Today, May 6, marks the 125th anniversary of Carl Schmitt’s birth in Warren, Ohio, in 1889. The following article from the CSF archives gives a reporter’s view of Schmitt sketching en plein air in Boston. It was published on his 22nd birthday in 1911.
“Carl Schmidt, [sic] one of the most talented of our younger artists, was sketching on Washington St., Friday, where a crowd collected about him and constituted themselves art critics. One youngster said to another. “Oh, come on, kid, don’t watch him; he’s only an amacheur.” “Thanks,” said Schmidt, not looking up from his work, “that’s a real compliment. An amateur is one who works at art for love of it; a professional works for dollars.” A girl, of the variety that grows up on the streets, looked at the sketch, then muttered, “Gawd, ain’t that rotten. You couldn’t get a match through that door.” If the youngsters could enter certain studios in town they would hear very different criticisms of Schmidt’s work.”
Boston Evening Transcript, Saturday, May 6, 1911
This small vignette captures Schmitt better than the reporter knew. We see the artist’s delight in the prophetic irony of the child and the innocent. We see, too, his kindly wit in the face of bluster and ignorance, a wit that served him well during his long years of struggle as an artist and father of many sons. In this instance, his response ennobles the youngster’s dismissive remark, turning it to a true praise of the amateur—one who works for love, not money. Schmitt’s early regard for the amateur spirit, as with his other central ideas, deepened but did not change fundamentally throughout his life.
As is typical of early news accounts, the paper misspells Schmitt’s last name. This would change as his work became better known and respected by artists, critics, and the public at large. The story was picked up by Schmitt’s sometime patron back in Warren, Zell Hart Deming. Ever eager to promote Schmitt’s career, she reprinted it in her newspaper, the Warren Tribune, under the headline “WARREN ARTIST IS MAKING GOOD IN WORK AT BOSTON.” The spelling of Schmitt’s name, oddly enough, was not corrected. This became a running joke with Schmitt, as he recounted in later years in his journal, “They spelled my name with a “D” on the back. I must write it always thus: SchmiTT.”