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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Robert Wood Schmitt, 1919-2018

Robert W. Schmitt, Carl and Gertrude Schmitt’s eldest son, died peacefully Sunday, July 29, 2018, just months shy of his 99th birthday.  From his youth until his death surrounded by family in the home of his nephew in Orange, his encyclopedic memory held a trove of poems, songs, histories, and every word of the catechism his father taught him on Sundays when he was a boy.  (This photo was taken by Jill Chessman at the coffe hour at St. Mary Church, Norwalk, Connecticut.)

Robert was born on October 10, 1919, in Norwalk, Connecticut.  Aside from some years in Chartres and Rome, he grew up in Silvermine. Excelling in all subjects, he graduated from New Canaan High School and earned a BA in English from New York University, during which time he also worked to support the family as a draftsman at Sikorsky and Chance-Vought Aircraft in Stratford, Connecticut.  After a short stint designing aircraft with Chance-Vought in Texas, he returned to Silvermine to work in the Wilton offices of architects F. Nelson Breed, Lynedon Eaton, and Johnson Lee of New Canaan, respectively, as a draftsman specializing in colonial-style architecture.  He freelanced his own projects thereafter, notably the houses built for his brothers as they each left home to start their own families in the “Schmittville” section of Silvermine.

Robert with his favorite uncle, his father’s brother Robert, known to the family as “Uncle Hudda.” A founding member of the Silvermine Guild, and an artist in his own right, Hudda was a master carver of frames that now grace many paintings of his brother and other Silvermine artists.

Taught by his uncle Robert, he played the flute and piccolo for ensembles in the area including the Norwalk and Stamford symphony orchestras and the Greenwich Philharmonia. His sonorous baritone graced many local choirs, most recently those at St. Aloysius Church in New Canaan, and St. Mary Church in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he and his devoted sister Gertrude were seen without fail each Sunday.

An avid sailor, he enjoyed boating with his brothers, coin collecting, and making wine from his own vineyard. As a founding board member of the Carl Schmitt Foundation and “family mythologist,” Robert worked to preserve and advance the legacy of his father’s remarkable art and thought.

Robert’s unfailing kindness, solemn wit, and beautiful baritone voice will be greatly missed by his sister Gertrude of Silvermine, brothers Jacob of Delaware, Carl of Washington, D.C., the Rev. Christopher Schmitt of Texas, and several score nephews and nieces to the great and great-great generations. Grateful and peaceful to the last, he died as he lived, a gentleman through and through. He is preceded in death by brothers Peter, Austin, Michael, David, and John.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Friday, August 3, at 10:00 am in St. Mary Church, 669 West Avenue, Norwalk. Connecticut.  Interment will follow in St. John Cemetery, Norwalk.

Robert, two months old, with his Mother Gertrude.

Friends may call Thursday, August 2, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm at Collins Funeral Home, 92 East Avenue, Norwalk.  Memorial contributions can be made to The Carl Schmitt Foundation, 30 Borglum Rd., Wilton, Connecticut.

This reminiscence by his late brother, David, pays tribute to his gentleness, intelligence, and courage, qualities evident to everyone who knew him.

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Bobby Schmitt, c. 1925

My oldest brother’s name is Bobby. He was born first and is the gentlest, most considerate and responsible of all the brothers. I suppose that has a lot to do with what has always been expected of him. Usually, the eldest in a big family is expected to look after and help care for all the rest of the little urchins that follow along; it’s his unwritten destiny and usually works out that way in most families.

Bobby is not only conscientious, but he is very smart and also an excellent teacher and applied psychologist through necessity. He is a genius at simplifying the problem and applying the common denominator. He excelled in mathematics, geometry, trigonometry, algebra and everything else for that matter. Every year he would win the ten dollar gold piece in grammar school. The only year he didn’t win was because the poor girl who always rated second was given the award because the school officials “wanted to be fair,” or political, about it.

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Robert (far left) and his siblings Michael, John, Jacob, Christopher, Gertrude, and Austin, in the garden at Silvermine, c. 1935.

Bobby was also courageous. Even though he was gentle and never fought, that didn’t stop him when he was called upon for leadership. Once when we were teenagers out on Long Island Sound in a sail boat, a big storm came up. We all but capsized when the first squall line hit us. I was five years younger than he and was scared stiff. But I was much impressed and very thankful when Bobby took charge and put us all to work: donning life jackets, stripping the sails, and heaving to into the fierce wind. We weathered the worst of it and when the Coast Guard asked us if we needed assistance, we thanked them and let them know “everything was under control,” thanks to our skipper.

