New book, Silvermine, now available at 50% off

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A new pictorial history of Silvermine, the place Carl Schmitt called home for 70 years, is now available for pre-order at 50% off. As part of their “Cyber Monday” sale, Arcadia Publishing is offering the discount today and tomorrow only (now through Wednesday, November 30, 2016).

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Through dozens of historic photographs the book tells the story of the picturesque valley from the time it buzzed with sawmills through the coming of the artists who transformed it into the artistic hub we know and love today.

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There’s something about Silvermine. When the Schmitt boys found arrowheads while playing along the rock ridges and the river, their father Carl would say, “Of course, the Indians know all the good places.” This view down Borglum Road toward the Silvermine River bridge with Carl Schmitt’s house on the right looks much the same today as it did when this photograph was taken almost a century ago.

The book highlights the families of the artists and the life they made together, especially Carl and Gertrude Schmitt and their extended family—her father Austin Lord and Carl’s brother Robert, who, along with Solon Borglum, were instrumental in the formation of the Silvermine Group of Artists in 1908. The group later became the Silvermine Guild of Artists, which endures to this day.

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Some of you may recognize this large boulder in front of the old Borglum place on Borglum Road, site of many birthday parties and other get-togethers in Silvermine over the years. Through fascinating images such as this, the new book captures Silvermine’s rich social, artistic, and cultural life during the heyday of the artists’ colony in the first half of the last century.

The stories of the Silvermine Tavern (where Spencer Tracy was a frequent guest and Lauren Bacall spent her ‘babymoon’ in 1949), the Buttery Mill (the oldest mill in the US when it closed in the 1950s), and the great flood of 1955 round out the narrative.silvermine-interior-page-spread-118-119

Part of the well-known “Images of America” series from Arcadia Publishing, many of the photographs come from the archives of the Carl Schmitt Foundation as well as historical societies and individuals in the area.

This offer is good today and tomorrow only (Tuesday and Wednesday, November 29 and 30, 2016).  You won’t see a better price.

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Samuel A. Schmittt

Silvermine

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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.

Bobby

Robert Schmitt, Carl Schmitt’s eldest son, celebrates his 95th birthday today.  This reminiscence by his late brother, David, pays tribute to his gentleness, intelligence, and courage, qualities still evident to everyone who meets 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 Austin, Michael, Jacob, Christopher, Gertrude, and John, 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 and 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 travel to Silvermine by train on Sundays, trudging home from the station six miles away.  The exhaustion of his long hours at work shows in his face.  Perhaps due to these circumstances, his father never finished the portrait.

Summers in Silvermine

We continue our series of recollections by Carl Schmitt’s son David.

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Eight of the nine Schmitt boys, early 1930s: back row (left to right): Austin, David, Robert, Michael, Jacob, Peter; in wagon: John, Carl, Jr.

My earliest recollection of the “early days” was my father walking to Winnipauk to ride the trolley car into Norwalk to the foot of Hospital Hill to visit my mother. Every year her only two week vacation time was when another little brother was born.  Eventually she would come home for a grand reunion introducing the new baby to the rest of us which was always a joyous occasion, a memorable event.

Summers were also happy times.  I usually put on my red and white striped bathing suit toward the end of May and would only take it off after first frost in September.  No baths either in the summer (I was, I believed, allergic to water) although I did learn to swim (doggy paddle) in Borglum’s brook and up at the old reservoir, which was enough!

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Gertrude Schmitt holding her son David, with Jacob standing to the right.

I remember we kept the little kids from following us into the woods by enclosing them in the yard at home with a big stone each in their diapers.  One time after about a two hour swim we rushed home because of a huge thunder storm, and lo and behold there were the two of them soaking wet, still straining to get out of the pouring rain, anchored in the yard.  Mother was, needless to say, exasperated because she was busy at the other end of the house and never heard their crying above the storm.

On This Day: July 22, 1928—“Carl Schmitt is doing things that are unique in America today”

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Building a Boat, gum arabic print, 1929.
“With Korčula in the background—a white city shimmering in the subtropical sun.”
One of a series of prints Schmitt executed for his article “Korčula, On the Adriatic,” published in the February 1929 issue of Scribners Magazine. Another print in this series, The Chapel, is currently on the New Canaan Historical Society exhibit On Canvas, Paper & Board—Works by The Silvermine Group of Artists, now showing through August 5, 2014.

