On This Day—August 10, 1914

One hundred years ago, Carl Schmitt was in Italy, staying with the Grazzini family in their villa above the town of Fiesole in the northern region of Tuscany.  Since his arrival in Italy in the spring, the artist had been hard at work, sending a large shipment of paintings and pastels to his patron, Zell Hart Deming, in Warren, Ohio, before venturing on a series of scenes of Fiesole and the surrounding countryside.  Schmitt’s portrait of Dr. Grazzini’s lovely daughter Luisina  would be shown at an exhibition in Florence in the fall.  

In early August the artist’s seemingly idyllic life was shattered by the outbreak of war between the great powers, and before the week was out large numbers of refugees from Germany flooded the northern part of Italy.  In the face of the conflict Schmitt would move to Florence, then to Rome, and finally to Naples, whence he sailed back to the United States in early February, 1915.  Deming saw fit to publish Schmitt’s letter to his parents in his hometown newspaper, The Warren Tribune, on August 10.

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Luisina Grazzini at her father’s villa, summer 1914.

Carl Schmitt who is studying at Fiesole, on the hills above Florence, writes under the date of August 10 to his father, Prof. Jacob Schmitt:

The situation here is very serious and will very likely be worse as soon as prices are going up rapidly.  I am still living at Dr. Grazzini’s villa.  Many Americans are here and I have seen several hysterical women who have no money.  Many of them are school teachers and all are stranded.  But you probably know more about it than I do.  The papers have given hardly any victories to Germany but I fear they are making headway.

I wish I might get a letter from home.  I have no idea how long we shall be without mail for how long before this will reach you.  Meantime I am working as hard as the weather will permit.

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Self-portrait sketch, dated January 20, 1915, while Schmitt was in Naples awaiting his boat home to America.

We should be all right if anyone has any money.  The Italians can’t draw their money out of the banks, so they are nearly as hard up as the Americans and English here.

The northern cities are full of Italians, English and Americans who have been expelled from Germany and other countries at war.  All these refugees depend on the charity of the Italians.  The Grazzini Villa is filled to overflowing.

I have been having a gold crown put on a tooth I broke and my dentist had great difficulty in getting enough gold in Florence for it.  All Europe seems to be extremely hostile to the Prussians and the stories that come from the north are terrible.

from The Warren Tribune, August 10, 1914

The charming Luisina in the garden.

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“With pipe, solitude and puppy for company”: Hart Crane and Carl Schmitt—Part 1

Harold Hart Crane by Carl Schmitt

Harold Hart Crane, oil on metal support, 17½ x 14½ in. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of The Carl Schmitt Foundation.
Painted by Schmitt in the late 1960s or early 1970s from a photograph.

Harold Hart Crane, known to the world as Hart Crane, has been called “unquestionably the major poetic talent of twentieth-century America” (Brom Weber). Though Carl Schmitt knew Crane for only a brief time in his early manhood, Schmitt’s influence on the young poet, according to one of Crane’s biographers, “cannot be over-estimated.”

Crane was born in Garretsville, Ohio, in 1899, but his family had deep roots in Schmitt’s hometown of Warren.  His mother Grace Hart was born in there, and it was there she returned with her husband Clarence, and their five-year-old son Harold.  Carl Schmitt’s father, Professor Jacob Schmitt, counted Grace’s Aunt Bess among his piano pupils at Dana’s Musical Institute in Warren.

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Prof. Jacob Schmitt (far left) with other faculty and students of the Dana Musical Institute, c. 1910.

Another Warren connection was Zell Hart Deming, publisher of the Warren Tribune newspaper. She was the widow of Grace’s brother Frank Hart and Harold’s godmother.  A generous patron of the arts, she had helped Carl with his education, first in New York and later in Europe.  Through the pages of her newspaper she did everything she could to further the career of the young painter through exhibition notices, flattering reviews and “local boy made good” chronicles of his triumphs in the art capitals of the country.

Carl Schmitt’s portrait of his patron Zell Hart Deming, publisher of the Warren Tribune, painted from a photograph after her death in 1936. The accompanying article from the Tribune reads much like earlier congratulatory pieces published by Deming herself:
“The painting is the work of Carl Schmitt of Silvermine, Conn. (son of Prof. and Mrs. Jacob Schmitt of this city) who was most fortunately adapted to the task by reason of his long acquaintance with Mrs. Deming, in addition to his outstanding qualities as a portraitist. From the time he embarked on his artistic career as a boy, here in Warren, Mrs. Deming recognized Mr. Schmitt’s talent and the possibilities inherent in it, and thruout her life she continued in a very real sense to be his patron.”

After Crane’s family moved from Warren to Cleveland in 1909, they maintained close ties with family in their former home.  Schmitt, ten years older than Hart Crane, probably did not get to know the shy teenager until the summer of 1915.  The artist was fresh from his studies in Italy, back in Warren fulfilling some portrait commissions.

