‘The Skills of a Master, the Mind of a Child’ – Artist Hermke Timm

Door County artist Hermke Timm works in a Whitefish Bay studio on Lake Michigan, sometimes painting egg tempera portraits of his neighbors, artwork that he gives to them as gifts. But he also does landscapes, pencil drawings, engravings and dry point, ceramics, and the colorful, whimsical, eclectic paintings called kunterbunt.

When Hermke was a child in Berlin, he delighted in drawing, but his parents saw no future in art. “You need a trade to support yourself,” they advised him. After he graduated from the German equivalent of high school, he began an apprenticeship as an engraver. He worked as a journeyman first in Switzerland and then in Norway.

Timm graduated from a Fachhochschule (university of applied sciences) in 1963 after studying art and design. Students at that institution enroll as tradesmen to apply the skills they learn to their future careers.

In 1964 he immigrated to the United States with his girlfriend, who had relatives in Illinois. She became his wife, he found work at the Alpha Die Engraving company, and they made a life for themselves. In Chicago he took evening classes at the Art Institute.

He purchased the engraving business in 1968, and in 1989 reorganized it as his own company renamed Mint Masters, a family-owned, Franklin Park, Illinois, enterprise his children continue to operate.

24-hour clock face in bronze.

Timm’s engraving company created dies for commemorative coins, and for medals and medallions. The precious metal non-currency coins were produced in mints that used his dies, and featured current U.S. presidents, world leaders and famous athletes, among others. He has a framed display of coins minted from his designs, including such varied subjects as the Pope, Vince Lombardi and Mikhail Gorbachev.

The company also produces medals for sporting events and other awards, including the Master Artist award presented by the Door County Art League, coincidentally to Hermke Timm in 2016.

He is both a craftsman and an artist, and the two skills complement each other. Clients communicate specifications for a design, generally furnishing logos, photos, sketches and such, but Timm’s task was to realize the design in metal.

On a trip to New Orleans Timm visited a Mardi Gras museum where he discovered a display of “doubloons” that his company had made for people on parade floats to give to spectators.

“The artwork I did for the metals extended my skill as an artist,” said Timm, and it is a talent he now uses in his studio.

After a lifelong career as an engraver, Timm doesn’t depend on art financially, giving him the liberty to do what he likes to do.

Timm’s introduction to Door County came in the 1970s when a friend in Chicago invited him to go sailing out of Sister Bay.

“I fell in love with this place,” Timm said. “It reminded me of Norway.”

After he told his wife about the wonderful peninsula called Door County, they rented a cottage in Sister Bay, bringing their children with them.

In 1981 they purchased a house in Bay near Valmy as a weekend retreat. Eventually they not only replaced it with a newly constructed home, but in 1994, he built his spacious detached studio/gallery.

The room where he makes art not only contains his work tables, counters, and storage areas, but gallery walls for his art and shelves for his extensive collection of Native American pottery. A comfortable seating area located by a fireplace, a windowed alcove with huge potted plants and a view of landscape that borders Whitefish Dunes State Park enhance his workspace.

“On the Rocks” (egg tempera).

“If I could not create,” he said, “I would wilt.”

“I see something for quite awhile,” he added. “When I look around the neighborhood, a building, a meadow, and after a time, a painting evolves, a landscape, a sunset on a specific day. I have to know and feel the subject before I can interpret it…It becomes very emotional for me, especially when painting neighbors and friends.”

His work as an engraver intersects with his life as an artist in the matter of specifics. “Details interest me,” he said, because engravers must be specific in the use of details, the folds of cloth, the branches of a tree.

He pointed to his painting of a creek in winter, the ice reflecting the water.

“I get excited,” he said, describing the process by which “I suddenly see it.”

Andrew Wyeth, whom Timm characterizes as one of his heroes, has written of similar responses to his subjects.

While his work might occasionally reveal Wyeth’s influence, Timm’s kunterbunt series moves in a different direction. He was inspired by the brilliantly colorful abstract work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, far removed from the realism of Wyeth.

“You start somewhere,” he explained. “It develops, and suddenly you have something before you. By nature I am a dreamer, I see things — that’s when kunterbunt comes along — I’m fantasizing.”

Someone once said the skills of a master and the mind of a child are the necessary qualities for becoming a successful artist, Timm recalled. He keeps that observation in mind as he works in his studio.

Timm’s awards include those from the Hardy Gallery and Miller Art Museum, and he exhibits his work both in Chicago and Door County. He is one of the featured artists in local photographer Thomas Jordan’s Secret Treasures of Door County photography books.

“Hermke is one of the premier artists in Door County,” Jordan said. “Incredibly talented, prolific and versatile, he is always working on a project and not afraid to try something new. He has developed a reputation as one of the best Door County has to offer.”


Visit to view his work online.

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