Gertrude Catherine Schmitt, 1932-2018

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Gertrude Catherine Schmitt passed away peacefully at the home of her niece just past midnight on Wednesday, September 26, 2018.  Gertrude was born August 24, 1932, in Norwalk Hospital, the tenth child and only daughter of artist Carl Schmitt and his wife Gertrude.  Hers was the only birth recorded in her Father’s extensive journals, which after nine boys, struck the artist as a humorous turn of events.  “With the arrival of a daughter!  The world is a desert of petty literalness.  One should contribute some tragedy, some romance, and some heroism, but best of all, some comic relief.”

A fine artist in her own right, Gertrude was always content to live in her father’s shadow.  “I wanted to be an artist from babyhood because my father was an artist,” she remarked.  Her dear friend Ray Kelly spoke about “Papa Schmitt” being especially amused that, although his nine sons picked up on his theories of art — one being that painting is historically a masculine skill — none of them took up fine art as their life’s work.  Only his daughter devoted herself entirely to painting, and her father was delighted to find she was a true artist. “Gertrude is doing some beautiful painting,” her father wrote to a friend in the early 1960s, “she is very talented.” He said he was as proud of her as he could be of any son. “My Father and brothers painted with their heads,” she would later remark. “I paint with my eyes.”

Gertrude, c. 1940, oil on hardboard, 12 x 10 in.

Gertrude’s early memories of her childhood in Silvermine are full of her nine brothers.  At the age of five, she was taken with her family to Italy to be near her Father who had been sent to take the air at a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Italian Alps.  After a summer in Florence, the family moved to Rome for the school year 1938-39, where their father joined them.  Gertrude remembered playing in the fountains of Rome while waiting for her Mother to walk her home from the school she attended just off St. Peter’s Square.  Gertrude retained a vivid memory of Il Duce’s Blackshirts marching about the city.

Gertrude Schmitt, Nativity Triptych, oil on canvas, approx. 3 x 6 feet. Arnold Hall Conference Center, Pembroke, Massachusetts.

In the summer of 1939, with war clouds gathering in Europe, the family had decided to return home. They booked passage for September 29, but war broke out the first of that month. Then, just days before leaving, her mother was taken seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. Gertrude’s Father stayed on in Rome with her Mother while the rest of the family set sail with 19-year-old Robert in charge of his younger siblings, overseeing their distribution among a number of families in Wilton and New Canaan until Gertrude and Carl could return around Thanksgiving.

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Gertrude in Riding Uniform, 1942, oil on canvas, 32 x 19 in.
Ten-year-old Gertrude poses proudly in the uniform of the New Canaan Mounted Troop.

Of the tense homeward voyage on the steamship Saturnia, she recalled the curious sound of the water as the ship idled at Gibraltar while it was briefly detained and boarded by some officers of a British destroyer.  Safely home in Silvermine, she began school again in earnest, taking piano lessons and learning horsemanship with the New Canaan Mounted Troop.  She attended the Country School in New Canaan, Georgetown School of the Arts, and New Canaan High School, finishing at Miss Thomas’s School in Rowayton.

Gertrude, c.1945, oil on hardboard, 18 × 15 in.

Gertrude went on to the National Academy of Design in New York City, winning the prestigious Hallgarten Traveling Scholarship for three years’ study abroad.  At the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, she learned little from her professors but much from following her Father’s advice to study directly the work of the masters.  She made the most of her time there, spending days studying the great masterpieces and many evenings at the opera.

Upon her return to the family home in Silvermine, Miss Schmitt taught sport and all subjects at the Country School in New Canaan.  She also took up the violin, playing in the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra alongside her brother Robert, a flutist, for many years.

Gertrude and her father at the exhibit at Waveny House, New Canaan, Connecticut, fall 1980.

As her parents grew older, Gertrude, with the help of her brother Robert, dedicated herself entirely to caring for them both, and to painting.  She set up her easel in the family’s living room where a large north-facing window offered the best light.  In the fall of 1980, Gertrude and Carl staged a father-daughter exhibition at Waveny House in New Canaan.  “Gertrude has been touched by her father’s artistic vision and influenced by his philosophy of art and religion,” an article on the event noted.  “The spiritual and aesthetic permeate both of their works and their lives. Here religion and art are perfectly integrated.  Their art is much like their lives, not rushed, but carefully and thoughtfully achieved.”

