in exchange for his board and room at a local hotel.

Pleased and impressed with Hupenden's work, the Valton camp's founding fathers hired Ernst to paint the walls of the camp hall with scenes depicting Modern Woodmen's fraternal activity.

When Hupeden had completed his work in December of 1899, every square inch of space, including the arched ceiling, was covered with a panoramic mural. His artwork gives a glimpse of the past that can be found no where else in written or oral history.

The Restoration Project

An interest in the folk art and history of Wisconsin prompted the Kohler Foundarion, Kohler, Wisconsin, to purchase and begin restoring the building in 1980.

The restoration project required the work of many skilled craftspersons, from carpenters to artists. For the most part, the murals remain just as they looked in 1899 when Hupeden completed his work.

In the fall of 1982, the Kohler Foundation presented Sauk County with the deed of The Painted Forest property. The Historical Society of the Upper Baraboo Valley is the custodian of this historical site.

A display of ritual artifacts, donated by Modern Woodmen of America, is part of The Painted Forest Museum.

Plan To Visit The Painted Forest

You can visit The Painted Forest on Saturdays from 1:00-3:30 p.m., during June, July and August. Wheelchair accessible.

Anyone interested in viewing Hupeden's work at other times can contact Jesse Stout, or phone (608) 983-2524, for an appointment.

Modern Woodmen Today

Modern Woodmen of America is a fraternal life insurance society, serving members since 1883. They offer life insruance and annuity plans to help members provide financial security for their families plus fraternal benefits and activities.

Over $14.5 billion of life insurance in force and annuities owned by 648,700 members places Modern Woodmen amoung the leaders in the industry. Ranked by life insurance and assets, Modern Woodmen of America is in the upper 7 percent of all life insurance organizations in the United States.

Fraternal benefits and services aid the members throughout the United States. Camp activities and fraternal youth programes focus on fraternalism, community service and youth development.

Members and their families may attend monthly camp meetings and take part in social, civic, educational and fraternal activies. Junior Service Clubs and Teen Clubs help young members learn the importance of citizenship, cooperation, respect for others and themselves and community service.

Painted Forest
Painted Forest Painted Forest Painted Forest Painted Forest

In 2001, Sauk County could no longer care for the site, so it was returned to Kohler Foundation. They are now working with Edgewood College (Madison, WI) and caretakers from the Historical Society of the Upper Baraboo to ensure the long term care and preservation of the site.

For more information on the Painted Forest please see Kohler Foundation, Inc.

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