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Know Your Neighbor

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An Invitation To:

Know Your Neighbor

Mrs. Alice Reischer poses with her portrait of Dr. Frederick Alexander, founder of the Eastern Michigan University School of Music 

By Fred Klein

"A portrait is a series of impressions about a person,” says Mrs. Alice Reischer. “An artist must not only see, but hear and feel. A person can be known from his manner of speech and glance as well as from his facial expression.

“There is beauty everywhere, and it not hard to find if you look.”

Mrs. Reischer, a native of Vienna, Austria, came to the United States in 1938 and to Ann Arbor in 1940. She has done portraits of such persons as Dr. Eugene B. Elliott, president of Eastern Michigan University, and former Dean E. Blythe Stason of the University Law School. She has won numerous awards (“I get blue ribbons”) in art shows across the country.

A small, jovial woman, her enthusiasm for life comes out in every word and gesture.

Mrs. Reicher is not exclusively a portrait painter. “I do non-objective work too,” she said in her crisp, Viennese accent as she rummaged through stacks of paintings in her attic-studio at 423 Hamilton PI.

“Modern work is not different from what we call ‘'traditional.' The principles of art are the same everywhere. There is line, proportion and the balanced use of color—if it is good art.

“If the principles are lacking, it is nonsense.”

“Portrait painting is a very strict discipline,” she continued. “I do non-objective paintings as a diversion. It is good to dab once in awhile. It is very expressive, and people today want to guess more than to see. They want to put themselves into a work.

“Also, I don’t want my colleagues to say: ‘Mrs. Reischer can’t do anything but portraits.’ A good artist can do both—a bad one can do neither.”

But to Mrs. Reischer, people are the most important subjects of art.

“There is no such thing as an ugly person,” she said. “In every person there is some beauty to capture. I was in the hospital last week and watched the nurses move around doing their jobs. They were beautiful in the way they moved. They would make fine subjects.

“A portrait is more than a likeness,” Mrs. Reischer continued. “A photograph can give you a better likeness than a painting sometimes, but a photograph only catches a fleeting moment in a persons life. In a portrait there is a communication between the subject and the painter which camera cannot catch. A camera cannot talk to its subject and it cannot think.” Mrs. Resicher explained that her portrait work is about equally divided between paintings of children and adults.

“With a child one must try to capture their charm,” she said. “A child is innocent—it does not have the background of life experience which colors the personality of an adult. One must see the freshness of a child.

“With an adult, the personality is well developed. It is expressed in the whole person of a subject.”

Mrs. Reischer went on to say that portraits are like other paintings in that the idea must come from the artist, though transmitted by the subject.

“An idea will come into my head,” she said. “I cannot command it. You must let it develop itself, and when it is complete in your mind you must work to set it down as you think it. It is satisfying for an artist to put down on canvas what has formed in the mind. It may take much work, but it is worth it.”

How did Mrs. Resicher come to be an artist?

“When I was a young girl in school I was encouraged by teachers,” she said. “When I became a young woman, I wanted to study under a professor who taught life drawing. I went to my father, and asked him if I could go. My father was an officer in the Austrian army.”

She then pushed back her shoulders and lowered her neck in imitation of her father. “ No, no, no’ he told me. ‘You will become immoral.’

“But I went to the professor and told him the story. He called in my father for a talk, and after it was over my father said it was all right to study with the professor.

“It was not until after I was married that my father told me what the professor had said. He simply told my father that I had a talent and that it had to be completely developed. My father knew that life was beautiful, he only had to be reassured.”