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Norwalk Harbor, pastel on paper, 1910, 7 x 13 in.

Another time just the opposite happened. We were becalmed and spent a pleasant summer night drifting across Long Island Sound. I can still hear the slapping of the halyards against the mast as the boat rocked back and forth with each swell all night long. In the morning we were perilously close to the rocky shore of Long Island but were very thankful for a tow by the Coast Guard back to Norwalk Harbor and our mooring and some of the concerned parents I might add.

Bobby’s basic philosophy (per forsa) was: “Chi va piano, va sano et chi va sano ve lantorno”: “Who goes softly, goes sanely, and who goes sanely goes a long way.”

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Robert, oil on board, c. 1945, 12 x 10 in.
After working six full days as a draftsman for the war effort, Robert would would take the bus on Sundays to Winnipauk (northeast Norwalk), where his mother would pick him up. The exhaustion of his long hours at work shows in his face. Perhaps due to these circumstances, his father never finished the portrait.

Christmas in Silvermine

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A woodblock print by Carl Schmitt for a Christmas card commissioned in the 1920s.

Carl Schmitt’s late son David has left us a wonderful series of reminiscences about his growing up in Silvermine.  As David remembers it, Christmas can bring out the best (and worst) in children of a large family.

One Christmas when I was about seven dad and mother bought me a present much better than I anticipated. Dad called my name and I stepped forward and he handed me a large box attractively wrapped. “To David from Mother and Dad.” I tore it open and inside was a large pair of brown hunting boots with a jackknife in a leather pocket on the left side of the left boot. I was overwhelmed. I put the boots on and paraded around the house upstairs and down all the rest of Christmas day. I could see nothing but those two boots.

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Michael, pastel on paper, 1935

Unfortunately, my brother Mike had gotten a model airplane kit—the kind one puts together from balsa wood and covers with Japanese tissue paper, then paints to match the real airplane. It actually flew and took a lot of work to build. Late in the afternoon, just before supper, I was coming down the stairs, and of course Michael was assembling his plane right at the foot of the stairs. You guessed it, the inevitable happened; my big boot went “crunch” right in the middle of his plane and completely demolished it. It was a case of the inevitable force meeting the immovable object.

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Carl Schmitt sons ((left to right) Peter, Jacob, Michael, John, David, and Austin, c. 1932.

Mike wanted to take it out on my hide but he didn’t, remarkably, because I pointed out that after all that wasn’t the best place to put his plane together. Naturally, he didn’t relish hearing my defense. It was a case of arrogance vs. pride which most kids excel in. I still don’t remember how the situation was resolved short of parental arbitration and both of us eating a little crow.

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Christmas card (c. 1925) for John Kenneth Byard, a friend and patron of Schmitt in the 1920s who later became a well-known antiques dealer.

Peter Carl Schmitt, 1923-2017

Peter Schmitt as a technical sergeant in the famed 10th Mountain Division of the U. S. Army (the “ski troops”), which saw action at the front lines in Italy in the winter of 1944-45.

Peter C. Schmitt died on Saturday, June 10, 2017 after a brief illness.  He was born on March 19, 1923 in Norwalk, Connecticut, the fourth son of Carl and Gertrude Schmitt.  He was raised in Silvermine, Connecticut, and graduated from New Canaan High School, where he met the love of his life, the former Jane Hunt.  Upon graduation in 1943, Mr. Schmitt enlisted in the U. S. Army and served in Italy with the famous Tenth Mountain Division Ski Troops.  He participated in the battle of Riva Ridge and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Upon discharge from the army, he married his high school sweetheart and settled in Silvermine, raising their six children and pursuing a career as a commercial artist in the advertising industry in New York City.  After his retirement he relocated to Bedford, New Hampshire.  He and his wife later returned to Connecticut in November of last year.

His funeral mass will be celebrated at the Basilica of St, John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut on June 15.  He is survived by Jane, his wife of seventy-one years, and their three sons and two daughters, as well as his sister, four of his brothers, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Mr. Schmitt is preceded in death by his daughter Carolyn Jane “Karen” Schmitt, and brothers Austin, Michael, David, and John Schmitt.

