Milwaukee artist, Schomer Lichtner passed away on May 9, 2006 at the age of 101. He continued to amaze and create with his whimsical paintings of ballerinas and cows. He and his late wife Ruth Grotenrath, both well-known Wisconsin artists, began their prolific careers as muralists for WPA projects, primarily post offices.
Schomer Lichtner was well known for his whimsical cows and ballerinas, such as his "Ballerina Dancing on Cow" sculpture below. The late James Auer, art critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel referred to Lichtner as the artist laureate of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the official artist of the Milwaukee Ballet.
Lichtner also painted murals for industry and private clients. Schomer was a printmaker and produced block prints, lithographs, and serigraph prints. His casein (paint made from dairy products) and acrylic paintings are of the rural Wisconsin landscape and farm animals. He became interested in cows when he and Ruth spent summers near Holy Hill in Washington County.
According to David Gordon, director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, Schomer Lichtner had a tremendous joie de vivre, " joy of life," and expressed it in his art.
Schomer Lichtner was nationally known for his whimsical paintings and sculptures of black- and white-patterned Holstein cows and elegant ballerina dancers. Lichtner also painted all sorts of combinations of beautiful women, flowers and country landscapes. James Auer, former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel art critic, said that his art eventually "exploded into expressionistic design elements with bold, flat areas of color and high energy that anticipated Pop Art." Auer went on to describe Lichtner’s work as full of "wit, vigor and virtuosity."
As early as 1930, Lichtner’s work was shown at the prestigious Carnegie International Exhibition in New York and at museums throughout the Midwest. As a student, he was a protégé of another icon of 20th century American art, Gustave Moeller.
Lichtner and his wife, Ruth Grotenrath (1912-1988), are celebrated as Milwaukee’s first couple of painting and are regarded as major Wisconsin artists. Lichtner’s impressive production, perseverance, longevity, and positive approach to his life and art made him and his work distinctive and much loved by his many admirers. His work is currently represented in collections at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the John Michael Kohler Art Center, the West Bend Museum, and in the collections of many individuals. Books on the lives and art work of both Lichtner and Grotenrath are in progress and it is anticipated that they will be published next year.
Recipient of the 2006 Wisconsin Visual Artist Lifetime Achievement Award
Image rights: David Barnett Gallery