Miller Exhibit Memorializes Topelmanns

Ephraim painter Ellen Sprogø-Topelmann died in 2016, and her husband, Karsten Topelmann, died five years later. But their legacy lives on in Door County and beyond – a legacy that the Miller Art Museum will celebrate through its upcoming exhibit, Hanseatic: The Life and Works of Karsten and Ellen Topelmann.

Named after the couple’s now-closed Ephraim art gallery, the exhibit consists of 34 oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings. Some depict members of the Topelmann family, and others the town where the family lived.

It’s a more personal exhibit than most, according to museum curator Helen del Guidice, because the Topelmanns had such an impact on the art of Door County. Each painting will be paired with a personal anecdote from their children Lars and Lisa Topelmann, allowing for a closer glimpse into the artists’ lives.

Family photo of the Topelmanns. Photo courtesy of the Miller Art Museum.

“It really illuminates them as people,” del Guidice said.

When Ellen and Karsten Topelmann passed, their family decided to donate their art to the Miller Art Museum’s permanent collection. Some of the pieces in the Hanseatic exhibit are from the family, but other paintings were borrowed from the Ephraim Historical Foundation and private collectors. 

Although putting together an exhibition without the help of the artists whose work is on display presents certain challenges, del Guidice said it helped to have so many people come together with the goal of preserving the Topelmanns’ legacy.

This collaboration will continue with programming at the Miller Art Museum this month. On Nov. 5, the first day of the exhibition, 2-3 pm, del Guidice will interview Lars and Lisa Topelmann about their memories of their family, followed by an audience Q&A session. Then an opening reception for the exhibit will be held 3-4:30 pm. On Nov. 10, 10:30 am, Ephraim Historical Society curator and collections manager Cody Schreck will discuss the Topelmanns’ regional impact.

“Tenerife, Canary Islands,” oil painting by Karsten Topelmann. Photo courtesy of the Miller Art Museum.

Though del Guidice didn’t have the opportunity to get to know the Topelmanns before they died, she feels that she has that chance now through Hanseatic – and she hopes others will feel the same.

“I do feel now that I know them so well,” del Guidice said. “They’re wonderful, fascinating people, and I can see why they had such an impact.” 

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