The Seattle Times 12/13/2005

Obituary: Lisel Salzer, 99, Seattle artist who fled Nazis

By Sheila Farr - Seattle Times art critic

For some artists, acclaim only arrives after their lives have ended. But Lisel Salzer — a native of Austria who fled the Nazis and settled in Seattle — was one of the lucky ones: She was rediscovered at the age of 96 and honored with a museum exhibition in her native country. Then, two years ago, the Austrian government presented Ms. Salzer with the prestigious "Cross of Merit in Gold" for her lifetime devotion and contribution to the arts.
Ms. Salzer died Dec. 6 at her home in Seattle's Mount Baker neighborhood, some nine months short of her 100th birthday. Ms. Salzer and her husband Dr. Frederick Grossman moved to Seattle from New York in 1950.
Ms. Salzer worked as a portrait artist and enamelist, showing for a time at the Otto Seligman Gallery. Among her subjects were artists James Washington Jr., George Tsutakawa and Alfredo Arreguin. During the 1970s and '80s, the Frye Art Museum mounted several solo exhibitions of her paintings and enamels.
Grossman died in 1957, and Ms. Salzer, whose parents died at the Theresiendstadt concentration camp, never remarried. Ms. Salzer had no children: Her friends and former art students became her surrogate family.
As a young woman, Ms. Salzer led a privileged life. After she finished art school, her parents sent her on a three-month painting holiday in Paris, and at 23 she set up her own studio in Vienna, not far from her parents' home.
Her paintings were accepted in the region's top juried exhibition and she was invited to show at the Würthle Gallery, which also represented Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.
Ms. Salzer spent summers with her parents near Salzburg, along the shore of the Wolfgangsee. There she joined an artist colony at the village of Zinkenbach that included her former instructor Ferdinand Kitt and another painter she admired, Josef Dobrowsky.
"This group were the most famous painters in Austria from 1925 until 1938," Austrian art historian Christina Steinmetzer told The Times in 2002. Steinmetzer's research on the group had led her to Seattle and Ms. Salzer, then the only surviving member of the colony.
Steinmetzer and several other historians founded a museum to pay homage to that special group, dispersed by the Nazis. Some, like Ms. Salzer, were Jewish. Others were considered dangerous simply because they were artists and worked together. "I call them 'the lost generation' because most of them had to emigrate," Steinmetzer said.
In Seattle, Ms. Salzer was very involved with the Democratic Party. "Politics is what kept her alive the last few years," said writer Barbara Sleeper, who assisted Ms. Salzer with her autobiography. "She was hoping to stay alive to see Bush go out of office."
With her vision greatly diminished, Ms. Salzer had struggled as an artist during her final years. "She was depressed, because it's a horrible thing for a visual artist to not be able to see," said friend Lenore Kobayashi.
But even with her eyesight fading, Ms. Salzer continued to draw and delighted in sending little cartoons to friends and acquaintances. A number of her cartoons are still being published in the Canadian magazine Walrus.
A private memorial will be held. In lieu of flowers, please volunteer or send contributions to the Community Services for the Blind or Partially Sighted, 9709 Third Ave. N.E., No. 100, Seattle, WA 98115-2027.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

The Seattle Times 09/08/2002

A find from the 'lost generation': Austrian painter Lisel Salzer

By Sheila Farr - Seattle Times art critic

Two weeks ago, Austrian art historian Christina Steinmetzer flew to Seattle to meet a woman she'd been tracking for years. During all her sleuthing in basement archives and on the Internet, Steinmetzer never really expected to find artist Lisel Salzer alive. Salzer, 96, who's lived in Seattle since 1950, is the last survivor of a group of painters who lived and worked at the resort town of Zinkenbach, Austria, during the 1920s and '30s. Dispersed in 1939 under political pressure from the Nazis, the members of the colony emigrated to other countries, many of them never to return.
To honor the group - which included some of the country's most celebrated painters - Steinmetzer opened a museum in Zinkenbach. The unexpected way they located Salzer - and the way Salzer discovered them - seems to have been driven by fate.

Sharp, witty, and undaunted by her 96 years, Lisel Salzer has no time for junk mail. So it wasn't unusual when, a few months ago, she pitched a letter with an unfamiliar return address into a pile of scrap paper. That's the paper Salzer's 7-year-old friend and namesake, Lisel Perrine, chose one day when she came to visit and wanted to draw. Later, she took the picture home for her parents, and, though the Perrines were pleased with the gift, they thought the envelope looked important enough to return it to Salzer. The letter they found inside astonished them all. The message was from an Austrian attorney, and his words reopened a story that, for Salzer, had long ago been shattered by the Nazis.