In the summer of 1928, Ada Rainey, art critic at the Washington Post, wrote a profile of the Silvermine colony, calling it “one of the most creative and unique among all the art colonies.”   This is due in large part, she notes, to the fact that “practically all the artist own their own homes, there being practically no transient artists…Consequently there is a stable population which is entirely different from many artist colonies where artists congregate to merely study or paint throughout the summer without any serious interest in the community.”

Rainey highlighted the work of a number of the better-known artists in the colony, including Carl Schmitt, Bernhard Gutmann, and the architect Alfred Mausolff.  (As if to show the closeness of the Silvermine community, Gutmann was a close friend of Schmitt’s, while Mausolff was the husband of his wife’s sister Margherita.)  

Rainey’s discussion of Schmitt’s art appears below.

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Holy Family—Gothic Decoration, oil on canvas, 1922 (a contemporary black-and-white photograph).
A companion to the artist’s his larger Nativity. A critic for the New York Times wrote of this pair of Schmitt paintings: “[they] are permeated with a tenderness and richness of devotional feeling only equaled in the work of Maurice Denis, and embodied in a less intricate design.”

Of the individual members [of the Silvermine colony], a great deal could be written, for they are producing artists who are truly original.

There is, for instance, Carl Schmitt, who is doing things that are unique in America today. There are few artists today in America who are painting canvasses of real spiritual import.  Religious is a term which means frequently theological dogma, which can by no stretch of the imagination be applied to the painting of Carl Schmitt.  Rather are his creations concerned with the universal feeling of man for his origins and the desire to understand this relationship.

Although the title of some of his paintings are, for instance, “Peter the Hermit,” “Holy Family,” “Celestial Thought of Motherhood,” yet there is no hint of the conventional treatment that we are familiar with in the old Italian paintings.  Rather we find a new approach through the imagination of the artist who is moved by universal themes and must express the surge of feeling that comes to man when he thinks of the infinite and the expression of this power in the lives of men and women.

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A Gift of Fruit, oil on canvas, 1926 (a contemporary black-and-white photograph).
Frank Jewett Mather, professor of art at Princeton University and a leading art critic of the day (and one of the few admired by Schmitt), wrote of the work, “It is a celestial thought of motherhood treated with a delightful levity and joyousness.”

This is the deepest feeling and the most universal that can be expressed through the brush of the painter and one which all art lends itself to express.  Seldom is the American artist bold enough to concern himself with these profound themes.  The plea has been that the public is not interested in such themes, but now there is a swing of the pendulum to the deep feelings.

Mr. Schmitt has a language which is tremendously interesting in itself and which is commanding greater and greater interest in art circles.  He has rich luminous color, which is in no way exaggerated, a fine sense of composition, his figures are woven into a pattern that has organic unity, the whole welded into a beauty and power through the strength of his imagination.

The artist is now coming into his own and his paintings are in great demand for exhibitions throughout the country.  “Muses in the Valley,” exhibited in the last exhibition of the Chicago Art Institute, has just been sold [this evidently refers to A Gift of Fruit, exhibited and sold in 1927], as has another painting of a “Madonna and Child,” with primitive treatment in pastel.

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Head in marble, c. 1924.
Regrettably, Carl Schmitt’s only finished work of sculpture.

Most of his paintings are in oil in which he does his best work.  However, he is not confined to this medium, as an exquisitely beautiful head has just been chiseled out of marble, which is rhythmically beautiful and significant. This is a new field in which the artist has begun to work, which if he continues to be as successful in as this first attempt he will go far toward becoming a sculptor of great plastic power.

Mr. Schmitt has a sense of form which is powerfully expressive.  He is now working on a series of illustrations for an article on the “Cities of Dalmatia.”  The significant element in his work is that fact that he is an artist who works exclusively from the vision of his inner nature and is in no way objective or external, but is profoundly introspective and is seeking to express his feeling directed by philosophical thought of the great realities of life and the universe.

A Vista of the Cathedral (Korčula, Dalmatia), gum arabic print,1929.
Another in the series published in Scribners, February 1929.