Helmut Summ was born in 1908 in Hamburg, Germany. He continued living in Germany, studying two years in Kunsthalle Hamburg, until 1922, when he moved to Kohler, Wisconsin. He attended Sheboygan Central High School, graduating in 1926. He received his artistic training from the University of Wisconsin – Madison on a scholarship (1926-1931), Black River Art Colony in Sheboygan under Arthur Colt (1929-1931), C. Peters School in Rockport, Massachusetts, and under semi-abstract painter, Umberto Romano, at Gloucester, Mas (1933) where his personal style was evoked. Summ was also a pupil of Will H. Varnum, Roland Steffins, Helen Annen, Elsa Ulbricht, and Robert von Neumann.
From 1931 to 1948, Summ worked as an art teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools including the Boys’ Technical High School and Bay View High School. In 1948, he joined the Milwaukee State Teacher’s College and by 1956, he began serving as the chairman of the art department until his retirement in 1978.
Early in Summ’s career, he was inspired by seventeenth century Dutch painting and the twentieth century German artist, Lyonel Feininger. However, in the late 30s, he gradually began to reject naturalism and realism to develop abstract tendencies. While Summ shared the subjects of rural and urban landscapes with American Scene Painters of the day, his approach was expressionistic and entirely his own. He responded to the landscape’s tone and rhythm, creating colorful and dramatic works. The painter’s works often expressed mood or emotion, for example the loneliness found within urban landscapes. He was also known to have borrowed compact compositions from the cubists.
Summ was known for his oil, encaustic, watercolor and acrylic paintings; as well as his engravings.
Summs works have been exhibited at the Library of Congress’s National Exhibition of Prints, the Milwaukee Art Institute (now the Milwaukee Art Museum), and in such cities as Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Chicago.