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 St. Mary Coffee Hour)

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.

20009

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.

30003 - ADJUSTED AND CROPPED

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.

CSF24001

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.”

CSF11200

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.

Advertisements

Wisdom on Wednesdays—Society will destroy us

CSF24403

Tagliocozzo, 1939, pastel on paper

“We are in the condition today of being reduced by the tyranny of society and require that check and balance which can only be provided by the agrarian outlook: the family as a unit on the land.  Unless the family (and person) once more assume importance, society will destroy us.”  (1941)

Wisdom on Wednesdays—“Is there anything more real than poverty with a family?”

CSF23105

Shack where Schmitt stayed on his property in Silvermine before his marriage.
Pastel on paper, 14 x 11 in.

“Critics comfortably off and cosmopolite tell me that it is fatal for me to live alone in the woods and paint, that I must not separate myself from humanity, reality. . . . Humanity?  Is there anything more human than ones own children?  Reality?  Is there anything more real than poverty with a family? (except death, which is also tasted each day)?”  (1931)

“Just look at it!”: Anno Domini 1941 (1941)

CSF10208 - corrected

Anno Domini 1941, 1941, oil on hardboard, 18 x 23½ in.

A guest post by Carl B. Schmitt, Jr.

Carl Schmitt painted this still life for an exhibition in New York in 1941.  The invited artists were asked to comment on the imminent possibility of the nation’s entrance into World War II, already raging in Europe and the Far East.  The exhibition itself featured paintings showing  a variety of attitudes toward war in general and the issues the artists felt were at stake in this war.

I suspect that my father found the decision of what to paint for this exhibit an unusual challenge.  His whole artistic drive had been directed toward representing a view of man and his destiny in fundamental terms.  He strove to capture the beauty of things in his art, and this meant seeing reality in all its mystery.  The result is another of his wonderful still lifes which, like all his paintings, he left for others simply to enjoy and find in it what they may.

Anno Domini 1941 detail and Botticelli

Carl Schmitt, Anno Domini 1941 (detail) and Botticelli Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist (detail), tempera on panel, 1468 (Musée du Louvre, Paris).

The “comment” in the painting  can be found in the way the two model airplanes partially obscure the Madonna and Child in the triptych.  But the two planes themselves also suggest that Schmitt had in mind a larger cultural context than the Second World War: one is indeed a war plane, but the other is not.  Together they may be taken as representing our culture’s devotion to the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of making things, which in turn is done for the sake of making money.  This is the true devotion that characterizes our culture, to the point that the highest realities are obscured.

Schmitt didn’t object to producing “useful” things; they serve great social needs.  But alongside social values stand two more important ones: family and ultimately the person.  In Schmitt’s triune vision of reality, these three are seen in terms of origins, means, and ends—the family dealing with man’s origins, society with the means, and person with ends.  The person is paramount, for ultimately only the individual person thinks and loves, thereby making the choices that lead through family and social life to his true end.

CSF10200

Still Life, c. 1947, oil on hardboard, 10 x 12 in.
Carl Schmitt was reluctant to explain his work, writing in 1922, “the artist is filled with the desire to express through vision alone. When he speaks, it is with the good (though perhaps unfortunate) intention of bridging, however inadequately, the gap which exists between the aesthetic and rationalistic extremes. When he speaks he is painfully aware of the strangeness of his medium and that his muse is displeased at the digression.”

This painting, then, encompasses Schmitt’s triune vision in a single beautiful work that “comments” on our current cultural situation.  Schmitt saw our culture as so devoted to the means that origins and ends are lost sight of: we thus find it difficult to maintain what family can be and what role the individual person might play in our culture in a fully human way.  Schmitt summed up his attitude in his essay “And / Or” from 1943: “When our fellow men are so immersed in means that they can admit of nothing but the exclusion of ends and origins—when ‘truth’ is pursued at the complete exclusion of beauty and goodness, and when wealth alone is valid to the exclusion of all else, it would seem that only catastrophe would bring man to his senses.  For only the humiliated and impoverished man is capable of those inclusions which make him once more human.”

Although Carl Schmitt painted this work in response to a specific request as to its content, he did something more. In characteristic fashion he produced a painting of quiet and intriguing beauty.  If the viewer looks at it and then ponders it more deeply, he may just catch the gentle irony in it—and some of the wisdom behind it.

anno-domini-corrected - SIGNATURE

Reprinted from the CSF News, Summer 2012.