Portrait of the Artist as a Family Man

A guest post by CSF Creative Director Andrew de Sa.

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The Schmitt family on the porch of their home, c. 1934. Left to right: John, Carl, Jr., Michael, Carl with Gertrude in his lap, David, Robert, Gertrude with Christopher in her lap, Austin, Peter, and Jacob (sitting).

One of the initial intriguing facts I learned about Carl Schmitt was that he and his wife Gertrude lovingly raised a family of ten children.  This seeming contradiction of being both a dedicated artist and dedicated family man fascinated me.  Soon after discovering Schmitt’s work I had the privilege of meeting three of the artist’s children, Carl Jr., Robert, and Gertrude, all of whom rounded out my understanding of Schmitt not only as a brilliant artist and original thinker but also as a devoted father.  All three children echoed the sentiment that their father’s commitment to his craft was a foundational element of the spirit of their family and in fact of each of their individual lives.  As the artist’s son Jacob beautifully recounts:

Just as Schmitt’s values, feelings, aesthetic temperament, and deep Faith were committed to painting, these same values, feelings, and commitments permeated all his activities – his marriage, his family and the relationships he had with his friends. If he offered few immediate material rewards, he offered what was the ‘better part.’ This was something each child learned from his father and something not one of them would trade for the entire world with its superficial and passing comforts.”

—Dr. Jacob  Schmitt, The Grandeur of Beauty

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Three Children with Toys, c. 1926, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 in.

Carl Schmitt understood that the sharing of this “better part” lay in his own attainment of virtue through the cooperation of his destiny as a painter, often at the expense of material prosperity.  Carl and Gertrude regularly welcomed artists, writers, and musicians into their home on Borglum Road.  These individuals, many of whom lacked tight-knit families of their own, were often greatly moved by the experience.  Describing one such visit to the artist’s home, journalist Donald Powell wrote:

I have eaten with the Schmitts and seen the youngsters in their bunks, one on top of the other, shipwise.  I have seen them at play.  I envy and love the whole flock of them . . . dirty faces, dirty diapers and all.  There is love within this family; it was built on love and survives through love.”  —D. Powell, The Catholic Worker, 1934

pen on paper, March 5, 1924

Carl Schmitt would describe his vocation as being that of the peasant, namely one who whose end in life is to raise a family.  Many, of course, share in this vocation; I myself just got married two months ago.  Schmitt’s life, especially understood through the lens of his children, has caused me to reflect on whether I might better prioritize the “better part.”

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Carl Schmitt with his daughter Gertrude on the porch of their home in Silvermine, c. 1935.

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