Richard Riemer 1902-1998


Video from 1997 at Maryfield Nursing Home in Jamestown, North Carolina, where Richard and Emily Reimer spent their last years.


Richard Riemer Art Part 1

Richard Riemer Art Part 2

Richard Riemer Art Part 3

It’s the end of a complicated story. As a boy at school, you know, I was interested in drawing and painting , and so at school — and so but we were strictly confined to technical matters — was preparation for being an engineer; something like this, so I had to pass all the tests, and then when the school was ended there was depression in Europe and I had to find some way to exist on my own. So there was a school for work trades and so I had to go for a year in special education, and I got a position as an employee lowest grade. One of the biggest Vienese companies Sperle Steel. That was only a trick to get higher paid employees out and replaced with younger, cheaper much lower paid employees. Then the whole scheme folded. They could not go through because there was a law that people who were displaced had to be given a special sum, you know. A kind of self for the lottery. So, when I was there and this system put in place to replace high paid employees with younger cheaper young men like me, folded, I was summarily dismissed with hundreds of others, you know. Now, the chances of finding another commercial employment were very small, you know.


So, I decided to follow the main interest in my life, art, you know. And get an art education. For this I had to pass examinations in something like this, but I stayed there for four years and a master class. And, the question was, what should I do afterwards, because there was not much demand for an artist, however talented he may be, so I decided to go into the business of restoring old paintings, that was my main interest, and so my art education, I earned my income by working with a restorer at the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, you know. And so, I had a very solid education in restoring paintings, too, and my parents were in the lower class and could not afford to sustain me anyway, so I had to find my own way. And in Vienna and Austria, there was a big marketplace for old art, ancient art, because Austrian nobility in their heyday, they brought all kind of means paintings as arts, and in time they forgot about it, that it kind of rotted, that kind of uncared for, you know, so there were very few with the special training, was a good market for restoring art, and that was my main stay, my main income, because there were very few with a special interest in it, and my teacher in this profession was the first restorer of the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. He had established a very high reputation in Vienna and all the other surrounding towns and was sought in Vienna and the other surrounding towns, and so if there was a work of considerable value and had to be cared for in one way or the other. And so, in this way, I had an easy way going into this market, just following him, you know, because he needed an assistant – he had too much work — and there were no other assistants besides me. So it worked quite well.


Then he was involved in an art scheme that was not quite above all criticism and at that time I decided to be on my own and found my contact with art galleries and dealers. I had already met Emily, and we had plans to getting married, under the circumstances I could not naturally, because she was very a high income class and I was from a very low income class. Because she was from a high income class and family and I was from a very low income class, so I had to ask her, please, have patience and she had some patience for 7 years we were kind of spoken for without any possibilities of realization of marriage. Then, all of a sudden there was a big depression in America developing, and we could see it coming over to Europe too, you know.


So we had decided to plan for something since we could not realize, you know, on our own. So I had to tell Emily, you have to say either yes or no towards me through all what’s coming, or we are in danger of being separated permanently, due to the economy. Well Emily said she was going with me, you know, she decided to marry, and I told her since she was a high middle class family, she got a marriage gift of her own, and in case something happened that would keep us afloat until, and at that time, she had her marriage gift — was a big house for lodgings in Berlin, you know — mostly towards rooms for apartments. But we were safe for payments, you know, and this house needed general repair, and with my knowledge of architecture, we had to go to Berlin and supervise the whole repair work and when this was over I said now is the time.


Emily – Shall I tell the story now; it was very noisy and very crowded and we had only standing space, Richard was telling me something; I did not understand; and then at the end he said we should get married now, and I said now, suddenly?


Richard – And so we decided to go to Munich and settle down there. And it was practically the beginning of Hitler’s time, his grip on power. So she had one exhibition in Munich enclosing the whole Germany. It was my first time I got accepted to show one of my works there. It was a big success. The first one was in 33; the second one it was already 34. But then Hitler decided to take over the management of the whole artistic part of Germany and keep it always you know.


So in this time there was the only solution to us that this should be without much reason, you know, and since I tried and had my education in art, European art, we went to Italy because Italy at that time had the most leniency at that time and was very needy for foreign currency and was very accepting. There was some kind of political pressure in Germany; we disappeared into Italy. And then, we were still Austrian citizens, not German citizens, so Hitler could not grab us; we were out of his reach legally. But then, in 38, he marched into Austria and occupied it and that made us automatically part of his dominion, of the German Reich, and from then on our whole call was to go in every corner where we were not closely scrutinized, you know.


I was in my heyday with my body then, and was covered to be drafted in the German Army on the first day of mobilization and all of the sudden out of the blue sky I got polio and was paralyzed completely. So, that made me not an object for the military to be eager to grab. And we had the big apartment house income. We had money to avoid any political problems – we would just move to another place and something like this. So, then the allied bombers came over Germany and bombed everything in Berlin– Munich, with our apartment and painting. The whole studio was burned out with all I had. So, what I was now exposed to was to be drafted into civilian service as a working man, Emily too, because they were getting very short of intelligent workers, especially, so, we were now out to avoid to go to places that were obviously devoid of Allied bombers, and to that was something because soon every place was a goal for allied bombers, and there was nothing that could be done if the bombers came from high up; they dropped the bombs and everything burst into flames; it was called a firestorm. Nowhere was safe anymore. So we moved out into the country and took some of the income of the Berlin house. The Berlin house stayed intact almost to the end of the war, when it was burned out too. Then, without income, without house, home, and I was almost half paralyzed, you know.