Gertrude Schmitt, Still Life with Apples, oil on canvas, 21 x 28 in.

Gertrude continued to play music and paint, exhibiting at local shows. Prizes and commissions allowed her to travel abroad: a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with her brother Robert and several trips to Europe.  Her keenly observant eye is reflected in the lovely sketches and pastels she made along the way.  She took one last trip to fulfill a commission for the Benedictine Monks of Norcia in central Italy: an altar diptych of the life of St. Benedict.

Gertrude Schmitt, Puente San Martin, Toledo, pastel on paper, 16 x 21 in.

Upon her Father’s death in 1989 at one hundred years of age, Gertrude received the family home and studio as a gift of thanks for her years of care.  She in turn, gave the property to the Carl Schmitt Foundation after its founding in 1996.  She cared for Robert until his death this past summer at the age of 98.

Known for her quick wit and her ability to see and to paint the transcendent beauty of the created world, Gertrude died as she lived, selfless to the last.

Girl with Necklace, c. 1945, oil on canvas, 15 x 18 in.
Gertrude is clasping a necklace of Mexican silver, a gift of her brother Robert. She often remarked that of all the portraits her father painter of her, this was her favorite.

A retrospective exhibit of Gertrude Schmitt’s works will take place on Sunday, October 7, 2018, from 1:00 to 5:00 pm at the home of her niece and nephew, Margaret and William Skidd, 44 Fox Run Road, Norwalk, Connecticut. The show will feature works in oil, watercolor and pastel, some well-beloved, many newly discovered — the fruit of decades of work, collected and shown together for the first time.  For tickets, please click here.

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Fairfield County Giving Day is March 1st—Give where you live

Fairfield County Giving Day starts at midnight tonight!  It’s your chance to help the CSF spread the word about the rich legacy of Carl Schmitt, wherever you live.

If you enjoy Wisdom on Wednesdays, our books, and annual open house, please pitch in!

Support “locally sourced” art tomorrow, March 1st.  Thank you!

Come to the Carl Schmitt Foundation’s 2017 Annual Open House

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Peter, c. 1940, oil on canvas, 15 x 10 in.

Join us Saturday, November 11, 2017, from 12 noon to 3 pm at the studio-gallery in Silvermine, 30 Borglum Road, Wilton, Connecticut (see directions below).

We’d be delighted to see you there!

Gertrude Knitting, c. 1970, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in.

Directions to the CSF studio-gallery:
From the Merritt Parkway (Rt. 15) Northbound: Take exit 39B to Route 7 north. At the end of the expressway, turn LEFT onto Grist Mill Rd. At the stop sign, turn RIGHT on to Belden Hill Rd. *At the first stop sign (3/4 mile) turn LEFT on to Seir Hill Rd. After 1/3 mile, take a RIGHT onto Old Boston Road and the second LEFT (after 1/3 mile) to stay on Old Boston Road. After the single lane bridge, take a SHARP LEFT on to Borglum Rd. The CSF studios are the third driveway on your right.

From the Merritt Parkway (Rt. 15) Southbound: Take exit 40B to Main Avenue north (the exit is marked “To Route 7 North”). At the bottom of the ramp, turn right, and after 3/4 mile, turn LEFT on to Grist Mill Rd. Go through the lights, and at the stop sign, turn RIGHT on to Belden Hill Rd. and the follow the directions as given for the Merritt Parkway Northbound from this point.*

From I-95 (Connecticut Turnpike) north or south: Take exit 15 to Route 7 north for 3½ miles to the end of the expressway; turn LEFT at the light onto Grist Mill Rd. At the stop sign, turn RIGHT on to Belden Hill Rd. and follow the directions for the Merritt Parkway Northbound from this point.*

From Route 7: Take Route 106 West (Wolfpit Rd.); after 2 miles (immediately after the sign for the school bus stop) turn LEFT onto Old Boston Rd. At the next intersection bear a gentle right onto Borglum Road. The CSF studios (#30) are the third driveway on your right.

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Three Children with Toys, oil on canvas, c. 1926, 30 x 36 in.
“The lyric mood must be kept at all costs and preserved from the terrible enmity of active life,” Carl Schmitt wrote in his journal in December, 1924. “The spirit of the times and of our country is dead against that leisure without which true Religion and true art can not flourish.”

Celebrate Silvermine with CSF Director Samuel Schmitt at the New Canaan Library

Swans—a symbol of Silvermine—on the millpond upstream from the Silvermine Tavern.

