The Schmidts and the Molnars
Written by Susan Hallsten McGarry
Southwest Art Magazine, March 1987
Art is not the only bond that unites this family of painters in their mission of personal expression.
On the American continent, it began in the early nineteenth century with the “painting Peales” a trompe l’oeil master Charles Wilson Peale and his sons Raphaelle, Rubens, Rembrandt and Titian were called. They were followed in the next century by the Wyeths and Hurds. And it has happened once again, this time on the West Coast, where the Schmidts and Molnars will, for the first time, exhibit their work together.
Jay Schmidt, his two sons Brad and Timothy, his daughters Brenda and Marcia and Marcia’s husband George Molnar are showing 60 works at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, AZ, beginning March 16, 1987, and running through April 16. It’s an exhibit they’ve looked forward to for a long time.
“In the mid-1970s when it began to look like we had some painters in the family besides myself I started thinking in terms of an exhibit,” say Jay. “But we lived in different places and were represented by different galleries, so it took over a decade for it to finally happen. I couldn’t be more proud – I get so much satisfaction out of my family’s achievements.”
Jay Schmidt, who was born in Kansas in 1929, studied oil painting while in high school. However, his attentions turned to academia and then the Baptist ministry until 1968, when health problems forced him to slow down his pastoral activities. At the time he was living in Monterey, CA, and, as a pastime, he painted seascapes and landscapes featuring the rolling hills and oaks of the area. When, in 1975, he discovered he could sell his works, he began painting full time and working part time as a church pastor. After a brief stay in Arizona, where he and his family fell in love with the rugged landscape and its cowboys and Native American population, Jay returned to the San Luis Obispo, CA area where he and his wife, Priscilla, live today. There he continues to communicate with the many area artists who initially encouraged him to create and who also inspired his children to become painters.
Among these many friends are artists Ralph Love, Ray Swanson and Vaughn Shoemaker. “I think the kids got taken with the process in part because we were so close to fine artists like Ray, who was a member of our church. And, of course, the Carmel-Monterey area has so many galleries in which to see art. I always knew the kids had talent, but I often wonder if they might have gone different routes had art not been such a big part of their growing up.”
Although religion is not a over statement in Jay’s art, he acknowledges that his faith is expressed in every canvas. “God is not silent,” he says.”He speaks to us through the beauty that surrounds us. Almost all of the portrait subjects I paint are Christian friends that I’ve had good fellowship with, and the landscape, with its marvelous array of colors and designs, is a manifestation of God’s creation that never ceases to excite me.”
The first child to declare his interest in following in Jay’s footsteps was Brad Schmidt. Born In 1956, as youngster Brad did yard work for Ray Swanson who gave him instruction in the use of dry-brush watercolor. By age 15, Brad was already selling paintings in his father’s gallery, New Masters Gallery in Carmel. Today, he lives in Pomona, CA, where he divides his time between painting and missionary work in Central America. Favoring people as his subjects, Brad enjoys watercolor because of it experimental qualities.
Marcia Molnar, age 34, was the next to turn professional. “I never wanted to become an artist, because I always was one,” she explains. “Anatomy was my favorite subject, so it was natural that I would apply it to art. I learned to paint from my dad and from the art books that were everywhere in our house.”
In high school Marcia displayed her art works in her father’s gallery, and it she who introduced her boyfriend George Molnar to Ray Swanson. Today, Marcia focuses primarily on women and children as subjects, painting in a studio she shares with George in Prescott, AZ. “For me, art is a mirror that reveals my feelings about the people I’m painting.” Marcia says. “My goal is to pull the best out of myself in order to create the finest painting I am capable of .”
Thirty-four year old George Molnar was the next full-time professional artist in the clan. His interest in art began with a correspondence course from Art Instruction Schools of Minneapolis, MN. At first he was attracted to Americana subjects, especially the weather-worn barns and rusting cars that he encountered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. But when he saw Swanson’s paintings and then Jay introduced him to R. Brownell McGrew’s work, George’s heart was taken by the Navajo people. “I love color and I think it was the Navajos’ clothing that first attracted me to them,” he says. Since then Molnar has come to respect and love “The Dineh”(or The People), as the Navajo refer to themselves.
Having painted professionally for over a decade, George is best know for his meticulous oil technique. “My goal is always to make the face the focal point of a painting, so it is necessary to orchestrate the lighting, colors, background and design to be the perfect complement to the subject.”
George, like the rest of the family, works with photographs as a tool and is very outspoken about their usefulness to the fine artist. “It’s impossible to get a model to sit for as long as it takes me to compete a painting, so I use photographs as the raw material for my works. I have a collection of Navajo costumes and jewelry and pose models in the way I envision the painting to be completed. I take tons of shots, usually underexposing and overexposing them for effect. Then I will use any number of them to compose the painting. My selection of color and lightning is rarely to be found in the photographs, however. I determine that based on what best enhances the face and the essence of the painting.”
The essence George refers to is a factor of the personality of the individual depicted, as well as the artist’s philosophical outlook on life. “I am a born-again Christian and it is my Christian beliefs that have allowed me to stay sane in the world of art. There is a lot of pressure that an artist must put up with in his career and my faith gives me the hope that helps me get through it.”Tim Schmidt, age 32, lives just north of Prescott, in Chino Valley, AZ, where he paints the area’s ranch activities. While in high school, Tim dabbled in the arts and then enlisted in the Air Force. “I remember him coming home on leave and saying ‘I am going to be a western painter and I want you to teach me,’ ” recalls Jay, who taught him seascape painting. “But then, like all the kids, he went off in his own direction. They are all pretty independent.”
Tim’s direction was documenting the life of today’s working cowboy. “I always enjoyed movies and novels about the West when I was a kid,” he explains. “and then when I saw real ranch life, I just fell in love with it. Cowboys and ranchers are some of the best people in the world. They make you feel right at home. I try to capture what they do and why they love their work so much.” Tim credits Bill Owen and James Reynolds as big influences on his career, as well as George Molnar who continues to critique his work. “I’d rather have George point out my problems before a collector does!” he says. “Sure there’s competition among us, but it is friendly. We are a family who helps one another.”Brenda Schmidt was the last holdout to take up the brush. “She swore she would be the only sane one in the family and not become an artist,” laughs Jay. But the lure grew too great when the family moved to Prescott in 1980.
“I figured I just didn’t have the patience for it until my dad showed me that painting is really a step-by stop process.” the 29 year old says. Brenda favors children as her subjects and finds them on the family trips to the Navajo Reservation. “We wander about until we see someone who we would like to have pose for us. We ask the parents if it is okay and begin the photo session.”
Life the rest of the family, Brenda’s faith has gotten her though many struggles in the painting process. And no doubt she speaks for the entire Schmidt and Molnar clan when she says, “I could not do what I do without God’s help. Painting is a lonely, frustrating process and so many times I’ve been ready to quit work on a canvas. Then I remember that God is with me and I ask for His help and the paint just seems to flow.