Ann Didusch Schuler

Noted portrait painter and teacher co-founded art school with her painter-sculptor husband, Hans Schuler

May 20, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Ann Didusch Schuler, a noted Baltimore portrait painter and teacher who co-founded the Schuler School of Fine Arts, died Wednesday of heart failure at Gilchrist Hospice Care. She was 92.

"Ann Didusch Schuler was a significant figure of the Baltimore art scene, and so many artists were influenced by her school and they loved her," artist Raoul Middleman said Thursday.

"I'm a portrait painter, too, and I always respected her work. She was serious and took no shortcuts," Mr. Middleman said.

Born Ann Didusch in Baltimore, she was the fourth generation of a prominent family of artists and artisans whose roots went back to Germany.

Her father, James Didusch, and his brother, Joseph Didusch, studied with the famous medical illustrator Max Broedel at the Johns Hopkins University medical school, and went on to become prominent medical illustrators in their own right.

Raised in East Baltimore, Mrs. Schuler was a graduate of Eastern High School. She received her art training from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and after graduating in 1940, she continued studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts in Philadelphia.

Returning to the Maryland Institute, where she continued her graduate studies, Mrs. Schuler became an assistant to artist and art restorer Jacques Maroger, who had emigrated from France in 1939.

Mrs. Schuler fell under the spell of Mr. Maroger, whose beliefs in the materials and techniques of the Old Masters' classical-realist style she came to venerate and adopt in her own artwork.

"Anyone who wants to be an artist should have the basic skills," Mrs. Schuler told The Baltimore Sun in a 2000 interview. "Having the basic skills gives you many more options, without which you are limited as to what you can do."

In 1945, she married Hans C. Schuler, who was the son of Hans Schuler, the nationally known sculptor who had been director of the Maryland Institute from 1925 to 1951.

After the end of World War II, the couple joined the faculty of the Maryland Institute, where he taught sculpture and she was a painting instructor.

By the late 1950s, they became disenchanted with the rise of modern abstractionism, which conflicted with their deeply held belief in more traditional methods that included drawing, anatomy and perspective.

"We were just heartbroken to see it all go," Mrs. Schuler recalled in the 2000 interview. "They only wanted us to work with the abstract, not with the tradition we had been trained in. So we decided to start our own school."

After leaving the Maryland Institute, they opened the Schuler School of Fine Arts in 1959 at 5 E. Lafayette Ave., which had been built by the elder Schuler in 1906 and had served as his studio. He also built an adjoining house, where Mrs. Schuler and her family lived. Her husband died in 1999.

Will Wilson, a prominent San Francisco artist who began studying with Mrs. Schuler when he was 15, said, "Ann was a second mother to me. She was my art mother. She was very special and inspired me."

"Her love of art was contagious. There really was no one like her. She had the gift of both talent and the ability to teach, which is rare," Mr. Wilson said in a telephone interview. "She'd take the brush out of your hand and say, 'This is how you do it.'"

When it came to her own work, Mr. Wilson said that she was "incredibly self-deprecating."

"If you mentioned one of her paintings, Ann would say, 'Don't look at my work. I want to show this work by one of my students.' She was both humble and modest," recalled Mr. Wilson, a portraitist who had been on the faculty of the Schuler School before moving to the West Coast.

"The school became strong under her teaching. I liked the idea of her school. It was an island of sanity," said Mr. Middleman.

Mrs. Schuler's work, in addition to her portraits, included still lifes and flowers. Her drawings reflected a variety of mediums, and her work ranged from miniatures to murals.

Her portraits can be found in the Maryland governor's mansion as well as in corporate boardrooms, educational and financial institutions, hospitals, museums and private collections.

Two of her most notable murals hang in the Reserve Officers' Memorial Building in Washington, with one dominated by George Washington and the other of a Revolutionary War minuteman.

Mrs. Schuler continued painting until she was 91.

"I admired her staying power in both her work and her school, and she kept on doing it well into her upper years and successfully," said Richard R. "Rob" Harwood III, owner of Purnell Galleries in Hampden's Mill Centre. "It's amazing how much of her work can be found in both institutions and private homes in the city."

Well-known Baltimore watercolorist Frederic "Fritz" Schuler Briggs, who is Mrs. Schuler's nephew, teaches watercolors and drawing at the Schuler School.

"She is a legend and a fabulous painter," Mr. Briggs said. "She emulated the Old Masters and Maroger. She kept that tradition alive, and that's what the school is all about."

"There will be a memorial tribute at the Schuler School sometime in June," said her daughter, Francesca Schuler Guerin of Baltimore, a sculptor who is on the school's faculty.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete Thursday.

Mrs. Schuler is also survived by two grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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