Count Berthold von Imhoff
Count Berthold von Imhoff was born in Mannheim, Germany on this date in 1868. He demonstrated artistic talent early, painting landscapes at the age of seven. By fourteen, he was serving an apprenticeship. He was awarded the Art Academy Award of Berlin for a painting he completed when he was only sixteen.
Imhoff immigrated to Reading, (pron. Redding) Pennsylvania in 1892. He painted murals for over 100 area churches. He also decorated the Academy of Music, the Masonic Temple, and numerous private homes. The Cathedral in Reading is considered his masterpiece, with 225 life-size figures.
Imhoff began to long for a more serene place to live where he could find good hunting. Consequently, he and his family relocated to St. Walburg in northwestern Saskatchewan. He built a home and studio five miles from the village. He continued decorating churches, travelling throughout Saskatchewan, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota. He painted on canvas in the studio, then took the paintings to the churches and installed them.
Imhoff was a Catholic and did much of his work for Catholic churches, but he was happy to work for other denominations as well. He never made very much money, for the rural parishes were often poor. He accepted whatever they could afford.
He left his mark across North Dakota. St. Mary’s in Fargo is an Imhoff church, but his work can also be found in much smaller communities, like Hague, Karlsruhe, Milton, and Maddock. Some of those churches have fallen into disrepair. The Hitterdahl Lutheran Church in Milton closed in 1984, with the art in danger of being lost forever. A local farmer bought the church and has undertaken a restoration project to preserve it. The Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Krasna was closed in 1967. It was purchased in 1972 in an effort to save it, along with more of Imhoff’s art.
Count von Imhoff transformed plain spaces into exquisite works of art. In 1937, Pope Pius XI awarded him a Knighthood in the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great. By the time he died in 1919, Imhoff had left a legacy of treasured art in churches across the region. The town of St. Walburg erected a statue in his honor in 1998. His studio has been preserved by his family. It is open to visitors from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
CBC Digital Archives. “Count Berthold von Imhoff: Prairie Painter.” http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/arts-entertainment/visual-arts/count-berthold-von-imhoff-prairie-painter.html Accessed 5 December, 2014.
North Dakota Studies. “Prairie Churches.” http://www.ndstudies.org/media/prairie_churches_count_berthold_von_imhoff_part_1 Accessed 24 May,14
Imhoff Gallery http://www.imhoffgallery.com/new/ Accessed 24 May, 14
Count Berthold John von Imhoff http://people.ucalgary.ca/~dsucha/imhoff.html Accessed 24 May, 2014.
NDSU Libraries Germans from Russia Collection http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/history_culture/history/ohanneson.html Accessed 5/24/14