By November 1916, Schmitt had returned to New York, taking a studio apartment in Stuyvesant Square.  Crane’s first letter to Schmitt around this time glows with a warm familiarity.  “Someday, perhaps next summer, I shall come to you and we will work together,” he wrote wistfully.  But the young poet was enduring one of the most trying periods of his short life.  His matter-of-fact report of the breakup of his parent’s marriage disguises both his bitterness towards his father and his overwhelming desire to get away from his boyhood home.

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Crane’s first letter to Schmitt, probably November, 1916, in the Carl Schmitt Foundation archives.
The date on the letter is in the hand of Crane’s first biographer, Philip Horton, to whom Schmitt lent his letters from Crane in the 1930s.

Dearest Carl: –
     With pipe, solitude and puppy for company, I am feeling resplendent. After a day’s work in a picture store, selling mezzotints and prints, you may not think it, yet there comes a great peaceful exaltation in merely reading, thinking and writing. For occasionally in this disturbing age of adolescence which I am now undergoing, there come minutes of calm happiness, satisfaction.
     I don’t know whether or not I informed you in my last letter, of the step mother and I have taken. Next week mother files her petition in court for her divorce from father. In this I am supporting her. So the first thing to do was to secure some employment. Your poet is now become a salesman, and (it might be worse) a job at selling pictures at Korner and Wood has been accepted.
     I have had tremendous struggles, but out of the travail, I think, must come advancement. Working evenings will give me a little time for composing. And even should it not, I have been christened, I think, and am more or less contented with anything. Carl, I feel a great peace; my inner life has balanced as I expected, the other side of the scale. Thank God, I am young! I have the confidence and will to make fate. Someday, perhaps next summer, I shall come to you and we will work together. You understand, I know.
                                                                                                                    Affectionately,
                                                                                                                                Harold


Zell filled Carl in on the details in letter the following month.  “Grace Crane has sued Clarence for a divorce, gross neglect and extreme cruelty.  Harold has quit school and isn’t at all well.”  She then makes a proposal to Carl.  “He wants to come east for a while. What do you think?  Would you tutor him an hour a day and sort of keep your eye on him for say $10 a week. . . . I think he is in a serious condition or will be if he doesn’t get away.”  Zell’s original plan called for Harold, then attending high school in Cleveland to “get a job and go to school next fall.”

A few weeks later things had taken a turn for the worse: “Harold a nervous wreck. He needs to get away.”  By the end of the month the decision had been made. Hart Crane was to live in New York, with Carl Schmitt as friend, tutor, and guardian.

(To be continued.)

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Self-Portrait, charcoal on paper, December 1916.
A work done around the time Schmitt met Crane in New York.

Dad: A civilized man

This week we are honoring David T. Schmitt, Carl Schmitt’s fifth son, who died on March 22 at the age of 89.  Below is David’s portrait of his father, taken from a collection of memories he wrote down not long after his father’s death.

My father was born in 1889 in Warren, Ohio.  He was the second son of Jacob and Grace Schmitt, who had only two boys. His father Jacob taught music in Youngstown and donated his expertise as the choir director for St. Mary’s Church in Warren for over fifty years.  He also played the organ every Sunday for that period.

Jacob Schmitt with his sons Carl (left) and Robert, c. 1905.

From the beginning Dad could always draw, he had the talent of the discerning line.  He pursued this talent and made it his vocation, leaving high school to study art in New York, at the National Academy of Design.  He always knew what he wanted to do and he did it as far as art was concerned. He was given the gift and he knew it was his responsibility to develop it.  He further studied abroad in France and Italy before the First World War.

Later he returned home to marry Gertrude Lord and settle in Silvermine, near Norwalk, Connecticut.  Here he and other like-minded artists founded the Silvermine Guild of Artists, a colony where they could exchange ideas, paint and exhibit their skills.  This included drama, sculpture, painting, drawing, etching, water color, and some crafts such a pottery–they established a shop.

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Self-Portrait, charcoal and pencil on paper, December 1916

My father was what I call a civilized man: you could count on him to not only do the right thing at the right time but from the right motive, and he always knew why he should do things so.  He had good will and intelligence.  He was mature.  He not only nursed the gift of Faith, but he welcomed the gifts of the Holy Spirit, contemplated them, and tried to integrate them into his everyday life as much as possible.

He was civilized in the Christian tradition and he saw God’s creation as a magnificent manifestation of his love, because God is magnificent.  He wasn’t stilted in Puritan observations and taboos because Christ has redeemed creation to the extent that it wants or has cooperated in submission.  Consequently the Holy Spirit has informed nature to raise it above itself through grace.

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Self-Portrait, oil on hardboard, c. 1965, 15 x 12 in.

Mother always said Dad had an “artistic nature” or “temperament.”  In a word, he responded almost innately: dramatically, responsibly to any given situation.  He had instant commitment or involvement, with integrity.  To balance this innate tendency he was also extremely analytical to the point of being almost scientific about evaluating everything.

He was a true contemplative at times and even mystical at others in his deep understanding of the true nature of persons, places, things, situations—he would speak of the symbol and reality of the Trinity again and again in creation!

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Untitled, pastel on paper, 14 x 16 in.