Arts and Entertainment

Bainbridge Arts & Crafts receives Dietrich collection

Imagine being so misunderstood, even hated, that others chased you down. Imagine even being displaced from your home. If you were lucky, you might find shelter, people who would take you in and give you refuge.

For many Bainbridge Island animals, the West Sound Wildlife Shelter provides such a haven.

When West Sound board member Elizabeth Ward’s husband, Tom Lonner was bequeathed with a collection of art, Ward wanted to use the gift to support the shelter.

The artist who created the body of work, Henry J. Dietrich, found refuge in Shanghai where he fled during the rise of the Third Reich. Raised in Berlin, the half-Jewish Dietrich was suddenly barred from attending after excelling at the prestigious Kunstschule Reimann art school.

He fled to China, the only country he could enter without a visa. He lived in communal camps and barracks, selling his clothing piece-by-piece to survive. Later, he went door-to-door painting portraits of Chinese and Japanese families for a little money. It was here that Dietrich met his wife-to-be in 1944, and they were married in Shanghai after the war.

In 1948, they arrived in San Francisco, where Dietrich already had nabbed the promise of his first exhibition – at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum.

Dietrich worked for 30 years in the San Francisco Chronicle’s art department where he created cartoon illustrations for the newpaper. All his work reflected his composition and drafting skills, his ingenuity and his sense of balance and simplicity.

After a series of unhappy business experiences working with galleries, Dietrich vowed never to show or sell his paintings. He kept most of them, selling or giving a handful to close friends and associates. Dietrich continued to work for the newspaper until he retired in 1983.

From there, his productivity rose dramatically as he threw himself exclusively into painting. From the mid-1940s until his death he produced about 500 paintings. Dietrich kept no inventory of his works, so the exact number, sequence, and location of his work cannot be determined.

He died March 27, 2000, after a long illness. In his will, Dietrich left his entire collection to Bainbridge resident and personal friend, Lonner. Lonner wanted to use the paintings for a good cause and Ward suggested giving them to West Sound Wildlife Shelter. Not in the business of selling art, the Shelter turned to BAC for help with the sale of the work.

“We ended up with a win-win-win,” Lonner said. “The person who gets to enjoy the paintings, the Wildlife Shelter, and BAC.”

BAC has installed a wall near the front window as a permanent Dietrich display. Proceeds from the sale of the paintings, which feature the graphic style of the mid-20th century, will be split between Bainbridge Arts and Crafts and West Sound Wildlife.

“When I saw the educational programs that BAC supports, it was yet another win,” he said.

Dietrich’s work, which shows influences of Matisse, has an innocent quality.

“Henry could see the world through the eyes of a child. The paintings look more simple than they really are,” Lonner said, who talked often with the artist about his work.

Dietrich’s focus was on line, form and color and the paintings are bright and lively.

Content is incidental and Lonner said, of the 400 or so paintings in the collection, maybe three tried to “make any kind of statement.”

For more information about the collection, visit the Bainbridge Arts & Crafts website at www.bacrt.org.

For more information about the work of West Sound Wildlife Shelter, visit www.westsoundwildlife.org.

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