Among David Schmitt’s many stories and recollections of his growing up is the following portrait of his brother Peter.

Peter Schmitt at the age of 3½.

Peter’s temperament is a lot like Dad’s.  If there was ever a person true to the character of St. Peter’s, my brother Peter is the one.  Just like St. Peter in the gospel, he is a leader.  He is outspoken, to the point.  He is spontaneous; he is intuitive; he’s extroverted.  Black and white.  Truth is charity and there’s no such thing as unnecessary charity!

Peter at an early age wanted to play the violin.  The only hitch was he had to learn and unfortunately that was at the expense of all the rest of us.  Dad remedied the situation by having him practice at the other end of the acre of land we owned.  There was an old shack there and I remember after school Pete was free to go to it by himself.

Peter (far left) and his brothers David, Jacob, John, and Carl, Jr. about 1932.

Peter was also a fast talker. I remember once when our friend Harry was visiting, Peter sent me to the house to get a quarter he had in his desk.  We were all going to go to Guthrie’s market for candy. While I was getting the quarter, Peter and Harry took off on their bicycles and when I came out I was shocked to find out they’d left without me, and I was a little hurt too!  When they got back an hour later, I complained, and Peter’s reply was, “Well at least we didn’t take off in front of you.  We were decent enough to send you in the house for the quarter so you wouldn’t see us.”  From then on in life I knew what I was dealt, or up against.

My aunt Martita once took me aside and said to me, “David, if you wouldn’t cry when Peter bully’s you, he wouldn’t enjoy it so much and he would leave you alone.” That evening I did better than that. When he started in on me, I punched him on the nose, knocked him down and beat him up.  It’s amazing what a word from a grown up will do for a little courage when one is down or depressed!

He never challenged me again; in fact he’s always respected me since and I respect him too!   I think when I was about six he taught me that lesson.

Peter (left) and his brother David about 1924.

Another time when we were in Rome, Chris (who was about eight) went down in the driveway to play with the boy who lived below us.  The boy, being the only son of a military man, was quite spoiled and got everything he wanted.  He got mad at Chris.  Their maid heard him under the kitchen window so she thought she’d help him by throwing a glass of cold water on Chris.  Chris came upstairs crying, his feelings more outraged than anything else.  The big kids, Peter and Mike, came to his defense.  They told him to go back down and yell up at the maid, which he did.  Sure enough, she moved into position above him with another glass of cold water.  When she did, she got a whole dish pan full over her head.  This time no one came to pound on the door.  In fact, we all celebrated at an easy victory.

Christmas in Silvermine

We continue our series of reminiscences by Carl Schmitt’s late son David, who died this past March at the age of 89.

One Christmas when I was about seven dad and mother bought me a present much better than I anticipated.  Dad called my name and I stepped forward and he handed me a large box attractively wrapped.  “To David from Mother and Dad.”  I tore it open and inside was a large pair of brown hunting boots with a jackknife in a leather pocket on the left side of the left boot.  I was overwhelmed.  I put the boots on and paraded around the house upstairs and down all the rest of Christmas day.  I could see nothing but those two boots.

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Michael, pastel on paper, 1935

Unfortunately, my brother Mike had gotten a model airplane kit—the kind one puts together from balsa wood and covers with Japanese tissue paper, then paints to match the real airplane.  It actually flew and took a lot of work to build.  Late in the afternoon, just before supper, I was coming down the stairs, and of course Michael was assembling his plane right at the foot of the stairs.  You guessed it, the inevitable happened; my big boot went “crunch” right in the middle of his plane and completely demolished it.  It was a case of the inevitable force meeting the immovable object.

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Carl Schmitt sons ((left to right) Peter, Jacob, Michael, John, David, and Austin, c. 1932.

Mike wanted to take it out on my hide but he didn’t, remarkably, because I pointed out that after all that wasn’t the best place to put his plane together.  Naturally, he didn’t relish hearing my defense.  It was a case of arrogance vs. pride which most kids excel in.  I still don’t remember how the situation was resolved short of parental arbitration and both of us eating a little crow.

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Christmas card (c. 1925) for John Kenneth Byard, a friend and patron of Schmitt in the 1920s who later became a well-known antiques dealer.