The Painted Forest
psi at work with a small chisel

South interior view after the 1981-82 restoration project. Photo: Mike McGinnis

The Painted Forest, Valton, WI:  1981-82

One of the more outstanding and original examples of an interior ritual space can be found in a simple frame building, in the dramatic Hidden Valleys landscape of western Wisconsin. Known as The Painted Forest, the building was built in the late 1890s, in the small town of Valton, WI, as Camp #6190, a lodge hall for the Modern Woodmen of America (MWA). Members of this fraternal order commissioned itinerant German artist Ernest Hupeden to paint the interior of their meeting hall. Possibly beginning with a project to paint the stage curtain, Hupeden worked through 1898 and 1899 painting the entire interior with a remarkable mural with scenes depicting the principles and activities of a the MWA. The scenes are enveloped in a landscape that changes from daylight to dusk, from spring to fall, and mirrors, to some extent, the landscape outside, and also chronicles the rites of initiation.

In 1980 Kohler Foundation, Inc. purchased the building The Foundation retained Howlett to design and mange the restoration of the building and mural. The building had been constructed on a stone foundation that had settled unevenly over the years, causing a network of cracks throughout the entire mural. The restoration project entailed structural stabilization of the foundation, re-plastering areas of the ceiling and walls, and infill painting of the mural. Under the supervision of Howlett, the project engaged many talented artists and technicians.

Information on The Painted Forest today can be found at:

Additional information on the restoration project is available upon request.

Please click here to see a selection of images from the project.

Panorama photos by Mike McGinnis.