The Austrian years
After finishing art school in 1929, fresh from a three-month painting holiday in Paris, Lisel Salzer set up her first studio in Vienna not far from her parent's home. She was 23 and excited to start her life as a professional artist. Two of her paintings were soon accepted in the "Vienna Secession," the top regional juried show, and before long Salzer was invited to exhibit at the Wüthle Gallery, where the famous painters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele showed their work.
With her parents, Salzer spent summers along the shores of the scenic Wolfgangsee near Salzburg, at St. Wolfgang or St. Gilgen. And it was there in that beautiful resort region that Salzer discovered an artist colony at the tiny village of Zinkenbach. It turned out that her former instructor Ferdinand Kitt was living there year-round, along with many of his friends. Salzer remembers them as "the best artists of my generation," and among them was a painter Salzer particularly admired, Josef Dobrowsky. Salzer spent time at Zinkenbach with her friends, living at their homes and painting landscapes and portraits. For her, it was a thrill when Dobrowsky asked to paint her portrait. More than 60 years later, sitting in her Mount Baker home overlooking Lake Washington, the memory is still fresh. "I posed for him," Salzer said "and he put a mirror in back so I could watch him - the technique." Salzer still owns the portrait, which captures her wearing her girlish apparel, an inquisitive look on her face. That expression is made especially dear by knowing that what kept Salzer so engrossed was her interest in Dobrowsky's painting method.

'The lost generation'
"This group were the most famous painters in Austria from 1925 until 1938," Steinmetzer said. "I call them 'the lost generation' because most of them had to emigrate. Now it's my responsibility to give them an ideal home. ... We hope that this museum becomes one day the most important and influential of Austria."
Steinmetzer says that none of the artists from the Zinkenbach colony died in the Holocaust - and crosses herself as she says it. Nevertheless many, including Salzer, lost family and friends.
It was a heterogeneous group, Steinmetzer explains. Some, like Salzer, were Jewish; others professed strong political beliefs. Others were considered dangerous by the Nazis simply because of their artwork and the fact that they worked together. Richard West, director of Seattle's Frye Art Museum, where Salzer's work is included in the permanent collection, is an authority on German and Austrian painting. He says the time Salzer lived through was devastating.
"In 1938, there was an 'election' in Austria for Austria to join Germany," West said. "That's when Jewish art was destroyed, and a lot of artists had to flee because they were Jewish or considered decadent, and a lot of these groups were broken."
So it was with the Zinkenbach group; Salzer lost touch with artists that she had known in Europe.

Starting anew
Salzer got out of the country in 1939 by using her ingenuity to find a sponsor in the United States. "You needed a so-called affidavit. It meant that if you came here without any money there was an American citizen who would care for you," Salzer said. "I got my affidavit in a very funny way." Referring to a source book of art collectors in the United States, Salzer picked at random a dozen names. "I wrote letters saying 'I'm a painter' and so forth," Salzer recalls. "A man from Philadelphia, a bachelor, gave me an affidavit - Mr. Winthrop." But it turned out Mr. Winthrop's motivations were not entirely philanthropic.
"He was a middle-age, very romantic bachelor, and he thought it would be very romantic to have a young artist from Europe living there," Salzer recalls with a grin. "He was very disappointed that I had a boyfriend in New York."
That boyfriend was Dr. Frederick Grossman, a young Austrian physician and cellist who escaped the country ahead of Salzer and was waiting for her. They soon found an apartment together in Manhattan, "where all the action was," and married in 1942. Salzer worked as a successful portrait artist and, during the war, volunteered to do quick watercolor portraits for anyone who purchased a war bond for more than $500 at Bonwit Teller's elegant 5th Avenue department store. Salzer says that a New York Times story reported that Bonwit customers bought $698,000 in war bonds as a result of her portraits. She also took time to research the forgotten "Limoges" technique for making enamel paintings, which became an important part of her work.
Salzer and Grossman moved to Seattle in 1950. He died in 1957. Salzer continued her work as a portrait artist and enamelist, and showed at the Otto Seligman Gallery, which also represented Mark Tobey and other top regional artists. The Frye Art Museum mounted several solo exhibitions of her paintings and enamels during the 1970s and '80s.
She painted portraits of Seattle artists James Washington Jr., George Tsutakawa and Alfredo Arreguin. Salzer also proudly displays a portrait she made of the famous self-taught American painter Grandma Moses.