We started a small trade, with anything that could be traded; sandals, shoes with wood soles, and something like this, and then when we could move to Munich again the war was over. I was able to acquire an electric furnace for the temperature. My heart’s desire was enamelling, you know, and the situation was there was no one else who could do this. No one else could do this then, so for a certain time we had the unique position of production enamels, gold silver enamels. And that was very safe because money was paper and no one had any interest in any amount of paper. So they bought a lot of my things. And then, all of a sudden, became what would be called the reorganization of German trade. The Reichsmark, Gold mark, and money all of a sudden money had value, could be internationally traded; you could buy everything. And so people did not buy my jewelry; they bought leather goods, furniture, whatever, you know, and the whole era of trade against trade. To give you one example, the most fortunate trader was the farmer, because he had meat, cheese, cows. And farmers became so rich you would not believe it. One example, a farmer built a new house; he had Persian rugs, four big pianos. It was a kind of topsy turvy situation and everything.


So when this was over, Emily said there is no sense any more for us to stay in Germany. Let us go to the United States and start something new. That is what we did. Naturally, I had leg trouble, but I had an education, and was kind of willing to take chances. So, during one time I repaired for a factory silverware; spoons, forks, etc. that fell out the handle and had to be resoldered. And then, in New York, I was able to contact artistic employers, and was told there is an opening in designers for stain glass windows, and oh yes, I can do this. The trouble was, you had to be a member of the union, and to do that you had to bribe a lot of people to be accepted. So I said no, that makes no sense, because the moment he takes the bribe, you can say forget it.


So, I had an acquaintance in NY – he imported antique glass from Europe and he told me he has a friend in High Point who has a studio for stained glass windows and needed an artist, and I was willing to go, so after 2 1/2 years in NY I came to High Point and from then on, in High Point I developed, because I was much better educated and better gifted than the average American young man. So I had no trouble to provide an adequate income and saved a lot too. And, with time, Emily on her own she gave piano lessons you know and with her Vienese reputation as a pianist she got more pupils than she could accept.


. . . Wide education that included sculpture, and architecture too, If you are going to sculpture a block of marble it is very expensive and to cast to bronze is more expensive so I could not make any headway into this type of work. And in architecture – they ask what kind of experience I had, what kind of buildings in Europe. I had designed. In Europe, the most you can do as an architect is one or two family homes, and the New York firms were not interested in this type of work because you have enormous projects and they wanted members of their staffs with experience in this high rise work. Artistically it was awful what they were doing but they made a bundle of money and wanted to keep going after the money and there wasn’t much opening for me. And that was approximately the range of my contacts except we always made long trips back to Europe and studied Gothic art, Romanesque and it is wonderful it is one of the marvels of the world if you know what to look for. We fulfilled our desire to become a personality on our own, to soak up what others did and be able to understand what they did. We were very well acquainted with all European art galleries, state and private, in our trips. So, we had a kind of rare opportunity, because we had some money, and the time and the desire to study. Emily may have told you one of our average trips to Europe lasted 3 months. So we were able to stay business here, and take 2-3 months holiday on our own, with no practical purpose for our income or trade, just our desire that needed to be satisfied.


So, I would not say that I would ever be considered a member of the highest rank of artists in America. But some of my work should survive. I hope so, on their own. When I painted I invented a whole technique for myself. But that is part of a personal style; the way I paint, I needed a special technique, and with my knowledge of chemistry, you know, I could develop something to my knowledge is a use for me and unknown to the others. But, technique is only the medium, you know, it is not the value of itself. It is only the medium to bring your thoughts to reality, and it is something very personal. All of the old masters practically, like Titian, had their own techniques. And a lot of Italians made wonderful paintings. If someone wants to study for whatever reason, if only for enjoyment, he should study European art. In Italy, for some reason the Italians are especially gifted.


A lot of it is still in existence; a lot of it was destroyed during the wars or rotted away because it wasn’t taken care of. You must imagine, you have a piece of canvas, it is not very durable. Or you have a piece of wood. So, it always needs care and supervision to keep it from being destroyed, through accidents, age or whatever it is. And, much better is with plastic sculptured, you know, because you have stone that is very durable, you have bronze casts that lasts for thousands and thousand for years unless it is willfully destroyed, so you know a work of art in painting or whatever, you cannot replace it or explain it, you are kind of helpless; a work of art speaks for itself or it is dead. You must imagine a lot of art work has been destroyed by uneducated people who are not able to understand what the art work was speaking. And so you throw it out, a piece of junk, you know, forget it. In other times, for example, Gogol, you know, was married to a kind of simple female creature, a very solid Danish housewife, and he sent many paintings home and asked her to take of it. What she did, she put it under the roof and let it rot, because for her it was just one of the works of her artist husband, who was not quite normal, and why should she be involved in something that was not quite normal.


I have samples, 2 or 3 painting s in my home that I think are of good artistic value, and I have sketches, probably more than a hundred,that are ideas for paintings in my studio. I will never see them again you know. But my difficulty is that my paralyzed body became so unable for me to cope with you know so at some point I had to decide that I had to stop because I used Emily too much already — she is old, and had a stroke. So we had to say now it is the end of our life, and we just have to live on as long as our body permits, but no more artistic or other achievements possible. You know, Emily is 91 and I am 94 and no one is there after us, so if I had the choice I would say that a few should survive but the rest I cannot help there is no one after us. We have no family, children, and so. You have been very kind to let me talk.