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4811e4210b4dd Portrait of Emil Kym
Portrait of Emil Kym

Who was Emil Kym?

by Brian Stucky

August 13, 2008


This Art Gallery was named for Emil Kym (Kim), a Swiss immigrant folk artist, mural and interior painter who was the first artist to live and work in the Goessel community.  He was one of the most prolific and most graphic of the "Great Plains wall painters."*

Born in Mohlin, Switzerland on Feb. 15, 1862, he was the youngest of six in a Reformed Catholic family.  Emil reportedly went to Paris to study art for two years. He was also in the Swiss Army for a year. At age 21, he married Josepha Schneider. They had four children before she died in 1893. Emil began seeing and became engaged to Elise Booz.

Emil's brother had recently emigrated to America. Emil also knew the stories about the streets "paved with gold" in America and thought he might do well as an interior painter. On Feb. 21, 1896, he left Mohlin for America.

When Emil Kym first arrived in America, immigration officials changed his name from Kym to Kim, and either was used thereafter. He came by train to Newton, then to Goessel and did several interior wood-graining jobs in the area including the Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church and several homes. In 1897 Elise came, and they were married.

In 1898 the Kyms made a move to the Hoffnungsau Church area near Buhler, where he did most of his work in America. He painted many buildings, his work ranging from wood-graining to "marbelizing" to full-scale Swiss mountain murals, and "trompe d'loeil" (trick of the eye) details. 

Kym was known as a colorful, interesting, humorous personality, and was well thought of. He died Nov. 22, 1918.

*Information from "Emil Kym," a Master's degree thesis in history by Steven Friesen.


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