Discover the rich history of Silvermine with “Silvermine: Celebrating Its Art, History, and Beauty,” by author and CSF Executive Director Samuel A. Schmitt on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at 6:30 pm at the New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut.

The building that became known as the Silvermine Tavern has stood at the crossroads of the community for over 200 years. Long thought of as an authentic colonial inn, it was originally around built 1810 as part of a complex of commercial buildings that included mills along the river, a blacksmith shop, and store. The building was transformed into an inn and restaurant less than a century ago, and has served as the community gathering place, landmark, and center of gracious hospitality ever since.

Silvermine, home to Carl Schmitt for over 70 years, is known today for its natural beauty, the Silvermine Guild Arts Center, and the Silvermine Tavern.  Few, however, are aware of its rich history.  Encompassing sections of New Canaan, Norwalk, and Wilton, Connecticut, Silvermine went from a small mill town during the 18th and 19th centuries to a vibrant artist colony in the early 20th century.  Numerous artists, including Carl Schmitt, attracted by the scenery and proximity to the art scene in New York, flocked to the area, using the old mills and barns for their studios.

Carl Schmitt stands proudly outside his new studio on Borglum Road in this photograph from 1919. Local contractor Bill Lyons completed the building at cost for his artist friend. It featured Flemish bond brickwork and a red tile roof outside, and handmade tiles on the floor inside. The single room and loft were heated by a potbelly stove which proved barely adequate when the artist worked late on chilly winter nights. Schmitt sold the building when he moved his family to Europe in the late 1930s. In 2004, after being used as a house and falling into disrepair, the studio was purchased by the Carl Schmitt Foundation, which restored it to its original condition. It now serves as one of the Foundation’s galleries.

These artists formed the Silvermine Group of Artists and later the Silvermine Guild, a haven for art of all kinds. The high quality of the work of the early Silvermine artists compares favorably with the members of the better known colonies in Old Lyme and Cos Cob.

Through dozens of historic photographs the new book Silvermine tells the story of the bucolic hamlet Carl Schmitt called home for over 70 years. CSF director Samuel Schmitt recounts how the picturesque valley, once buzzing with sawmills, was transformed into a cultural hub with the coming of the artists, including Carl Schmitt, who formed the Silvermine Guild in 1922. It’s part of the well-known “Images of America” series from Arcadia Publishing. See a preview and order here from Amazon.com. Your purchase benefits the Carl Schmitt Foundation.

Join us Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at 6:30 pm at the New Canaan Public Library located at 151 Main Street in New Canaan, Connecticut.  (Directions can be found here.)  Signed copies of Schmitt’s new book Silvermine, will be for sale during the presentation.  Admission is free but you are requested to register for the event here.


In this etching for the cover of a booklet for the Silvermine Guild of Artists, Carl Schmitt pokes gentle fun at the sometimes frenetic pace of social life in the artist colony during the summer season  Both artists and patrons relished any excuse for getting together at picnics and other gatherings.  At one time Silvermine was as well known for its calendar of theatrical productions and social events as for its art exhibits.

Reminder: Silvermine talk tomorrow

Signed copies of the new book from Arcadia Publishing will be available.

A reminder that my talk on Silvermine is tomorrow evening, July 12, 2017, at 6:30 at Mill Hill Historic Park in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Hosted by the Norwalk Historical Society, “Silvermine: Celebrating Its Art, History, and Beauty,” features vintage photos from my new book Silvermine from Arcadia Publishing.

The new book on Silvermine includes over 170 vintage photos collected from local historical societies, the Carl Schmitt Foundation, and Silvermine residents. 
In this photo from the CSF archives,  Silvermine children strike a serious pose at a birthday party at the big rock in front of the Borglum house.  Artist’s children, particularly those of the Borglum, Schmitt, Gutmann, and Meek families, swam in the river in the summer and skated on the pond in the winter, gathering for birthdays, Fourths of July, and other celebrations.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase, so if you’re in Connecticut or near New York City, I’d love to see you and sign your copy.  Click here for more information.

Gertrude Lord (Carl Schmitt’s future wife) at the Indian camp presented at the 1912 Country Fair in New Canaan, Connecticut. The fair, held on the grounds of St. Aloysius Catholic Church on South Street, included demonstrations by the local Boy Scout troop, a Punch and Judy show, a menagerie of wild animals, and, of course, fireworks.