Summers in Silvermine

We continue our series of recollections by Carl Schmitt’s son David.

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Eight of the nine Schmitt boys, early 1930s: back row (left to right): Austin, David, Robert, Michael, Jacob, Peter; in wagon: John, Carl, Jr.

My earliest recollection of the “early days” was my father walking to Winnipauk to ride the trolley car into Norwalk to the foot of Hospital Hill to visit my mother. Every year her only two week vacation time was when another little brother was born.  Eventually she would come home for a grand reunion introducing the new baby to the rest of us which was always a joyous occasion, a memorable event.

Summers were also happy times.  I usually put on my red and white striped bathing suit toward the end of May and would only take it off after first frost in September.  No baths either in the summer (I was, I believed, allergic to water) although I did learn to swim (doggy paddle) in Borglum’s brook and up at the old reservoir, which was enough!

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Gertrude Schmitt holding her son David, with Jacob standing to the right.

I remember we kept the little kids from following us into the woods by enclosing them in the yard at home with a big stone each in their diapers.  One time after about a two hour swim we rushed home because of a huge thunder storm, and lo and behold there were the two of them soaking wet, still straining to get out of the pouring rain, anchored in the yard.  Mother was, needless to say, exasperated because she was busy at the other end of the house and never heard their crying above the storm.

On This Day—August 10, 1914

One hundred years ago, Carl Schmitt was in Italy, staying with the Grazzini family in their villa above the town of Fiesole in the northern region of Tuscany.  Since his arrival in Italy in the spring, the artist had been hard at work, sending a large shipment of paintings and pastels to his patron, Zell Hart Deming, in Warren, Ohio, before venturing on a series of scenes of Fiesole and the surrounding countryside.  Schmitt’s portrait of Dr. Grazzini’s lovely daughter Luisina  would be shown at an exhibition in Florence in the fall.  

In early August the artist’s seemingly idyllic life was shattered by the outbreak of war between the great powers, and before the week was out large numbers of refugees from Germany flooded the northern part of Italy.  In the face of the conflict Schmitt would move to Florence, then to Rome, and finally to Naples, whence he sailed back to the United States in early February, 1915.  Deming saw fit to publish Schmitt’s letter to his parents in his hometown newspaper, The Warren Tribune, on August 10.

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Luisina Grazzini at her father’s villa, summer 1914.

Carl Schmitt who is studying at Fiesole, on the hills above Florence, writes under the date of August 10 to his father, Prof. Jacob Schmitt:

The situation here is very serious and will very likely be worse as soon as prices are going up rapidly.  I am still living at Dr. Grazzini’s villa.  Many Americans are here and I have seen several hysterical women who have no money.  Many of them are school teachers and all are stranded.  But you probably know more about it than I do.  The papers have given hardly any victories to Germany but I fear they are making headway.

I wish I might get a letter from home.  I have no idea how long we shall be without mail for how long before this will reach you.  Meantime I am working as hard as the weather will permit.

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Self-portrait sketch, dated January 20, 1915, while Schmitt was in Naples awaiting his boat home to America.

We should be all right if anyone has any money.  The Italians can’t draw their money out of the banks, so they are nearly as hard up as the Americans and English here.

The northern cities are full of Italians, English and Americans who have been expelled from Germany and other countries at war.  All these refugees depend on the charity of the Italians.  The Grazzini Villa is filled to overflowing.

I have been having a gold crown put on a tooth I broke and my dentist had great difficulty in getting enough gold in Florence for it.  All Europe seems to be extremely hostile to the Prussians and the stories that come from the north are terrible.

from The Warren Tribune, August 10, 1914

The charming Luisina in the garden.

Wisdom on Wednesdays—“It is easy to love humanity”

“I always suspect the poet or artist who loves humanity.  It is immature and an oversimplification of a difficulty.  For it is easy to love humanity—the trouble comes when we attempt to love our neighbor.  Our neighbor is not a vague abstraction but the individual with whom we come in contact in our daily lives.”  (c. 1931)

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Gertrude feeding her son Austin, September 9, 1921

Wisdom on Wednesdays—No hope for mankind

“There is no hope for mankind.
But there is every hope for an individual man.”  (1930)

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Portrait of Santo Caserta, oil on canvas, c. 1932, 36 x 24 in.
Caserta (1910-2013), a friend of the Schmitts in Silvermine, studied the violin at Julliard School in New York, but had to abandon the instrument on account of a skin condition. He then taught himself to play the cello, and at the age of 46, auditioned for a position in the Philadelphia Orchestra under the legendary conductor Eugene Ormandy. When asked by Ormandy who his cello teacher was, Caserta had to admit that he had taught himself the instrument. Ormandy was so impressed that he gave him the job. which he held for the next twenty years.
Schmitt also painted a portrait of his friend playing the cello.