Discovery and joy
So, how in the world did Steinmetzer manage to find Salzer? Purely by chance, it turns out.
Steinmetzer says she was doing Internet research on another artist and discovered that Salzer had been her teacher. But, if that clue appeared out of thin air, it only came about after long years of searching and wondering. "When I started to learn the history of art, I discovered this group, and I began to see what I could find," Steinmetzer said. She discovered that there was little information available on members of the colony, all of whom had managed to emigrate. Only one, Kitt, had returned to St. Gligen after the war, but he died in 1961.
Some eight years ago, Steinmetzer and five others with a strong interest in the group joined forces. "This was the work at the university, with other historians of art," Steinmetzer said. They founded the Museum der Zinkenbacher Malerkolonie, which opened last year in a renovated schoolhouse to pay homage to that special group of regional artists.
"We are only the beginning. It's a little collection," Steinmetzer said. "We borrow paintings. It's my duty to find out all the collectors in Austria and to find the interested people."
After finding the clue about Salzer on the Internet, Steinmetzer learned that Salzer had been living in Seattle and asked the museum's attorney to see if he could contact her. That was the letter that Salzer unwittingly dumped in the scrap bin. Once Salzer read the letter and learned about the museum, she was overwhelmed and responded with an eight-page handwritten - and illustrated - letter. (Even now, at 96 and with one blind eye, Salzer still spends time every day drawing wonderfully funny little cartoons.) Steinmetzer called and the two got to know each other by phone before their emotional meeting in person. "It was exciting for us both," Steinmetzer said. Discovering the Dobrowsky portrait and an archive of previously unknown work by Salzer, as well as other members of the Zinkenbach colony, is more than she had hoped for.
But for Salzer, to finally receive such recognition in her native country is the culmination of a lifetime of work. "You see that lily?" she said, pointing at a prized plant. "It bloomed for today. It's such a special day I can hardly take it." 

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

Salzburger Nachrichten 09.10.2002 - Bernhard Strobl

Unvorhergesehene Rückkehr: Lisel Salzer gehörte zur "Zinkenbacher Malerkolonie".

Die letzte davon noch lebende Künstlerin schenkte St. Gilgen ihre Werke.

ST. GILGEN (SN). Im Museum "Zinkenbacher Malerkolonie" in der alten Volksschule von St. Gilgen steht - gut verwahrt und gesichert - eine Kiste aus Amerika. Inhalt: Bilder. Freitagabend wird sie im Kreise der Mitglieder des Museumsvereins geöffnet. 23 Ölbilder und 200 Grafikblätter, die in den Jahren von 1932 bis 1938 in St. Gilgen entstanden sind, werden da wieder ans Licht kommen. Sie alle stammen von der letzten noch lebenden Künstlerin der damals so bekannten "Zinkenbacher Malerkolonie", von Lisel Salzer.

Per Internet und auf allerlei Umwegen ist die Obfrau des "Museumsvereines Zinkenbacher Malerkolonie", Christina Steinmetzer, mit der betagten Dame in Seattle in Kontakt gekommen. Salzer, Jahrgang 1906, stieß seinerzeit durch ihre Freunde Georg und Bettina Ehrlich, Hilde Spiel und ihren Lehrer Ferdinand Kitt zum engeren Kreis der Wiener Maler, die den Sommer gemeinsam in Zinkenbach verbrachten. Zu dieser Zeit hatte sie bereits Ausstellungen in der Wiener Sezession und in der Galerie Würthler. Nach dem Anschluss Österreichs an Hitler-Deutschland emigrierte die Künstlerin nach Amerika. Nur einmal, in den 60er Jahren, kehrte sie nach Österreich zurück und besuchte da auf der Festung Hohensalzburg die Sommerakademie mit Oskar Kokoschka.

Im August dieses Jahres besuchten Christina Steinmetzer und Sohn Georg die Künstlerin in den USA. Die schier erblindete Frau war gerührt von diesem ersten Besuch aus der alten Heimat. Bewegt berichtete sie von ihren Erinnerungen an das künstlerische und gesellschaftliche Leben in St. Gilgen. "Kein Auge blieb trocken", erzählt Georg Steinmetzer, als die Dame dann ihre in St. Gilgen geschaffenen Bilder dem Museumsverein zum Geschenk vermachte. "Die wollen endlich wieder heim", sagte Lisel Salzer. Ihre Bilder werden im nächsten Jahr in einer Sonderausstellung gezeigt. Ein Salzer-Raum kann erst eingerichtet werden, wenn sich die Gemeinde St. Gilgen bereit erklärt, weiteren Raum für das Museum adaptiert zur Verfügung zu stellen.

Der Zinkenbacher Malerkreis umfasste in den dreißiger Jahren des vorigen Jahrhunderts über 20 Mitglieder aus dem Wiener Künstlerkreis. Die Maler aus allen politischen und gesellschaftlichen Lagern wohnten vorwiegend in Zinkenbach, malten miteinander und erlebten gemeinsame Sommerwochen. Zu ihrem künstlerischen Gedenken wurde in der alten Volksschule St. Gilgen im Vorjahr ein Museum eingerichtet. Die Sammlung Salzer ist die erste, die in den Besitz des Museumsvereines übergeht.

© SN

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Museum Zinkenbacher Malerkolonie | A-5340 St. Gilgen am Wolfgangsee,  Aberseestraße 11, 1. Stock (Kulturhaus St. Gilgen)
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