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Beauty and Joy: Artist Talk With Madeline Tollefson

by Carol Best
Kansas Tribute by Madeline Tollefson
Kansas Tribute, a watercolor by Madeline Tollefson

Artist Madeline Tollefson grew up surrounded by creative inspiration. Paintings by the American impressionist painter Fern Coppedge, who was Madeline’s great-aunt, graced their home. Nature’s beauty also inspired Madeline. As a child, she would write stories and then illustrate them. Eventually, painting, particularly in watercolors, became her favored creative outlet.

After marriage, the artistic aspect of Madeline’s life took a backseat to running a business with her husband Allen and raising their large family. However, after the children married or went to college, her interest in painting renewed. Allen encouraged her to take art classes and thus began a prolific 30 years of painting nature, land or cityscapes, and sometimes portraiture.

Madeline credits her aunt with giving her confidence that she could be an artist.

“I don’t think I ever thought I couldn’t paint,” Madeline says. “I need to create. I like to share my art with others.” She also teaches beginning art to all ages in her home studio.

Inspiration: Fern Coppedge, was a well-known artist and part of the Philadelphia Ten, a group of female artists who organized to show their art during the early to mid-1900s when the art market was controlled by men. Her work features many winter landscapes and is housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Michener Art Museum. She was my great-aunt and I think I inherited her sense of color.
Madeline Tollefson

Madeline has studied with many artists and consistently with LeCompton, Kansas painter Ellen Duncan who taught her realism. As she practiced and studied with others, Madeline’s style evolved.

“After I got into watercolor, I branched off into more of an expressionistic style,” Madeline says. “It’s still real, but not down to every fine line.”

Madeline’s goal in painting is to convey joy, fun, life events, and beauty with color. She also wants her work to be pleasing to the Lord.

“I have to be inspired,” she says. “A thought will drop into my mind, from a song, a photo or something. Beautiful things, interesting things, interesting light, or something that invokes a memory for me or others.”

Madeline’s artwork is on display in MNU’s artist gallery during the month of March where she will present an artist talk on March 23 at 12:15 p.m. in Mabee Learning Commons. The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend and enjoy her vibrant work.

Madeline has strong ties to MNU. She and Allen have been generous university supporters, funding numerous capital and mission projects. They have traveled with and worked on numerous university mission trips since the 1990s. One of their sons, Dr. Cary Murphy, and his wife Dawn (Bornsen) are MNU graduates. In 2013 the Tollefsons were honored with MNU’s Carry The Torch Award and in 2019 with MNU’s Lifetime Achievement Award for their support and involvement with MNU.

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