“Carlo, your wife is a miracle.”

“Carlo, you are not so much, the woods are full of artists, but your wife is a miracle.”  —Carl Schmitt’s friend Donald Powell, in the Catholic Worker, 1934

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Gertrude Lord around the time of her marriage to Carl Schmitt

Gertrude Lord, the second child of Austin and Margaret (Gaige) Lord, was born in 1891.  Her father, Austin W. Lord, was a prominent New York architect who in his later years devoted himself to painting.  He was an original member of the “Knocker’s Club,” a group of painters and other artists who met at the studio of the sculptor Solon Borglum in Silvermine, Connecticut, a bucolic hamlet about an hour’s train ride from Manhattan. Lord bought a farmhouse just down the road from Borglum and began to spend his summers there with his family.

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Painting of the back porch of Austin W. Lord’s summer home in Silvermine, by Carl Schmitt

In the fall of 1908, nineteen-year-old Carl Schmitt arrived in Silvermine, where he took up with the Knocker’s Club and began painting with Gertrude’s father.  Austin Lord held Carl’s talent and character in high esteem, and likely introduced Carl to his family at this time.  Gertrude, then sixteen, was a student at Mrs. Keller’s School in Manhattan, an accomplished pianist, and active in drama and dance.  Carl, first attracted to Gertrude’s livelier sister Margherita, was eventually taken by the quiet charm of her more thoughtful younger sister.

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Gertrude (center), her sister Margherita (right), and two friends, at Schmitt’s studio in New York. 1912

Later, Gertrude would say that Carl courted her for “seven long years,” suggesting that their relationship became serious in 1910, around the time Carl first became active with the Knocker’s Club.  By 1912, it is clear from friends’ letters that Carl is deeply in love but anxious about his future. Carl would first travel to Europe and be drafted into the Army before he and Gertrude were finally married on October 28, 1918 at the Catholic cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, DC.  They could afford only a brief honeymoon at Mount Vernon before Carl returned to his work drawing maps for the Army command in the capital.  It would be over fifteen years before the couple would take an extended second honeymoon, this time to Carl’s beloved Dalmatia.

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Gertrude on her honeymoon at Mount Vernon, October, 1918

The measure of Gertrude’s devotion to her husband can be seen in her embrace of a life so unlike the one to which she was accustomed growing up. Gertrude had been given everything her successful architect-father could offer a daughter: a city and a summer home, servants, finishing schools, trips to Europe and Central America—even one of those exclusive contraptions, the automobile.

As one of her sons tells it, “New Canaanites were surprised to see this young lady perched high behind the wheel of a Franklin (or was it a Pierce Arrow?) speeding down the dirt highways.  Her car was not only one of the first seen in those parts, but she was one of the first women drivers and assuredly the first to receive a ticket for going thirty miles an hour!  Given her affluent youth, it is a wonder that her marriage to my father took place at all.”

Yet Gertrude was willing to forgo this life for herself and her children for Carl’s sake.  Doubtless, her own father’s impression of Carl as a young man molded her picture of the one to whom she would devote her life.  But her love grew to embrace ten children and a rich life with her husband.

A friend visiting in the 1930s described her as “a miracle—a natural woman in an unnatural world, a woman of charm, unfailing tact and fine sensibilities. Schmitt, of coarser mold, a man,” he continued, “must make great demands upon her, but I have never found her wanting.”  Gertrude, for her part, never regretted her choice.

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Carl Schmitt’s portrait of a pensive Gertrude, based on photograph dating from c. 1915

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Wisdom on Wednesdays—”One must paint as he loves”

“One does not paint merely as one knows (‘Paint it as you know it.’ —Emil Carlsen).  One must paint as he loves, as he knows, as he understands, as he desires, as he imagines, as he sees.” (1933)

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Gertrude Reading, oil on canvas, 48 x 40 in.
It is said that as the artist’s wife sat for this painting, her pregnancy became more noticeable, and so the painting was left unfinished.

“Where body and soul become one”

“Priority of birth, a long memory and experience of the place . . . is the base of culture and religion. It is the point where body and soul become one.”  —Carl Schmitt, 1936

As we saw in our previous post, Carl Schmitt: peasant,” the two facets of Schmitt’s vocation as artist and father were intimately joined in the life he lived in Silvermine.  His was a “high fatherhood”: his role, with his wife Gertrude, to foster a family culture.  Carl Schmitt called it “morale.”

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Family Group, oil on canvas, c. 1926

Just as a man lives by his morals and a society holds common mores, each family is joined together with a distinct and irreplaceable morale.  The complement of personal morals, societal mores, and familial morale is yet another in a string of little “trinities” that, for Carl Schmitt, reflect the fullness of reality in the three planes of man’s life.

Deeper than moral righteousness, cheerful family togetherness or the mutual enjoyment of aesthetic or healthy pursuits, morale was rooted in Schmitt’s convictions as an artist and the struggles he embraced in holding fast to those convictions.  The morale of Carl Schmitt’s family was as distinct as his fingerprint, but formed by all the members together.

Some of the elements of this  “morale” have already been mentioned: what Schmitt calls “priority of birth” and “a long memory and experience of the place.”  The first did not refer to the nobility of family ancestry, but to the unity engendered by a common origin.  As he wrote in 1932, “All attempts at community life outside the family idea must ultimately fail because the idea or unity of birth is lacking.”

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The Well, oil on canvas, 1918.
Schmitt’s fiancée Gertrude Lord served as the model, drawing water from a well in the front yard of her house at Lordale. The Silvermine valley can be seen in the background. This black and white image is taken from the catalog of the 32nd Annual Exhibition of American Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, where the painting was shown in the fall of 1919.

This basic unity was underscored by a “place” for the family, one that Schmitt envisioned well before his marriage to Gertrude Lord in 1918.  While still an art student in New York, he was introduced to the bucolic hamlet of Silvermine, about an hour by train from Manhattan in rural Connecticut.  He was so taken by the beauty place that within a few years he had purchased a small plot of land overlooking the Silvermine River, not far from the home of the noted sculptor Solon Borglum.  It featured a ruin from pre-Revolutionary times, surrounded by the stone walls, rolling fields, trees and giant boulders.

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House at Silvermine, pastel on paper

His future wife also had roots there.  The Lord family summered just down the road in an old farmhouse they christened “Lordale.”  It was to Silvermine that Schmitt returned with his bride Gertrude in 1919, and it was there that they would raise their family, moving only once to a home built for them by their sons on a plot of land originally part of Lordale.

Schmitt’s decision to settle and raise his family in Silvermine was not a matter of sentiment or necessity, but was rooted in a deep awareness of the effect that permanence, memory, and place would have on his life and that of his family.  When his children grew up and formed families of their own, many of the nine Schmitt brothers built homes for one another on adjoining lots in Silvermine given to them by their mother from her inheritance of Lordale.

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Gertrude with firstborn son Robert on the porch at Lordale,1919

For more on Carl Schmitt’s sense of place and his first years in Silvermine, see the of the Spring 2011 issue of the CSF News.