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 Hans John Stoltenberg  (1879 - 1963)

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Lived/Active: Wisconsin / Germany      Known for: rural landscape, snowscene paintings

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Hans John Stoltenberg
from Auction House Records.
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in 1879 near Flensburg, Germany in Schleswig-Holstein to a German father and Danish mother, Hans Stoltenberg was a landscape painter of small canvases that typically were of woodland and farm scenes as well as the Michigan shore.  It is thought that he did small paintings because they were more salable, but some of his works are more ambitions such as Open Stream in Winter, completed in 1936, one-yard square, and in the Milwaukee Art Museum. 

His family during his childhood lived about 20 miles from Flensburg, which was then part of Germany but after World War I was ceded to Denmark.  The area was heavily forested and scenic, but the family of seven children, supported by a father, Joachim Stoltenberg, who held a  job in a sheet copper factory, lived in poverty in a two-room rustic cottage.

In the 1880s, the father died, and Wilhelm, the oldest child, emigrated to Milwaukee in 1885 and became a house painter.   Six years later, the widowed mother took the remaining children to Milwaukee, sailing on a cattle ship converted for human passengers.  To help support the family in their new home, twelve-year old Hans Stoltenberg first worked as a water carrier at construction sites.  Then, about 1895, he became an apprentice in a painting and decorating business, Brown and Harper, where an older brother, Frederick was already employed.  From Frederick, Hans learned how to do "graining", which was applying paint to look like grained wood.  He also began oil painting, and at age sixteen, began his first canvases, which were dark toned and in the tradition of the Munich School.

In 1905, Hans Stoltenberg married Helen May Spencer of Milwaukee, and the next year, he became a United States citizen.  The couple lived for several years in Milwaukee and then moved to a more rural setting on the western edge of Milwaukee County.  However he continued to work in the city and took evening art classes at the Milwaukee Art Institute from its director, Dudley Crafts Watson (1885-1972).  Watson encouraged Stoltenberg to lighten his palette, to paint landscapes, and like other students, to enter the Institute art competitions.  In 1920, Stoltenberg won an Honorable Mention, and seven years later, his exhibited work in the Gallery of Wisconsin Art exhibition sponsored by the Milwaukee Journal caught the eye and verbal praise of Carl von Marr, Milwaukee artist who became Director of the Munich Art Academy in Germany.

In the 1920s, Stoltenberg began supporting himself and his wife and two children with his painting, and he traveled widely in the state for subject matter including to Door County in northeast Wisconsin and the villages near Madison of Black Earth and Mount Horeb.  He did marine scenes of Lake Superior near Bayfield and the Porcupine Range in Upper Michigan.  He also went to Canada as well as the dunes of Indiana.  During the 1930s Depression era, he was a painter for the Federal Art Project of the WPA, and many of his paintings from that period are in libraries, fraternal meeting rooms, hospitals and nursing homes. 

Exhibitions included one-man shows at the Oshkosh Public Museum in 1935 and the Milwaukee Art institute in 1938.  That same year, he built a home and studio at 2560 Pilgrim Road in Brookfield west of Milwaukee.  By 1956, he was experiencing ill health.  He died on January 17, 1963, having spent the last fourteen months of his life in West Bend, Wisconsin at the Cedar Hills Nursing Home.

Stoltenberg's reputation did not travel much beyond his own region, but he is remembered as a skillful landscape painter whose work reflected his love and appreciation of natural beauty, especially of his home state of Wisconsin.

His work is in the Oshkosh Museum; Madison Historical Society Museum; Carroll Collection in Waukesha, Wisconsin; Vanderpoel Collection in Ridge Park, Illinois; Milwaukee State Teachers College in Whitewater, Wisconsin; and in Milwaukee at the Art Museum, Concordia College,  Mount Mary College, the Public Library, Technical High School and City Hall.


Sources:
Peter C. Merrill, German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee
Sidney C. Hamper, President of the Vanderpoel Art Association, Records from the Association archives.

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